The Best Summer Blockbusters of All Time: An introduction. (Plus: ten that didn't make the cut)

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To misquote Ned Stark completely: Summer is coming! And summer brings us so many things. Heat. Sunlight. A complete absence of teachers, who reportedly spend the season hibernating inside their coffins in the North Pole. Most of all, summer brings Summer Blockbusters. Raucous comedies. Huge-budget action movies. Low-budget wonders. Fun-for-the-whole-family animated adventures. The rare-but-potent Serious Film that grabs big audiences with big themes. And as we anxiously await the beginning of Hollywood’s Summer 2014, EW has come up with a list of the twenty best Summer Blockbusters ever.

This deep into Hollywood’s decadent period, it can sometimes feel like the whole calendar has been taken over by Summer Movies: A new Captain America movie arrives this weekend, fast on the heels of minor-league blockbusters like Divergent and Mr. Peabody & Sherman. But as we attempted to put together our list of the twenty best Summer Blockbusters ever, what struck was most of all was the mysterious semi-abstract extra little thing that sets apart a truly defining warm-weather film. It’s more than just an opening weekend. A truly great Summer Movie has the rare ability to define a whole year, a whole cultural era in our shared history, a very specific moment in one’s own youth.

In constructing our list, we used a mixture of hard science, soft science, reasonable debates, and shouting. We measured every film according to its Box Office performance; its Cultural Impact Then (what people were saying about it that summer); its Cultural Staying Power (what people say about it now); and we considered the Competition, the films that opened around the same period that lacked that mysterious extra variable to turn a successful film into a landmark moment.

Our rigid adherence to conventional wisdom led us to only consider films released between the first week of May and the last week of August. (Fast Five will have to take the consolation prize of merely being one of the best April blockbusters ever.) And we only considered movies from the last four decades, which is when the term “blockbuster” and the whole cultural idea of the Summer Movie took hold. (So yes, we all know that Sergeant York opened in July of 1941, and no, it will not appear on this list.)

Starting tomorrow, we’ll be rolling out a new Summer Blockbuster every weekday in April. Come back tomorrow to find out what we named #20. Until then, here are ten films that almost made the cut.

30. Bridesmaids
Initiated Melissa McCarthy into the big leagues, helped kickstart a welcome funny-lady renaissance, addressed the complexities of female friendship and social stratification. Also, Wilson Phillips.

29. The Hangover
Accept no substitutes or terrible sequels: Todd Phillips’ dirty-deeds comedy made a star out of everybody involved.

28. Rambo: First Blood Part II
The classic Sequel-As-Hyperbolized-Remake. John Rambo returns to Vietnam, wins this time.

27. There’s Something About Mary
Invented Cameron Diaz, perfected Ben Stiller, became one of the great slow-rising sleeper hits with a sui generis mixture of gross-out weirdness and romcom sweetness.

26. Shrek
The defining DreamWorks Animation project: PG-rude, celebrity voices, pop culture references, playful jabs at Disney and a legitimate inversion of the Beauty and the Beast legend. We were all believers.

25. Inception
Christopher Nolan’s 2010 actioner mixed the braintwisty cerebral storytelling of Memento and The Prestige with the grand action of his Dark Knight films. Evidence of the film’s influence: Now each summer, we wait for that year’s Inception. (Fingers crossed, Jupiter Ascending!)

24. Spider-Man
Blade and X-Men got there first, but Sam Raimi’s web-swinging film officially began the superhero era. Spider-Man 2 might be the better overall movie, but the first film is the essential artifact, an invigorating and hyperkinetic thrill ride like nothing that came before.

23. Saving Private Ryan
Opened in late July, which meant that August 1998 was essentially Saving Private Ryan Month.

22. Gladiator
Invented Russell Crowe. Reinvented ancient epics. This:

21. Independence Day
The White House would never be safe again.

Come back to EW.com tomorrow to see which film got #20! The countdown runs through the end of April.

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