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The Best Summer Blockbusters Of All Time According To Rotten Tomatoes

A lot of people think summer blockbusters just aren't appreciated by critics. However, the truth is that quite a few summer tentpole flicks have managed to delight audiences and earn a lot of critical praise. To prove it, the review aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes has put together a list of the most highly rated summer blockbusters of all time, with Tomatometer scores that rival even the most prestigious Oscar winners.

Interestingly, in compiling their list of the best summer blockbusters ever, Rotten Tomatoes has tweaked their normal formula a bit, applying a Bayesian weighted formula to account for the variation in the number of reviews per movie, as well as the year of release. The specifics of how they're weighing those numbers is anyone's guess (it's worth nothing that the films on this list don't go exactly in order of their scores, meaning there must be hidden factors affecting their placement), but it's safe to assume that the adjusted formula accounts for some movies having far more reviews than others, putting them all on a more level playing field.

So, after all that adjusting, which summer blockbusters came out on top? Was a it a superhero flick? A sci-fi spectacle? An animated adventure? Or perhaps even a horror film? Well, the answers, presented here in ascending order, may surprise you. From frightening films to apocalyptic epics, here are the best summer blockbusters of all time according to Rotten Tomatoes.

Jaws is one of the best (and scariest) summer blockbusters ever

With a Rotten Tomatoes score of 98 percent and an adjusted score of 107.159 percent, the 1975 blockbuster Jaws swims onto this list in the twelfth place spot. Adapted from the 1974 novel of the same name by Peter Benchley, Jaws' captivating storytelling and well-paced scares have kept Steven Spielberg's fin-tastic shark tale a solid staple on "best blockbuster" lists for more than four decades. The classic film revolves around a great white shark that decides to terrorize summer vacationers at an idyllic beachside town and the three men who try to put a stop to the attacks.

Critics seemed to enjoy the chompy aquatic thriller when it was first released, praising the movie's effective scares, nail-biting tension, unexpected humor, and strong acting. Spielberg's direction, in particular, garnered hefty acclaim from reviewers, as did the film's special effects which were, back in 1975, ahead of their time. Jaws starred Roy Schneider, Richard Dreyfuss, and Robert Shaw, and it was nominated for multiple Academy Awards, including Best Picture (it lost to One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest).

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 2 earned a magical score on Rotten Tomatoes

Although most of the Harry Potter movies have earned respectable, if not particularly noteworthy, Rotten Tomatoes scores in the 70s and 80s, critics made an exception for the final film in the magical franchise, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2, which sits at an impressive 96 percent (106.47 percent adjusted) on the review site. Adapted from the final book in the series by J.K. Rowling, Deathly Hallows – Part 2 portrays the final, sweeping showdown between "the Boy Who Lived" and "He Who Must Not Be Named," as Harry Potter and Lord Voldemort engage in all-out war on the grounds of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Filled with dazzling visual effects, high-stakes thrills, and plenty of satisfying character payoffs, the eighth Harry Potter movie brings the epic wizarding saga to a conclusion that pleased audiences and critics alike.

Reviews for Deathly HallowsPart 2 praised the performances and the feeling of catharsis that came with the final chapter in the decade-spanning franchise, noting that what the film lacks in craft, it more than makes up for in its devotion to its target audience and its respect for its source material. Particularly impressive were the performances by the three main stars of the franchise — Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint — who all signed onto the series as children, before they were even teenagers, and finished it as adults, leading one critic to refer to Deathly Hallows – Part 2 as "a true coming-of-age saga, in the fullest and most moving sense of the term."

Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope blew critics and audiences away

It's almost difficult to comprehend that there was once a time when Star Wars didn't dominate every corner of pop culture discourse, but back in 1977, audiences flocked to theaters in order to get their first-ever glimpse into a galaxy far, far away. Since then, we've gotten dozens of sequels, prequels, spinoffs, novelizations, comics, and TV shows that have exponentially expanded the canon of the Star Wars universe, but even now, over 40 years later, no Star Wars summer blockbuster has managed to unseat the original film as one of Rotten Tomatoes' best of all time.

Written and directed by George Lucas, and starring Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford, and Alec Guinness, Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope clocks in at 92 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, with an adjusted score of 105.239 percent. The film kicked off the Skywalker saga, introducing fans to names like Han Solo, Princess Leia, and Darth Vader, all who'd eventually take their place as some of the most beloved fictional character in film history. Plus, audiences were treated to an original score by John Williams that would include some of the most memorable musical themes of all time. With critics praising the film's endearing characters, exciting story, and groundbreaking visual effects, it's no wonder A New Hope remains one of the best summer blockbusters of all time.

2009's Star Trek boldly went where no Star Trek film had gone before

Although Star Trek movies have been thrilling audiences for decades, the only one to crack the Rotten Tomatoes top ten best summer blockbusters of all time is one of the more recent entries into the canon, J.J. Abrams' 2009 Star Trek reboot. Starring Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana, John Cho, Simon Pegg, Karl Urban, and Anton Yelchin as a younger version of the Enterprise crew that audiences first met in 1966, Star Trek sidestepped the restraints of decades' worth of continuity by catapulting James T. Kirk and his crew into an alternate timeline within the movie's opening minutes. Thanks to this clever device, Star Trek and its sequels have been able to send familiar characters on fresh new adventures, unfettered by the limits of the stories that have already been told about them.

Earning a 94 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes and an adjusted score of 105.64 percent, Star Trek wowed audiences and critics alike with its innovative take on the long-running franchise, its high-energy pacing, and its ability to balance nostalgia for the original series with its shiny, new, 21st-century storytelling sensibilities. While other Star Trek films have also earned respectable reviews, with plenty sitting above 80 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, none have quite managed to crack into that top echelon of blockbusters like 2009's Star Trek, making its placement at #9 on this list all the more impressive.

Rotten Tomatoes has nothing but praise for The Dark Knight

While there are many superhero blockbusters that have been released in the summer, many of which even earned "Certified Fresh" status by Rotten Tomatoes, only one has managed to soar its way onto the top tier of the site's list of the best summer blockbusters of all time. Although Christopher Nolan's Batman Begins was well-received by critics and audiences alike, bringing a new cinematic take to the Caped Crusader that felt darker and more grounded than the Batman films which had come before it, Nolan truly knocked it out of the park with the sequel, The Dark Knight.

Although the film brought back much of the cast of Batman Begins — including Christian Bale as the haunted billionaire, Bruce Wayne, and Michael Caine as his butler, Alfred — The Dark Knight's biggest asset was in its addition of Heath Ledger as the Joker. In a stunning, sinister performance, Ledger blew the socks off of the naysayers (of which there were many) who'd doubted his ability to play the iconic villain since he was first cast in the role. Ledger even won an Oscar for his portrayal, although it had to be awarded to the actor posthumously, since Ledger tragically passed away several months before The Dark Knight hit theaters. Still, despite The Dark Knight's sad legacy, it remains one of the most acclaimed superhero films of all time, with a score of 94 percent on Rotten Tomatoes and an adjusted score of 107.199 percent.

Finding Nemo was a delightful summer blockbuster for all ages

It should come as no surprise that some of the biggest movies of the summer are traditionally aimed at children. After all, with kids being home from school, heading to the movie theater as a family is an easy and enjoyable way to pass the long months of summer. So it probably isn't much of a shock that this list contains multiple Pixar films, since the animation studio is known for creating family friendly fare with broad appeal, which not only drives audiences to the theater in droves but also manages to consistently earn praise from critics.

Even compared to the other films at the top of this list, Finding Nemo's score of 99 percent on Rotten Tomatoes (with an adjusted score of 106.879 percent) is truly impressive. With a score that high, it's safe to say that nearly everyone who saw it found something to enjoy in the aquatic tale of a nervous father clown fish desperately searching for his sheltered young son, in an adventure that spans hundreds of miles of brightly colored ocean. Featuring the voice talents of Albert Brooks, Alexander Gould, and Ellen DeGeneres, Finding Nemo earned high praise for its clever humor, endearing characters, and heartfelt storyline, easily earning its place as one of the best summer blockbusters of all time.

Up tugged on critics' heartstrings

Slightly edging out Finding Nemo is another Pixar masterpiece, the delightfully imaginative geriatric adventure Up. With a Rotten Tomatoes score of 98 percent and an adjusted score of 107.617 percent, Up follows widowed, septuagenarian balloon salesman Carl Fredricksen, who decides to realize his and his late wife's dream of relocating to a rainforest in South America by airlifting the home they'd made together, using thousands of balloons. The only kink in Carl's plan? An eight-year-old stowaway named Russell, who's incredibly eager to earn a Wilderness Explorer badge for helping an elderly person.

Thanks to its truly gutting opening ten minutes — which depict Carl's lifelong love story with his wife, Ellie, from childhood through marriage and, ultimately, ending with Ellie's death — Up impressed critics and audiences with its emotional honesty and poignancy, along with its careful handling of difficult themes. And with the second half of the film — where Russell and Carl are off on their mismatched adventure — critics praised their unlikely friendship, along with the film's delightful humor and innovative animated visuals. Up is a film with something for everyone, from the youngest child whose feet don't even reach the theater floor to the oldest grandparent reflecting back on a long life, making it only natural that it remains one of the most beloved blockbusters ever made.

Alien is a horror movie with high marks on Rotten Tomatoes

Sandwiched between two heartwarming Pixar movies on this list is one of only two R-rated movies to claw its way to the top of the largely family friendly pack: Ridley Scott's harrowing, claustrophobic 1979 sci-fi flick, Alien. With a Rotten Tomatoes score of 97 percent and an adjusted score of 108.542 percent, Alien has been successfully terrorizing audiences for over 40 years now, with its tale of the Nostromo crew's disastrous encounter with extraterrestrial life. Alien primarily follows Warrant Officer Ripley (Sigourney Weaver, in her breakout role), whose intelligence, grit, and sheer luck enable her to survive the titular alien's horrific attacks, as the rest of her crew is picked off one by one. 

Despite the long way that special effects have come since 1979, Alien still largely holds up thanks to its carefully crafted practical effects (including a truly nightmare-inducing xenomorph, which was mostly played by a costumed actor) and tense pacing. Critics praised the film's visuals, its suspenseful sequences, and its seamless merging of the science fiction and horror genres. Weaver also impressed viewers, catapulting her instantly to leading lady status in Hollywood and cementing Ripley as one of the greatest female action heroes of all time. With its strong performances, unique setting, and nail-biting plot, it's no wonder that Alien has stood the test of time, rivaling every summer blockbuster that has come after.

Toy Story 3 took the summer blockbuster to emotional new levels

Considering that the original Toy Story still holds a perfect 100 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes (although as a November release, it's not eligible for this list), it's especially impressive that its sequels have managed to maintain a similar level of quality and acclaim. While Toy Story 3 can't boast a 100 percent rating, it's sitting at a very prestigious 98 percent, with an adjusted score of 107.306 percent. Not a lot of threequels can claim equal footing with their series' much-beloved original installment, but Toy Story 3 — which is set about a decade after the first movie, as the toys' owner, Andy, prepares to head off to college — manages to recapture the magic of the first film while also tapping into new territory, as it grapples with the idea of reconciling childhood nostalgia with the necessity of growing up.

As with the first two Toy Story films, the voice cast of Toy Story 3 is top-notch, with Tom Hanks and Tim Allen reprising their roles as Woody and Buzz, and most of the supporting cast from the previous films also returning, including Joan Cusack, Don Rickles, Wallace Shawn, John Ratzenberger, and Estelle Harris. For the third Toy Story outing, the cast is bolstered by the additions of Michael Keaton as Ken, Jodi Benson (who provided the voice of Ariel in The Little Mermaid) as Barbie, and the legendary Ned Beatty as the villainous Lotso. As a result, critics marveled at the film's fresh take on its long-established characters, as well as the side-splitting humor and deep emotion present in its script.

Inside Out is Pixar's most impressive film to date

Pixar is no stranger to animated home runs, and in its introspective mental health fantasy, Inside Out, it swung for the creative fences yet again. Inside Out is all about a little girl named Riley, but the main characters don't include Riley herself, but rather, the five core emotions that power her brain: Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear, and Disgust. The story follows Riley's five emotions as they're forced to learn how to strike a balance with one another (as opposed to Joy's first instinct, which is to shunt Sadness off into isolation where she can't interfere with anything), and if they fail, they risk Riley falling into a deep depression.

If that sounds like a pretty overwhelming concept for a kids' movie, that's because it is. And yet, Inside Out strongly resonated with audiences of both the youthful and grown-up varieties, thanks to its boldness in attempting to explore the complex emotional realities of an 11-year-old girl and its delicate balancing of existential and mental health themes with the carefree wonder of being a kid. Critics gave Inside Out high marks for its empathy, intelligence, emotional rawness, and beautiful rainbow-hued visuals, earning it a score of 98 percent, with an adjusted score of a whopping 112.232 percent.

Mad Max: Fury Road set a new bar for action cinema

Besides Alien, the only other R-rated movie to earn the distinction of being named one of Rotten Tomatoes' best summer blockbusters of all time is George Miller's exhilarating masterpiece Mad Max: Fury Road. Loosely continuing the story that Miller began in 1979 with the first Mad Max, starring Mel Gibson, Fury Road follows the titular anti-hero (played in this film by Tom Hardy) as he joins forces with Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) to help her free a group of women from the evil Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne), a dictator who controls every source of water and fuel in the post-apocalyptic wasteland the characters inhabit. Most of Fury Road is a glorious, explosion-filled, high-speed car chase, as Immortan Joe's army pursues Max and Furiosa across a sandy desert, yet the film manages to cram quite a bit of story into its deceptively simple plot.

Mad Max: Fury Road earned a Tomatometer score of 97 percent and an adjusted score of 113.336 percent, giving it the highest adjusted score on this list, despite its second-place ranking. Critics were blown away by the unflinching spectacle of the film, its stunning imagery and jaw-dropping action, and the biting social commentary layered underneath its gritty, gas-guzzling surface. It's the sort of film so jam-packed with important details that it practically demands to be seen more than once, and as a practically flawless movie, it offers up something new and intriguing to appreciate every time.

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial is the best-reviewed summer blockbuster on Rotten Tomatoes

While every summer blockbuster on this list managed to win over audiences and critics alike, thumbing their noses at the notion that movies can either be critically acclaimed or popular but not both, only one managed to nab the top spot as Rotten Tomatoes' absolute best blockbuster to ever grace summer movie screens: Steven Spielberg's 1982 classic, E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial. E.T. tells the story of a small bipedal alien who accidentally gets left behind on Earth when his spaceship leaves without him. Shortly after finding himself stranded, the scared little alien crosses paths with a young boy named Elliott, who gives him the name E.T. and helps him work toward his goal of sending a message to his home planet, asking his ship to return for him.

For nearly 40 years, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial has captivated audiences with its imaginative premise, emotional sincerity, and refreshing sense of innocence and wonder, helping it climb to a 98 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes, with an adjusted score of 111.08 percent. It doesn't hurt that the film is one of the best examples of John Williams' exceptional compositional skill (E.T. is actually one of three Williams scores to appear on this list, alongside Jaws and Star Wars, all of which won Academy Awards for Best Original Score), with memorable, sweeping themes that still stand out among the most treasured film scores of all time.