They may take our theaters, but they’ll never take…our movies!
Welcome to Week 4 of Summer Blockbusted 2020.
Through the end of August, I’m curating a weekly slate of movies from summers past, ranging from big blockbusters to small counter-programming indies. But now, instead of new options for the multiplex, they’re classic ones for your home theater.
Every single Friday. All summer long.
(To read more about how each week’s slate is determined, click here.)
This week: films that were released over Memorial Day weekend, long the official kickoff of the Summer Movie Season.
When possible, I’ve included archived video reviews from Siskel & Ebert (whether I agreed with them or not).
(Find links to other weeks from Summer Blockbusted 2020 at the end of this article.)
NOW PLAYING…MAY 22, 2020
- Star Wars “Pick Your Original”
- A New Hope (May 25, 1977) 121 min Rated PG
- The Empire Strikes Back (May 21, 1980) 124 min; Rated PG (40th Anniversary)
- Return of the Jedi (May 25, 1983) 131 min; Rated PG
- If you’re picking just one, it should probably be Empire, not only because it’s the best but because it’s the sequel’s 40th Anniversary. For a trilogy that actually evolved as it went, it maintains a consistent narrative, thematic, and tonal vision. And among the impacts it made, it was the Star Wars trilogy that made Memorial Day weekend the official kickoff for the Summer Movie Season. It was a tradition that lasted for 25 years until Hollywood finally realized that they could start it three weeks earlier.
- (Episode IV: Final numbers: $461 million domestic; $775.5 million worldwide.)
- (Episode V: Final numbers: $290.2 million domestic; $548 million worldwide.)
- (Episode VI: Final numbers: $309.3 million domestic; $475.3 million worldwide.)
- Indiana Jones “Pick Your Prequel or Sequel”
- The Temple of Doom (May 23, 1984) 118 min; Rated PG (should be PG-13)
- The Last Crusade (May 24, 1989) 127 min; Rated PG-13
- (And no, I’m not forgetting The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. The omission is intentional.)
- The original trilogy capper The Last Crusade is the easy, sentimental choice between the two, but for anyone that’s iffy on The Temple of Doom should really give it another shot. A genuinely fair shot. It is the ultimate popcorn movie ride with one thrilling set piece after another. You can read my praise for it here, as well as my love for The Last Crusade here.
- (Temple of Doom: Final numbers: $179.8 million domestic; $333.1 million worldwide.)
- (The Last Crusade: Final numbers: $197.1 million domestic; $474.1 million worldwide.)
- Backdraft (May 24, 1991) 140 min Rated R.
- A movie just aching to be Michael Bay movie, but about five years before that was even a thing. To be clear – that’s praise, not mockery. (Hans Zimmer even did the music score.) Backdraft is a testosterone-fueled over-the-top R-rated machismo melodrama, which is sort of an outlier for director Ron Howard. It doesn’t really hold up to contemporary sensibilities, and the answer to the central mystery of “Who’s the arsonist?” can be seen coming from a mile away, but Kurt Russell makes anything better (capped by his line at the end of the climactic sequence, which you honestly have to applaud) and, for anyone with a sound system to show off, Backdraft’s soundscape is absolutely lit. (Final numbers: $77.8 million domestic; $152.3 million worldwide.)
- (I was considering a Ron Howard double-feature with Far and Away, which opened exactly one year after Backdraft, but that wannabe-epic is a meandering snoozer. The final 35-minute “Oklahoma Land Rush” sequence is the only part of the movie worth investing in, but even that takes dramatic license a few steps too far.)
- Rambo Sequel Double-Feature
- Rambo: First Blood Part II (May 22, 1985) 96 min; Rated R
- Rambo III (May 25, 1988) 119 min; Rated PG
- Hot take: First Blood is an awful movie. The original Rambo film was a serious departure for Sylvester Stallone (in which, like Rocky, he wrote and starred), but despite its critical raves back in the day and its general reputation as being the one respectable Rambo movie, well, it’s not. Not even close. Give it a watch again if you haven’t in awhile. It does not hold up. God bless it for its admirable intentions about how horribly Vietnam vets were treated (before anyone was really championing that as a worthy cause), but First Blood is actually pretty embarrassing, The sequels, however, are absolutely glorious paeans to action-movie excess. Rambos II and III ditched the eye-rolling pretense of the first film and just wallowed in being what they were: unabashed over-the-top action shlock. You’re can’t take either of them seriously but you’re not supposed to, and both movies are very conscious of that. They’re jingoistic pyrotechnic displays, they know it, and they’re absolutely unrepentant of it. And in the end, it’s much more satisfying to see a film of low thematic ambition be great at what it’s trying to be (like II and III are) than it is to see a movie with delusions of grandeur make you cringe.
- Rambo II (Final numbers: $150.4 million domestic; $300 million worldwide.)
- Rambo III (Final numbers: $53.7 million domestic; $189 million worldwide.)
- Back to the Future Part III (May 25, 1990) 118 min; Rated PG
- Another hot take: Part II of the Back to the Future trilogy is pretty awful, but the Western Part III is really special. Most love the dense time-travel plotting and alt-timelines of Part II but, for me, it’s an out-of-control (if clever) plot machine that completely loses sight of the relationships. Part III stops in time, slows down a bit, and recaptures that magic, not only between Doc and Marty but, even more so, in the saga’s best romance: Doc and Clara, back in 1885. Christopher Lloyd and Mary Steenburgen have real, palpable chemistry. I dare you not to get legitimately choked up over the arc of their story. Meanwhile, Michael J. Fox doesn’t take a back seat to them, finishing Marty’s main journey strong, and how many of the Hill Valley ancestors and histories are conceived show some real thoughtfulness, humor and heart on the part of director Robert Zemeckis. I’m a big fan of this one. (Final numbers: $7.7 million domestic; $244.5 million worldwide.)
- Thelma & Louise (May 24, 1991) 129 min; Rated R
- One of the great ironies about looking back on Thelma & Louise is how often people jump to the fact that a hot young Brad Pitt was in it. Yes, even the movie about women liberating themselves from the shackles of toxic masculinity – at whatever cost necessary – sometimes still has to put up with some adulating man-praising. Which, in weird way, validates its continued relevancy even more. Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis make for one of the best screen pairings ever, regardless of gender, with a bond that is deep, palpable, tragic, empowering, and powerful. And for director Ridley Scott, he’s directed bigger movies with more ambition (Blade Runner, Alien, and Gladiator among them) but he may never have directed a better one than this. (Final numbers: $45.5 million domestic and worldwide.)
- Braveheart (May 24, 1995) 178 min; Rated R (25th Anniversary)
- Ending this week’s slate with Braveheart is, for me, saving the best for last. A classic to many but still divisive among critics (whether professionally of film or of Gibson as a person), I’ve always loved this movie and I always will. Its messages of courage and sacrifice for freedom are common, but here they are uncommonly profound, told from a deep directorial conviction. It’s all there in Gibson’s performance, too, and that integrity extends to the raw, gruesome brutality of the battle scenes. Film snobs will probably want to take away my Cinephile Card for saying this, but Braveheart stands equal with the great epics of movie history. (Final numbers: $75.6 million domestic; $213.2 million worldwide.)
If you’d like to suggest summer movie titles for future weeks, you can email your requests to: email@example.com
Previous weeks from Summer Blockbusted 2020: