The 10 Best Summer Movies

As the summer winds down, I’ve been thinking about some of the films I love and find myself drawn toward particularly during this time of year. They’re generally feel good movies, telling stories which could only happen during the summer. Most often they’re nostalgic, calling back to a time of relative peace and innocence before adulthood and reality comes crashing down. These are not necessarily in any specific order, and I’m sure there are some great films not included in this list, but these are my favorites.

1. Jaws

Jaws is one of the greatest–let alone summer-related–films. The peaceful, prosperous summer season on the idyllic Amity Island is shattered by the terrifying screams of shark attack victims. Despite the overwhelming evidence, the town council refuses to face their situation, and the police chief (Roy Scheider), a marine biologist (Richard Dreyfuss), and a crotchety old boat captain (Robert Shaw) must take to the sea in pursuit of the shark which has been terrorizing the island. Steven Spielberg’s use of John William’s eerie score brings a primal, palpable fear to the overall atmosphere to the film, which contrasts sharply with the picturesque town, filmed on Martha’s Vineyard.

2. The Sandlot

This is that kind of film which leaves a lasting impression, making its viewers nostalgic for those good ol’ days of yore when our lives were worry-free. It’s the story of a summer which neither we nor the characters could ever forget. The Sandlot was a refuge where, day in and day out, a group of boys would play baseball for hours on end, camp out at night, and cement their lifelong friendships. There was mystery, adventure, a little bit of danger, but most of all it brings us to that happy place that summer is supposed to represent.

3. Stand by Me

This is similar to The Sandlot, as it cuts to the heart of what makes childhood relationships so significant–the memories of how things used to be. Stand by Me, based on The Body, a novella by Stephen King (which is one more piece of evidence that King is not simply a horror writer), tells the story of four young boys (Wil Wheaton, Cory Feldman, Jerry O’Connell, and River Phoenix) and their journey to find a dead body just off the train tracks. This is the quintessential loss of innocence story, where the adventure and mystique of finding a dead body is quite different than reality–the world is actually a dangerous place. The relationships between the four boys is one of the best ever to be put on screen; this is essential viewing every summer, preferably over Labor Day weekend.

4. Independence Day

Independence Day is the Hollywood summer blockbuster from my childhood. While it’s not necessarily about the summer, per say, it’s very specific about its setting and the significance of that date. The alien invasion is riveting and well-paced, the comedic timing is impeccable and irreverent, and the characters are actually quite believable for such an outrageous film. It’s a wild ride, it’s a lot of fun, and it hold up well to both the Science Fiction films of the 90s, as well as the plethora of disaster movies of the last few decades.

5. My Girl

My Girl feels much like Stand By Me in many ways, as far as establishing deep emotional investment in both the characters and the relationships between them. This is a coming of age story from a girl’s perspective, as Veda (Anna Chlumsky) moves from simple hypochondria to real problems. Her best friend (Macaulay Culkin) is a boy, which gets Veda a bit of torment from her friends–but that doesn’t stop them. In fact, it makes things all the more painful by the end. It’s an emotional roller-coaster, with wonderfully nostalgic moments as well as fantastically painful ones. This is a film you have to prepare yourself for, but it’s absolutely worth it.

6. Heavyweights

Heavyweights is a feel good movie for me. It’s just irreverent and funny and more than a little absurd at times, but it has a lot of heart. It’s about Camp Hope, a fat camp which really treats its campers with kindness and understanding and is then taken over by a psychotic weight-loss guru Tony Perkins (Ben Stiller) who wants to exploit the kids for his own gain. It’s a lot of fun, kid-appropriate, and it just like candy hidden under the bed so no one can find it and take it away from you.

7. The Parent Trap

In this case, I’m referring to the original film (1961) starring Hayley Mills, though the 1998 Lindsay Lohan remake is still really excellent. This belongs to that tradition of camp films where kids leave to get in touch with nature but end up getting into those darned hijinks to which they’re so prone. While this film isn’t just about camp, but about families reconnecting, the backdrop of summer permeates the film, making it essential for this list. It’s funny, there are a few musical numbers, and in the end it’s just memorable–one of my childhood favorites.

8. American Graffiti

One of George Lucas’ early films, this depicts that period of time, just after high school graduation, when you’re on the brink of everything new and you’re trying to hold on to those last few remnants of the life you’re leaving. It’s set in the early 1960s, during the days of hot rods, cruising, and sock hops–everything characteristically nostalgic. It makes you want to drive through the quiet streets of some small town with your windows rolled down and a classic rock station blaring.

9. Wild America

I’m pretty sure I watched this once a week during the summer of 1998. We owned a VHS copy which I wore out, but that was OK because the Disney channel played it over and over again. I haven’t watched it in awhile, but I remember being captivated by the scenery, by the freedom the brothers (Jonathan Taylor Thomas, Devon Sawa, and Scott Bairstow) feel while on the open road during the summer of 1967.

10. Dazed and Confused

Dazed and Confused is a cult classic, portraying the first hours of summer for a wide range of teenagers. Some, as many teens are wont to do, decide to throw a keg party, some try to sneak into a club, some go parking, some decide to haze incoming freshman. In the end, it’s about those first few hours of blissful freedom, with the whole summer spread out in front of you just waiting for you to leap in feet first.

Destined to join this list: Super 8

116 thoughts on “The 10 Best Summer Movies

  1. Jaws is probably the best summer movie of all time.

    Of. All. Time.

    How many movies can freak out an entire species to the point where no one in the world wanted to go swimming in the ocean that summer? Brilliant. 🙂

    Congratulations on being Freshly Pressed!

  2. Great choices for summer flicks. As I scrolled down I was feeling some nostalgia, wishing I could go back to the “good ol’ days” of a childhood summer.

  3. If I had to pick my absolute favorites from your list, at the top of mine would be “My Girl,” “Sandlot,” and “Independence Day”. Great movies for a lazy Saturday!

  4. You’re missing Now & Then, which to me is the girl version of Stand By Me. 🙂 I LOVE that movie. In fact, I just love coming-of-age movies that take place in the summertime. Thanks for the great list and congrats on being freshly pressed!

  5. Dazed and Confused, pretty funny. My Girl, made me cry. Stand By Me, great coming of age story. Some of the rest I’ve seen, others not. I don’t know if I’d include Independence Day in there, but, it all depends upon one’s personal rubric.

  6. For me Dazed and Confused is the ALL TIME BEST SUMMER MOVIE EVER!!!! But all of the ones you’ve got listed are good. I’m just a die hard Dazed and Confused kind of girl.

  7. Congratulations for getting on Freshly Pressed! Just found out about your blog because of it!

    Totally agree with all your choices apart from the fact that Harry Potter isn’t in there. I know it only just came out and it’s so new but come on, it’s Harry Potter!

    • Believe me, I’m a Harry Potter junkie. However, it’s not really a summer movie.

      It’s a summer blockbuster, but it’s not about the summer.

      Thanks for the comment–keep reading!

  8. Awesome list! I’d add “Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants” as a good girl coming-of-age over summer story. It’s a feel good one with a few sad moments sprinkled in.

  9. I havent thought of Heavy Weights in such a long time. Me being a fellow biggie, that was my movie, i played that out on VHS. The Sandlot and Dazed & Confused were my other top top favorites on this list. Great List!

  10. Stand By Me had to be in there. Haven’t been able to watch My Girl for years, too upsetting. Although now I think about it I used to think Veda was called Vader (as in Darth).

  11. I remember My Girl and The Sandlot during my childhood…or at least I remember watching it. For some reason my shady memory tells me that My Girl was super sad..I think I remember someone dying.

  12. “You’re killing me Smalls”…………The Sandlot is the best! I’ve seen it well into double digits since I was a teenager and have since showed it to my son. We are baseball fans and who doesn’t love a 50’s film about friendship, life lessons and baseball. My husband will still look at me and say as I’m getting ready….”there she is, lotioning and oiling” and it makes me laugh every time!

    • I’m pretty sure The Waterboy takes place during the school year, as it’s about the football season. Happy Gilmore, though, might-could make the cut.

    • I checked it out, but I couldn’t remember if it was a summer film. I neglected to rewatch it, so I didn’t include it. I agree, however, that it’s an iconic coming-of-age story.

  13. Ok, “Stand By Me,” absolutely. “The Sandlot” and “Dazed and Confused” a bit overrated and “My girl” is just creepy and depressing…it’s like the movie version of a Coco’s Restaurant. But if just sticking to movies revolving around summertime shenanigans, I suppose your options ARE limited. Well done article though.


    ~ J.D.

  14. Interesting mix here. I agree with Jaws being on this list, but it seems to me like you need something about baseball–might I suggest Field of Dreams?

    I do think you have one glaring omission, however, is that of National Lampoon’s Vacation with Chevy Chase.

    Other than that, this was a fun post. Congrats on being “Freshly Pressed”!

  15. Pingback: The 10 Best Summer Movies (via Elementary, My Dear Reader) | themirrorview

  16. So many good movies here, but I think my favorite as far as summer goes is probably “The Sandlot,” not only because it truly conveys the bond and integrity of an everlasting friendship, but also because it just totally hits the nail on the head of the adventures and even magical times that summer holds, like you mention prior, only exist in this particular time pretty much. Also, a great thing about this movie is much like the team, there’s not a whole lot of order or structure to it, those thing’s just aren’t important here, but rather it just wants to show and give to us what summer is really about. I love this movie, glad it’s on your list! 🙂

  17. Pingback: Summer Movies | followingfunny

  18. I still remember the shiver that overtook my sunburned shoulders while watching “Jaws.” The suspense .. that music … didn’t. go. in. the. lake. the. rest. of. that. summer.

    Fabulous post, thank you!! MJ

  19. I loved Parent Trap. Can’t think of many other movies I would have watched so often as I have that one. I like the one with Lindsay Lohan for the entire cast of actors, and it makes me sad for her innocence totally lost.
    Well done on the fp!

  20. Hello. Thank you for the reminder ( Soutern Hemisphere here,). I cannot actually suggest any more , well maybe one from yesterday on “our satilite TV” An Alfred Hitchcoc: The Birds.

    As you know Holliwood( amongst others) must have a “Ginormous” archives of pure Cinema for ever no doubt, so cool…..

    Cheers have a nice day.

  21. As I first saw the title. I tought that it would be some hot new movie introduction.
    Yet it surprise me a little, most of the movies on your lists are “new” to me, you know few of them came out in a Chinese threater.
    Maybe I should subscribe this blog and make some time to see them~
    Thankx for your share.

  22. Pingback: The 10 Best Summer Movies (via Elementary, My Dear Reader) « Sittingonthesidewalk's Blog

  23. Pingback: The 10 Best Summer Movies (via Elementary, My Dear Reader) « Sittingonthesidewalk's Blog

  24. OMG. The Sandlot? I was in love with the kid with glasses. I remember patiently waiting for the credits to roll so I could hunt down his name. I think it was Chauncey Leopardi. Or Michael. Something like that. My Girl? Dazed and Confused? They totally own my child of the early nineties heart.

  25. Jaw, The Sandlot and Heavyweights were already on my list!!! For whatever reason, this summer I found myself craving Lord of the Rings, and I watched the extended versions in just a few days.

  26. Pingback: The 10 Best Summer Movies (via Elementary, My Dear Reader) | lspruebak

  27. i love that selection, i mean my girl, dazed and confused, the parent trap they’re all awesome movies, but i feel that one i missing: In America maybe because it’s one of my favorite movies of all time !

  28. Interesting list! For me, James Camerons’ Aliens will always be synonymous with Summer. It was the first big movie I saw one summer with some friends. I think one of our cooler parents took us as it was a PG 13 rated movie in Montreal. I was blown away, and promptly fell in love with cinema that very day.

  29. OK, I feel like I found a clone of myself soon as I saw your blog’s tagline. I really liked My Girl, Parent Trap and Stand by Me. I think 500 Days of Summer should be there too :p

    • I can’t believe I didn’t think of 500 Days of Summer! I own it, and it’s one of my favorites! Serious omission…

  30. Pingback: The 10 Best Summer Movies (via Elementary, My Dear Reader) « 多小姐

  31. You have quite a fantastic list of movies there. I can honestly say I have enjoyed every single one of those a great deal!

  32. Pingback: The 10 Best Summer Movies (via Elementary, My Dear Reader) | Alan Zhong's Blog

  33. Pingback: I 10 Migliori Film Estate « PianetaGiovani

  34. Wonderful list. Ain’t it magic how summer and childhood seem to just go hand in hand? Ne’er a summer goes by in our older years when we don’t look back on the past, fully believing that the sun used to shine a little bright back then…

  35. Pingback: My Top Five Favorite Summer Movies. « The Cineaste's Lament.

  36. I really enjoyed your post .Love the photographs and your story!Thank you for sharing that. I was waiting for someone with the correct perspective and background to post something.

  37. I definitely agree that Independence Day and The Sandlot are great movies to watch during the summer. My family and I watch Independence Day on every 4th of July. I’m not a huge fan of scary movies like Jaws, so I haven’t since that one.

  38. Interesting list, mostly of older movies. I would have added 40-year-old Virgin to my list. But congrats for being Freshly Pressed.

  39. Pingback: Brief Film Review: The Way Way Back | Elementary, My Dear Reader

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