There are fewer feelings greater than being excited for months – or, in some instances, years – about witnessing an event, only to have the experience actually trump the anticipation. We suppose that is why they call them event movies, in the end. But for all the times that phrase is liberally tossed around to describe every Johnny-come-lately movie with a “hook” (read: a movie that blew its load on some high-concept twist but didn't bother to figure out how to bring it all home), shockingly few movies actually succeed at delivering the goods once they’ve reeled the viewer in with a well-made trailer. As we wait by the phone for “Transformers” to call and tell us they love us and only us, here is our list of 10 event movies that also made our hearts go pitter-patter, and made mad bank while they were at it.
|Jaws (Universal)||June 20, 1975|
The Buzz: Steven Spielberg, hot off the success of TV movie “Duel” and “The Sugarland Express,” is given the reigns to adapt Peter Benchley’s novel about a man-eating shark off the beaches of New England. A gamble? At the time it was. Audiences had no clue what to expect.
The Hook: Marred by production problems, "Jaws" may have been lucky to see the light of day at all. Our good buddy Bruce the Shark malfunctioned so much that he could only be used for the final sequence. It turned out in Spielberg’s favor, as he is now considered a genius for leaving it all to our imaginations.
The Take: $7 million (opening weekend), $69.7 million (total domestic)
The Verdict: Little did Spielberg (or anyone else involved) know that Jaws would become a phenomenon, scaring people of all ages off the beach for years after the fact. The film cemented Spielberg’s status, at a very young age, as a directorial prodigy and Jaws still gives millions the willies to this day. – Bill Clark
|Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (Touchstone)||June 22, 1988|
The Buzz: Robert Zemeckis, director of “Back to the Future,” teams with executive-producer Steven Spielberg on a project that combines live-action and animation, but at a cost that, in the late ‘80s, was sufficient to make anyone’s eyes bug out of their head Tex-Avery-style. And yet, Touchstone knew that it had enough cross-generational appeal that they barely flinched when they paid they bill.
The Hook: At first, it was all about the idea of seeing Disney and Warner Brothers characters romping together (remember that piano duel between Donald Duck and Daffy Duck?), but, soon, guys just wanted to gaze longingly Jessica Rabbit and hear her purr, “I’m not bad; I’m just drawn that way.”
The Take: $11 million (3-day), $154 million (total domestic)
The Verdict: This was a film where you could actually look at the screen, see how the budget was utilized, and say, “Yeah, okay, that’s not overkill; they actually needed to spend the money to make this movie work.” In the end, adults enjoyed seeing the cartoon characters of their youth, kids just liked seeing cartoons, period, and the level of comedy was wide and varied throughout, ensuring that just about everyone walked out of the theater with a smile on their face. – Will Harris
|Batman (Warner Brothers)||June 23, 1989|
The Buzz: Tim Burton, the man responsible for bringing us such weird but hilarious comedies as “Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure” and “Beetlejuice,” is bringing back “Batman” by pretending that the camp ‘60s TV series never happened and applying as much of his dark sensibility as Warner Brothers will allow. And Prince is doing the soundtrack…? In 1989, you couldn’t hear anything but the buzz on this film.
The Hook: People didn’t know what to expect from Michael Keaton, normally known for his comedic roles, in the role of Batman, but they almost didn’t care, so excited were they to see Jack Nicholson play The Joker.
The Take: $40 million (3-day), $251 million (total domestic)
The Verdict: The advance word alone guaranteed a phenomenal opening weekend…the biggest of 1989, as it turned out…but despite Nicholson taking his performance so far over the top that you could see it from any point in Gotham City, the film continued to bring in the crowds for months afterwards. – WH
|Twister (Universal)||May 10, 1991|
The Buzz: The quantum leap in special effects during the ‘90s allows studios to put literally anything they can dream of onscreen. The first thing they dream of: disaster movies. Jan DeBont, fresh off his breakthrough directorial debut “Speed,” helms this story of estranged storm chasers. The cast is second-tier to the CGI, though two of the actors would go on to win Oscars.
The Hook: Two words: flying cow.
The Take: $41 million (3-day), $241.7 million (total domestic)
The Verdict: All action, no characters: yep, that sounds like a Michael Crichton script to us. And in 1996, at or near the height of Crichtonpalooza, his name + CGI twister that moans like camel (no joke, they used a camel’s moan as the sound of the storm) = crazy, crazy money. – David Medsker
|Terminator 2: Judgment Day (Le Studio Canal)||July 3, 1991|
The Hook: Terminator vs. Terminator, my friends. Arnold Schwarzenegger returned (he said he'd be back) as the Terminator, but this time reprogrammed to help fight off a newer, deadlier "liquid metal" version of the killing machine.
The Take: $32 million (3-day), $205 million (total domestic)
The Verdict: James Cameron + Arnold Schwarzenegger + ground breaking ILM effects = cash money. That's a given. What really made this one a success was a great story that was well written and executed from start to finish, and that managed to top the original film in every way. – Andy Kurtz
|Jurassic Park (Universal)||June 11, 1993|
The Buzz: Before its release, movie audiences everywhere had heard about director Steven Spielberg’s little dinosaur movie, but given the so-so quality of special effects up to that point, expectations were high, yet tempered.
The Hook: Spielberg, the world’s top movie director (and master storyteller), brings Michael Crichton’s bestseller about an island full of dinosaurs to the big screen.
The Take: $47 million (3-day), $357 million (total domestic)
The Verdict: Crichton turned out to be a better novelist than a screenwriter, but what the movie lacked in quality dialogue and star power, it made up with loads and loads of action. The movie was an F/X breakthrough; much like “Star Wars” was almost two decades earlier. At the time, the special effects were amazing and audiences were literally overwhelmed by the sight of living, breathing dinosaurs on screen. One thing’s for sure - after leaving the theater, no one wanted any part of a velociraptor. (Or a T-Rex, for that matter!) – John Paulsen
|Independence Day (Twentieth Century Fox)||July 3, 1996|
The Buzz: It’s safe to say that once the promo spots depicting The White House being blown to bits by an alien ray beam hit theaters months prior to release, interest spiked immediately.
The Hook: Wisecracking Will Smith + aliens + mass destruction + a national holiday? It’s almost too good to be true. On top of that, Bill Pullman is the President and Randy Quaid is a whacko who was abducted by the aliens who are attacking Earth. Of course, a moral family message justifies the chaos, and we all leave feeling great about humanity.
The Take: $50.2 million (opening weekend), $306 million (total domestic)
The Verdict: This was a guaranteed hit from the get go, and the colossal (for the time) $50 million opening weekend proved it. Teenagers could get into the humor and jump scenes, adults could appreciate the inclusion of the government’s numero uno bogus denial: Area 51. Like it or not, this is the definition of popcorn entertainment. – BC
|Men in Black (Sony)||July 2, 1997|
The Buzz: Not since “Ghostbusters” had a studio released such an ambitious sci-fi comedy, and though moviegoers experienced a similar premise the year before, there were no signs of alien invasion fatigue.
The Hook: The idea of pairing up Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith certainly perked my interest, but I’m not going to lie: I went for the talking pug and alien worms.
The Take: $84 million (3-day), $250 million (total domestic)
The Verdict: With “Independence Day,” Will Smith might have proved to critics that he could carry a big-budget blockbuster on his own, but with “Men in Black,” he cemented his place as the go-to guy for all things sci-fi. The movie itself was a certifiable hit, spawning a god-awful sequel, an animated series and enough crappy “MIB”-branded merchandise to stock an entire flea market. Raybans, anyone? – Jason Zingale
|Armageddon (Buena Vista)||July 1, 1998|
The Buzz: Following a slew of disaster films that all made serious bank at the box office, Michael Bay (the king of blowing shit up) stepped up to take a crack at his own version of the end of the world: the onscreen consummation of Ben Affleck and Liv Tyler.
The Hook: One word: Aerosmith. That damn video was playing on MTV nonstop leading up to (and throughout) the film’s theatrical run, and while the rock ballad may have been enough to convince female moviegoers to attend, it was the casting of action legend Bruce Willis as an oil digger-turned-astronaut that won over the male audience.
The Take: $36 million (3-day), $201 million (total domestic)
The Verdict: If on the eighth day, God declared Bay a no-talent ass clown, it was on the ninth that he decided the dude still made entertaining movies. “Armageddon” may not be a masterpiece, but it’s still one helluva disaster flick. It also single-handedly catapulted supporting players like Steve Buscemi, Michael Clarke Duncan and Owen Wilson into the mainstream, and featured three of the coolest “that guys” (William Fichtner, Peter Stormare and Keith David) in Hollywood. – JZ
|Spider-Man 2 (Sony)||June 30, 2004|
The Buzz: When a movie breaks the box office record for biggest opening weekend, you just know that the follow-up sequel is going to be a big deal. In actuality, “Spider-Man 2” turned out to huge deal, no doubt prompting the CEO of Sony Pictures to go shopping for a new mansion in all five of his favorite vacation spots.
The Hook: The return of the principal cast and crew certainly played a part in getting people to theaters, but the sheer promise of seeing Tobey Maguire beaten to a bloody pulp by a set of computer-generated robotic arms made the fanboys go wild. That, and who could resist a cameo by Bruce Campbell?
The Take: $152 million (5-day), $373 million (total domestic)
The Verdict: Despite a stilted opening weekend (the movie debuted on a Wednesday, thus making its three-day totals far lower than expected), the movie delivered on all cylinders. It pleased critics and moviegoers alike, and for good reason, too. Not only was “Spider-Man 2” one of the best films of the year, but it will likely go down as the greatest superhero movie ever made. – JZ
These event movies lived up to the summertime hype, but which ones failed to deliver the goods? Check out our list of Uneventful Summer Event Movies.