Summer is here. That means heat waves, hitting the waves, adventure, romance and (sometimes) facing off with a man-eating shark. At least in the movies. Here are some of the best films that let us travel virtually to Europe, California beaches, summer camp or the water park. (We could do an entire list of summer camp horror movies, but we’ll just stick with the granddaddy of summer horror movies, “Jaws.”
“Rear Window” (1954)
In Hitchcock’s classic thriller, photographer L.B. Jefferson (James Stewart) is stuck in his sweltering New York City apartment with a broken leg. With nothing else to do, he watches his neigbors, including one with a mysteriously missing wife.
Steven Spielberg’s first big hit redefined what audiences and distributors expected from summer movies and, famously, made people too afraid to ever set foot in the ocean again. It set the standard for all summer movies that followed it and was the blueprint for Spielberg’s next monster franchise, “Jurassic Park.”
“Breaking Away” (1979)
In this underrated indie, townies — Jackie Earle Haley, Dennis Christopher, Dennis Quaid and Daniel Stern — spend the summer sunning and swimming at the local quarry and clashing with the obnoxious college students who look down on them. Moocher (Haley) quits a lousy summer job by literally punching the clock and Dave (Christopher) trains hard for the climactic Little 500 cycling race.
“A Room With a View” (1985)
Lucy (Helena Bonham Carter), a proper young Englishwoman, is unexpectedly kissed on her Italian holiday by the impulsive George (Julian Sands). She’s angry and flustered, but must eventually admit he’s a better match for her than her uptight fiancé (Daniel Day-Lewis). Add in the gorgeous Tuscan scenery, a hilarious male skinny dipping scene and a to-die-for cast, and, of course, a hotel room with a spectacular view.
“Stand by Me” (1987)
In Oregon in the summer of 1959, four boys — played by Wil Wheaton, River Phoenix, Corey Feldman and Jerry O’Connell — set out to find a dead body and almost get killed themselves in Rob Reiner’s touchstone adaptation of Stephen King’s short story. They camp out in the woods and dodge a train (as well as bullies) and return to find their town of Castle Rock isn’t as big as they once thought.
“Dirty Dancing” (1987)
In the Catskills in the summer of 1963, Baby (Jennifer Grey) learns how to dance, falls in love and carries a watermelon. Hard to say what’s more enjoyable, watching Baby and Johnny (Patrick Swayze) practice the tricky lift in the water, or finally nailing it during film’s final dance scene.
“Do the Right Thing” (1989)
The sweltering heat of summer in New York City brings the tensions in the Bed-Stuy neighborhood to a boiling point in Spike Lee’s searing Oscar-nominated dramedy. As DJ Senor Love Daddy (Samuel L. Jackson) tells his listeners, “I have today’s forecast for you: HOTsssssssss!”
“Point Break” (1991)
Surfing, bonfires on the beach, deep spiritual insights, skydiving, and bank robbing… it’s all in a summer’s work for FBI agent Johnny Utah (Keanu Reeves) in director Kathryn Bigelow’s sun-soaked crime thriller.
Stream “Point Break” on HBO Max.
“Much Ado About Nothing” (1993)
A starry and easy-on-the-eyes cast, including Keanu Reeves, Denzel Washington, Emma Thompson, Kate Beckinsale and Robert Sean Leonard, love, fight, and marry in the gorgeous Italian countryside in Kenneth Branagh’s sunny Shakespearean adaptation.
“The Parent Trap” (1998)
Whether you prefer the 1961 film starring Hayley Mills, or this one with Lindsay Lohan, the tale of two girls who meet at summer camp, take an instant dislike to each other and sabotage each other (and their cabins) before realizing they are twins, is a key summer classic.
“Wet Hot American Summer” (2001)
In Michael Showalter and David Wain’s cult comedy about an eventful last day of summer camp, counselors fall in and out of love, put on a show, perform heroic rescues, and save the camp from Skylab wreckage. The cast is ridiculously stacked, from future stars Bradley Cooper and Elizabeth Banks to comedy faves Janeane Garofalo, Paul Rudd and Amy Poehler, but Christopher Meloni’s refrigerator-humping Vietnam vet is the MVP.
“Y Tu Mamá También” (2001)
A Spanish woman (Maribel Verdú) who’s just left her husband takes a seemingly carefree road trip to a Mexican beach with two teenage boys (Gael García Bernal and Diego Luna) in Alfonso Cuarón’s sensuous, Oscar-nominated film.
“Roll Bounce” (2005)
Set in in 1978 Chicago, Malcolm D. Lee’s joyous, funny movie about a group of teen roller skaters competing against a slicker crew in a roller rink competition boasts a terrific soundtrack of hits like Chic’s “Le Freak” and “Hollywood Swinging” by Kool and the Gang.
“The Way Way Back” (2013)
In one of our favorite coming-of-age films, Duncan (Liam Jones) is reclutantly spending the summer at a beach near Cape Cod with his mom (Toni Collette) and her condescending bully of a boyfriend (Steve Carell). Unbeknownst to his mom, he takes a job at the local water park, where Sam Rockwell’s ultra-cool employee takes Duncan under his wing and inspires him to stand up for himself.
“Call Me By Your Name” (2017)
A summer in Italy leads to romance between Elio (Timothée Chalamet) and the grad student Oliver (Armie Hammer) who is staying with his family. The idyllic young love doesn’t last, but it’s a summer Elio, and the audience, will never forget. James Ivory (of Merchant/Ivory fame) won an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay and Chalamet was nominated for Best Actor.
Two boys who happen to be sea monsters, but turn into regular humans when on dry land, spend the summer prepping for an epic triathlon involving cycling, pasta-eating and swimming with their new human friend Emma, all while concealing their true identity. This Disney/Pixar film also features gelato and scooter rides galore, as well as a heart-bursting happy ending.
“In the Heights” (2021)
When the temperatures in the city soar, what else can you do but dance in the streets — and the pool? Jon M. Chu directs this exuberant adaptation of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Broadway musical, which stars Anthony Ramos, Melissa Barrera and Stephanie Beatriz.