The 12 Best Summer Blockbusters of the 21st Century

Editor’s note: this list was originally published in August 2023. It has since been updated with new entries and releases.

Just three years ago, it seemed like the summer blockbuster might be a thing of the past. After COVID kept cinemas closed across the United States for the majority of 2020, the box office reopened in 2021 on uncertain footing, as many movies flopped and overall movie grosses leaned toward the softer side. That summer seemed like the harbinger of the end for the seasonal release strategy that “Jaws” perfected all the way back in 1975, wherein the hottest months hosts the biggest titles — marketed aggressively to theatergoers. The movie theater business had been in crisis for awhile now, but the pandemic seemed to speed along their predicted demise, as the streaming age ended the era when movies could be events. So thank goodness for “Barbie” and “Oppenheimer.”

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Things aren’t entirely rosy at cinemas again, but summer 2023 was a balm with the Barbenheimer double header raking in billions and turning theater-going into a major viral trend. While that summer had its fair share of high-profile financial duds — does anyone even remember that “The Flash” came out a year ago? — it marked easily the most optimistic time for the theatrical business in post-COVID memory. Summer 2024, relatively thin on releases thanks to the creeping effects of the work stoppage caused by last year’s dual WGA and SAG strikes, has been accompanied with a new wave of hand-wringing about the state of moviegoing after disappointments like “The Fall Guy” and “Furiosa.” Still, major financial smashes like “Inside Out 2” are keeping the hope of the theatrical business alive and well.

In celebration of a new summer season, we’re refreshing our look at the best and most noteworthy summer blockbusters of the 2000s. Since there aren’t specific parameters of what makes a summer blockbuster a summer blockbuster, we set some ground rules in selecting titles for the list. Number one is that the films had to be released in the summer theatrical window, loosely defined as the period of time each year between May 15 and September 15. Second, the films’ worldwide box office totals had to equal or exceed $500 million worldwide, with the numbers sourced from Box Office Mojo.

With that said, let’s look back at the films that defined our summers. Entries are unranked and listed in chronological order. Read on for our list of the 12 best summer blockbusters of the 21st century.

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