This summer, seven “Mission: Impossible,” “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny,” and “Oppenheimer” films are hitting theaters. These films follow the formula set by “Jaws,” which was later surpassed by “Avatar,” and are all big-budget, mass-marketed productions to make a lot of money both at the box office and elsewhere.
As Charles Acland, author of “American Blockbuster,” puts it, “The truth is, the blockbuster is a concept, an idea, a strategy that Hollywood has been using for quite a few decades before 1975, when ‘Jaws’ was released.”
In the late 1940s and early 1950s, 9xmovies studios reinvented the phrase, first to sell movies to theaters and then to entice viewers away from television by pushing epic epics that were frequently set on a Biblical scale.
The term “blockbuster” was adopted by The New York Times in 1959 to describe “Ben-Hur.” Naturally, not every epic is successful. There’s Joseph L. Mankiewicz, my great-uncle, who directed “Cleopatra” in 1963. The regulations were revised by “Jaws” twelve years later.
There are almost as many big-budget flops as big-budget blockbusters. Notable examples include “John Carter,” “The Lone Ranger,” “The Adventures of Pluto Nash,” “Battlefield Earth,” and, most notably, “Ishtar.” According to Stevens, “I have great affection for ‘Ishtar’ now, in part because of how poorly received it was at the time, and how quickly it became just a joke.”
Meanwhile, sleepers that cost a lot less won big. Approximately $6 million was spent on the production of “Dirty Dancing,” which made over $200 million when it was released in the summer of 1987.
According to Stephen Lang, one word may make a big-budget movie into a smash hit: plot. “I think as a rule, it’s good to have a very simple narrative,” he stated. Examining ‘E.T.’ ‘E.T.’ is a blockbuster, in my opinion, even though it doesn’t have the same enormous scope. What it does have, though, is the cutest alien ever made, and the plot is rather straightforward: I’m stranded here and I want to go home.”
In actuality, moviegoers are more interested in what they learn from a film than in how much money it makes at the box office. “You just don’t want to steal the art from Hollywood,” Lang remarked.
Consider the movies that have been produced there, you know? They have been outstanding. Furthermore, comic book characters and massive stunt movies cannot simply take their place.” According to Dana Stevens, “Anybody who goes to the movies wants to either laugh or cry, to experience intense emotions.” Individuals desire to be moved as well as to witness things move. “Right, moved in both senses – moving on screen, and moving something inside you,” Stevens stated.
According to Hall, it took several years following the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki for authors to feel at ease employing a bomb-based metaphor in such a playful fashion, but it soon became evident that the blockbuster’s entertainment value would prevail over its military significance. “Its obsolescence as a military weapon, combined with its very pervasiveness as an expression during the postwar period, ultimately rendered the word safe,” according to Hall. “Continuous use guaranteed that the word became primarily associated with popular entertainment in general and with the big-budget, high-impact Hollywood hit in particular, and detached it from its linguistic origins.”
Blockbuster movies eventually began to be linked with summer action films, particularly with the release of Steven Spielberg’s shark attack thriller Jaws on June 20, 1975. Two years later, Star Wars was released, solidifying the summer blockbuster genre and leaving a lasting impression. (As of right now, Star Wars: Episode VII—The Force Awakens (2015) is still the highest-grossing movie ever made in North America.)
Before then, summertime moviegoers tended to stay outside rather than attend movies at the theater. Jaws was released far into summer with the purpose of frightening beachgoers. Blockbusters quickly had a reputation for being able to create lineups that extended around the block. The term’s widespread usage in the film industry is demonstrated by the expansion of the video-rental chain Blockbuster Video in the mid-1980s.
As noted movie critic Roger Ebert stated in a 1998 TIME article, “Spielberg altered the trajectory of contemporary Hollywood history.” The large-scale success of Jaws encouraged CEOs to go for the home run rather than the base hit.
It was also released during the summer, a time when less expensive exploitation movies had typically taken over at the major studios. In a few years, the Jaws model would spark an industry where summer action films ruled the box office, hot young directors aspired to become the Great American Blockbuster, and expenditures went crazy because the rewards looked endless. The phrase became widely used in American culture as a metaphor for anything shocking and explosive since it kept coming up in media stories on Allied aerial bombardment.