Summer movie guide as blockbuster season starts earlier and earlier

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews summer movies (Jason Fraley)

WASHINGTON —  “Avengers: Infinity War” just surpassed “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” for the highest opening weekend ever with $250 million at the box office — and it’s still only April.

So here’s a popcorn kernel of thought to munch on: Does summer blockbuster season even exist anymore? Or is the old seasonal term becoming increasingly outdated in 2018?

It used to be that Memorial Day kicked off the summer blockbusters, a time for popcorn movies to dominate the box office before the serious award contenders arrived in the fall.

But it seems the summer movie season arrives earlier and earlier with each passing year, suggesting a shift since “Jaws” defined the concept of a summer blockbuster in June 1975.

Over the following 15 years, 67 percent of the yearly top-grossers arrived between May and August: “Jaws,” “Star Wars,” “Grease,” “The Empire Strikes Back,” “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” “E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial,” “Return of the Jedi,” “Back to the Future,” “Top Gun” and “Batman.”

In the 1990s, it fell slightly to 60 percent with “Terminator 2: Judgment Day,” “Jurassic Park,” “Forrest Gump,” “Independence Day,” “Saving Private Ryan” and “The Phantom Menace.”

And in the 2000s, it held at 60 percent with “Spider-Man,” “Shrek 2,” “Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith,” “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest,” “Spider-Man 3” and “The Dark Knight.”

That’s when everything started to change.

In our current decade, only 30 percent of top-grossers arrived in the summer: “Toy Story 3,” “Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows: Pt. 2” and “The Avengers.” Since 2013, zero top-grossing movies arrived in the summer, as “Hunger Games: Catching Fire,” “American Sniper,” “The Force Awakens,” “Rogue One” and “The Last Jedi” all arrived in November or December.

You might say the “Star Wars” sequels set the trend each December. Or, you could credit the spring superheroes of “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” (2014), “Batman v. Superman” (2016) and “Infinity War” (2018). Or, thank Disney for rolling out its live-action “Cinderella” (2015), “The Jungle Book” (2016) and “Beauty & The Beast” (2017) every March or April.

Most recently, we’ve seen an even earlier shift to February as Black History Month provided the perfect backdrop for “Get Out” (2017) and “Black Panther” (2018). The former won an Oscar, while the latter became the third highest-grossing movie in today’s dollars (unadjusted for inflation) and the 32nd highest-grossing movie of all time (adjusted for inflation).

While purists might find the seasonal shifts frustrating — I hate seeing Christmas decorations before Halloween as much as the next guy — but when it comes to the movies, it’s really not that big of a deal. If climate change has turned our actual seasons into unrecognizable periods of weather, why should we hold our movie seasons to some insane standard of release dates?

The truth is: There is no such thing as summer blockbuster season anymore. Now we get the privilege of watching them year round. So, let’s grab our popcorn and take a cue from Brad Pitt’s daughter in “Moneyball,” who strummed a guitar to the wise-beyond-her-years refrain:

Just enjoy the show.

See the video gallery at the top of the article for my top summer blockbuster picks of 2018.

Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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