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Best summer blockbusters of all time: Rafer Guzman's 12 favorites

The biggest summer blockbusters of the last 40 years? That's easy: Start with "Marvel's the Avengers," which pulled in $1.5 billion in 2012, and work your way down the box-office list. But the best summer blockbusters of all time? That's a little more subjective. Here's one critic's opinion.

12. SPEED (1994)

Photo Credit: 20th Century Fox Film / Richard Foreman

12. "Speed," 1994. One of the last great summer blockbusters of the classic era (1980s-1990s) takes place almost entirely on a Los Angeles city bus rigged to explode if its speed drops below 50 m.p.h. This steroidally high-concept action flick featured the perfect cast: Keanu Reeves as a heroic SWAT officer, Sandra Bullock as a passenger in distress and Dennis Hopper -- in yet another unexpected career move -- as the homegrown terrorist Howard Payne. Directed by Jan de Bont, who followed up with the worthy "Twister" (1996).

11. TOTAL RECALL (1990)

Photo Credit: Rialto Pictures

11. "Total Recall," 1990. It was a match made in heaven: Arnold Schwarzenegger, a box-office juggernaut whose recent hits included "Predator," and director Paul Verhoeven, fresh off of his breakout hit "RoboCop." Together they took a sci-fi short story by Philip K. Dick (who also gave us "Blade Runner") and turned it into a wildly violent, perversely funny action-spectacle. The ending is a confusing mess, but after watching Schwarzenegger turn a mall into a massacre, pull a man's hands off and shoot his despicable wife in the head ("Consider that a divorce"), who cares?

10. SUPERMAN II (1981)

Photo Credit: AP

10. "Superman II," 1981. Here you'll find the modern-day template for today's cinematic superhero battles, with a mid-air Superman (Christopher Reeve) hurling villains into buildings and neon Coke signs. Those scenes can look a little hokey -- you can practically see the wires -- but this sequel is arguably more memorable than the original. The main reason is General Zod, played with fascist zeal by the great Terence Stamp, but the movie also brims with romance, charm and humor.


Photo Credit: Tri-Star Pictures

9. "Terminator 2: Judgment Day," 1991. For this sequel, Arnold Schwarzenegger's Terminator cyborg became the good guy, leaving the villainy to Robert Patrick as the advanced T-1000. At the time, audiences had never seen anything like the liquid-metal effect that allowed Patrick to turn his hands into swords and mold himself into other people. Where the first "Terminator" had been a total hoot, this sequel meant business. James Cameron's film won four Oscars, including for best visual effects.


Photo Credit: Paramount

8. "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan," 1982. Looking back, this sequel seems to presage the recent craze for "dark" and "serious" undertones in superhero movies. Kirk, Spock, Bones and the crew returned for a galactic adventure but found themselves in a Wagnerian space-opera thanks to Khan, a villain who'd been nursing a grudge since the 1967 television episode "Space Seed." Played by Ricardo Montalban in a career-high performance -- he seemed to outdo Kirk Douglas and Laurence Olivier in one go -- Khan turned this summer entertainment into something truly memorable.


Photo Credit: Warner Bros.

7. "The Dark Knight," 2008. Christopher Nolan's real-world approach to the previously cartoony Batman franchise did several things: It helped launch an entire sub-industry of superhero movies, pushed the whole genre into new thematic territory and -- just as a bonus -- gave us Heath Ledger, as the Joker, in one of the greatest performances of all time.

6. ROBOCOP (1987)

Photo Credit: Sony Pictures

6. "Robocop," 1987. Paul Verhoeven's gonzo classic starred Peter Weller as Murphy, a cop in dystopian Detroit who is nearly murdered -- but wakes up transformed into a robotic prototype. Part "Mad Max," part "Death Wish," Verhoeven's film mixed savage cultural satire with plain old savagery and became one of the most vicious thrills of the 1980s. Originally rated X for violence, the toned-down R version became a $53.4 million hit.


Photo Credit: Universal Pictures

5. "Jurassic Park," 1993. No disrespect to director Steven Spielberg, but Michael Crichton's story -- about scientists who bring dinosaurs back to life in a theme park -- is pure gold. Set those dinos loose, put a couple of kids in danger and you've got a hit. (Universal has been releasing near-identical sequels ever since.) The lively effects, emotional touches and energetic action sequences are where the Spielberg magic comes in. Still a doozy after all these years.

'Die Hard' (1988)

Magical things supposedly happen on Christmas Day (per
Photo Credit: Twentieth Century Fox / Leo Sorel

Magical things supposedly happen on Christmas Day (per Santa, the elves and all those other jolly revelers), but they don't in this holiday film. "Die Hard," starring Alan Rickman and Bruce Willis, is loaded with violence and action, which your typical Christmas Eve is most likely lacking.

3. STAR WARS (1977)

Photo Credit: Lucasfilm

3. "Star Wars," 1977. George Lucas' space-Western polarized critics, but not the public, which made it the highest-grossing film at the time. It looks a little dated today, even with Lucas' post-release "improvements," but there's still real magic in this sci-fi swashbuckler. The key ingredients are the inventive characters, a perfectly-chosen cast (particularly Harrison Ford as Han Solo) and those kid-friendly droids.


Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures

2. "Raiders of the Lost Ark," 1981. Better than "Star Wars?" Go back and watch both, and you'll see how well Steven Spielberg's adventure-film holds up. Starring Harrison Ford as a treasure-hunter trotting the globe on the eve of World War II, "Raiders" harks back to the old Saturday movie-matinees and ends up feeling absolutely timeless. Lawrence Kasdan's elegantly simple screenplay -- with a freaky supernatural twist -- is a thing of beauty, as are the sets, costumes and John William's stirring score.

1. JAWS, 1975

Photo Credit: Universal

1. "Jaws," 1975. The first summer blockbuster is still the best. In the hands of director Steven Spielberg, the seemingly simplistic premise -- shark eats man -- expanded to include nearly a half-dozen genres: horror, action-adventure, monster-movie, science-thriller, literary epic. The mechanical shark (nicknamed Bruce by the director) may not look so convincing today. As with any classic -- say, 1933's "King Kong" -- it's the filmmaking that stands the test of time.


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