Like the winter holidays, Summer Movie Season seems to start earlier every year. Sure, officially the kick-off is still the first Friday of May—and there’s no doubt the arrival of Iron Man 2 this weekend has even—ahem—some of us more jaded, cynical critics doing an anticipatory dance of glee in our Under-Roos.
But you can also look back and make arguments that thanks to global event-movie warming, the big tent-pole, franchise-y, summer-y movies began arriving last week with A Nightmare on Elm Street… or the week before with The Losers… or at the beginning of April with Clash of the Titans… or late March with How to Train Your Dragon… or even early March with Alice in Wonderland. (The ’09 summer season also had such early spring runners as Watchmen, Monsters Vs. Aliens, and Fast & Furious.)
So it’s settled, the Summer Movie Season now starts in early March. But for the sake of tradition, we’ll still pretend it begins this Friday and runs through to Labor Day.
Besides, if we’re going to be traditional about it, the enjoyment of summer movies isn’t so much the type of films (Large! Loud! Dumb! Sequels! Beloved TV Show Adaptations! Slapstick Comedy! Action! Big-Name Stars! Giant Robots Smashing Things! Talking Animals!), but the context of watching them. It’s warm out, school is on break, you walk to the theater and maybe stand in line on a pleasant Friday night with several hundred other somewhat frighteningly obsessed people.
I don’t get to do “line nights” with my friends as often anymore, but it’s still one of those special moviegoing pleasures, where the anticipatory waiting (perhaps enhanced with something stronger than fountain soda) and chatting with fellow geeks is often the most enjoyable part. (Especially if heavy line drinking leads to early film passing out.) Nowadays the true hard-core fanboys and girls hit the Midnight Thursday screenings of the big films, which can lead to an even better (and scarier) carnival atmosphere, as most everyone really and truly wants to be there—so much so they’re willing to forgo regular sleep patterns.
There’s also something deliciously anti-intuitive about sitting inside a theater during the summer. Outside there are beaches and ballgames and hikes and bike rides and gardens to tend to, but instead you’ve chosen to hide in the dark and watch highly paid professional actors try to blow one another up. It’s even more delicious if you do what I used to and skip out of work most Fridays for a very long afternoon “lunch” and instead run off to the nearest cineplex to catch an early matinee of Superhero Smackdown 7.
As any modern film-industry historian will point out, the Summer Movie Season is a relatively new phenomenon—it was of course Jaws that showed studios in 1975 how terrifyingly large piles of money could be made during the summer—a cinematic wasteland previously left barren to burn off cheap B-movies.
I never saw Jaws in the theater (my mom and dad wouldn’t let a nine-year-old watch people get eaten by a shark—a sadly novel concept of parental restraint these days), but two summers later I did see Star Wars in a tiny theater in Prairie Du Chien, Wisconsin, and from then on I was hooked on summer moviegoing. We didn’t get to Star Wars until late in the summer, when the crowds had thinned, but by the time The Empire Strikes Back showed up three summers later, seeing a big blockbuster film more than a day or two after its opening had become unthinkable.
Thus began a decade of standing in the hot afternoon sun, in lines that wrapped around the block. (It’s true! Back in those days there were actually theaters in stand-alone buildings, not tucked away inside giant malls!) There were the Indiana Jones and Star Trek movies, E.T., Poltergeist, Top Gun, Rocky III, Ghostbusters, Gremlins, Return of the Jedi (oh those sweet, sweet final hours in line for Jedi–the last point in time when one could optimistically believe George Lucas knew what he was doing), and at the end of the ‘80s, just to ceremoniously close out the summer blockbuster decade with a bang, there was Burton’s Batman.
In high school or college, summer movies also had that special hum of killing time–something to do in the afternoon or early evening, until the sun went down and you could venture out into the cooler night air in search of fun and trouble. Granted, these days a summer movie is usually the peak of my fun and trouble and the end not the start of any given day’s adventures. But on my aged scale of slower-paced, lower-key pleasures, I still love being able to come out of a particularly good or fun summer movie and stroll along in the warm summer evening, slowly coming down off the high, still adrift in post-celluloid bliss.
In fact, right now I’m off to a press screening of Iron Man 2, and I must say, it’s sunny out and I’m feeling pretty geek-giddy. So welcome, Summer Movie Season! We hail your arrival with popcorn boxes held aloft!
Tomorrow I’ll give my thoughts and anticipations for the coming Summer Season. But in the meantime, if you share in the comments below some of your past stories of summer-moviegoing and/or line-waiting, I’ll go into detail about a few of mine!