The birth of the summer blockbuster: People haven’t always flocked to the theater in the summer

By KAYLER BREWSTER

kbrewster@lmtribune.com

The summer blockbuster started with one word: “Jaws.”

Before Steven Spielberg released his shark movie in 1975, people preferred to sit outside in the sun during the summer months, rather than in a dark movie theater.

When “Jaws” came out, it made millions of dollars in its first weekend. People flocked to the theater, forming lines that stretched entire city blocks -- which is where we get the term “blockbuster.” It also attracted teenagers, a previously untapped market that proved fruitful as teens had fewer bills to pay and, therefore, more money for entertainment.

After the huge success of “Jaws,” studios learned to take advantage of the summer months, and the blockbuster was born.

By focusing on big, special effects-driven films and franchises to attract movie-goers, studios kept audiences coming in the years that followed. The film that helped cement the summer blockbuster as a staple feature was a little movie in 1977 called “Star Wars,” by Spielberg’s film buddy George Lucas. Again, people were lining up around the block. The “Star Wars” franchise continues to make billions of dollars through films and merchandise today, including the latest installment, “Solo: A Star Wars Story,” in theaters now.

The top five highest-grossing summer movies at the domestic box office of all time, adjusted for inflation:

1. “Star Wars: A New Hope,” (1977): $1.5 billion

2. “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial,” (1982): $1.2 billion

3. “Jaws,” (1975): $1.1 billion

4. “Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back,” (1980): $867 million

5. “Star Wars: Return of the Jedi,” (1983): $831 million

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