My Favorite Summer Movie-Going Experiences

A few movies have already had blockbuster openings this past month but for me, the official summer movie season starts when school’s out in a couple weeks. I’m a long way from my school years but there’s something about going to movies in the heart of summer, with long lines and huge crowds, that brings out some of my fondest movie-going memories.

As a kid on summer break, I used to plan whole days around going to the movies: twenty minutes to walk to the theater, fifteen minutes in line to buy tickets, then two hours sitting around with my friends and/or siblings, playing cards, eating sandwiches, sipping orange Shasta, reading Mad magazine, just waiting to get in to see the latest blockbuster. Then two hours to see the movie, one and a half afterwards to dissect it with everyone, twenty minutes to walk back home and another half hour to write in my journal about the cool movie I saw that day and all the things I loved about it.

Sometimes it wasn’t the movie itself that was the highlight; it was the things that happened because I went to see it. So, as I look forward to this summer’s offerings, I’d like to share some of my favorite summer movie-going experiences from the past.

Close_Encounters_poster1) Close Encounters of the Third Kind, summer 1977. My family and I had only been in America for two years and none of us spoke much English. But that didn’t stop my dad from loading us all up in the rusty blue Chevy wagon and taking us to the movie theater. We all loved movies. Dad just bought us tickets to Close Encounters because that’s what was playing; we didn’t have any clue about what we were seeing. And Spielberg’s classic didn’t make it easy on us. We didn’t know why aliens were coming or understand the significance of that five-note score. But afterwards, we all made up our own stories based on what we saw and laughed all the way home. I still have no idea what mashed potatoes have to do with aliens but that was a fun day.

grease2) Grease, summer 1978. Growing up, I idolized Olivia Newton-John. She was everything I wasn’t: blonde, cute, popular and a talented singer. But in the movie, there was one thing we had in common: Sandy and I were both goody-two-shoes. I was disheartened when she decided she had to tart herself up in painted-on pants to get the guy, but I felt empowered when it turned out Danny was ready to accept her squareness. Whew. Not having to wear leather pants to school was a message I never forgot.

moonraker3) Moonraker, 1979. As I mentioned, we’re all movie lovers in my family but we rarely agreed on which movie to see. My sister had no interest in fantasy or sci-fi, my brother wouldn’t go to any girly films (translation: romantic comedies), my dad preferred dramas based on real events (i.e. All the President’s Men), my mother enjoyed sexy fare like Body Heat. But there was one kind of movie we could always agree on: James Bond flicks. Everybody loved 007.

So in June ’79, we all piled into the Ford LTD and the 8 of us took up a whole row in the theater, fighting over who got the aisle seats. Moonraker wasn’t anything spectacular and all the sexual innuendo went right over my head. Still, I hold this memory dear because it was one of maybe only three times the entire family went to the movies together. My oldest sister left for college the following summer and it got harder for us to do that again.

raiders_of_the_lost_ark_ver14) Raiders of the Lost Ark, summer of 1981. I was a die-hard Harrison Ford fan because of the Star Wars movies so I had to see this on opening day. Walked over to the mall after school that Friday, June 12, and got in line, still clutching my school books. I went by myself since I couldn’t get anyone to come with me. I sat there agape as the boulder chased Indy, screamed when he and Marion were dumped in the snake pit, screamed some more when the ark was opened and that guy’s face melted. Afterwards, I got right back in line to buy another ticket to see it again. To this day, no other movie has made me do that. It was like the best ride at Disneyland that you just want to go on over and over again.

e.t.5) E.T., summer of 1982. Wow, another Spielberg movie. He’s had a big part in shaping my childhood movie memories. My sisters, brothers and I walked to the theater inside the mall. We brought egg rolls, Snickers bars and playing cards, anticipating a long line. And boy, was it loooong. It stretched from Montgomery Ward at one end of the mall all the way down to Chess King at the other. My siblings and I ended up waiting about two hours but we had a blast sitting there, my brother teasing me about my new perm, me calling him stupid, my sister making up hilarious stories about other people in line. Oh, yeah, E.T. was great, too.

I don’t know if I’ll have similar experiences this summer with fare like G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, but I’ve learned that sometimes the movie itself is beside the point. It’s just an excuse for me to get out there and make happy memories.

What are some of yours?

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23 responses to “My Favorite Summer Movie-Going Experiences

  1. Thanks for sharing some lovely childhood stories, PCN!

    We mostly went to the drive-in as a family in summer. And James Bond movies were a safe choice for us, too! I often fell asleep even though I tried not to. If you’d been with me, you’d have had a torch and been making notes while I snored {quietly} into my empty Jubes box.

    • popculturenerd

      I’ve never been to a drive-in, ShelleyP, and have always wanted to go! It looks like fun.

      When you say torch, do you mean a real one or is that an Aussie term for flashlight? Carrying an actual torch at a drive-in would be really fun.

      • Never been to a drive-in?!? Oh, the things you’ve missed! Local blogger Dennis Cozzalio just finished and posted on a drive-in party he put together. I couldn’t make this one because I was out of town visiting the desert, but it sure looked like it was a blast at the Tiki. There may be a whole lot fewer drive-ins these days, but you can still experience the love, PCN. My long time buddy and I are planning a drive-in get together with our families in tow this summer at the Tiki. Both of our sets of kids have never been to one, too. Like us, you should rectify that situation ;-).

        • popculturenerd

          I didn’t know anything about the Tiki until you told me. I checked out its website—looks like FUN! I’ll have to make the drive and it’ll have to be a movie that’s worthy. Hmm, maybe Harry Potter. I can’t wait to add something new to my summer movie experiences. Thank you for the tip, le0pard13, and thanks, ShelleyP, for mentioning the drive-in! (Too bad I can’t have an actual torch like Indy, though.)

      • I concur, LeOpard13 ~ PCN, please get thee to a drive-in. It’s a special experience! No having to behave yourself – you can put your feet up, get cosy with a blanket, even slurp your drink if you feel like it.

        Yes, I thought about the ‘torch’ thing after I commented! Though the Indiana Jones version would add a whole new level to the experience, I was talking about a flashlight. 🙂

  2. OK… I am way younger than that. LOL. So my summer blockbuster best would be more recent (and as a matter of fact, I don’t remember all of them quite well).

    I do remember, however, going with my father & uncle to see “The Phantom Menace” in 1999 because they were bitching about it. Don’t get me wrong, I am a HUGE Star Wars fan, but my dad & uncle were way obsessed with the prequel trilogy… and you just have to hear the SW names in spanish ’cause they’re just hilarious: “MalVader” & “Arturito” (for R2D2). I just thank God we don’t get the spaniard translation for the movie because “Luke Trotacielos” is too much to handle!

    And I also recall going to see “X-Men” with my brother. I’m a comic book geek and I just couldn’t wait to see it! We were in the line on the opening night and there were people with plastic Wolverine-claws-prosthetics and some others in yellow spandex. It was fun!

    But two of the greatest times I had in the movies were going to see “The Lion King” with my cousins. It was just plain fun! (I was 10 at the time).

    • popculturenerd

      Oh my gosh, you made me laugh, Poncho, with the MalVader and Luke Trotacielos. So would it be C-TresPO? Han Solo can remain Han Solo, no? What were your father and uncle bitching about—the fact the prequels sucked? I’m a HUGE Star Wars nerd, too, and that was quite a movie-going experience for me but I didn’t see it during the summer of ’77. I caught it on a re-release the following January or February.

      You didn’t mention which mutant you were dressed as when you went to see X-Men. And did you finally get to see Wolverine?

      • I meant my dad and uncle were bitching like a year because they wanted to go and couldn’t wait ’till the movie came out (and though my dad was very critical, my uncle came out of the cinema almost wielding an imaginary light saber.

        I don’t dress up for movies (though I almost did for LotR:RotK)… I might wear a geeky t-shirt but that’s just that. And yes, I did see Wolverine and I want to buy my plastic-prosthetic-claws!!! Though it wasn’t a great movie, it’s an adrenaline rush and I liked that.

        I’m actually going to see Star Trek tomorrow night with my mom (she’s a Trekkie), I’ll let you know the outcome of the experience!

        • popculturenerd

          I’m not a Trekkie at all and I enjoyed Star Trek, so do check back and let me know your (and your mom’s) thoughts on it. I would suggest bringing earplugs; the movie is really LOUD.

  3. I grew up on the cusp of the summer blockbuster onslaught during the 70’s. I remember fondly going to see The Godfather at the old Rosecrans Drive-in the day after graduating high school. In fact, the Saturday I went, I slept most of that day because I attended the all-night Grad Night at Disneyland the night before. Got up in time to shower and pick up the same groggy girl I took to GN and get into the drive-in line for it. Ah… youth.

    For Jaws (1975), my date at the time and I spent 2-3 hours in the ticket line to see that, at the now demolished ABC Entertainment Center in Century City. We had a glorious time talking it up with the rest of the people in line, and sending some folks out for snacks while we waited there. Wonderful time! Enjoyed the movie so much, the next weekend I went back (different theater) with my cousins who hadn’t seen it yet (and I so enjoyed their reactions on the good parts… hehe).

    The summer movie experience is a special one–and sometimes, even the movies are that, too. Great post, as always, PCN.

    • popculturenerd

      You came of age during a great period in American cinema. No High School Musical 3 for you. How did your date like The Godfather? I saw it on the big screen in film class and almost soiled my shorts at the horse head in the bed.

      I forgot to mention all the camaraderie that can happen with other people when you wait in line for 2-3 hours. I enjoy that, too. It’s also fun, like Poncho said, to see people dressed up in costumes if you’re at a certain kind of movie, like Lord of the Rings or Star Wars marathons. They make it feel like Halloween.

      • She cringed closer to me whenever director Coppola put the film’s trademark violence on the screen. Which, wasn’t a bad thing…

        • popculturenerd

          I knew it. You took her to that movie on purpose, hoping she’d jump in your lap, didn’t you? Did you take her to The Exorcist and The Omen and It’s Alive, too?

  4. Suddenly, I feel very old! LOL! I went to most of those on my own, but I couldn’t drive yet, so I had to walk. Can you believe that none of my friends wanted to go at the time, but now they all rave about how good those movies were? Geez!

  5. In April 1975, shortly before the end of the Vietnam War, my family boarded an American military aircraft and fled Saigon, the city of my birth. We came to Guam after a three-day stay in Clarks Air Base in the Philippines. I was in Guam when I first heard that South Vietnam had surrendered to the Communists. People were cut adrift, and spent most of their days in shock. I was 13 at the time.

    One night, the American soldiers who took care of our camp told everyone that there would be outdoor movies shown at the beach. I took my five siblings, who ranged from 3 to 10 years in age, to the screening. We took up a whole bleacher in front of the screen. We laughed at the vintage Warner Bros. cartoons and were somewhat perplexed by a very frenzied version of Dr. Seuss’ “The Cat in the Hat.” For an hour or two I forgot that I was a dan ty-nan (“seeker of asylum”), a teenager who overnight had to grapple with the notion of being a “homeless foreigner” in my adopted homeland.

  6. Very cool. I love these movies. Takes me back!

  7. The first movie I ever watched in the USA, when we arrived in Virginia in the Summer of 1975 was JAWS! Back then when I was still in Saigon, I’ve already heard about this movie, so I was quite impressed…I still remember now the bloodiest scenes of this movie, when the “big fish”, with just one bite, got the whole leg of that swimmer in its mouth! … I swear, I’ll never be in the audience of this kind of “arts” again…

    • popculturenerd

      Haha! You’re braver than I. I’ve never seen Jaws because I know I’d freak out and never go to the beach again. I hated how I stumbled upon Psycho on TV when I was little and couldn’t shower for two weeks. Phew! NOT fun for those around me.

  8. Cool article! Loved Moonraker and still think that that whole concept of Bond in Space is untapped. Check out my page when you have a moment. Hope you like my work. It’s all about Pop-Culture.

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