The 20 Best Summer Movies of All Time
Turn up the A.C. and get ready to binge watch these blockbusters.
No matter what the weather’s like outside, it’s always a good time to watch one of the best summer movies of all time. For the most part, these sizzling films feature everything we love about the summer months, from the beaches and bonfires to the family vacations and summer flings. So whether you’re currently enjoying blissfully hot weather, are deep within the depths of winter, or are headed into spring and want some beachy inspiration, you’ll probably benefit from popping on a cheery summer movie. To help you figure out which one to watch, we’ve rounded up the 20 best summer movies of all time.
Be prepared to swear off swimming in natural bodies of water after rewatching Jaws (we can only assume you’ve already seen this American classic directed by Steven Spielberg). In the toothy tale from 1975, Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw, and Richard Dreyfuss star as three men tasked with tracking down a great white shark after it attacks beachgoers in the fictional New England summer resort town of Amity Island. Despite the fact that you’re more likely to be struck down by lightning or killed by fireworks than gobbled up by a shark, you may have flashbacks to this film every time you put your toes in the water.
Dirty Dancing (1986)
Featuring the late Patrick Swayze in one of his most iconic roles, Dirty Dancing is the kind of movie that will make you wish that all of your summers ended with an over-the-top, super romantic dance performance. In the film that’s still a must-watch for anyone wanting to indulge in the ultimate seasonal story, Jennifer Grey co-stars as “Baby” Houseman, a young woman who falls for a dreamy dance instructor while spending the summer of 1963 at a Catskills resort with her family (although in real life, she and Swayze are one of the on-screen couples who actually hated each other). And when that final unforgettable dance scene kicks off, you’ll definitely know why “nobody puts Baby in a corner.”
Wet Hot American Summer (2001)
Forget about canoe trips and singing “Kumbaya” by the fire when you head back to 1981 with Wet Hot American Summer, which features a star-packed cast—including Janeane Garofalo, David Hyde Pierce, Paul Rudd, Christopher Meloni, Elizabeth Banks, Bradley Cooper, Amy Poehler, and more—as a group of counselors who may be even wackier, weirder, and wilder than the ones you had at camp. And if you get a laugh or two (or just a few grins, guffaws, and giggles) from this film, then be sure to follow it up with the story’s eight-episode Netflix prequel series Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp (2015) and sequel series Wet Hot American Summer: Ten Years Later (2017).
National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983)
Watch Chevy Chase in all his glory in 1983’s National Lampoon’s Vacation as Clark W. Griswold, a man set on taking his family on a cross-country road trip from the Chicago suburbs to Calfornia’s Walley World, “America’s Favorite Family Fun Park.” If you’ve ever ventured on a similar expedition with your crew, you’ll get a kick out of everything this family faces while trying to convince themselves that getting there is half of the fun. And this story is just where the Griswold’s get started. Follow the first film with European Vacation (1985), Christmas Vacation (1989), Vegas Vacation (1997), and the newest installment in the franchise, simply deemed Vacation (2015).
Point Break (1991)
How can a movie that stars Keanu Reeves and Patrick Swayze not be great? In 1991’s Point Break, Reeves plays Johnny Utah, a former football player-turned-federal agent who’s on the trail of a group of bank robbers. When the criminals turn out to be surfers led by ultimate endless summer-seeking beach-bum Bodhi (Swayze), Utah goes undercover to infiltrate the gang and finds himself caught up in adrenaline-fueled adventures, an unexpected romance (thanks to a character played by Lori Petty), and some mind-blowingly big waves.
Weekend at Bernie’s (1989)
Some people will do anything to make their vacation last as long as possible, but that rarely includes hauling a dead body around like the pair of holiday-seekers in Weekend at Bernie’s, a quirky comedy that sounds much more morbid than it actually is. When two low-level employees, played by Andrew McCarthy and Jonathan Silverman, are invited to their boss’ beachside mansion for the weekend, they think it will be all sunshine and surfboards (or rather, champagne and parties). But when they arrive to find the bigwig Bernie murdered, they have to pretend like he’s still among the living in order to avoid ending up corpses themselves.
Summer Rental (1985)
When Jack Chester (played by the late, great John Candy) rents a house at the beach for his family in order to unwind, their lodgings turn out to be a lot less glamorous than expected. But when the group faces an unexpected eviction, Chester will go to any lengths to save his family’s summer holiday, even if that means winning a sailing race despite the fact that he doesn’t even have a boat. Yes, this movie is as wonderfully wholesome and as hilariously heartwarming as you would expect.
The Great Outdoors (1988)
John Candy made another of the best summer movies when he starred in 1988’s The Great Outdoors as Chester “Chet” Ripley (is there something about the name Chester?), a man who takes his family on a lakeside vacation to the same camping resort where he spent time with his own dad as a boy. And while Chet initially has big plans for his himself, his wife, and his two sons, their summer is almost ruined when their snobby in-laws (played by Dan Aykroyd and Annette Bening) show up unexpectedly.
The Sandlot (1993)
Set in the summer of 1962, a group of neighborhood kids welcome a newcomer onto their baseball team which meets on a dusty sandlot. As the friends spend their days playing games, hanging out at the pool, and enjoying all that life has to offer young suburban kids in the ’60s—as well as trying to retrieve a baseball signed by Babe Ruth when it ends up in a forbidden yard—you’ll find out why this beloved classic is now being turned into a new TV series with the original cast members set to reprise their roles more than 25 years after the film first hit theaters.
James (Jesse Eisenberg) expected to venture out on a European vacation after graduating from high school, but when his parents admit that there’s no money for the trip, he ends up working at a local amusement park instead. And while spending his days at Adventureland initially seems like a cruddy way to spend the summer, things start to look brighter when he meets fellow worker Em (Kristen Stewart). However, he also has to contend with puking customers, questionable corndogs, and quirky coworkers played by Ryan Reynolds, Kristen Wiig, and Bill Hader.
Dazed and Confused (1993)
The first taste of summer freedom is often the sweetest and that certainly seems true in Dazed and Confused. Set in 1976, this cult classic takes us back to the last day of school and the first night of summer vacation for a group of teenagers in suburban Texas. Leads Jason London, Ben Affleck, Milla Jovovich, Parker Posey, Adam Goldberg, Joey Lauren Adams, and Rory Cochrane teamed up with a massive ensemble cast that was topped off with a performance by Matthew McConaughey as the legendary (yet admittedly questionable) Wooderson, who mastered the art of party-seeking, youth-clinging, weed-fueled “livin’, L-I-V-I-N.”
What About Bob? (1991)
When psychiatrist Leo Marvin (Richard Dreyfuss) takes his family up to their stunning lake house for a summer vacation, things take an unexpected turn when Bob (Bill Murray)—one of the doctor’s obsessive-compulsive, phobia-laden patients—shows up. And while Bob charms almost everyone around him while embracing the holiday fun up at Lake Winnipesaukee, his mere presence (and seemingly everything else about Bob) makes Dr. Leo downright crazy.
Camp Rock (2008)
The Jonas Brothers may have decided that 2019 was the year to make their big comeback as adults, but back in 2008, they were young Disney stars that appeared in the classic summer film Camp Rock. Also starring Demi Lovato, the story followed a young girl with a secret talent and a teen idol determined to seek her out. Thanks to musical scenes that are lighthearted fun for viewers of any age, the first movie was such a hit that it was followed by a sequel, Camp Rock 2: The Final Jam, in 2010.
American Graffiti (1973)
Before Ron Howard was an acclaimed Hollywood director, he was an actor who starred in 1973’s American Graffiti. Co-written by George Lucas and also featuring performances by Richard Dreyfuss and Harrison Ford well before they were Mr. Holland and Indiana Jones, the film follows a group of teenagers living in Modesto, California, back in 1962, and is a peek into the world of rock ‘n’ roll culture while cruising the streets during one summer’s night.
I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997)
Not all summer nights are filled with pool parties, beach bonfires, and sizzling romance. And that’s certainly true for the group of teens in 1997’s I Know What You Did Last Summer. Starring Jennifer Love Hewitt, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Ryan Phillippe, and Freddie Prinze Jr., the friends find themselves in deadly danger while being stalked by someone who apparently knows the truth behind a tragic secret the group is desperately trying to keep.
American Pie 2 (2001)
The sequel to 1999’s American Pie movie sees the same group of friends reunite after their first year at college for more cringe-worthy fun. When Jim (Jason Biggs), Oz (Chris Klein), Kevin (Thomas Ian Nicholas), Finch (Eddie Kaye Thomas), and Stifler (Seann William Scott) rent a house at the beach, they’re determined to make it a summer to remember. And, oh boy, do they ever, thanks to plentiful parties, super glue in unfortunate places, and an apparent reappearance of Stifler’s mom.
If you’ve ever considered spending a relaxing summer playing golf, then you should probably watch Caddyshack first. Another classic film featuring both Chevy Chase and Bill Murray as well as Rodney Dangerfield, this comedy from 1980 will show you exactly how hilarious it can be when everything goes wrong at an exclusive country club.
Stand by Me (1986)
While we’re used to nightmarish stories from mastermind Stephen King, Stand by Me is undeniable proof that he’s capable of crafting more than one sort of classic. Based on the author’s 1982 novella, the film tells the stunning coming-of-age story of four small-town boys—played by Wil Wheaton, Corey Feldman, Jerry O’Connell, and the late River Phoenix—who set out during the summer to find the dead body of a missing boy.
The Seven Year Itch (1955)
Marilyn Monroe stars alongside Tom Ewell in this 1955 film about a married man who finds himself smitten by his gorgeous neighbor during a sultry New York City summer heatwave. Along with hilariously silly scenes that will delight anyone who can appreciate a now-vintage story, this movie also features the iconic scene where Marilyn’s wispy white dress is blown up around her when she stands over a blustery subway grate. It’s an iconic scene from one of the best summer movies of all time.
Beach Blanket Bingo (1965)
Back in 1965, Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello costarred in what is often considered one of the best summer movies ever when they appeared together in Beach Blanket Bingo. Offering fans everything they’d want from a perfectly retro film—like sky-diving surfers and a menacing motorcycle gang—you have to watch this movie at least once to appreciate the ’60s California culture that also sparked the career of the Beach Boys and resulted in that epic jump-the-shark Happy Days scene nearly a decade later.