The Avengers


Come midnight Friday, The Avengers opens, the movie summer starts—and The Dark Knight Rises, The Amazing Spider-Man and more get ready to roll.

Will the summer class of 2012 be a winner? Here's the storied competition it has to live up to, in chronological order:

1. 1975: The first modern movie summer there ever was, as the lines around the block for Steven Spielberg's Jaws attested. As added bonuses, Monty Python and the Holy Grail and Dog Day Afternoon debuted. 

2. 1978: Yes, the summer before saw the arrival of Star Wars, but '77 mostly offered up disasters, chiefly, Exorcist II: The Heretic, which was laughed off screens. The summer of '78, however, was jam-packed, with Grease, Animal House, Foul Play and, most key, the sequel that would truly make sequels a summer mainstay, Jaws 2.   

3. 1982: You could start an argument over which 1980s movie summer was best, and we probably will because we're looking past 1980 (The Empire Strikes Back, Airplane!), 1985 (Back to the Future, The Goonies) and the storied 1984 (Ghostbusters, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Gremlins, The Karate Kid, Purple Rain) to celebrate the one that brought us everything from multiplex favorites (E.T., Poltergeist), to groundbreakers (Tron, Blade Runner), to tons-o'-fun sequels (Rocky III, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan), to the world's best teen comedy ever (Fast Times at Ridgemont High), to the one and only The World According to Garp. Oh, and, OK, it also brought us Grease 2, but nothing, not even the Rhinestone-studded 1984 is perfect.

4. 1993: Spielberg strikes again. His Jurassic Park raised the bar for the summer spectacle as much as for the summer box office. The Fugitive, The Firm, In the Line of Fire and Sleepless in Seattle were a fine last gasp for popcorn hits about people who don't wear capes or exist in CGI-animated universes.

5. 2008: The genre-elevating The Dark Knight. The genre-invigorating, Avengers-spawning Iron Man. The blockbuster-redefining Sex and the City. Other summers in the aughts were bigger, but '08 just maybe was more important. And before you launch into rants about Meryl Streep's singing voice (Mamma Mia!) and a certain scene involving a refrigerator (Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull), let us stop you wth WALL-E, Kung Fu Panda, Wanted and Tropic Thunder. So there.

The Bottom Line: At the box office, this summer should be a record-setter. In the history books, it'll rank if it's viewed as the apex of the superhero movement; it'll suffer if it seen as just more of the spandex same.

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