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Every season is summer for new Hollywood blockbusters

Forty years ago, Chief Martin Brody, Sam Quint and Matt Hooper took to the waters of Amity Beach in search of the oversized great white shark that had been terrorizing their small beach community in the film "Jaws," celebrating its 40th anniversary this June.

Little did director Steven Spielberg know, his mid-budgeted follow-up to his theatrical debut would change not only his career, but film history as well. The smash success of Jaws, earning more than a billion dollars in adjusted gross, recontextualized the summer months from a Hollywood dumping ground into the key release window for big-budget blockbuster films.

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Frank Baylor, director of the Film Lovers in Carroll County, said he still remembers the change in the ways big films were marketed and released.

"The summer used to be the total doldrums," Baylor said. "People would go to the theater to go get air conditioning, but once houses started getting air conditioning, that all dried up. After 'Jaws,' that's when all the big movies started coming out. You can really tell when schools are letting out, because you see ads for the shoot-em-up, car chase, laser beams and robots films."

Though "Jaws" is considered the first of the summer blockbusters, it's impact was magnified by the release of "Star Wars" in late May of 1977. The one-two punch of billion-dollar earners, had an almost instant effect in Hollywood, with the summer of 1978 coming in as the first of the post-"Jaws"-and-"Star Wars" seasons. The year saw the release of sequels to two of the biggest summer releases "Jaws II" and "Damien: The Omen II," following Richard Donner's surprise success "The Omen" earning the most money in the summer of 1976, directly between the release of "Jaws" and "Star Wars."

Baylor said he can still remember the mammoth impact the original "Star Wars" had on audiences when it was released.

"The first time I ever saw Star Wars, the audience erupted into spontaneous applause when the Death Star exploded," Baylor said. "I was in my late 20s and I hadn't seen or heard anything like that since I was a teeny little kid."

Following up the year of sequels, 1979 brought movie lovers the first true summer season, noticeably similar to the modern summer output.

That year brought audiences a number of sequels, "Beyond the Poseidon Adventure," "Rocky II" and "Moonraker," as well as a sci-fi special-effects extravaganza, "Alien," and update of a beloved television show with "The Muppet Movie."

The sequels of the summer of '79 provide a clear insight into the effect of "Jaws" on the blockbuster landscape, with the original "Poseidon Adventure," "Rocky" and the 1974 James Bond film "The Spy Who Loved Me" each being released in the holiday season of the last quarter of the year, while their sequels were moved to the summer months, chasing that "Jaws" money.

Prior to 1975, it was this window of November and December, now considered the awards-bait time of the year, that these big-budget films were released. In fact, the 1974 saw three competing big-budget disaster films, "Airport 1975," "Earthquake" and "The Towering Inferno" released in the final three months of the year.

For decades, the summer move model has dominated the Hollywood blockbuster release schedule, with summer movies taking the top grosses for every year in the 1980s — save 1987's "3 Men and a Baby" and 1988's "Rain Man." The model was so dominant, that even genre films based around the Christmas season like "Gremlins" and "Die Hard" were released in the blazing hot summer months.

Starting in the '90s a great number of summer blockbusters began to be based on existing properties, as sequels, adaptations and remakes started to take hold. Between the release of "Terminator 2" and today, the only completely original films to win their respective summers' box office takes have been 1996's "Independence Day" and 2003's "Finding Nemo," according to records from Box Office Mojo.

Richard Soisson, of FLICC, said "Independence Day" is one of the few blockbusters that really grabbed him.

"I liked 'Independence Day.' I thought it was interesting," Soisson said. "To me, that's when the special effects really started taking front and center. The special effects of that movie were great, and the story was interesting, too."

In recent years, the studio system has begun to shift into a year-round blockbuster mode. Huge fantasy films, like "The Lord of the Rings" and "Harry Potter," have been released in fall and winter months, while the beginning of the summer season seems to creep earlier each year.

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While the Hollywood summer has been defined as starting the first weekend of May — a date that grew in importance with the smash-success of "Spider-Man" in 2002 — more blockbuster films are being released prior to that date.

In 2015, "Furious 7" became the year's first billion-dollar earner with a release at the beginning of April, while last year "The Lego Movie" and "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" did well for themselves at the beginning of the calendar year.

And each year, the special-effects laden "Hunger Games" films compete with near-record-breaking grosses in November. Baylor said this is a part of Hollywood's cyclical nature. He said the omnipresence of huge-budget action films doesn't worry him, as the system seems to self-correct.

"I think it goes through phases. When other films come out and are extremely popular, even on a low budget, it shakes up the industry a little bit," Baylor said. "All of a sudden, the buyers are flocking to Sundance to find the next 'Blair Witch Project,' which cost like $37.95 to make, and made a bazillion dollars for everybody."

Soisson said though millions of dollars are poured into the films, it's the cheapest aspects — the storyline — that make blockbusters truly memorable.

"I don't mind special effects, but I don't want all special effects," Soisson said. "'San Andreas,' that's all special effects. They have a weak storyline, the same way with the 'Transformers' movies."

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Twitter.com/Jacob_deNobel

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