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Better Know the Alliance: Summer Movie Memories

As film critics, we love movies. That love is often built over time at one place, the movie theater.

That can be especially true during the summer months. Many of us start off as movie fans first and the big summer blockbusters that brought us to the theaters helped kick off a lifelong love of film.

With summer getting underway, members of the MNFCA take a look back at some of their most memorable movie experiences in the hottest months of the year, and what they enjoy aside from film as well.

Joe Botten, The MN Movie Man

The first summer movie experience that always comes to mind is seeing “Jurassic Park” at the Edina 4 theater on opening day with my two best friends.  The anticipation for that film was so high, and pre-internet all we had to go on were movie magazines and what you could see on entertainment news programs. 

I’ll never forget soaking in each moment and then going back twice that same weekend with other friends to see it again.  Does anyone else remember that gray souvenir popcorn bucket you could buy?  One friend was so scared at one of those later weekend showings that she stuck her head fully into it and wouldn’t watch the scene with Laura Dern turning on the power to the park!

1993’s “Jurassic Park.”

My memories of going to drive-ins during the summer are too bountiful to count.  From my first (“Crocodile Dundee II”) to the time I saw “A Knight’s Tale” in the afternoon at Mall of America and then had to sit through it a second time when I accidentally misread the order at Cottage View Drive-In. 

However, the best was seeing the remake of “House of Wax” in the early summer of 2005.  Aside from it being fun to see an actual horror movie in such a setting, when (Spoiler Alert) Paris Hilton’s character famously gets killed, the entire sold-out crowd at Vali-Hi started honking their horns, rocking their cars back and forth and flashing their lights. 

I guess my favorite memory should come as no surprise to anyone who knows me.  It’s seeing “Jaws” on the big screen in the now-closed Oak Street Cinema.  The print was old, and the sound mix wasn’t anything special, but it was my first time seeing a movie that had only existed on the small screen projected like most audiences (including my parents, on their first date) saw it back in the summer of 1975. 

An “I remember every moment” kind of memory, with the sold-out crowd screaming and laughing precisely where Spielberg wanted them to.  “Jaws,” as a film, became even more real at that moment to me, and each subsequent time I’ve seen it in theaters, it has never disappointed.  It’s the perfect summer film and my personal perfect memory.

Outside of movies

We’re cooped up inside for so much of the year with the cold weather (and while watching films) that I take every opportunity to get outside during the good weather months. That often involves finding local trails to hike or even just taking a left when I usually hang a right during my runs around our neighborhood. Getting lost can be fun that way. Whatever gets me out of the house and out of my routine.

Brian Eggert, Deep Focus Review

Steven Spielberg’s “Jurassic Park” (1993) will always be among my most formative summer movie experience. Not only did I revel in how Spielberg brought dinosaurs to life (an obsession of mine as an 11-year-old boy), but it was among my earliest visits to the cinema with my family, which wasn’t a moviegoing family until I was well into my teens.

The experience is branded in my memory. When that raptor leaps from the ground toward the characters climbing into the ceiling, and toward the camera, everyone in the movie theater gasped and jumped in their seats.

It was one of the first times I realized how watching movies could be a group experience, whereas previous to this, I had always watched movies at home on TV or VHS. The film remains one of my favorites, and it was my first real exposure to a quintessential blockbuster on the big screen.

1993’s “Jurassic Park.”

A less conventional example came in 1999 with Stanley Kubrick’s “Eyes Wide Shut,” which opened on July 14. Many call 1999 the all-time best year for movies, and I agree. But that summer was also about getting my first job (Suncoast Motion Picture Company) and having freedom for the first time.

I had just gotten my driver’s license the day before Kubrick’s sex odyssey opened. So “Eyes Wide Shut” became the first film I saw with my newly acquired vehicular independence—and the first time I went to the cinema alone.

Later, it became the first film I saw more than once in the theater, as I went back and dragged friends with me. And while “Eyes Wide Shut” isn’t often associated with summer movies, that experience marked several nostalgic moviegoing firsts in my life.

For a more recent experience, I don’t think I’ll ever forget my reaction to “Mad Max: Fury Road” (2015). My wife and I saw it opening night, and while excited, neither of us had imagined it would surpass the originals, especially not “The Road Warrior” (1981).

However, George Miller delivered a daring, ambitious spectacle, unlike anything we had ever seen, despite the classical chase-movie setup. Afterward, we felt exhausted, sweaty, and exhilarated.

The physiological effect of watching the film in the theater was overwhelming. It was like we had been driving that truck with Immortan Joe in pursuit. When people talk about “pure cinema,” it’s experiences like this, which are rare.

Outside of movies

Besides visiting movie theaters for the latest blockbusters, summertime is a season for long walks with my wife and dog, grilling most nights for dinner, and endless sneezing from allergies. But as a lifelong “indoor kid,” I don’t find summer all that different from any other season. No matter the weather or time of year, I would prefer to be inside, watching a movie.

Kelly Florence, Horror Rewind

One of my first, most memorable summer movie moments was the summer of 1982 seeing “E.T.” in the theater. The initial meeting of Elliot and E.T. in the cornfield startled and terrified me so much I spent much of the rest of the movie sitting on my dad’s lap! That didn’t keep me from seeing the movie multiple times that summer.

1982’s “E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial

Two years later, I spent other multiple afternoons watching “Ghostbusters” in the theatre. My dad offered to bring us to “Jungle Book” but I insisted on seeing Ghostbusters for the third time!

When I was old enough to get dropped off at the mall and see movies with friends, we saw “Arachnophobia” multiple times. Nothing better than sitting in an air conditioned movie theatre in the heat of July with a bucket of popcorn watching a horror comedy!

Outside of movies

I love summers in Minnesota for the (usually) not too hot weather, walks along Lake Superior, and sitting around a nighttime campfire with friends and family.

Hunter Friesen, League of Cinephiles

I look to the summer movie season as a place where tentpole blockbusters and arthouse indies can share the spotlight. Of course the blockbusters tend to make more noise, but the indies have their own way of sticking with you. Case in point: “The Lobster.”

2016’s “The Lobster.”

Venturing out to find “The Lobster” in the summer of 2016 was the first time I sought out an independent film. I stumbled upon the trailer online, and its uniqueness caught my attention. There was something about the offbeat nature of the film that starkly contrasted it with every movie I had seen before.

Lo and behold, when I arrived to see the film, I was the only person in attendance. I was accustomed to packed houses for huge franchises, and now I was getting a movie all to myself.

I let the weirdness of Yorgos Lanthimos wash over me that afternoon, and I was transfixed. It was a gateway moment in my discovery of another world of film filled with distinctly different auteurs. I’ve rewatched “The Lobster” several times since, and every time I’m happily reminded of how far I’ve come over the years.

Of course, the summer isn’t meant for seeing movies by yourself. It’s also for experiences that can’t be replicated anywhere else. The movie that screams summer the most has to be “Avengers: Engame.” I remember the mad scramble of buying tickets online, in which the only time that could accommodate our friend group was 2:30am.

It didn’t matter, as our anticipation supplied us with enough adrenaline to withstand a three-hour movie at such an ungodly hour. There wasn’t an empty seat in the house, and the crowd behaved more akin to a rock concert than a film. Laughter, tears, and applause punctuated every moment within the film, making it one of the most memorable theater going experiences I’ve had.

But the craziest movie moment in my lifetime just so happened to be my first. I was barely seven years old when my parents took me to “Cars” in 2006. We went to the Marcus Cinema in Shakopee (which has now been replaced by a much nicer version uptown). It was a packed house, and I can remember every commercial, trailer, and moment from the movie. But the moment I remember (and cherish) the most was a throwaway line in the middle of the movie.

After Lightning McQueen has been stranded in the podunk town of Radiator Springs, he comes across two equally lost tourists. Explaining their situation, one of the cars talks about how they also got lost “on their way to Shakopee for the crazy days.” At that moment, the audience erupted in disbelief and cheers that our ordinary town was referenced in a blockbuster film. The town of Shakopee hasn’t been referenced in a film since, and I’ve made it my life’s work to find out how it got into the movie in the first place.

Outside of movies

Apart from the movies offering indoor attractions, the summer season also packs quite the appeal outdoors. As an avid golf and soccer player, I always look forward to the summer during our six months of winter. During the months where it’s tolerable to be outside, I get while the getting is good.

Meg Hafdahl, Horror Rewind

1. I was 14 when “The X-Files: Fight the Future” came out and it was magical! I was the biggest fan and I had been counting down the minutes until I could go! It was so busy in the theater that my friend and I couldn’t sit next to each other, and I remember when Mulder and Scully almost kissed (that damn bee!) I wanted desperately to squeeze my friend’s arm…but she was in a whole other aisle!

The X-Files
1998’s “The X-Files: Fight the Future.”

2. It was my first summer of freedom after my graduation from high school and Kelly (another alliance member and co-host of Horror Rewind) and I were OBSESSED with “Moulin Rouge.” We knew every song, and sang them together wherever we drove. We went to see it so many times that the employees of the theater started letting us in for free! I saw “Moulin Rouge” 19 times that summer, no regrets! But I think Kelly might have seen a few more times than me?

3. One of the first movies I remember seeing as a family was “Death Becomes Her” in 1992. I was eight, and it really became a vital film for me, as I came to love the dark comedy, horror, sci-fi and female driven nature of the film. Before the movie started my dad accidentally spilled all the popcorn on the floor, but it didn’t matter! I was thrilled to be seeing such a cool movie. It’s still one of my favorites!

Outside of movies

I love to bring my other hobbies outside like yoga and reading. Any time I can soak up the beauty of Minnesota I’m happy! I also love to go to local breweries, sit on the deck and talk movies!

Matt Hambidge, News From the Couch

1. “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” is the only midnight show I’ve gone to. They never held all that much appeal to me, but with the midnight showings mostly going by the wayside, I’m glad that I was able to make it to one.

2009’s “Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince.”

2. “Toy Story 3.” The first two were such formative parts of my childhood, and still more than hold their own even to this day. Even with Pixar’s track record, I, like many others, couldn’t help but feel a little wary of this one.

It was such a relief to see the magic was still there. It was a great combination of nostalgia while also being a new experience all its own. It’s hard to think of another movie that can match the kind of feeling watching “Toy Story 3” for the first time.

3. “Mission: Impossible – Fallout.” I had just gotten home after a five hour drive back from a friend’s bachelor party so I was a little worse for wear. But there was no chance I was missing opening weekend for this one.

And it totally blew me away. It’s one of my favorite movies of the last few years and is already an all-time great action movie. It completely cured any lingering effects from the weekend.

Outside of movies

What’s not to love about Minnesota summers? Twins and Saints games, beach days, endless opportunities for outdoor activities. Whether it’s tennis, pickleball, golf, or just lounging outside reading, there’s always an excuse to spend time outside. And there’s not much that can beat a night out at Lord Fletcher’s, with some volleyball and drinks by the lake to cap off a day.

Eric Houston, Movie Man Eric on North Metro TV

Summer and the movies mean one thing to me: the drive-in. Back in Indiana, where I grew up, the closest drive-in was the Tri-Way Drive-In Theatre, 30 minutes away in Plymouth, Ind. The Tri-Way is still open and still showing double features of the latest releases on four outdoor screens.

Picking your double feature at the Tri-Way was a bit of an art. You could stick with the screen you started with and watch the second picture or you can rev up your engine when the credits start and hop over to screen two, three, or four if it was playing something better. Doing this right required a keen knowledge of movie runtimes.

I saw a number of movies at the Tri-Way, most of them unremarkable. The only one that really stands out is the Brad Pitt sword and sandals epic “Troy.” Mind you, Troy is not a particularly memorable movie.

When I saw it, though, it began to pour rain about two hours into the movie, just in time for the climactic sword fight between Pitt’s Achilles and Eric Bana’s Hector. Watching those two beefcakes fight it out in the sands of Greece as driving rain obscured the picture and lightning flashed in the background leant the movie a staggering scope and grandeur that no indoor movie house could ever compete with.

It was an amazing, unforgettable movie moment that could only have been topped if it happened during an actually good movie. I mean, can you even imagine the same thing happening during the titular number of “Singin’ in the Rain” or during the sandstorm sequence from “Mad Max: Fury Road?”

2004’s “Troy.”

The Twin Cities are, of course, home to the Vali-Hi Drive-In, and I’ve been there many, many times. The food is markedly better – the corn dogs cannot be beat – and the facilities vault over the basement low bar of the Tri-Way.

The only down side is that the Vali-Hi only has the one screen. Even then, it’s bigger than any of the ones back in Indiana and it’s a genuine treat to drive up 94 on a Saturday evening and catch a glimpse of whatever movie happens to be playing.

Outside of movies

Aside from the movies, summer in Minnesota for me is all about antique shows and flea markets. My wife and I travel all over the state buying odd and unusual items for our home.

Of course, some of these are movie related. Specifically, I’m a big fan of the 1980 camp masterpiece “Flash Gordon” and I’ve lucked into a couple of great Flash items.

The biggest of these is a Bally Flash Gordon pinball machine, in working condition.  The game is a joy.  As you play, an electric sound bass beat pumps from the machine, in imitation of the Queen score.

Matthew Liedke, Matthew Liedke on Film

When I think of summer movies, I always go back to “Independence Day.” I was 8-years-old when that movie came out and it’s probably my first major motion picture experience.

Most of my trips to the cinema had been for family movies and animated features. By then I had watched the “Star Wars” trilogy, “Jurassic Park” and more, but they had all been viewed on a home screen via VHS.

Then came “Independence Day,” which I went to with my family and our neighbors. I grew up just a block away from the movie theater so we all just walked over there.

1996’s “Independence Day.”

It was an amazing experience. The huge space ships were intimidating, the action was intense, Will Smith was an entertaining protagonist and the intrigue with the leaders of the country was compelling. I was absolutely captivated, it was such an epic film to me.

I know it has its fair share of detractors, and that’s fine, but for me, it’s a special picture.

Another memory comes more than a decade later in 2011, when the final “Harry Potter” picture came out. I was actually not a super big fan of “Harry Potter.” For example, I didn’t read the books.

However, I had always found the movies to be pretty good, and for “Deathly Hallows Part 2,” the Marcus Theater in Fargo was having a complete series marathon. The first day, on a Wednesday, had the initial three films. Then, Thursday had the final five pictures, culminating with the premiere of the last movie at midnight.

It was a memorable experience rewatching all of those films and seeing how they evolved, while also enjoying them with a group who appreciated the series.

The third summer movie experience that comes to mind is seeing “The Avengers” in 2012. I saw it about a week before I graduated from Minnesota State University, so I suppose it’s always going to be tied to that in a way.

The first Marvel Cinematic Universe film, “Iron Man” was released in 2008, the end of my first year in college, and the culmination of those initial movies coincided with the end of my time as a student. It was fitting.

Outside of movies

As for what I enjoy when I’m not at the theater, I have to say spending time at lakes! I grew up near Rainy Lake which is on the Canadian border and it was beautiful. I still love spending time by Minnesota’s lakes. Also, summer is a great time to visit Minnesota breweries and try a new drink on the patio.

Ruth Maramis, FlixChatter

1. “X-Men” – July 2000: Superhero movies weren’t all the rage back then, so when I first saw the trailer I just couldn’t wait to see it on the big screen!

2000’s “X-Men.”

2. “The Dark Knight” – July 2008: We were in Chicago when they were filming one of the chopper scenes over the river so that made it all the more exciting!

3. Comic-Con – July 2011: Lastly, I have to say one of the most memorable Summer movie seasons was when my hubby and I visited San Diego Comic-Con. I blogged about it here when I met Chris Evans and here inside the coveted Hall H.

Outside of movies

My fave things to do during the Summer months in Minnesota include walking around the lakes, BBQ-ing with friends, going to art fairs all over town and simply enjoying being outside.

Tyler Strandberg, InSession Film

My three most memorable summer releases have to be from pretty recently, to be honest! Funny enough, I have a good memory, a bad memory, and a mixed one.

My good memory has to be the release of “Luca.” I didn’t really know much about it, and I watched it as soon as it came out at midnight on Disney+. It was one of my favorite movies from last year, and I couldn’t stop myself from crying like a baby. I watched it every night for a week after that.

2021’s “Luca.”

A bad memory was the release of “The Green Knight.” I had heard good things about it, I was intrigued by the story, and I was very interested in seeing Dev Patel. I even brought a friend with me because I was talking about it so much. Controversial opinion, but I thought it was one of the worst things I’ve ever seen.

I was so bored the entire time, and I just felt so bad that I also had a friend with me sitting there and we were just kind of stuck. We both talked about how much we didn’t like it afterwards and how we wish we would’ve left halfway through.

My “mixed” memory was going to see “Cruella”. I liked the movie actually, and it was my first time going back to a theater since the pandemic had started. I was one of two people who were in the theater initially, and it was nice to just be in the space.

However, it started to go downhill shortly afterwards. I went to the 8:30 p.m. showing, so the movie didn’t really even start until around 9. Keep in mind, it’s a two and a half hour movie, so it won’t get out until around 11:30 p.m. Around 15 minutes into the movie, a mom walked in with three of her kids; the oldest being around 10-years-old and the youngest was no older than 5.

I couldn’t understand why you would take kids that young to a PG-13 movie that late at night, but to each their own. The problem was the youngest was running around the entire back two rows almost the entire movie, including climbing over the seats as if it was a jungle gym. The other two were chatting and giggling, one kept pointing a laser at the screen, but that was tame compared to the youngest.

There were a few instances where the mother got up and grabbed the kid, but the behavior always continued. I was pretty annoyed, and it was by far the most bizarre theater experience I’ve had, but I was able to talk to customer service afterwards and get a free movie voucher.

Outside of movies

This summer I’m really looking forward to hitting up some patios with some friends, and really enjoying the Pride season that’s almost among us! I love spending time outdoors, and what better way to do it than having a fun time with friends?


Author: Matthew Liedke

Journalist and film critic in Minnesota. Graduate of Rainy River College and Minnesota State University in Moorhead. Outside of movies I also enjoy sports, craft beers and the occasional video game.

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