10 Most Successful Summer Blockbusters of All Time

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What Summer Blockbuster has sold the most tickets?

Universal Pictures

Surprisingly, there was a time when Hollywood didn’t think summer and movies went together. Hollywood thought people wouldn’t go to the movies when they could go outside in the warm weather instead. But by the late 1970s Hollywood learned that by treating summer movies like major “events” with huge marketing pushes that everyone – especially the millions of children off from school on summer vacation – would flock to theaters to see the latest blockbuster. Of course, the movies had to be exciting to keep so many people coming to theaters instead of the beaches, and some of the biggest summer blockbusters of all time are also among the greatest movies ever made. May through July has since been the standard window of when Hollywood releases most of its biggest moneymakers.

These are the ten highest-grossing summer blockbusters of all time when adjusted for inflation (figures are from Box Office Mojo). In other words, these ten blockbusters have sold more tickets than any other summer movies. Because of their initial summer popularity, in the case of many of these films re-releases have added to their original grosses. Still, even with those extra millions nobody can deny that each one of these movies are among the most successful summer movies of all time.

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Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

Raiders of the Lost Ark
Paramount Pictures

Adjusted Domestic Box Office: $770.2 million

The poster tagline for June 1981's Raiders of the Lost Ark proclaimed "The Return of the Great Adventure," and it’s hard to argue against the fact that Raiders of the Lost Ark, which was directed by Steven Spielberg and produced by George Lucas, is one of the greatest adventure films of all time. Harrison Ford portrayed Indiana Jones, a 1930s whip-wielding archaeologist in a race to find the Ark of the Covenant before Nazi Germany does. The beloved movie has spawned three sequels (with a fourth sequel on the way) and dozens of imitators. But none could top the adventure of the original.

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The Lion King (1994)

The Lion King
Walt Disney Pictures

Adjusted Domestic Box Office: $775.6 million

Seen by many as the crowning achievement of the “Disney Renaissance” of animation, June 1994’s The Lion King was met with unprecedented critical and commercial success. Until the release of 2004's Shrek 2, The Lion King was the highest-grossing animated movie at the U.S. box office. Loosely based on William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the film tells the story of a young lion cub who grows from a prince to a king to avenge his father’s death. It remains one of the most beloved Disney movies ever made.

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Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (1999)

Star Wars Episode I The Phantom Menace

Adjusted Domestic Box Office: $785.7 million

Though viewed by many fans as the weakest of the Star Wars movies, at the time of its release Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace was the first Star Wars movie in 16 years and at the time arguably the most anticipated sequel (or in this case, prequel) ever made. George Lucas’ May 1999 return to the Star Wars universe followed the adventures of young Obi-wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker. While the movie doesn’t hold up to the other films in the series, its box office success shows how popular it was when it was first released.

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Jurassic Park (1993)

Jurassic Park
Universal Pictures

Adjusted Domestic Box Office: $799.7 million

Steven Spielberg continued to dominate the summer box office in the 1990s with June 1993’s Jurassic Park, based on the bestselling novel by Michael Crichton about a zoo of dinosaurs brought back to life by genetic engineering. Jurassic Park was a huge hit with audiences in part because of the groundbreaking special effects that brought beasts like the Tyrannosaurus back to life. These thrilling sequences catapulted Jurassic Park to the top of the list of the highest-grossing films of all time.

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Return of the Jedi (1983)

Return of the Jedi

Adjusted Domestic Box Office: $818.3 million

Of the original three Star Wars movies, Return of the Jedi was the least successful at the U.S. box office – but least successful in the sense that its grosses are still the kind that all of Hollywood dreams about. The concluding chapter of Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader’s story wasn’t as popular with critics as the first two films in the trilogy, but audiences still packed the theaters after its May 1983 release.

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The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

The Empire Strikes Back

Adjusted Domestic Box Office: $854.2 million

The original Star Wars quickly became the highest-grossing movie of all time at the U.S. box office, so a sequel was obviously going to be demanded by fans everywhere. In the estimation of many fans of the series, May 1980’s The Empire Strikes Back is the best Star Wars movie ever made in part because of the climax’s then-shocking revelation about the relationship between hero Luke Skywalker and villain Darth Vader. Audiences kept buying tickets even after they learned the truth.

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Jaws (1975)

Universal Pictures

Adjusted Domestic Box Office: $1.114 billion

Steven Spielberg’s shark thriller Jaws was the movie that started it all when it came to summer blockbusters. And if any movie was going to get people off the beaches and into theaters, it was this one!

Upon arriving in theaters in June 1975 behind a heavy promotional push from Universal Pictures, it became a massive hit of unprecedented nature. Jaws grossed $260 million in its initial theatrical run, making it at the time the highest-grossing movie ever made. It sent the message to Hollywood that an exciting movie will back theaters all summer long – a lesson Spielberg and his frequent collaborator George Lucas would follow for decades afterward.

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E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial
Universal Pictures

Adjusted Domestic Box Office: $1.23 billion

Though E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial doesn’t contain the action that most summer blockbusters normally feature, Steven Spielberg’s heartwarming movie about a boy who befriends a gentle alien won over audiences of all ages. It continued to draw audiences to theaters even the following summer – though released in June 1982, it didn’t leave theaters until June 1983, just one day shy of playing an entire calendar year. The long run helped E.T. beat Star Wars as the highest-grossing movie of all time at the U.S. box office.

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Jurassic World (2015)

Jurassic World
Universal Pictures

Adjusted U.S. Box Office: $687.7 million

Jurassic World is the most recent entry on the list, and in unadjusted numbers, it is the biggest summer blockbuster of all time—one of only four films to gross more than $650 million at the U.S. box office. While many expected this fourth film in the Jurassic Park series to be a hit, few predicted it would be such a huge one. The adventure film about an island amusement park with real-life dinosaurs broke all kinds of box office records (most of which were broken a few months later by December 2015’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens) on its way to becoming one of the biggest summer blockbusters of all time.

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Star Wars (1977)

Star Wars

Adjusted Domestic Box Office: $1.55 billion

Is it any surprise that the original Star Wars is the biggest summer blockbuster of all time? The adventure and thrill of the original is beloved by generations of audiences, and George Lucas’ classic sci-fi movie practically defines what every blockbuster should be ever since it arrived in theaters in May 1977. It stayed in theaters for over 500 straight days. In terms of adjusted grosses, Star Wars sits behind only Gone With the Wind as the highest-grossing movie ever at the U.S. box office. The tremendous influence it continues to have on pop culture means that it’s unlikely that any movie will ever dethrone Star Wars as the summer box office king.