Eight Great Summer Vacation Movies
From summer camps to road trips to magical jeans, here are eight great movies about summer vacations.
Sometimes overlooked in favor of other “slobs vs. snobs” comedy classics from the same era, like Animal House and Caddyshack, this was Bill Murray’s first starring role, and the feature directorial debut for Ivan Reitman. Murray stars as Tripper, head counselor at Camp North Star, a bargain-basement summer camp in Ontario. Murray takes the lonely Rudy (Chris Makepeace) under his wing while still overseeing a group of oddball counselors-in-training as they have their own romances, pull pranks on the camp’s director, and take on wealthy Camp Mohawk in a yearly tournament. It’s ultimately a sweet story, without ever getting quite as crass as some of the era’s other films starring Saturday Night Live alumni. ‘Meatballs’ would turn out to be hugely successful, spawning three mostly unrelated sequels and countless knockoffs.
Wet Hot American Summer
If ‘Meatballs’ saw plenty of lesser imitations, ‘The State’ alumni David Wain and Michael Showalter stepped up with a satirical take on summer camp movies. Although it bombed at the box office, it’s since become a cult classic, spawning two series on Netflix (one prequel and one sequel). There’s an amazing cast here, including Bradley Cooper, Paul Rudd, Elizabeth Banks, Amy Poehler, Judah Friedlander, Janeane Garofalo, Christopher Meloni, and David Hyde Pierce, plus other alumni from ‘The State,’ such as Ken Marino, Michael Ian Black, and Joe Lo Truglio. There’s a plot here about the camp putting on a talent show, counselors in love, and a falling piece of Skylab that threatens everyone’s lives, but it’s really just an excuse to see some stars and future stars show off some great comic chops.
For those that haven’t gotten around to seeing this classic, it’s easy to write off ‘Dirty Dancing’ as sappy romance. But that would be wrong. It’s an emotionally satisfying coming-of-age story about Frances “Baby” Houseman (Jennifer Grey) and her steamy summer romance with dancer Johnny (Patrick Swayze). The dancing is terrific, Grey and Swayze have terrific chemistry. Written by Eleanor Bergstein and based on her own summer trips to the Catskills, Baby’s adventure starts because she and her family are taking a summer vacation at Kellerman’s a tony resort. Baby sees hints of classism between some of the staff, and she finds herself drawn more to the working class staffers instead of the Ivy League-bound waiters. The film subversively gives Baby agency, letting her pick her own friends and make her own choices in her sex life; she has a summer fling with a sexy dancer and isn’t punished by fate for it. That was fairly groundbreaking in 1987, and is (sadly) might still be considered unusual in some corners even now.
National Lampoon's Vacation
This is another film that started a franchise, but the original version is still the best. Based on screenwriter John Hughes’ own National Lampoon story about a disastrous road trip, the movie focuses on the Griswold’s drive from Chicago to California for a visit to a thinly-veiled version of Disneyland called “Wally World.” Chevy Chase puts in a legendary turn as Clark, the increasingly obsessive patriarch of the Griswold clan. Clark is going to have a great road trip with his family whether they like it or not, and if he becomes Ahab in a station wagon, then so be it. Beverly D’Angelo hits just the right notes as Clark’s wife Ellen, as does Anthony Michael Hall and Dana Barron as their children Rusty and Audrey. Chase and D’Angelo would return for sequels, and it became a running joke that Rusty and Audrey would be recast in every subsequent film. This first adventure sees car trouble in the desert, an unwanted passenger, a temptress in a Ferrari, and a visit with Cousin Eddy (a reminder of when Randy Quaid was funny). It’s filled with laughs, but it will definitely make you think twice about future family road trips.
Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants
"Laugh. Cry. Share the pants."
651 hr 59 minJun 1st, 2005
Based on the best-selling YA novel by Ann Brashares, this is the story of four teen girls, best friends since childhood, who are about to spend their first summer apart. But before three of them leave town, the quartet go shopping and find a pair of jeans that magically fit each one of them. The four decide that they’ll share the pants for the summer, and while each of them have these mysterious jeans in their possession, their individual summers are upended. Blake Lively, America Ferrara, Alexis Bledel, and Amber Tamblyn play Bridget, Carmen, Lena, and Tibby (respectively). The movie captures the charm of the novel, in no small part because of the charisma and chemistry of the stars, and it’s ultimately a heartwarming tale about female friendships and the bonds young women make that can last a lifetime.
The annual Essence Music Fest takes place in New Orleans every 4th of July, and that’s the backdrop for Ryan Pierce’s (Regina Hall) attempt to reunite with three of her friends from college. Pierce is a bestselling author and lifestyle guru, poised to be “the next Oprah.” She’s scheduled to speak at the festival, so she invites her college friends to join her, in the hopes of rekindling their friendships. These other three have lives of their own now; Sasha (Queen Latifah) is a celebrity gossip blogger, Lisa (Jada Pinkett Smith) is a working single mother, and Dina (Tiffany Haddish) is still party-girl Dina, all these years later. These four actors are great together, but Tiffany Haddish is a revelation here, stealing the movie and never giving it back. The film isn’t afraid to remind us that women can and do party hard, but it doesn’t lose sight of these friends repairing burned bridges and reaffirming their love for each other.
Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar
One of the casualties of quarantine is that this film didn’t get a proper theatrical release. That’s a shame, because as funny as this movie is, it would have been even more side-splitting with a big audience. Make no mistake, this movie is straight up bananas from beginning to end. Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo wrote the script and star as Star and Barb, two middle-aged best friends that talk a bit too much, they can be both clueless and timid, but once they hit Vista Del Mar, the movie all but explodes into mayhem. To describe too much would be to take away some of the stunningly insane jokes packed wall-to-wall across the entire film. But suffice to say you may never look at Jamie Dornan the same way again.
The Endless Summer
This is one of the first and probably still the best surf movie ever made. Director Bruce Brown follows two surfers, Robert August and Mike Hynson, as they leave Southern California and travel to surf spots around the world, including South Africa, Ghana, Nigeria, Tahiti, Senegal, New Zealand, Hawaii, and Australia. Brown’s breezy narration is a far cry from the stiffer voices heard in most documentaries at the time, and it lends an inviting tone to the gorgeous cinematography of the both surf action and the local landscapes. This documentary might help non-surfers understand the appeal of surfing more than any other film ever made, and the idea of an “endless summer” means its welcome on any day of the calendar year.