RANKED! The 7 Best Summer-Themed Movies

Photo: Fox Searchlight Pictures

Summer blockbusters are unavoidable, but once you’ve seen all the big-budget flicks in theaters, what are you going to watch? There’s another kind of epic summer movie and it takes place in summer. Storylines set during the most sweltering season of the year have a unique aura about them: those sun-kissed days, wondrous nights, and a built-in deadline for something amazing to happen before characters transition back to their routines or move on to the next stage of their lives (like heading off to college). Summertime movies often find people who wouldn’t normally associate with one another thrown together at camp, vacation destinations, and family gatherings, creating a situation ripe for drama, comedy, and romance. These are just a few of the awesome films depicting those magical summer months.

7. The Sandlot

This cult classic takes place in the summer of 1962 in the San Fernando Valley. A group of boys with silly nicknames like Smalls and Squints spend their days practicing baseball, crushing on lifeguard Wendy Peffercorn, and trying to overcome their fear of “The Beast” (a notoriously vicious dog). This funny coming-of-age film will take you back to the most awkward years of adolescence and remind you of the best friends who saw you through it.

6. National Lampoon’s Vacation

It wouldn’t be summer without a road trip, and fictional family the Griswolds do it like no other. Patriarch Clark (Chevy Chase) gets behind the wheel of an old-school station wagon as he, his wife, and their two children depart from Chicago for outlandish amusement park Walley World in southern California. Clark is a calamity magnet, and along the way, the family manages to get into mishap after mishap in the madcap style the Lampoon franchise is known for. Every stop on the Griswolds’ itinerary is a new opportunity for laughs in this timeless 1983 comedy.

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5. Point Break

Yeah, yeah, we know they remade this one in 2015. Still, you can’t top the 1991 original of this adrenaline-pumping action flick. Keanu Reeves stars as ex-quarterback and rookie FBI agent Johnny Utah, who’s assigned along with experienced agent Angelo Pappas (Gary Busey) to solve a series of bank robberies by the “Ex-Presidents,” a foursome who wear masks of former U.S. presidents. Pappas suspects the guys are surfers, and Reeves endeavors to go undercover as one. The only problem is he doesn’t know how to surf. Enter Tyler Endicott (Lori Petty), Utah’s instructor and soon lover. When Endicott introduces Utah to cocky surfer stud Bodhi (Patrick Swayze), Utah suspects he’s the leader of the Ex-Presidents. As Utah gets closer and closer to solving the case, tensions skyrocket, alliances are questioned, and bullets start flying. The film is an entertaining and powerful portrait of surfers’ dedication to catching waves.

4. The River Wild

Former pro rafting guide Gail Hartman (Meryl Streep) embarks on a summer rafting trip with her son Roarke and the family dog. At the last minute, Gail’s husband Tom, an overworked architect, decides to tag along. They start down the Salmon River in Idaho and soon encounter Wade (Kevin Bacon) and Terry (John C. Reilly), two novice rafters who quickly become friendly with the family. When Gail gets a bad feeling about the two bachelors, she plots to ditch the hangers-on, but her escape plan fails. Things go south from there, as Wade and Terry’s true colors emerge. This movie will have your heart pumping just as hard as if you were riding the rapids.

3. Dirty Dancing

When Frances “Baby” Houseman arrives with her family at a Catskill Mountains resort called Kellerman’s in 1963, the naïve 17-year-old has no clue what will ensue before summer’s end. She quickly becomes infatuated with the resort’s dance instructor Johnny Castle, who lets her tag along to an after-hours employee party. It’s there that Baby is exposed to “dirty dancing,” a skill she can’t wait to acquire. Over the course of the summer, Johnny teaches her a thing or two about more than just footwork. Along the way, Baby is exposed to the struggles of the hardscrabble resort staff, consequences of accidental pregnancy, and the discrepancies between the haves and have-nots. Sure, some scenes are cheesy (especially when lip-syncing is involved), but the 1987 film was ahead of its time.

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2. Before Sunrise

This smart and romantic film by Richard Linklater starts when young American man Jesse (Ethan Hawke) meets charming French woman Céline (Julie Delpy) on a train. They both get off in Vienna and spend the entirety of the movie walking around and talking before falling asleep outdoors on a summer night. In the morning, in lieu of exchanging phone numbers, they promise to meet one another in the same place on the same day one year hence. It may sound like a simplistic plot structure, but it works. Watching Before Sunrise is like re-experiencing the best impromptu date you’ve ever been on, complete with sexy conversational ping-pong and those sweet little secretive looks of awe and anxiety.

1. A Bigger Splash

Rockstar Marianne Lane (Tilda Swinton) has lost her voice, so she retreats for the summer to the isolated Italian island Pantelleria. Her younger, newly sober boyfriend Paul (Matthias Schoenaerts) accompanies her. The pair, who communicate in signs and whispers, barely have time to enjoy their secluded villa before Marianne’s ex Harry (Ralph Fiennes) arrives. Along with him comes his newly discovered adult daughter Penelope (Dakota Johnson). Harry is a music promoter with a larger-than-life personality who still carries a torch for Marianne, while Penelope is a precocious flirt who quickly develops a crush on Paul. Disaster is inevitable, but this hot mess is so delicious, you can’t turn away.