For those of us born in the mid-late 70s, we’ve always had huge movies to go see in the summer. Indiana Jones, Batman (Tim Burton), Jurassic Park. These were my introduction to the Hollywood super movie. But before that, “blockbusters” happened because a movie did well. The time of the year wasn’t held to the regard it is today. But how did it get this way? There’s some debate and folklore surrounding the history of the summer blockbuster, but there’s one thing everyone agrees on: the first true blockbuster.
Jaws. Hollywood horror classic and Steven Spielberg’s first major hit. This movie was the first time that a movie was held over before being released, but it was done because the studio thought of the brilliant idea of holding off on releasing the movie UNTIL everyone was out on the beaches in North America for the summer. Psychologically creepy, no? This deliberate choice paid off in spades, making Jaws one of the highest grossing films of all time and cementing Spielberg as one of Hollywood’s top directors. But it wasn’t just about the film’s release date (June 20, 1975). The studio (Universal Pictures) spent an unheard of (at that time) $700,000 on marketing and media to go along with the film’s release. Open air screenings, previous in beach communities throughout the US and more. Things that we would take for granted as part of the regular promotion of a summer movie – Jaws’ release created these hyped up, over the top events and tie-ins and it made the movie a bigger hit than anyone had ever imagined a summer movie release could be (it didn’t hurt that Jaws is an AMAZING movie).
The film studios took notice of this and started trying to withhold big spectacle movies until the summer months and started including bigger and bigger marketing budgets and tie-ins to coincide with these releases. It worked. Thanks to the Jaws effect, the studios not only changed how they marketed movies, but they also started funding more and more super-charged movies. After the release of Jaws, the movie calendar release dates changed. This effect had a huge impact on the release of Star Wars: A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back & Return of the Jedi all were slated for summer release and had HUGE marketing/tie in budgets.
The Hollywood blockbuster was set.
Although some movies do have huge winter openings (Harry Potter, Avatar, Titanic and this year’s Star Wars: Episode VII The Force Awakens), it’s the summer season that brings the biggest promotions, tie ins and releases, and the last few years have been no different.
In recent years, the super hero movie has taken control of the summer blockbuster market, with everything from Iron Man to Christopher Nolan’s dark and brooding The Dark Knight series and, more recently, The Avengers franchise. In the last 40 years, movies have been made more and more to fit the summer blockbuster mold, so that studios can recoup some of the millions of dollars in marketing expenses they have. It’s taken nearly 40 years, but it’s become it’s own working machine, and we all rely on the blockbuster to get us through rainy or lazy summer days, for dates and more.
What are your memories of early blockbusters? What was the first big movie you saw in the theatre?