With possibly two of the best summer films ever on the horizon-Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and Guardians of the Galaxy-I want to take a look back at the last 10 years (not counting this year-2004-2013) of summer films. Some summers stood out with memorable pictures (thank you, 2008) while others fell into the best-left-forgotten zone (I’m looking at you, 2006). To form the list, I factored in, to a degree, popularity and summer movie-ness-as in, whether it has all the necessities to be a great summer movie and uses them effectively. But the best ones will be the films that transcend being just a summer flick. So, here are the 20 best summer movies of the last decade.
20. Pineapple Express (2008)
The start of a beautiful on-screen friendship, Seth Rogen and James Franco’s Pineapple Express isn’t just the pothead’s comedy (even though it does cater to a specific demographic). It’s arguably the film that propelled Franco into his current “bad boy” persona (even though it was probably only the cheery on top). The duo has since starred together in This is the End (we’ll get to that later) and will be featured in this year’s The Interview, the movie that may take us to war with North Korea. But when the bombs drop, lets not forgot about this little gem that started it all.
19. Tropic Thunder (2008)
Another fantastic comedy from 2008, Tropic Thunder was a surprise smash, garnering Robert Downey Jr. an unexpected Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for his turn as an Australian actor portraying a black man. While Downey is the highlight of the film’s main cast, it’s the supporting players that really stand out. Matthew McConaughey, pre-Oscar, is hilarious, channeling his “Wolf of Wall Street” character five years before he knew it would even exist. And then there’s Tom Cruise, who absolutely kills it in a cameo/supporting role that has to be seen to be believed.
18. Pacific Rim (2013)
Before Garreth Edwards tried infusing Godzilla with a much more serious tone in this year’s reboot, Guilermo del Toro last year wanted to create his own take on the monster genre, taking it back to basics. This became Pacific Rim, a giant monster vs. giant robot extravaganza that is everything you could ever want from a movie with that kind of description. As far as summer bloackbusters go, Pacific Rim embodies everything you could ever want out of one, and never takes itself too seriously. The phrase “leave your brain at the door” usually has a negative connotation when it comes to films (Bay’s Transformers for instance) but in the case of Pacific Rim, it’s okay because the film never tries being anything more or less than what del Toro’s vision promises.
17. Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)
Its sequel, out this weekend, is already getting rave reviews-the Hollywood Reporter called it the “Empire Strikes Back” of the franchise-but lets not forget the stand-out film of the summer in 2011, Rise of the Planet of the Apes. It was a surprising critical success, garnering positive reviews almost across the board. The highlight? The amazing visual work on the apes and Andy Serkis’ fantastic motion capture performance of their leader, Ceasar, who many raved should garner him an Academy Award nomination. Seeing him return in Matt Reeves’ follow-up will be a delight.
16. Superbad (2007)
The film that shot stars Michael Cera and Jonah Hill into super stardom, Superbad is the epitome of the teenagers-trying-to-have-sex movie. More quotable, memorable, funny, and even heartfelt than most in its genre, Superbad was to many teenage guys their life put on screen. It captured desperation and awkwardness in a way that hadn’t really been captured in quite some time, and remains one of the funniest movies of the last decade.
15. The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
The first of many super hero (and Nolan) movies to make the list, TDKR is the conclusion to Christopher Nolan’s epic, genre-lifting Batman trilogy. It’s a film that, in time, has garnered mixed reactions among fans. It’s full of plot holes that one wouldn’t expect from a film this substantial and has a plot twist that kind of reduces an otherwise fantastic villain. But despite its negatives, TDKR is still one of the best summer, and super hero, films of all time, thanks in large part to its epic scope, strong performances and Nolan’s signature vision.
14. Star Trek (2009)
While the 2013 sequel may have been kind of lackluster to most, J.J. Abrams’ 2009 film was a solid reboot to a beloved franchise that sky-rocketed the Trek franchise into a “cooler,” sleeker, more modern era. While it may resemble Star Wars more than what Trekkies are accustomed to, it’s a smart, great looking sci-fi adventure. While Abrams won’t be returning to the franchise for a third outing due to his ties with Star Wars, we can still thank him for giving us an actual positive reboot.
13. Iron Man (2008)
It was a surprise juggernaught at the box office and even more of a surprise with critics. But Jon Favreau’s Iron Man was a smart, funny, cool and overall great super hero film that kick-started Marvel’s Avengers franchise. We didn’t know that at the time, though, until the infamous after-credits scene. But before there were the Avengers, there was only Iron Man, personified perfectly by Robert Downey Jr. (it was a good year for him).
12. This is the End (2013)
Another strong outing for Rogen and Franco, This is the End is a creative and hilarious take on the “world-ending” genre. The stars, along with Michael Cera, Jonah Hill and others, star as themselves and it is amazing. It is a tour de force in celebrity cameos, from Rihanna to Emma Watson, and features a fantastic ending featuring a very nostalgic boy band.
11. Batman Begins (2005)
The beginning of Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy is to many considered to be the best in the series. It’s not without its merits: everyone knows Batman’s origin story but it’s never really been told properly on the big screen. Nolan does it justice in a mature and sophisticated way, and gives birth to a Batman we’d never seen before. It more than made up for Joel Schumacher’s terrible mishandling of the franchise that almost destroyed it.
10. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)
Because a Harry Potter film obviously had to be in the top 10. But more than that, the third outing for Harry and friends is considered by many to be the best in the franchise, thanks to Alfonso Cuaron’s (a decade before his Oscar win) impeccable vision. The film takes the franchise into bold new territory, stripping away the childish ways of the first two installments for a more mature, darker story that the rest of the franchise would be modeled after.
9. Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (2004)
It was hard choosing a top comedy for summer movies. This is the End is a strong contender, but Anchorman, now a decade old (can you believe that) takes the edge, not only for its timelessness (its well-intentioned sequel couldn’t match it) but it’s superb quotability and great comedic performances. Will Ferrell is at his best here.
8. Spider-Man 2 (2004)
While it often feels like an after-thought now in the wake of Marc Webb’s reboot, Sam Raimi’s original trilogy had its merits. The biggest being his superb second installment, which, at the time, set a new standard for super hero films. Having recently watched it, it has admittedly aged, but 10 years will do that to a movie. It’s still one of the best super hero movies ever, with a villain in Doc Ock (perfect casting of Alfred Molina) that has actual true motivations, camp in all the right places, and one of the best fight scenes ever in a super hero movie. Whatever you do, don’t forget this gem when Sony is rebooting Spider-Man for the third time years in the future.
7. Wall-E (2008)
The first Pixar film to make the list, Wall-E is a heartfelt achievement in animation that I believe could have been the first Pixar film nominated for best picture had the Academy changed the rule a year in advance. It is a splendid film about the dangers of pollution and over population with a cute robotic love story at the center.
6. The Avengers (2012)
Nothing quite says summer these days like Marvel, and in 2012 everything Marvel had been leading up to was released. Joss Whedon was a surprising pick to helm the crown jewel of Marvel Studio’s achievements, but it worked to near perfection. The film harnesses Whedon’s witty charm and balances all of the individual characters quite well. Sure, poor Hawkeye may not have gotten his due, but besides that, it’s a well-made summer blockbuster that was a critical and financial success. No one could have guessed that an Avengers movie could work so well. Whedon proved everyone wrong.
5. Toy Story 3 (2010)
Another Pixar favorite, Toy Story 3 was a long time in the making, but some times the best things are the ones you wait for. It was everything fans could ever want in the conclusion to Pixar’s beloved trilogy, with a tear-jerker ending and moments that make us remember why we feel in love with these characters in the first place.
4. District 9 (2009)
District 9 was the little engine that could. No one really knew anything about it at the time. It seemed like an interesting sci-fi movie but until its release kind of flew under the radar. But once it came to theaters, the positive response was astounding. First time director Niel Blomkamp created a visually terrific, insanely unique sci-fi film that is not only entertaining, but a metaphor for genocide and other acts of violence. It went on to be nominated for best picture, and rightly so.
3. Inception (2010)
Nolan appears on this list quite a few times, but this non-Batman movie is a true creative work of art. Part heist movie, part sci-fi action film, part character drama, Inception, like District 9, is a rare breed of summer film that infuses Oscar level craftsmanship with the right dose of summer entertainment. Every time I watch it I pick up on something different, and that’s the beauty of this mind-boggling thriller.
2. Up (2009)
Up, the final Pixar film on the list, is an emotional roller coaster. It tells the perfect love story in its first 10 minutes better than most romance films can do in an entire two hours. Its characters are fun and its story is heart-warming. Up was the first Pixar film to be nominated for best picture, and in a perfect world, maybe it could have won. But the world isn’t perfect, you just have to make the best of it-that’s what Carl learns.
1. The Dark Knight (2008)
It might be the cliche choice, but Nolan’s follow-up to Batman Begins is a near-perfect film that remains arguably the best comic book based film ever. When one thinks of “summer” they may not necessarily think of The Dark Knight. But that’s why it’s the best. It breaks down the doors to its genres and doesn’t look back. There isn’t much more to be said about the film and Heath Ledger’s Joker that hasn’t already been said. I don’t even consider it a comic book movie so much as a crime drama. That’s how good it is.
Agree? Disagree? Any that could have been added? Let me know!