Top Gun: Maverick recently smashed Memorial Day weekend records, taking in over 156 million in its debut weekend and subsequently becoming Tom Cruise’s biggest opening movie of all time, per Fortune. The holiday weekend is infamously a launching point for many studios’ summer blockbuster schedules, and over the years many an all-time classic film has started off movie fan summers with a bang.
It’s often debated which Memorial Day movies were most memorable, and over at Ranker, while the votes keep coming in and entries vacillate up and down, pollsters are giving their due on which were the best of the best.
Note: Ranker lists are live and continue to accrue votes, so some rankings may have changed after this publishing.
10 Back To The Future III (1990)
In this often-underrated conclusion to the wildly popular Back to the Future trilogy, Doc Brown is inadvertently transported back to the Old West. Marty discovers he’s murdered shortly thereafter and resolves to travel back further in time to save him.
Time travel high jinks naturally ensue before Marty saves the day and returns to his native 1985. The film has a surprising amount of heart in no small part due to Mary Steenburgen’s turn as Doc’s new love interest. The movie shows Marty’s emotional maturity story arc finally coming to fruition as he overcomes his alpha male competitive streak (with an audience pleasing cameo adversary in the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Flea as Needles).
9 Rocky III (1982)
The third entry in Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky series boasts the likes of Hulk Hogan and Mr. T as primary adversaries, Rocky III shows a famous Balboa in his prime wrestling with the ides and tides of being at the top at long last.
The film manages to nail the twist by having Rocky lose his mentor Mickey (Burgess Meredith) and having to turn to his former opponent Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) for guidance to overcome Clubber Lang’s challenge. Full of typical eighties bravado and chutzpah, this film delivered all the standard holiday weekend expectations, bang for buck and hit for hit.
8 Up (2009)
This beloved Pixar movie was embraced by a generation of Disney fans who’d never seen an animated film heralding the perils of old age and how second lives were always an option for those looking for such a thing.
Up showcased the story of curmudgeon and balloon salesman Carl who, after losing his wife (in a rather infamous tear-jerking and decidedly uncommon Disney montage) sets his house aloft to float to a South American wilderness, only to have his retirement plans interrupted by a stowaway child and a talking dog. The movie is lauded by critics and fans alike for its heartfelt depiction of love, family, and anti-ageism.
7 Shrek (2001)
Mike Meyers, Cameron Diaz, and Eddie Murphy captured an entire generation’s worth of childhood memories with their titular voiceover work in the Dreamworks. Shrek films. Determined to save his swamp home from an invasion of displaced fairy creatures, Shrek agrees to Lord Farquaad’s quest to save Princess Fiona, who has her own secret adversity to overcome.
Full of laughs, Hollywood in-jokes, a self-deprecating tongue-in-cheek appreciation of itself, some grassroots beginnings of female representation in the genre, and a genuine love story for both adults and children, Shrek is a rare entity among animated series that still stands up today.
6 Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom (1984)
Fans of the Indiana Jones franchise are often divided about this second entry’s ultimate legacy, though Ranker users still hold it in high regard. Temple of Doom was alternately acclaimed for its wildly inventive action sequences and cheeky sense of humor, yet also derided for having a number of scenes deemed too intense for younger viewers, including Mola Ram’s famous heart removal sacrifice scene.
The movie also suffered from its use of era-limited problematic Asian and Indian stereotypes. Still, there was little denying its escapist guilty pleasures, from descending spike caves to creepy crawly bugs to ridiculously improbable air crash raft escapes, and of course Spielberg’s future wife screaming her head off for nearly the entire movie.
5 Braveheart (1995)
Though its star has dramatically dimmed his shine in recent years for several reasons, for a time there was little stopping Mel Gibson and his epic portrayals of fictionalized historical figures, most presciently in his depiction of William Wallace in Braveheart.
Telling the tale of 13th-century Scottish folk hero Wallace who rose up against English oppression was no small feat, and Gibson rendered a compelling performance among an array of battle set-pieces. His ephemeral and most quotable line of the movie, “They may take our lives, but they will never take our freedom!” is still widely quoted today.
4 Star Wars Episode VI – Return Of The Jedi (1983)
Expectations were supremely high for this final entry in the original trilogy. It had a lot to match up to with the incredible success and fan reactions to Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, which is generally hailed as the best Star Wars film of all time.
Unfortunately, Return of the Jedi did not quite measure up to its predecessor, taking a significant hit with George Lucas’ decision to include the cuddly yet entirely out-of-place Ewoks into the narrative. Still, Jedi has a lot of significant Star Wars moments, not the least of which are the deaths of Yoda, Jabba, Vader, and (supposedly) the Emperor, a thrilling Jabba’s palace sequence, and the final lightsaber duel between Luke and his father.
3 Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade (1989)
The third film in the original Indiana Jones trilogy is incredibly popular with Ranker users. After the divisive reception of Temple of Doomfans were heartened to discover a true blue Jones adventure still in the fountain well of Lucas and Spielberg.
Returning to familiar Nazi adversaries was a wise choice, but an even wiser decision was casting Sean Connery as Indy’s fastidious and properly fuddy-duddy father, Henry Jones Senior, who single-handedly stole the movie as they set out on their quest to discover the Holy Grail. With the usual adventure treasure map tropes and sweeping vistas set in the Great Temple of Petra, Last Crusade established itself as a solid redeemer in the original Indiana Jones trilogy.
2 Star Wars IV: A New Hope (1977)
Even back in 1977, George Lucas figured he had a hit on his hands with his seminal space opera and somehow wrangled a long-shot spot to start off the summer with distributor 20th Century Fox. Star Wars hit the ground running, almost immediately enrapturing the minds of both Baby Boomer and Gen X generations with its high-flying escapades showcasing a now-legendary trio of heroes.
The charming smuggler flyboy pilot, the farm boy making good in becoming the sage Jedi he’s destined to be, and the princess leader of the resistance have all gone on to remain iconic in pop culture. With theretofore unseen special effects and the raw charisma and chemistry of its three leads, Star Wars became a tent pole for all future science fiction cinema.
1 Star Wars V: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
Lucas knew how to launch his empire summer to summer after the initial success of the debut film, and its little wonder Empire takes the number one Ranker slot. With a rabid fan base consistently affirming its status as the best Star Wars flick ever, the Kershner-directed sequel hits all the right notes for the continuing Skywalker saga.
The introduction of Master Yoda and Lando Calrissian, the infamous Hoth Imperial Walker battle, and of course the bevy of timeless quotations have elevated Empire to a status rarely attained by films in any genre, much less science fiction.
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