Summer Blockbusters by the Numbers: A 61% Decline Since 2013?

FinanceBuzz dove deep into nearly 50 years of box office data to find out which studios have produced the most summer blockbusters, and more.

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Updated June 6, 2024
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Summertime is synonymous with big-budget blockbusters as families look for a fun (and air-conditioned) way to spend their time. “Jaws” is widely considered to be the first real “blockbuster,” and ever since it came out in 1975, studios have slated many of their biggest movies for summertime release.

With summer finally here, the FinanceBuzz team wanted to look into the history of summer blockbusters, including which studios have produced the most, which years moviegoers had the most and fewest hits to choose from, which months blockbusters have made the most and least money, and more.

In this article

Key findings

  • “Star Wars” is the highest grossing summer blockbuster of all time, earning $1,511,738,176 at the box office (adjusted for inflation).
  • 2013 was the year with the most blockbusters, as 23 different films released that summer made $100 million+ at the box office.
  • Successful summer blockbusters have declined since 2013. Just nine movies grossed $100 million+ at the box office in 2022 — a 61% decrease.
  • Since 1975, Warner Bros. has released 114 summer movies that grossed $100 million or more — the most of any studio.
  • June is the month with the most blockbuster releases. 234 movies released in June have made at least $100 million.
  • Blockbusters released in May have the highest average box office gross. Movies released that month earn $286.6 million in ticket sales on average.

Number of blockbuster movies by year

1975’s “Jaws” was a bonafide megahit, earning in excess of $1.4 billion at the box office (when adjusted for inflation). Many see “Jaws” as the first true summer blockbuster, and only one other summer hit, “Star Wars,” has ever topped that box office total.

“Star Wars” grossed $1.5 billion two years after “Jaws” and solidified the summer season as the premier time for studios to release their best big-budget films.

To see how studios have approached blockbuster season in the last half century, we tracked how many films have grossed at least $100 million (adjusted for inflation) at the summer box office each year.


The dawn of the summer blockbuster era, 1975 and 1976, saw the fewest blockbuster releases of any year before COVID-19, with just four movies each.

But from 1978 to 2019, there were 10 or more films released every summer that earned at least $100 million (adjusted for inflation). Meaning that, for decades, moviegoers had a range of blockbusters to choose from.

Summer blockbusters were at their apex from the late 1990s through the mid-2010s. Every summer from 1998 to 2016 featured at least 15 movies that made $100 million+ (adjusted for inflation). Eight of those years had 20+ blockbusters.

The best blockbuster year was 2013, when 23 different films topped the $100 million mark at the box office — the most of any summer on record.

Since 2013, the number of summer blockbuster films has been declining, possibly due to the rise of streaming services and the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2022, just nine movies grossed more than $100 million. That’s a 61% decrease compared to 2013.

Not counting 2020 (due to COVID), 2022 was also the first summer since 1977 where fewer than 10 blockbusters were released.

Blockbuster box office performance

Average box office earnings is an imperfect, but still useful, metric for assessing blockbuster quality. Multiple movies need to have broad appeal for a given summer's selection to come out on top.


In that regard 1975 stands alone. The summer of “Jaws” is the only year where summer blockbusters averaged more than $400 million at the box office.

Since 1978 only one summer has seen average box office revenue in excess of $300 million: 2022. Blockbusters released the summer of 2022 averaged $308 million at the box office, in large part thanks to “Top Gun: Maverick,” which earned $733 million.

Looking beyond per-film averages, cumulative box office performance shows which years had the right combination of quantity and quality. 2003 is king in this regard, as movies such as “Finding Nemo,” “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl,” and “The Matrix Reloaded” helped studios bring in a combined $5.1 billion in box office revenue.

2013 is the only other year where studios brought in more than $5 billion in blockbuster revenue, thanks to heavy-hitting sequels like “Iron Man 3” and “Despicable Me 2.”

The studios behind the best blockbusters

Over the last 50 years, a handful of film studios have taken over the film industry and are now responsible for most major motion pictures released each year.

Summer blockbusters have played an important role in establishing each one of these companies as industry titans, but we wanted to see which ones have been the most successful during the summer season.


Since 1975, Warner Bros. has released 114 summer blockbusters. That’s more than any other studio.

The first summer blockbuster from Warner Bros. was “The Outlaw Josey Wales” way back in 1976, while 2022’s “Elvis” was the most recent Warner Bros. blockbuster. In terms of box office returns, Warner Bros.’ most successful film is 2008’s “The Dark Knight,” which grossed an inflation-adjusted $736 million.

Universal Pictures and Disney have each released exactly 100 summer blockbusters since 1975. Each of them also released three big-time movies in the summer of 2022.

Disney’s biggest 2022 hit was “​​Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness,” which grossed over $400 million. Both “Thor: Love and Thunder” and “Lightyear” also topped the $100 million mark.

From Universal Pictures, “Jurassic World Dominion” led the way with more than $350 million at the box office. “Minions: The Rise of Gru” and “Nope” also earned blockbuster status.

The best months for summer blockbusters

Our team looked at the quantity of blockbusters released and an average box office performance to judge the best summer month for a blockbuster release.


While studios save the bulk of their blockbusters for June and July, movies released in May actually perform the best on average.

May blockbusters gross $287 million on average. That’s more than $40 million better than June releases, and nearly $60 million more than July releases.

How to save at the box office and at home

Whether you’re excited for this summer’s blockbuster lineup or just want to catch classics from the comfort of your own home, here are some ways for you to save on entertainment this summer:

  • Earn cash back at the box office. Between tickets, parking, and popcorn, the cost of going to the movies adds up. Try offsetting those costs by using a cash back credit card that earns you cash on your everyday purchases.
  • Save your money by cutting back your subscriptions. With so many streaming options available, it’s hard to know which apps are right for you. Make sure to do research into the best streaming services before you add an additional monthly subscription.
  • Save on movie snacks at home. While bringing your own snacks into the movie theater may be frowned upon (we won’t tell), you don’t have to sneak groceries into your own house. Use a grocery credit card when you stock up for your next binge-watch to help you earn cash back on your favorite snacks.

Methodology

FinanceBuzz collected BoxOfficeMojo data for all movies released from the first Friday in May through Labor Day weekend for every year since 1975. Box office earnings and totals throughout this analysis represent inflation-adjusted numbers. For the purposes of this analysis, we only evaluated movies that made at least $100 million (when adjusted for inflation using the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ CPI Inflation Calculator) and were released in each qualifying “summer season.” We also excluded any rereleases.

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Author Details

Josh Koebert

Josh Koebert is an experienced content marketer that loves exploring how personal finance overlaps with topics such as sports, food, pop culture, and more. His work has been featured on sites such as CNN, ESPN, Business Insider, and Lifehacker.