While most people look to June 21 as the official start to summer, some of us know better. We know the true start of summer is when blockbuster movie season kicks off and we head out to our local theater and take in all of the sights and sounds of this year’s biggest films.
As someone who absolutely loves sneakers about as much as he does going to the movies, I find special joy seeing when some of the biggest films of the summer pay tribute to sneakers in one way or another. From Marty McFly's Nike MAGs in Back to the Future II to Michael Jordan himself in Space Jam, there have been countless moments in cinema that gave a shout to sneaker culture.
Most people consider Steven Spielberg’s Jaws back in 1975 to be the first true “summer blockbuster,” so I took a look back over the past 40 years of summer movies to see if the biggest hits from each year made the cut when it came to showing sneakers some love.
The end of the ‘70s saw the summer blockbuster become part of American culture as moviegoers showed up in droves to experience new stories and worlds unfold right in front of their eyes. There were incredibly huge moments in cinema that would leave indelible marks on future generations with blockbusters like Jaws,The Omen, Star Wars and The Amityville Horror taking the top spots summer after summer, but it was 1978’s Grease that first showed sneakers some love in the form of the Converse Chuck Taylor All-Stars which could be seen all throughout the film on John Travolta’s Danny Zuko and his squad of T-Birds. Much like the film itself, the Chuck Taylors have remained a staple in American culture and a true classic till this day.
Honorable Mention: While 1979’s Meatballs was a huge summer hit, it didn’t exactly hit the scale of blockbuster. But that shouldn’t stop it from being a film sneakerheads should definitely love due to the nonstop cameos by adidas sportswear. From runners and logo tees to an absolutely phenomenal all red three striped tracksuit rocked by the one and only Bill Murray, Meatballs is a must watch for retro appeal alone, not to mention it being a damn funny movie.
The ‘70s may have been when summer blockbusters were born, but the ‘80s were when they really came into their own. Those 10 summers gave us films that we still talk about today and were one of the most creative times in all of filmmaking. If you are in your 30s and can think of a beloved childhood film, there’s a good chance it was one of the many movies released during one of these summers. And if you’re a sneakerhead, some of these films featured absolute classics in the world of footwear.
There are honestly too many to mention, but here are just some of the awesome sneaker references in the major summer blockbusters of the '80s:
-In 1982’s E.T. as Elliot (Henry Thomas) stole a kiss from his science class sweetheart, he did it rocking a pair of the Nike Diablo runners.
-In 1984’s Ghostbusters, the fearless foursome of Peter, Ray, Egon and Winston definitely stole the show but when it came to style, no one could touch Louis Tully (Rick Moranis) and his absolutely fire combo of a velvet tracksuit and adidas runners
-Back to the Future(1985) Not only did Marty Mcfly give us the Air MAGs just a few years later in the sequel (not a summer release), but in the original film Marty proudly rocked a pair of the Nike Bruins, while Doc Brown created a time machine out of a Delorean as he stood proud in a pair of Nike Vandals.
-Though slightly not as big as 1984’s Beverly Hills Cop (also not a summer release), the 1987 blockbuster sequel saw Eddie Murphy return as not only the beloved, wisecracking Axel Foley, but also as a sneakerhead and style icon. He advertised the hell out of the adidas Country on the poster for the original film. Though he wore a more muted white pair of adidas in the sequel, his combo of those with jeans and a Detriot Lions letterman’s jacket is still the epitome of cool almost 30 years later.
-The Reebok Alien Stomper didn't see a retail release until the year after, but 1986's Aliens flaunted the sneakers on the feet of the movie's main character Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver). Known for its futuristic look, the sneaker was made specifically for the movie and didn't have an athletic purpose at all.
-Last, but certainly not least, comes courtesy of 1989’s Batman, which saw the first serious attempt at bringing the Dark Knight to life on the big screen. Not only did Batman wow moviegoers and critics alike, but also sneakerheads who were amazed to find out that Tinker Hatfield himself created a special all-black pair of the Nike Air Trainer 3 (originally called the Air Trainer SC) that could be worn by Michael Keaton underneath his Batsuit. Till this day, this is still one of the coolest moments for sneakers in film.
The ‘90s saw a nice mix of new and original films, as well as established franchises, go back and forth as kings of the summer box office. Even though we were in a new decade, that in no way that stopped us from seeing sneakers play a part in some of the biggest films of the summer. While Ghost, Jurassic Park, Independence Day, Men in Blackand Star Wars: EpisodeI all had victories in their respective summers at the box office, in the ‘90s, three films stood out for nods to sneaker culture.
The first, 1991’s Terminator 2: Judgement Day, not only gave us one of the greatest action blockbusters ever made, it also showed us the future savior of humanity, John Connor, decked out in a Public Enemy t-shirt and a pair of the original Black/Metallic Silver Air Jordan 5s.
Next, was the return of the Dark Knight in 92’s Batman Returns. While the first film in the franchise saw Michael Keaton rocking the all-black Nike Air Trainer 3s we mentioned above, this time around Batman had his own all black, custom-designed pair of Air Jordan 6 boots. If the first collab between Nike and Batman showed sneakers worked well in any situation, this one took it to a whole different level.
Finally, we could not mention sneakers in ‘90s summer blockbusters if we didn’t give a shout out to 1995’s Forrest Gump. The film went on to become one of the most beloved in all of American pop culture, and seeing Forrest run across the U.S. in his pair of the white, red, and blue Nike Cortez sneakers.
As we entered the new millennium, sneaker culture was growing, but the retro craze was still in its infancy and you could actually pick up pairs of your favorite shoe without needing a connect or waiting in line overnight. Collecting sneakers grew in popularity amongst a core group, that didn’t exactly translate to popular culture and it can be seen by how much less we’ve seen sneakers on display in the summer blockbusters since the late ‘90s.
The 2000s are also a time when massive Hollywood franchises began to dominate the summer. From 2000-2015, all but three of the 15 number one summer blockbusters were part of an already established franchise. Only Shrek (2001), Spider-Man (2002) and Finding Nemo (2003) were actually new properties, and even those have all become massive franchises since their initial release. Sadly, with these giant franchises, we saw very few cameos from sneakers at all and other than I Robot showing Converse some love in 2006 (It was the number 6 movie that summer), Chris Rock giving Nelly some Reebok cleats in 2005’s The Longest Yard(Number 8 that summer) and Jaden Smith training in adidas high tops to be the Karate Kidin 2010 (Number 7 that summer), we really haven’t seen sneakers in the giant summer blockbusters.
Thankfully with the release of this summer’s Avengers: Age of Ultron, we actually saw one of these massive franchises (arguably the biggest) include sneakers as part of the film. At one point towards the end of the film (slight spoilers ahead, but honestly you should have seen it by now) Quicksilver, who has now joined up with the Avengers, gets ready for the film’s finale battle and “suits up” in a pair of the adidas adizero Primeknit Boost, which were created for the film and made available for fans to purchase. Adidas went all in with the film’s advertising and actually created several sneakers based on characters in the film for adults and kids.
In next month’s Terminator Genisys, Nike created a one-off pair of the Vandal that was seen worn by the character of Kyle Reese in the first installation of the franchise. According to the film’s costume designer, Susan Matheson, the request for Nike to remake the sneakers that were used in the 1984 flick didn’t come easy.
Hopefully this types of partnerships will be a sign of things to come and we can look forward to more summer blockbusters collaborating, or at least giving a nod to sneakers, in the future.
Larry Gallagher is a contributing writer to Sole Collector and you can follow him on Twitter here.