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The 20 Best Summer Movies of All Time

Stuck inside? Crank the A.C. and pop in one of these sunny flicks.

No matter what the weather's like outside, a classic summer movie hits the spot. These sizzling films feature everything we love about the hottest months on the calendar, from beaches and bonfires to family vacations and summer flings. So if you're cooped up inside the house and dreaming of summer outings, you'll benefit from popping in one of the 20 best summer movies of all time. And for more recommendations, 40 Movies Turning 40 This Year.


Production still from Jaws
MCA/Universal Home Video

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. For more flicks that will freak you out, here are The 18 Best Horror Movies on Netflix Right Now.

Dirty Dancing

Production still from Dirty Dancing

Featuring the late Patrick Swayze in one of his most iconic roles, 1987's 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. 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. And when that final unforgettable dance scene kicks off, you'll definitely know why "nobody puts Baby in a corner."

Wet Hot American Summer

Still from Wet Hot American Summer
Eureka Pictures

Forget about canoe trips and singing "Kumbaya" by the fire when you head back to 1981 with the 2001 comedy Wet Hot American Summer. The parody of so many summer camp movies 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 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). For more laughs, here are The 30 Funniest Movies of All Time and Where to Stream Them.

National Lampoon's Vacation

Production still from National Lampoon's Vacation
Warner Bros. Pictures

Watch Chevy Chase in all his glory as Clark W. Griswold, a man set on taking his family on a cross-country road trip from the Chicago suburbs to Calfornia's Wally 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 1983 story is just where the Griswolds 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

Production still from Point Break
20th Century Fox

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

Production still from Weekend at Bernie's

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 1991's Weekend at Bernie's.

But the quirky comedy 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. For some family-friendly fun, These Are the Best Movies to Stream on Disney+.

Summer Rental

Production still from Summer Rental
Paramount Pictures

When Jack Chester (played by the late, great John Candy) rents a house at the beach for his family, 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 1985 movie is as wonderfully wholesome and as hilariously heartwarming as you would expect.

The Great Outdoors

Production still from The Great Outdoors
Universal Pictures

John Candy made another of the best summer movies when he starred in 1988's The Great Outdoors as Chester "Chet" Ripley, 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 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. For more summer ideas, sign up for our daily newsletter.

The Sandlot

Production still from The Sandlot
20th Century Fox

Set in the summer of 1962, 1993's The Sandlot centers around a group of neighborhood kids welcoming a newcomer onto their baseball team. 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 flick is such a beloved summer classic.


Production still from Adventureland
Abbot Genser/Miramax Films

In 2009's Adventureland, James (Jesse Eisenberg) expects 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

Production still from Dazed and Confused
Focus Features

The first taste of summer freedom is often the sweetest and that certainly holds true in 1993's 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."

Do the Right Thing

Still from Do the Right Thing
Universal Pictures

In the powder keg of a blazing hot New York City summer, a Brooklyn pizza shop is at the center of simmering racial tension. Spike Lee's 1989 masterpiece stars the director himself as Mookie, a delivery guy who puts up with his white boss's son's racist jokes and taunts, exemplifying the friction born out of the gentrification of Black neighborhoods. The pot spills over when of the neighborhood's own meets a violent fate. Do the Right Thing is as enduring as it is righteously angry and, because of that, it's a classic summer movie.

Camp Rock

Demi Lovato and the Jonas Brothers in Camp Rock
Walt Disney Pictures

The Jonas Brothers may have decided that 2019 was the year to make their big comeback as adults, but back in 2008, they were mostly known as young Disney stars that appeared in the classic summer film Camp Rock while their music career heated up. Also starring Demi Lovato, the story follows 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

Production still from American Graffiti
Universal Pictures

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 cruising the streets during one summer's night in Modesto, California and is a peek into the world of '60s rock 'n' roll culture.

I Know What You Did Last Summer

Production still from I Know What You Did Last Summer
Columbia Pictures

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

Production still from American Pie 2
Universal Studios

The 2001 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 the reappearance of Stifler's mom.


Caddyshack still
Warner Bros. Pictures

If you've ever dreamed about how relaxing it would be spending a summer doing nothing but playing golf, you should probably watch Caddyshack. 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

Production still from Stand by Me
Columbia Pictures

While we're fans of so many nightmarish stories from mastermind Stephen King, 1986's 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

Production still from The Seven Year Itch
20th Century Fox

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.

Beach Blanket Bingo

Production still from Beach Blanket Bingo
Orion Pictures

Back in 1965, Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello costarred in what is often considered one of the best summer movies ever. Beach Blanket Bingo offers modern fans everything they could want from a perfectly retro film, including skydiving surfers and a menacing motorcycle gang. Whether that's your jam or not, you have to watch this movie at least once to appreciate its take on 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.

Desirée O
Desirée O is a freelance writer who covers lifestyle, food, and nutrition news among other topics. Read more
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