2017 is filled to the brim with films casual moviegoers are clamoring for. They want their superheroes, their Jedi, and God forbid, their Minions.
But only a handful of times in cinema have we witnessed films whose hype has captured the ethos of an entire generation or catered one of its highest peaks of fandom. And whether those movies crumbled under such pressures or rose to seemingly insurmountable expectation, the sheer hype is all this list cares about.
In compiling such a ranking, there’s bound to be flaws. No one can Doc Brown themselves back to compare the anticipation of Jaws to that of The Last Jedi. But what we have done is looked at the stories of each period, the tales of the people that experienced such a raucous, and how extensively the film was marketed.
Whether advertising on commercials or print, on cereals or social media, the promotional factor was crucial for this list. Pair that with the creative forces and talent on-screen, and the new technology that was put on display, and we’ve compiled our imperfect but wide-ranged formula.
Here’s what came from it:
10. Raiders of the Lost Ark
Not much has to be said to explain this one. Throw the director from Jaws and the director from Star Wars together, with a lead from the latter movie, and you’re bound to attract massive buzz.
This was the dream team of the generation. Steven Spielberg had created the summer blockbuster and followed it up with sci-fi classic Close Encounters of the Third Kind. George Lucas had sculpted the most popular movie of the 70’s, Star Wars, and American Graffiti was likely a classic-in-waiting itself. Throw in a franchise linchpin like Harrison Ford, a gifted writer like Lawrence Kasden (Empire Strikes Back), and a pioneering composer like John Williams, and fans couldn’t see how it could possibly fail.
Much in the same way Jaws promotions swept the nation, Spielberg and Paramount were able to do the same with Raiders despite the director having botched his latest film, 1941. And it paid off in spades. Beyond being nominated for eight Oscars, the film nearly doubled all its competition at the 1981 box office, despite Superman II coming out the very next weekend.
And Raiders barely dropped a dime second weekend when the Kal-El did come back.
9. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Pt. 2
There’s been a tsunami of successful young adult books and films, primarily in the fantasy and sci-fi genres, since the beginning of Harry Potter. But nothing has yet to top this literary sensation that entrapped the youthful minds of an entire generation.
While we considered The Sorcerer’s Stone for this list, everything culminated with Deathly Hallows Pt. 2. Not only for a great film series, but for the most financially successful one in the fantasy genre. And besides, the audience for this J.K. Rowling creation had only grown since the late-90’s, and the influence of social media had grown right along with it. Between Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and the announcement of the Pottermore site, Warner Bros. made an unprecedented online push with Part 2.
Even after the first part of Deathly Hallows had become one of the worst installments of the franchise, the final was all but guaranteed to break box office records. It shattered the opening night previews record with lines upon lines of teenagers. It not only had the biggest pre-sales of any movie, but also the biggest U.S. and U.K. weekends. It still holds the record for biggest July release, impressive considering how many blockbusters come out during this month.
There’d never been a YA movie series more obsessed over, and it may be decades before something matches it.
8. Jurassic Park
It was unlike anything anyone had ever seen. The look of the dinosaurs in Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park were to be one of the greatest visual advancements cinema had ever seen. Even compared to Terminator 2 from two years before, this seemed in a realm by itself.
Despite the fact Spielberg was coming off of Always and Hook, two of his less appreciated works, this was his most anticipated film in a dozen years. As the godfather of the blockbuster, this looked to be his return to form. Either way, people were going to show up in droves opening weekend. But many critics thought it to be so hyped there would be no way of matching such anticipation. Such was the life of the man who’d created Jaws, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and E.T.
To even casual moviegoers, this wasn’t merely a movie, but an event. Even in a time where the internet was not an effective marketing format, this film’s media barrage on the masses was nearly unprecedented. The promotional campaign cost $65M alone (about $110M present day), with all types of merchandise and cross-promotions with SEGA and Kellogg’s, among others.
And when it opened to the tune of $47M, nearly twice as much as any other film that year, it was one of the few movies on this list that came close to living up to insurmountable hype.
Though Superman brought the first major superhero movie to life, Batman was considered by some to be the “tent pole event” of their childhood.
Only Return of the Jedi and Raiders of the Lost Ark could come close to being a bigger film event in the 1980’s. 1989 set up as a crucial year for big-budget franchises, with Indiana Jones concluding (for now) and Back to the Future, Ghostbusters, and Lethal Weapon releasing their sequels. James Bond, Star Trek, and James Cameron (The Abyss) likewise had movies on-deck.
But Tim Burton was the hot new director after Beetlejuice the year before, and it’d been 23 years since the Adam West Batman’s campy take. There was candy shaped in the form of Michael Keaton’s head and kids supposedly wore black wherever they went, usually with the yellow bat on the front. It became a pop culture symbol more than a comic book icon. And they had Prince himself doing the Batman album.
It became a whirlwind of hype that wouldn’t come close to being matched by a superhero film until perhaps Spider-Man in 2002. If people only knew back then how regularly these movies would be overhyped in the 21st century.
It’s the one that started it all: the grand-pappy of blockbusters.
The book had already been a best-seller, but that wasn’t going to be relied upon as the selling point. Instead, Universal started an unparalleled marketing push that had them hogging up television time and sending their cast all around America to promote the film. It may seem common by today’s standards, but its extent was a pretty novel idea back then.
Steven Spielberg was the up-and-comer getting all sorts of attention at the tender age of 27, being looked at as a great semblance to the old greats and likewise as a new breed of entertainer. But really, the movie monster was what many were most excited for. They’d seen Frankenstein’s monster, Dracula, King Kong, and Godzilla in recent years, but nothing was as realistic as this.
To explain how big of an opening Jaws had, consider this: It opened in 409 theaters in the U.S and Canada, while The Force Awakens opened to 4,154. Sure, TFA made it past $247M opening weekend and Jaws only made a little over $7M, but with inflation ($32M-plus), Jaws made almost $20,000 more per theater than The Force Awakens did.
Say what you will about theaters spreading audiences out, but the population sure wasn’t then what it is now. Jaws was the first summer blockbuster for a reason.