The 29 Most Iconic Summer Movies
Sharks! Psycho-killers! Baseball!
Before superhero franchises and dinosaurs took everyone’s attention away from humans and sharks, the summer movie was a thing of great beauty. Here’s our (by no means definitive) list of the best.
“National Lampoon’s Vacation” (1983)
Chevy Chase is the hapless moral center of this road trip movie that moves from Chicago to the Grand Canyon to a shuttered Los Angeles amusement park. Fun fact: Teen director John Hughes wrote the script based on his own childhood vacations.
“Stand by Me” (1986)
A poignant film about growing up, made even more so by the tragic death of one of its lead young actors, River Phoenix.
Steven Spielberg’s 1982 sci-fi movie--the highest-grossing film of its decade--was based on an imaginary friend the director created following his parents’ divorce.
“Wet Hot American Summer” (2001)
This 2001 summer camp spoof movie bombed, then went on to become a cult favorite. Plus, it stars Amy Poehler, Elizabeth Banks, Bradley Cooper and Paul Rudd. On July 31, the same cast goes back to 1981 Camp Firewood in a new Netflix series.
“The Sandlot” (1993)
For-ev-ER. Fo-ev-ER. For-ev-ER.
“Endless Summer” (1966)
The concept seems obvious today, but Bruce Brown’s seminal 1966 surf film was a trailblazer because it introduced the newly popular California sport to a wider American audience.
“Vicky Cristina Barcelona” (2008)
Imagine Woody Allen goes on vacation and packs Viagra, and you get this sex farce. A summertime fling with Javier Bardem (hey, we get it) causes all kinds of havoc when two American women vie with Penélope Cruz for his affections.
“A League of Their Own” (1992)
This used to be my playground.
“The Graduate” (1967)
Simon and Garfunkel! Sixties counterculture! Mrs. Robinson! Plastics! This 1967 comedy-drama has it all.
“The Great Outdoors” (1998)
The year was 1988. John Hughes had started making movies for grown-ups. In this, the second in the glorious “Candy trilogy” (along with Planes, Trains and Automobiles and Uncle Buck), John Candy and Dan Aykroyd are in-laws who tangle with a bear in a lake cabin. Which is a Chicago thing, we suppose.
“Dirty Dancing” (1987)
While this classic 1987 film about a Catskills summer resort is remembered for fun dance scenes and nostalgic set pieces, it’s also a surprisingly gritty tale of class anxiety, sexual freedom and, um, abortion.
Under-the-radar alert: This 1995 cult comedy cowritten by Judd Apatow stars Ben Stiller as a manic fitness instructor who terrorizes a children’s fat camp--until the kids triumph.
“Bull Durham” (1988)
You don’t have to like baseball, Kevin Costner or even romantic comedies to be won over by this story of a veteran catcher whose silly, soulful romance with a baseball groupie is second only to his love of the game itself. And this speech.
“Tin Cup” (1996)
Bull Durham, but with golf.
So much to love about this supernatural comedy: New York in summertime, Bill Murray as a charmingly oily ghost exterminator and, of course, the evil Stay Puft Marshmallow Man.
“Blue Crush” (2002)
Go on--willingly suspend disbelief that tiny Kate Bosworth could surf the monster waves at Pipeline. Just enjoy the Hawaiian scenery, the girl-bonding-training-montage and the fairy-tale ending.
The high school musical to end all high school musicals, this story of a greaser in love with a good girl is as sweet and iconic as they come. (Minus the teenaged pregnancy subplot.)
“Breaking Away” (1979)
On the surface, this is a story about worthy underdogs competing against entitled university kids. But really, this classic sports movie addresses something more universal--what the hell is there to life after high school?
“The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants” (2005)
Before Blake Lively had a website, before America Ferrera was Ugly Betty, before Alexis Bledel married Pete from Mad Men and Amber Tamblyn got hitched to that older funny guy, they all starred in this gromance about four friends who share a pair of Levi’s.
“Dazed and Confused” (1993)
Texas teens ramble on in this shaggy dog of a stoner story about the last day of high school in 1976. Lots of stars got their start here: Ben Affleck, Parker Posey, Milla Jovovich and of course, the later Academy Award-winning Matthew McConaughey, who would utter a catchphrase that sticks to this day.
“I know what you did last summer” (1997)
This teen slasher film kept the summer thrills going when it opened in October 1997, thanks to writer Kevin Williamson's (Scream, Dawson’s Creek) mastery of teen angst and well-paced scares. Sony is reportedly rebooting the movie for 2016.
“Risky Business” (1983)
It’s like F. Scott Fitzgerald, but with a 1983 bent: The story of a prostitute and a privileged high school boy manages to be heartwarming despite its crassness. And, umm, hello, Tom Cruise in tighty whities.
“Little Miss Sunshine” (2006)
A meta-meditation on the triumph of the underdog, this 2006 comedy-drama road trip flick saw Steve Carell ace his first dramatic role. Made for $8 million, it grossed $100 million worldwide.
“The Seven Year Itch” (1955)
Marilyn Monroe. On a grate.
“Little Darlings” (1980)
This 1980 hit film has largely been forgotten, but the tale of two 15-year-olds who make a virginity-losing bet is a surprisingly nuanced look at young love.
“Indian Summer” (1993)
Big Chill on the water as a bunch of former campers have a reunion before the old camp closes.
“Flamingo Kid” (1984)
Will dreamy, 19-year-old Matt Dillon be corrupted during his summer as a private beach club cabana boy? This 1984 rom-com is as clean-cut as old Matty was back then.
“Moonrise Kingdom” (2012)
This completely fresh and sweet film about two campers who run away together is so retro-dreamy, it had to come from the brain of Wes Anderson.
Don’t go in the water.