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The Top Summer Movies of the Past 25 Years

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Grab the Popcorn and Silence Your Phone

While this summer redefined what a "blockbuster" movie might be (the Ryan Reynolds comedy "Free Guy" opened to $28.4 million, a number that would be a pre-pandemic bomb but now is praised as "surprisingly good"), summer is traditionally the season for these star-studded, often action-stuffed films. From animated family flicks and superhero sequels to Oscar-worthy dramas and sci-fi thrillers, some of history's most iconic films have been released in the last quarter century. Find out if your favorite film is on this list of the top-grossing movies of the past 25 summers, starting with the highest-grossing film (with the exception of 2020, when many theaters were closed for the summer), based on data from Box Office Mojo.


Related: 29 Small-Budget Movies That Went on to Win Oscars

Avengers: Endgame
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'Avengers: Endgame' (2019)

Domestic gross: $858.3 million

While a lot of people were sad to see the Avengers storyline wrap up (and that includes Marvel and Disney execs), that didn't keep anyone out of theaters. The film broke records worldwide, grossing a cumulative $2.79 billion — and becoming the highest-grossing movie worldwide, ever.


Related: Here's Why You May Be Glad You Missed the Opening of Disney's Avengers Campus

Jurassic World
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‘Jurassic World’ (2015)

Domestic gross: $652.27 million

The "Jurassic Park" series is No. 18 on the list of the highest-grossing film franchises, and the feather in its cap is 2015's "Jurassic World." The movie took in nearly $1.67 billion worldwide, and the franchise shows no signs of slowing down. The sixth film in the series, "Jurassic World: The Fallen Kingdom," came out in June 2018 and, though not quite as successful, performed almost as well at the box office.



Marvel’s the Avengers
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‘Marvel’s the Avengers’ (2012)

Domestic gross: $623.36 million

"Marvel's The Avengers" squared off against the likes of "The Dark Knight Rises," "The Amazing Spider-Man," and the animated "Ice Age" franchise and still finished tops at the summer box office in 2012. 


Related: 26 Best Hollywood Movies About Getting Older

INCREDIBLES 2
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'Incredibles 2' (2018)

Domestic gross: $609 million

It took 14 years for Disney to make a sequel to "The Incredibles," the tale of a family of superheroes, but that delay just seemed to get audiences into theaters. Not only was the film the longest Pixar movie ever at 1 hour and 58 minutes, but it became the ninth-highest grossing film domestically.

The Dark Knight
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‘The Dark Knight’ (2008)

Domestic gross: $533.35 million

Heath Ledger turned in a career performance as The Joker in 2008's "The Dark Knight." Sadly, the actor died six months before the movie was released. The film was an undeniable success, both critically and commercially. It won two Oscars and remains the highest-earning installment in the $2.41 billion "Batman" franchise, which is the No. 4 biggest film series in history.


Related: 20 Crazy-Expensive Cars Destroyed by Hollywood

Finding Dory
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‘Finding Dory’ (2016)

Domestic gross: $486.3 million

Thirteen years after the critical and commercial success of "Finding Nemo," Pixar captivated us with another underwater adventure. "Finding Dory" reunited Nemo, Marlin, and Dory with a cast of new friends to the delight of audiences around the world. When you include foreign box office receipts, "Finding Dory" grossed $1.03 billion.

Shrek 2
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‘Shrek 2’ (2004)

Domestic gross: $441.23 million

The big-money "Shrek" series falls right behind "The Hunger Games" series and just ahead of the "Star Trek" franchise in terms of box-office earnings. The biggest of them all was "Shrek 2," which was nominated for two Oscars and came up just $80-million-and-change short of earning $1 billion worldwide.

Phantom Menace
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‘Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace’ (1999)

Domestic gross: $431.09 million

Fans flocked to theaters in 1999 to see the first new "Star Wars" film since "Return of the Jedi" in 1983. "The Phantom Menace" revived George Lucas' franchise for a new generation of fans, generating more than $400 million in the U.S. alone — and a fair amount of buyer's remorse. For many critics and moviegoers, the film's dismal reputation can be summed up in three words: Jar Jar Binks.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest
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‘Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest’ (2006)

Domestic gross: $423.32 million

"Pirates of the Caribbean" is the No. 15 highest-grossing movie franchise in history, and "Dead Man's Chest" is the biggest movie of the entire series. Johnny Depp and Orlando Bloom paired up in the film, which raked in nearly $1.07 billion at the worldwide box office, all on a production budget of $225 million.

Toy Story 3
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‘Toy Story 3’ (2010)

Domestic gross: $415 million

The third installment of the animated "Toy Story" franchise beat out an impressive stable of competitors, including "Iron Man 2," a "Twilight" sequel, and "Inception." The franchise shows no signs of wear and tear. "Toy Story 4" hit theaters in 2019, nearly a quarter century after the original was released in 1995.

Wonder Woman
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‘Wonder Woman’ (2017)

Domestic gross: $412.56 million

Israeli model and actress Gal Gadot made the leap from supporting actress, in the "Fast and the Furious" franchise, to leading lady when she landed the title role in "Wonder Woman." And what a leap it was. The superhero with the golden lasso joined Warner Brothers' DC Extended Universe ("Justice League," "Suicide Squad") and also starred in a follow-up, 2020's "Wonder Woman 1984."

Iron Man 3
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‘Iron Man 3’ (2013)

Domestic gross: $409.01 million

Robert Downey Jr. donned the iron suit a third time in 2013, and the result was box office magic. In addition to being a hit stateside, "Iron Man 3" also earned nearly $806 million overseas. If you're a fan, chances are you're a little sad about "Avengers: Endgame" making "Iron Man 4" impossible (maybe).

Spider-Man
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‘Spider-Man’ (2002)

Domestic gross: $403.71 million

Just eight film franchises in history are bigger than the "Spider-Man" series — and none earned more than this film. Tobey Maguire's Peter Parker and Kirsten Dunst's Mary Jane Watson clicked so well that "Spider-Man" actually forced a "Star Wars" film into second place in 2002.

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen
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‘Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen’ (2009)

Domestic gross: $402.11 million

"Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" impressed moviegoers across the world. Its box office haul at foreign theaters more than doubled what the movie earned in America. The film, which contributes to one of history's 15 biggest film series, was built for the summer audience. At a production cost of $200 million, the movie had a big budget, big action, and big special effects.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2
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‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2’ (2011)

Domestic gross: $381.01 million

"Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2" is the most successful movie in the No. 3 most successful film franchise in history. The film was so big, in fact, that the $381.01 million that earned it the summer's No. 1 spot in 2011 represents less than a third of the movie's total earnings. It grossed more than $1.34 billion worldwide.

Revenge of the Sith
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‘Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith’ (2015)

Domestic gross: $380.27 million

George Lucas' "Star Wars" franchise was the biggest in Hollywood until Disney's Marvel Cinematic Universe displaced it. But "Star Wars" set the template for summer blockbusters to come, and it continues to be a thriving enterprise. When you count all the re-issues and re-releases, there are 18 films in the series, and "Revenge of the Sith" ranks No. 5. The final installment in the prequel trilogy, the movie more than doubled its domestic haul with overseas box-office earnings.

Jurassic Park
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‘Jurassic Park’ (1993)

Domestic gross: $357.07 million

When it comes to monster movies, there's "Jurassic Park" and there's everything else. When Steven Spielberg brought Michael Crichton's dinosaurs to life in 1993, the movie launched a merchandising machine attached to a film franchise that would go onto earn more than $3.64 billion at the worldwide box office and counting.

‘Finding Nemo
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‘Finding Nemo’ (2003)

Domestic gross: $339.71 million

"Finding Nemo" swam into the No. 1 summer spot with a $940.34 million haul, when you include foreign and domestic box office receipts. Critics were equally impressed — the movie won an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature and was nominated for three other Oscars.

Spider-Man 3
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‘Spider-Man 3’ (2007)

Domestic gross: $336.53 million

Led by Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst, the third "Spider-Man" installment was the top box office draw in the summer of 2007 — and that's saying a lot. Its competition included a "Shrek" movie, "Transformers," a "Pirates of the Caribbean" sequel, a "Harry Potter" sequel, and a "Bourne" sequel.

Guardians of the Galaxy
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‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ (2014)

Domestic gross: $333.18 million

The summer of 2014 was packed with blockbusters, including "Transformers," "Planet of the Apes," "Spider-Man," and "X-Men." But none of these hits could beat the scruffy band of anti-heroes in "Guardians of the Galaxy." Starring Chris Pratt — who also played the lead role in "Jurassic World" the following year — the film grossed nearly three-quarters of a billion dollars worldwide.

Independence Day
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‘Independence Day’ (1996)

Domestic gross: $306.17 million

Outrageous, fun, and filled with eye candy, "Independence Day" was everything a summer popcorn blockbuster should be. Starring Will Smith, Jeff Goldblum, and Bill Pullman, this film was a franchise waiting to happen. But an unfortunate reboot in 2016 stands as a cautionary tale about the danger of forced sequels.

Shrek
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‘Shrek’ (2001)

Domestic gross: $267.67 million

Although this is the green ogre's second appearance on this list, it was the first "Shrek" movie to take a summer box office title, in 2001. The combined charm of Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, and Cameron Diaz was enough to earn "Shrek" an Oscar for Best Animated Feature. 

Men in Black
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‘Men in Black’ (1997)

Domestic gross: $250.69 million

Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones had a busy summer. Not only did they save the planet, they ruled the box office. The original "Men in Black" is still the biggest draw of the three-installment series. The sharp script, inventive aliens, and all-around awesomeness of the lead duo earned the movie a special place in the hearts of sci-fi fans — it holds a score of 92 percent on Rotten Tomatoes.

Saving Private Ryan
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‘Saving Private Ryan’ (1998)

Domestic gross: $216.54 million

Steven Spielberg's World War II epic ruled the summertime box office and was nominated for 11 Academy Awards. But "Saving Private Ryan" didn't win Best Picture; that honor went to "Shakespeare in Love," leading many critics to wonder how "a period rom-com" could have bested a war movie starring Tom Hanks and Matt Damon. Still, the film won five Oscars and wide acclaim.

Mission: Impossible II
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‘Mission: Impossible II’ (2000)

Domestic gross: $215.41 million

As he had done so many times before, Tom Cruise struck gold with the "Mission: Impossible" franchise. It went on to earn more at the domestic box office than the entire "Indiana Jones" series. Of the five installments, none have done better to date than "Mission: Impossible II." The franchise kept going in 2018 with "Mission Impossible: Fallout," the sixth film in the series. "Mission Impossible 7" is said to be due in 2022.