This summer will be the biggest "blockbuster" movie season ever, with no fewer than 23 would-be smash hits coming out between early May and mid-August. It didn't used to be this way. Back in the mists of time — like, say, in the late 1990s — there were only one or two big science fiction movies per summer, and only a handful of huge summer movies total. But summer movies have gotten bigger and more franchise-driven in the past decade, and science fiction is at the center of that transformation. We chart the rise of summer-movie gridlock, with a list of every summer scifi hit since 1980.

When Did Summer Become Science Fiction Overkill Season?


The 1970s: 1975's Jaws is widely considered the first summer blockbuster. The original Star Wars came out in May 1977 and grossed about $307 million domestically in its first run. The other big summer blockbusters of the late 1970s were Jaws 2, Animal House and Alien, according to this site.

When Did Summer Become Science Fiction Overkill Season?

The 1980s: Science fiction scored about one summer blockbuster per year, or maybe two in a good year. Except for the late 1980s, when science fiction had a bit of a slump. Here's the roundup, by year. (A year with an asterisk is one where no science fiction film hit the top 10 movies of the year, box-office-wise.)

1980: Star Wars: Empire Strikes Back ($209 million)
1981: Superman II ($108 million)
1982: E.T. ($359 million) and Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan ($79 million).
1983: Star Wars: Return Of The Jedi ($252 million), Superman III ($60 million) and War Games ($80 million)
1984: Ghostbusters ($260 million) and Star Trek III: The Search For Spock ($76 million)
1985: Cocoon ($76 million) and Back To The Future ($211 million)
1986: Short Circuit ($41 million) and Aliens ($85 million)
* 1987: Predator ($60 million) and Robocop ($53 million)
* 1988: None. (Although Big and Willow were big summer hits.)
1989: Batman ($251 million), Honey I Shrunk The Kids ($131 million)

When Did Summer Become Science Fiction Overkill Season?

The 1990s: The number of science fiction movies in the summer's biggest movies increased slightly, with some ups and downs. Some years, the biggest blockbusters included films with a lot of special effects and action-adventure themes, but no overt science fictional elements.

1990: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles ($135 million), Total Recall ($119 million), Back To The Future Part III ($88 million), Flatliners ($61 million).
1991: Terminator 2 ($205 million)
1992: Batman Returns ($163 million)
1993: Jurassic Park ($357 million)
* 1994: None. (Although True Lies, Speed and The Mask were in the top 10, and non-summer films Stargate and Star Trek: Generations were in the top 20.)
1995: Batman Forever ($184 million), Apollo 13 ($172 million), Waterworld ($88 million)
1996: Independence Day ($306 million), Phenomenon ($105 million)
1997: Men In Black ($251 million), The Lost World: Jurassic Park ($229 million), Face/Off ($112 million), Batman And Robin ($107 million)
1998: Armageddon ($202 million), Deep Impact ($140 million), Godzilla ($136 million), The Truman Show ($126 million)
1999: Star Wars Episode 1 ($431 million), Wild Wild West ($114 million)

When Did Summer Become Science Fiction Overkill Season?

The 2000s: It's really just in the last five years that we've seen more than two or three big science fiction movies dominating the summer pretty much every year. A lot of these have been franchises, comic-book movies and sequels, or some combination of the three. The box-office take of the top 10 movies has increased dramatically, with every year's top 10 movies each grossing well over $100 million.

2000: X-Men ($157 million)
2001: Jurassic Park III ($181 million), Planet of The Apes ($180 million)
2002: Spider-Man ($404 million), Star Wars Episode II ($302 million), Signs (228 million), Men In Black II ($190 million)
2003: The Matrix Reloaded ($282 million), X2: X-Men United ($215 million), Terminator 3 ($150 million), Hulk ($132 million)
2004: Spider-Man 2 ($374 million), The Day After Tomorrow ($187 million), I, Robot ($145 million)
2005: Star Wars: Episode III ($380 million), War Of The Worlds ($234 million), Batman Begins ($205 million), Fantastic Four ($155 million)
2006: X-Men: The Last Stand ($234 million), Superman Returns ($200 million)
2007: Spider-Man 3 ($337 million), Transformers($319 million), The Simpsons Movie ($183 million), Fantastic Four: Rise Of The Silver Surfer ($132 million)

Note: Data is from BoxofficeMojo.com. Dollar figures aren't adjusted for inflation. I left out movies like the original Indiana Jones trilogy, which is clearly fantasy. (Unlike the new Indiana Jones movie, if all reports are to be believed.) I also left out spy movies that might have a few science-fiction touches aren't really about a science-fictional premise. Feel free to bitch at me in the comments.