The “Stay-at-Home” Summer Blockbuster Film Festival

As I write this right now the reality is that for the first time in my lifetime there will not be a summer blockbuster season. With most movie theaters only hoping to open their doors in July at the earliest and almost every major studio summer release being delayed (some until 2021) I am currently faced with a rhythmic void in my life. Let’s be clear, on the grand scheme of things not being able to go to the movies is at best a tertiary problem in my life and it in no way compares to the tragedy that is the hundreds of thousands of people who have died from Covid-19, the millions more who are sick, and the countless others who now find themselves out of work or their lives cripplingly disrupted because of the necessary stay-at-home orders we are under. But on my small, petty, cinephile level, not being able to go to the movies quite frankly sucks.

So to mitigate this void and make the next few months of social distancing slightly more tolerable I propose that we put together our own summer blockbuster film festival. Ever since Jaws in 1975 and Star Wars in 1977 burst onto the scene and sucked up almost all the cultural conversation in their respective summers, summer movie season has been defined by splashy, flashy, and most popcorn-friendly movies with enormous budgets, incredible hype, a cavalcade of stars, and the implicit promise of being entertained. If you are under 50 and consider yourself a movie fan but don’t count a summer blockbuster as a foundational reason to why you eventually fell in love with the movies you are either lying or a rare unicorn, so congrats to you I guess. And as is the thesis for me starting this blog, we now live in a time when (a) television technology has never been closer to replicating the cinema experience (although it is not there yet) and (b) it has never been easier to get access to old movies. Thus we live in the perfect time to create our own “Stay-at-Home” Film Festival and that is precisely what I plan to do here.

Credit where credits due, I did not come up with this idea on my own. Instead I was inspired by ScreenCrush’s Matt Singer who put together his own “Alternative Movie Season” where Singer suggest alternatives for every summer release that has been pushed back due to COVID-19 and IndieWire’s David Ehrlich who has put together a diverse “Ultimate Summer Movie Season” where he programs a summer program based on every summer movie release from 1990 onward. Honestly both of these selections are much more thought through than whatever I come up with so by all means take a look at their lists for your own inspiration. But as I don’t have much going on right now and putting this film festival is, as my wife put it it, me “playing fantasy football” with my movies this is what I’m gonna do.

For my own Summer Blockbuster Film Festival I will be operating by these rules:

  1. The movies have to have been in North American theaters between Memorial Day and Labor Day from 1980 onward. I realize that in recent years, and no thanks to Marvel, the “kickoff” to Summer movie season has been pushed to as early as March, but for tradition’s sake I am going to consider Memorial Day as the true start to the season. Also I have 1980 as the cutoff because Box Office records are pretty spotty before then.
  2. Each weekend date will have four movies programmed. This is mostly to fulfill my lifelong fantasy of spending an entire summer’s worth of weekends going to the movies, with Friday night reserved for a double-feature, with a Saturday night and Sunday matinee to follow.
  3. Eligible movies must have been the No. 1 film at the North American box-office for a weekend in the summer to qualify. I want in some sense to capture either the excitement of opening week when packed crowds scramble to get their hands on whatever ticket they could or the related excitement that is going to see a movie that has garnered enough momentum as to be one of the films of that particular summer.
  4. Movies will be programmed on the weekend closest to the corresponding weekends when they hit No. 1. Each week that a movie hit the top spot is also eligible to be considered for programming.
  5. Due to criteria #3, I realize that it might make the movies a little monolithic (big, loud, expensive action blockbusters that seek to primarily attract teenage boys). To combat this, counter-programming will be extremely important. Movies that achieve No. 1 for a particular weekend that don’t fit into the typical blockbuster mould will thus be given higher priority over more standard fare so that we get some much needed variety into our film diet.
  6. Only one movie per-franchise will be eligible for the entire season. Fair warning: this particular rule is going to broken very early on in this post.
  7. Only one entry per-director will be eligible for a particular weekend. This is to prevent all of the July 4 weekend from being Spielberg movies or late August being an entire Nolan-esque slate among other things.

And, as is always the case with any of my list of rules, all rules can be broken at my discretion because it’s my freaking list.


MAY 15-17 2020, FESTIVAL PREVIEW: Pre-1980 Summer Blockbusters

Alien (1979)
Grease (1977)
Jaws
(1975)
Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (1977)

Because some dumb-dumb set a bunch of arbitrary rules at the top of this article, it means that the Summer Blockbuster Film Festival will be missing some of the earliest and most iconic blockbusters from its lineup. This preview weekend seeks to rectify those omissions, and in so doing I might have accidentally created the strongest weekend of the bunch. The preview also serves as a good orientation into the rhythm of this “film festival” (which you are of course free to follow or ignore as much as possible).

For the Friday Double Features I try as much as possible to pair movies either thematically or by their social reputation.  In that sense Jaws and Alien are the perfect openers as horror movies that have unwittingly become object lessons in the importance of trusting the experts and quarantining the exposed in our current times. With the Sunday matinee I tried to reserve it for the lightest fare available, as it seems only logical to end the weekend and anticipate another (presumed) week of isolation with some level of levity; again I can hardly argue for a better choice this week than Grease, one of the highest grossing musicals of all time. From there I leave Saturday night’s feature for arguably the biggest movie of that weekend and what bigger movie could we have to start this film festival than Star Wars.

Friday Double FeatureJaws / Alien
Saturday Night: Star Wars
Sunday Matinee: Grease


MAY 22-25, MEMORIAL DAY WEEKEND

Beverly Hills Cop II (May 22-25 1987)
Casper (May 26-29 1995)
Cliffhanger (May 28-31 1993)
Rocky III (May 28-31 1982)
Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (May 23-26 1980)

Memorial Day Weekend proved to be one of the more difficult weekends to program because of my stupid “one film per franchise” rule. As the official kickoff to the Summer season it tended to be littered with franchise sequels deemed “safe bets” by Hollywood to bring out the crowds. Here we can find most of the sequels for Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Pirates of the Caribbean, and X-Men among others. So while I’m pretty proud of the gems I managed to unearth, I understand that this may not feel like a “typical” Memorial Day weekend.

Sylvester Stallone’s brand of muscle-bound and testosterone-fueled action in many ways defined the summer blockbusters of the 1980s so it seems appropriate to open with a Stallone double-feature. Rocky III may not be the best of the franchise but it is the only one to feature Mr. T so there’s that. Meanwhile Cliffhanger finds Stallone at the tail-end of his powers (further evidence that Stallone owned this weekend is that Rambo: First Blood Part II and Cobra, excellent alternatives, both opened number 1 this weekend). For Saturday night I break my “one franchise” rule with The Empire Strikes Back which I justify because it is almost inarguably the best Star Wars movie and last weekend was a mere “preview” weekend so it doesn’t count. I’m not going to argue that Casper is a good movie, only that it is a good piece of family friendly counter-programming that is much, much better than the alternative (1994’s The Flintstones which is, yikes). And with the Monday matinee we get Eddie Murphy in arguably his most iconic role as Detroit cop Axel Foley, even if Beverly Hills Cop II isn’t nearly as good as the original.

Friday Double Feature: Rocky III / Cliffhanger
Saturday Night: Star Wars Episode V
Sunday Matinee: Casper
Monday Matinee: Beverly Hills Cop II


MAY 29-31

Backdraft (May 24-27, 2nd Weekend)
Finding Nemo (May 30-June 1 2003)
Shrek 2 (May 28-31 2004)
Total Recall (June 1-3 1990)

Did I lean hard into my personal nostalgia for this week’s Friday double feature? Maybe. Was Finding Nemo the first movie I went on a date with? Possibly (I had a mostly G-rated dating life). Did I spend most of the summer of 2004 quoting Shrek 2 and then spent an inordinate amount of time after 2004 growing in my realization that Shrek 2 was not, in fact, a good movie? Most definitely. Still the beginning of summer really only means something to us because school is out, and it seems appropriate early on to acknowledge that joy by having some movies that directly appeal to that demographic. Meanwhile Saturday Night belongs to the undisputed King of action movies, Arnold Schwarzernegger, in what I think might be his best role in Total Recall where he somehow convincingly portrays a “normal” dude slowly losing grasp of reality (although watch out, I will probably change my mind about the best Arnie movie several times in this post alone). And finally we finish with Backdraft an eminently watchable movie in an “I will probably finish it if I stumble on it on cable” kind of way.

Friday Double Feature: Finding Nemo / Shrek 2
Saturday Night: Total Recall
Sunday Matinee: Backdraft


JUNE 5-7

Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan (June 4-6 1982)
Top Gun (June 6-8 1986, 4th Weekend)
The Truman Show (June 5-7 1998)
Wonder Woman (June 2-4 2017)

Amazingly Top Gun only hit the top spot one time between Memorial Day and Labor Day in its 4th weekend (it hit number one in its opening one week before Memorial Day and then another time in the middle of September). That meant it was a lock for this week and what better way to pair Maverick and Goose than with the iconic duo Kirk and Spock in Star Trek IIthe hands-down best Star Trek movie made. For Saturday night Wonder Woman is a no-brainer as a sign of the new Hollywood that has realized extremely belatedly that creating a blockbuster superhero action movie with someone who represents a little more than half the world population (to be doubly clear, I mean women) is a pretty good business strategy; that it is also a good movie is a bonus. And finally for the Sunday matinee I went with The Truman Show. I tried hard to fit in The Mask for my Jim Carrey pick to represent the unprecedented rise to stardom Carrey had in 1994 (where along with The Mask he also starred in Ace Ventura and Dumb and Dumber) but alas the one weekend it went number one was packed. So instead we’ll just have to settle for Carrey’s best role in his best movie which is not a bad consolation at all.

Friday Double Feature: Top Gun / Star Trek II
Saturday Night: Wonder Woman
Sunday Matinee: The Truman Show


JUNE 12-14

Predator (June 12-14 1987)
Raiders of the Lost Ark (June 12-14 1981)
Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (June 14-16 1991)
Speed (June 10-12 1994)

Patrick Willems recently made a pretty cogent argument that Joh McTiernan’s Predator is the quintessential expression of 80s with its potent mix of the Reagan-era action movie and the slasher, where Schwarzenegger has never been better as both a roided out action hero and a final girl (you can, and should, check out Willems’ full video on the subject here). And while McTiernan’s follow-up Die Hard never made it to the top spot Speed is the perfect substitute for this week’s double-feature as the best unofficial Die Hard sequel ever made. Saturday night brings Raiders of the Lost Ark which serves as another salvo reminding us that while Star Wars ensured that summer would be designated blockbuster season, Steven Spielberg owns the season. As will be evidenced throughout this film festival, there is a reason Spielberg is considered the most commercial filmmaker ever. Meanwhile I just can’t envision going through the season without an epic and overly earnest Kevin Costner feature and Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves certainly fits the bill (it was this or Waterworld so count your blessings, maybe).

Friday Double Feature: Speed / Predator
Saturday Night: Raiders of the Lost Ark
Sunday Matinee: Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves


JUNE 19-21

Batman (June 23-25 1989)
Ghostbusters
 (June 8-10 1984, 3rd Weekend)
Minority Report (June 21-23 2002)
The Witches of Eastwick (June 12-14 1987, 2nd Weekend)

Perhaps it’s the eye-rolling news that the new Batman apparently movie is going to “darker than previous” iterations but I find myself desperately wistful for the gothically campy hijinks of Tim Burton’s Batmanwhich, need I remind you, features Jack Nicholson dancing to a Prince song twice! And then if you haven’t had your Jack fill yet, plop down for the wonderfully bizarre The Witches of Eastwick, a relic of a bygone era where the combined star power of Nicholson, Susan Sarandon, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Cher was enough to propel a movie to the top spot no matter the premise. Saturday night is the perfect night to catch up with Ghostbusters, released three weeks earlier, and remind yourself that once upon a time comedies did dominate the box office. Meanwhile Minority Report might be a lesser Spielberg work, but it is also evidence that lesser Spielberg is still going to be better than most blockbusters.

Friday Double Feature: Batman / The Witches of Eastwick
Saturday Night: Ghostbusters
Sunday Matinee: Minority Report


JUNE 26-28

A.I. Artificial Intelligence (June 29-July 1 2001)
Superman II (June 19-21 1981, 2nd Weekend)
WALL-E (June 27-29 2008)
Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (June 24-26 1988)

This might just be the favorite weekend that I have planned. WALL-E represents Pixar at its absolute creative apex as the studio masterfully had the moxie to craft a nearly wordless opening 45-minutes – in a children’s movie – and pull it off effortlessly. And after the kids are sent to bed A.I. Artificial Intelligence is the perfect but bleak companion piece. The Kubrick project always seemed like an awkward fit for the largely sunny Spielberg, but their strange marriage produced a movie that is as unsettling as it is fascinating; it is an underrated classic. Other than Star WarsSuperman II might just be the movie I watched most as a child and is still the best Superman movie ever to hit the screen partly because Christopher Reeve nailed Clark Kent’s inherent dorkiness. And finally on Sunday we have Who Framed Roger Rabbit which is the first movie I remember going to see with my parents, and thus has a special place in my heart (even if, in hindsight, this is not the ideal movie for a 6-year old to watch).

Friday Double Feature: WALL-E / A.I. Artificial Intelligence
Saturday Night: Superman II
Sunday Matinee: Who Framed Roger Rabbit?


JULY 2-5, JULY 4TH WEEKEND

Apollo 13 (June 30-July 2 1995)
Back to the Future 
(July 5-7 1985)
Coming to America (July 1-4 1988)
Independence Day (July 5-7 1996)
The Lion King (June 24-26, 1994, 2nd Weekend)

Since July 4th actually occurs on a Saturday this year, it makes the most sense to shift the double feature to Saturday night as well. And what more appropriate double-feature could there be than Apollo 13an incredibly earnest and thrilling retelling of one of the greatest space rescues ever and perhaps the most universally palatable patriotic movie. Following that we get Independence Day, a movie that dares (an almost succeeds) to reappropriate the Fourth of July as a global holiday and almost gets away with it thanks to some nasty aliens trying to destroy humanity and the almighty charismatic power of one Will Smith who certainly belongs on the Mount Rushmore of Summer Blockbuster stars. The opening of the weekend meanwhile is devoted to movies that harken to or lovingly mock America in some way or another with the dual fish-out-of-water comedies of Coming to America on Thursday night and Back to the Future on Friday. Sunday meanwhile finds us visiting the commercial high point of the Disney Renaissance of the 90s in The Lion King; hopefully by revisiting this gem and remembering just how good it is we can collectively expunge last year’s tiresome “live-action” remake from our minds.

Thursday Night PreviewComing to America
Friday Night: Back to the Future
Saturday Double Feature (July 4th): Apollo 13 / Independence Day
Sunday Matinee: The Lion King


JULY 10-12

A League of Their Own (July 10-12 1992)
Men in Black (July 4-6 1997, 2nd Weekend)
Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (July 11-13 2003)
Spider-Man 2 (July 2-5 2002, 2nd Weekend)

Where the July 4 weekend is filled with blockbuster heavy-hitters, the weekend after tends to be fairly light making it the perfect opportunity to begin to catch up on the stacked line-up of the holiday. Kicking things off we dive into the dictionary definition of a sleeper hit in Pirates of the Caribbean, a movie that dared to base itself of a theme park ride that somehow turned out to not be a disaster but instead one of the most purely entertaining movies of the year. Next occupying the late night spot is the somehow underrated Men In Black which in many ways is the perfect way to introduce kids to the wonderful world of B-movie sci-fi horror. On Saturday night we have Spider-Man 2 as a throwback to the bygone age of 2002 when superhero movies were not ubiquitous products and the only thing major studios cared about; instead each superhero movie we got felt like a minor miracle to be cherished and celebrated. And finally, summer is simply not summer without baseball (something I am willing to acknowledge even as someone who is at best agnostic about the religion of baseball), so it is entirely appropriate to close out this lighter weekend with one of the best sports movies ever made, A League of Their Own.

Friday Double Feature: Pirates of the Caribbean / Men in Black
Saturday Night: Spider-Man 2
Sunday Matinee: A League of Their Own


JULY 17-19

E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (June 11-13 1982, 6th Weekend)
The Firm (July 2-4 1993, 3rd Weekend)
Ghost (July 20-22 1990, 2nd Weekend)
RoboCop (Jul 17-19 1987)

Among the many things I miss about summer blockbuster seasons of old (which I acknowledge immediately labels me an old grump) is the way a movie will just rise to the surface and dominate pop culture for entire months and sometimes for a full year. Last year’s biggest hit Avengers: Endgame, the highest grossing movie of all time, barely lasted three weeks at the top of the box office before eventually slipping out of theaters altogether twenty weeks later. By contrast this week’s opening Friday double-feature movie E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial had spent six weeks either as the number one or number two spot on the list by this point in 1982, and would be a box office powerhouse until June 1983! Its companion late-night movie RoboCop has the dubious distinction of being the most child-friendly movie premise of a movie that is decidedly and wholly inappropriate for children (not that it stopped me as a kid mind you). Of course the mere prospect of a hyper-violent R-rated sci-fi movie being made in today’s environment seems like such an impossibility that RoboCop is all the more precious to the cinephile. The last two movies of the weekend are similarly relics of blockbuster genres that are seemingly extinct today. For a while in the 90s making a John Grisham legal drama was the closest thing to a sure bet and The Firm, starring an irresistible Tom Cruise is certainly the pick of the bunch. Meanwhile a high-concept romantic drama like this week’s Ghost seems an even unlikelier box-office hit when even a straight-down-the-line romantic drama struggles to make a dent in the box-office today (last year’s highest romantic movie, Yesterday, ranked 38 at the box-office). So on this weekend which is traditionally slower, it seems appropriate to celebrate these phantoms of the past.

Friday Double FeatureE.T. / RoboCop
Saturday Night: Ghost
Sunday Matinee: The Firm


JULY 24-26

Aliens (July 18-20 1987, 2nd Weekend)
The Dark Knight (July 18-20 2008, 2nd Weekend)
Saving Private Ryan (July 24-26 1998)
The Simpsons Movie (Jul 25-27 2007)

Our Friday double feature this weekend highlights two movies that are proof positive that a sequel need not be shorthand for “cheap financial grab”. James Cameron took Ridley Scott’s slasher-in-space Alien and masterfully added more guns and explosions to turn Aliens into a potent and terrifying allegory of the Vietnam war (while transforming protagonist Ripley from being a final girl to one of the most badass action heroes ever to grace the screen). Meanwhile a Batman movie is only as good as its villain and in Heath Ledger’s portrayal of the Joker director Christopher Nolan found a villain great enough to elevate The Dark Knight from a merely great comic book movie into a serious movie worthy of critical evaluation and acclaim (where its snub from a Best Picture nomination literally caused the Academy to change how the Best Picture Oscar was awarded). On Saturday night we get to revisit another would-be Best Picture by a populist director not known for his “seriousness” in Spielberg’s brutal, graphically violent, but surprisingly rewatchable Saving Private Ryan. And to close things out we get The Simpsons Movie which is the perfect cleanser for what is an admittedly bleak weekend (and arguably the last great Simpsons episode ever made).

Friday Double Feature: Aliens / The Dark Knight
Saturday Night: Saving Private Ryan
Sunday Matinee: The Simpsons Movie


JULY 31-AUGUST 2

Guardians of the Galaxy (August 1-3 2014)
Inception (July 16-18 2010, 3rd Week)
Mission:Impossible – Fallout
(July 27-29 2018, 2nd Weekend)
Runaway Bride 
(July 30-August 1 1999)

The Marvel Cinematic Universe has been largely absent from this list due to their release strategy generally focusing on dominating the stretch (successfully) between February and May. But it seems appropriate that the obvious MCU entry to qualify for this list is Marvel’s Studios biggest flex in Guardians of the Galaxy – a movie that need I remind you features a talking raccoon and builds an emotional connection between a barely talking tree and its audience. Joining this rag-tag team of misfit toys on Friday night is the IMF, another fantastical team who find themselves united by their disbelief at the death-defying lengths Tom Cruise will go through to entertain us (Mission: Impossible – Fallout). Next, no director has come to dominate the end week of July in recent years more than Christopher Nolan who, in a time when blockbusters are increasingly IP-based and sequels, now has the clout to convince studios to release high-concept original movies like this week’s Inception (as of writing his upcoming release Tenet, of which we know precisely nothing about, is the only tentpole release that hasn’t moved its release date).

Finally this first day of August is when we finally get to celebrate, admittedly late into the season, Julia Roberts who in a stretch between 1990 and 2000 had eight movies make over $100 million on her way to her Best Actress Oscar in Erin Brockovich (2000). What makes Roberts’ run all the more phenomenal is that only one of those movies (Hook) can be considered a traditional four-quadrant movie and her star power was so great that she could sustain to tentpole blockbusters in the same year. Sunday’s movie Runaway Bride is the second blockbuster movie she released in 1999 (the other being Notting Hill) to cross the $100 million mark, made all the more remarkable by the fact that this wasn’t the first time she had accomplished that feat (1991 produced Sleeping With the Enemy and Hook). Julia Roberts is indisputably Hollywood’s box-office queen.

Friday Double Feature: Guardians of the Galaxy / M:I – Fallout
Saturday Night: Inception
Sunday Matinee: Runaway Bride


AUGUST 7-9

Collateral (August 6-8 2004)
Parenthood (August 4-6 1989)
Unforgiven (August 7-9 1992)
Rise of the Planet of the Apes (August 5-7 2011)

August is traditionally “dump month” when Hollywood tends to take its projects it has less than full confidence in and releases them quickly while kids are still out of school in order to make a quick buck. But because Hollywood studio executives’ ideas of what a good movie is don’t necessarily line up with reality this is also a period where some gems can be found and there is no better place to start than with Unforgiventhe rare August movie that somehow made it all the way to becoming a Best Picture winner. And the perfect compliment Clint Eastwood’s gritty and grungy revisionist Western is Michael Mann’s ice-cold noir-thriller Collateral which features the last phenomenal non-franchise pure-acting Tom Cruise performance and also is in the conversation for “Best Movie About L.A.” Rounding out the weekend is the prequel/reboot Rise of the Planet of the Apes, a movie that sounded uninspired when it was announced but somehow morphed into what eventually became the best new trilogy of the last decade. And finally Parenthood gives us a chance to remind ourselves of the time when a family oriented comedy in which hardly anything heightened happens could be the basis for box office gold.

Friday Double Feature: Unforgiven / Collateral
Saturday Night: Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Sunday Matinee: Parenthood


AUGUST 14-16

Crazy Rich Asians (August 17-19 2018)
Friday the 13th Part III (August 13-15 1982)
The Sixth Sense (August 6-8 1999, 2nd Weekend)
Straight Outta Compton (August 15-16 2015)

August tends to be a great month for horror movies because they tend to be inexpensive so they represent a low risk to studios, tend to only need one good weekend to make back their cost and become profitable, and are targeted for teenagers and young adults who by the end of August are both bored and looking to make summer last longer thus making them flock to cineplexes in droves. Our double feature this week seeks to celebrate that, first with The Sixth Sense which was the rare horror movie to get universal love and hype (becoming at the time only the fourth horror movie to get nominated for a Best Picture Oscar). Next, a summer movie slate that doesn’t feature a fast and cheap slasher feels wrong and so Friday the 13th Part III perfectly fills that void. Part III is not the best Friday the 13th movie, and it isn’t even remotely comes close to being a good movie but it is perhaps the platonic ideal of a Jason Voorhees flick (with the bonus of viewing the awkward cinematography that came with 1980s 3-D). The final two movies of the weekend were box-office successes premised on the “revolutionary” idea that making movies starring people who weren’t white might actually draw an audience in. Both Straight Outta Compton (Saturday night) and Crazy Rich Asians (Sunday matinee) are entirely perfunctory movies as a music biopic and romantic comedy respectively, but they also show that there is life in these perceived stale dramas if you are simply willing to expand who gets to tell these kind of stories. Of all the trends in new Hollywood, may the expansion of diverse storytelling be one that grows and continues.

Friday Double Feature: The Sixth Sense / Friday the 13th
Saturday Night: Straight Outta Compton
Sunday Matinee: Crazy Rich Asians


AUGUST 21-23

An American Werewolf in London (August 21-23 1981)
The Fly (August 15-17 1986, 2nd Weekend)
Forrest Gump (July 8-10 1994, 7th Weekend)
The 40-Year Old Virgin (August 19-21 2005)

This week further illustrates how August, while being mostly a wasteland for other genres, is a boom for horror. One could make a case that both of our double feature movies this week rank as some of the best of all time. Both The Fly and An American in Werewolf are legendary practical effects showcases that bring a healthy dose of body horror to our summer proceedings. Then of Saturday night, it is time to enter late-summer catch-up mode where we finally have to program Forrest Gump, an improbable boomer-fantasy movie that snuck up on us in 1994 and has increasingly aged poorly ever since. It just seems appropriate to program it seven weekends after it came out as a movie you have to watch whether you particularly want to or not. Finally we have The Forty-Year Old Virgin to showcase Judd Apatow, whose projects represent the dying embers of big studio blockbuster comedies. It seems impossible for a movie like The Forty-Year Old Virgin to get made today let alone to dominate the box office as studios have increasingly balked at comedy (given that most comedies tend to underperform overseas) and major streaming players like Netflix have taken their place. This is of course a shame, because one of the purest joys in the world is being in a packed theater where the sound of raucous laughter causes you to join in, even in spite of yourself.

Friday Double Feature: The Fly / An American Werewolf
Saturday Night: Forrest Gump
Sunday Matinee: The 40-Year Old Virgin


AUGUST 28-30

Bring It On (August 25-27 2000)
The Fugitive (August 6-8 1993, 3rd Weekend)
Terminator 2 (July 5-7, 9th Weekend)
Signs (August 23-25 2002, 2nd Weekend)

By this penultimate weekend of the film festival I will admit that all rhyme and reason has abandoned my programming. If anything the weekend serves to remind me that the end of August is truly awful for new releases with only Bring It On, the Sunday matinee, being the only debuting movie to qualify for this week’s slate. Meanwhile the rest of the weekend is devoted to playing catch-up with some of the blockbusters we missed. First on the docket is Terminator 2another fantastic sequel from the mind of James Cameron that should, along with Aliens, serve to remind us that we underestimate Avatar 2 at our own peril. It’s companion movie Signs is a movie that is 75% on its way to being a masterpiece only to be let down by its twisty final act; it gives us a chance to witness what would be the beginning of M. Night Shyamalan’s fall from Hollywood’s good graces. And finally Saturday night brings us Best Picture (!) nominee The Fugitivea straight-up popcorn action thriller that is the epitome of a basic-cable movie that you’ve probably seen bits and pieces of but not all the way through.

Friday Double Feature: Terminator 2 / Signs
Saturday Night: The Fugitive
Sunday Matinee: Bring It On


SEPT 4-7, LABOR DAY WEEKEND

The Help (August 12-14 2011, 3rd Weekend)
Jurassic Park (June 11-13 1993, 11th Weekend)
My Big Fat Greek Wedding (April 19-21 2002, 22nd Weekend)
Stand By Me (Aug 8-10 1986, 4th Weekend)
There’s Something About Mary (July 17-19 1998, 8th Weekend)

Let’s be frank, My Big Fat Greek Wedding is technically not eligible as it never reached the top spot in the box office. However it seemed particularly egregious to leave it off the list as it hold the distinction of being the highest grossing movie never to take that top spot (thanks, Swimfan). It’s entire box-office run is a miracle, as it began its run modestly in April and then slowly but surely began climbing up the box-office week after week until it reached it’s high-water mark on Labor Day weekend at the #2 spot behind Signs on its 22nd weekend of release! And it was not even done as it spent forty-three consecutive weekends in the top-20, ultimately collection $240 million along the way. So for its miraculous run, it deserves to open our closing Labor Day weekend slate with the solid screwball comedy There’s Something About Mary (which similarly had a slow rise to the top) sharing the bill.

Another movie with an impossibly long tail is Jurassic Park which spent 32 weekends in the top-20 and holds a special place in my heart as watching it in 1993 represented the moment when, to quote Pauline Kael, “I lost it at the movies.” I caught up with Jurassic Park late in its run as the hype surrounding its release, the fact that all my friends and family had seen it themselves, and my overwhelming love of dinosaurs finally wore down my parents worries that the movie might be too scary for me. Turns out my parents were right as I ended up jumping out of my chair and screaming at the screen at the climax, but seeing as I processed that moment of emotional trauma into a lifelong love of movies I think I came out okay. So here at the end, it deserves its Saturday night slot.

Meanwhile the last two movies on this list represent a symbolic goodbye to the Summer season and, with any luck, might serve as a marker for a return to something approaching normalcy again. The Help is the great example of a shift to more grown-up fare as it is straddles that line between being a crowd-pleasing popcorn movie and an awards season heavy-hitter. And finally Stand By Meabout a coming of age adventure taken by four boys on Labor Day weekend, seems about as perfect a place to close out this film festival as any.

Friday Double FeatureMy Big Fat Greek Wedding / There’s Something About Mary
Saturday Night: Jurassic Park
Sunday Matinee: The Help
Monday Matinee: Stand By Me

 

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