By most accounts, the concept of the so-called “summer blockbuster” began with Steven Spielberg’s audience-thrilling Jaws, released by Universal in June of 1975. And the practice of studios releasing their most commercial films during the warm weather months truly came of age in the summer of 1989, when Tim Burton’s Batman arrived in theaters, alongside Spielberg’s third Indiana Jones film. But what about the cinematic summers of a half-century ago? MeTV offers a glimpse of what the summer movie release schedule looked like back in 1966, when Lyndon Johnson was president and “Wild Thing” by The Troggs ruled the charts. Then, as now, movie theaters were getting their share of remakes and spinoffs. While Bing Crosby and Ann-Margret were starring in their version of Stagecoach, Herman Munster and his monstrous sitcom clan were getting their one and only big-screen showcase, Munster, Go Home!
Films based on comics are nothing new. In 1966, director Joseph Losey’s Modesty Blaise was a loose adaptation of a popular British comic strip about a young woman of adventure. Just the thing for a warm May evening.
Speak of characters who debuted in comics, Fox had a Batman movie for the summer of 1966, too, but this one was based on the then-new ABC television series. That show had only been on the air a few months when this companion film showed up in theaters nationwide.
That’s not to say there wasn’t heavier fare in theaters in the summer of ’66. In June of that year, for instance, Warner Bros. released Mike Nichols’ supremely uncomfortable, alcohol-soaked Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?, based on the Edward Albee play and starring the most gossiped about couple of the time, Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. Of all the films profiled in this article, Woolf was the highest grossing, largely due to the notoriety of Burton and Taylor.
These days, August is sometimes viewed as a dumping ground for lesser films, i.e., would-be blockbusters that the studio bosses have lost faith in. In 1966, that blighted month brought a couple of enduring classics, though of very different stripes: Alfie and Fantastic Voyage.
All in all, this was a diverse, interesting slate of films with something for just about everybody in the audience. One can only hope that the summer of 2016 can match up to the films of 50 years ago. The pressure’s on you, The Lobster.