As spring flowers sprout across the U.S., it can be hard to realize that summer is right around the corner. Before heading to the beach or a sunny park this summer, it’s important to prepare for all the festivities with some classic summer movies. Most summer seasons are dominated by massive blockbuster features that pull people into theaters, but with so many people still choosing to watch movies from the comfort of their own homes, some streamable movies literally set in the summertime are a great alternative.
Classic movies like Independence Day and Jaws take place during the summer, but that doesn’t mean all summer flicks will leave viewers worried about an alien invasion this Fourth of July or a shark attack this summer. Whether you want to watch a comedy or a drama, next time you need a movie to remind you about what summer feels like consider choosing from this assortment of the 35 Best Summer Movies of All Time!
This year, in particular, the 4th of July is slighted to be a celebratory occasion. Still, in Roland Emmerich’s Independence Day, the American holiday takes on a drastically darker shade as deadly aliens invade the Earth. An ensemble piece that follows key individuals- like the President of the United States (Bill Pullman)- throughout the chaotic day, the global threat sees rival nations come together to face the deadly foe. Will Smith plays the primary protagonist Captain Steven Hiller and carries this over-the-top summer blockbuster with his signature charm.
Following up on the success of the high-school comedy American Pie, the gang reunites and decides to spend their summer at a beach house in the hilarious American Pie 2. An incredibly sexually charged comedy, American Pie 2 has a lot of over-the-top humor as the guys all try to get laid while on vacation, but it also has a lot of smaller moments that focus on the friends’ changing dynamics and perspectives as they slowly grow up.
Nothing can keep young lovers Sam (Jared Gilman) and Suzy (Kara Hayward) apart in this fantastical story about two pen pals who ditch their respective camps and run away together to start a new life. In addition to a stacked ensemble, the film, directed and co-written by Wes Anderson, is heartwarming, quirky, and incredibly charming from start to finish.
Co-written by and co-starring Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo, Barb & Star Go To Vista Del Mar is an incredibly silly film that follows Nebraska natives Barb (Mumolo) and Star (Wiig) as they inadvertently get caught up in a villainous scheme while on vacation at the luxurious Vista Del Mar in Florida. Released in 2021, the film feels especially prescient right now as a lot of the gags revolve around the two protagonists’ general anxiety and unease around trying new things and putting themselves out there.
A romantic comedy from Marc Webb, 500 Days of Summer follows Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) as he pursues and starts a relationship with a woman named Summer (Zooey Deschanel). The movie tracks the 500 days of their ill-fated connection in a non-linear fashion, cutting back and forth between their first days together and Tom’s despair at Summer deciding their relationship is no longer working and does an amazing job at showing just how cruel and manipulative someone can be while trying to hold on to past feelings. The movie is funny and incredibly cheery at moments, but it also leaves viewers feeling emotionally exhausted as it shows why it can be personally painful to maintain bad connections with certain individuals.
A remake of the 1961 classic, Nancy Meyers’ The Parent Trap stars Lindsay Lohan as both Hallie Parker and Annie James, twin sisters who were separated at birth and discover each other while at a summer camp. As a result of divorce immediately following the twins’ birth, the sisters never got to spend any time together or learn about the other half of their immediate family. In The Parent Trap, the crafty tweens decide to hatch a plan that will hopefully get their parents back together and allow them to live together as sisters.
Directed by future Oscar winner Kathryn Bigelow, Point Break is an entertaining and adrenaline-fueled action movie. Starring Keanu Reeves as undercover FBI agent Johnny Utah, Point Break follows Utah as he is tasked with identifying and infiltrating a group of bank robbers who wear Presidential masks to obscure their faces. The gang of criminals is led by Bodhi (Patrick Swayze), a wise surfer who develops a close bond with Utah despite their mutual suspicions of one another.
A twisted yet incredibly silly comedy from 1989, Weekend at Bernie’s follows two young insurance agents, Larry (Andrew McCarthy) and Richard (Jonathan Silverman), as they head to their boss’ vacation home in the Hamptons for the Labor Day weekend. Unbeknownst to the two of them, Bernie (Terry Kiser) is actually implicated in a crazy scheme and ends up being killed right before the two of them arrive at their home. Rather than call the police upon discovering their boss’ body, they improvise and decide to puppeteer his corpse right as other guests start to arrive for a party and some summer fun.
Tom Holland’s second solo Spider-Man film, Far From Home, sees the web-slinger hit the road for a summer field trip through Europe. While the film does reward viewers who are aware of the larger events in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Far From Home tells a character-driven, relatively small-stakes story that shows why Peter Parker is such a relatable and inspiring superhero.
A musical featuring the hits of ABBA and starring superstars like Meryl Streep, Amanda Seyfried, and Colin Firth? Mamma Mia! That sounds amazing! Set on a fictional Greek island during the lead-up to Sophie Sheridan’s (Seyfried) wedding, the film follows the drama that ensues after Sophie reveals she invited three men whom her mother X (Streep) all had past relationships with right around the time Sophie would have been conceived. Silly and full of great choreography, Mamma Mia! feels like a split between a romantic comedy and an infomercial trying to compel you to visit Greece this summer.
A long time before George Lucas took audiences to a galaxy far, far away, he gave viewers a different kind of journey with the coming-of-age film American Graffiti. Set on the last night of summer vacation in 1962, the film is broken down into a series of vignettes that follows groups of teenagers as they cruise around Modesto, California, hungry for fun and adventure during the early days of the rock ‘n’ roll craze.
A Disney animated feature from 2002, Lilo & Stitch is a silly and chaotic movie about the ramifications of an alien named Stitch plopping down on Earth and being accepted into the family of a little girl named Lilo (Daveigh Chase). Co-Directed and co-written by Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois, Lilo & Stitch sees the two of them develop a close bond as they have to keep Stitch safe from cosmic bounty hunters trying to capture him. The film’s Hawaiian setting gives the entire movie a summer beach vibe, but more importantly, it’s another unique trait that helps elevate this movie about family and connecting with others over some of Disney’s more simplistic Princess/Prince movies.
A 1997 slasher film directed by Jim Gillespie, I Know What You Did Last Summer, is an ensemble film that follows a group of four high school friends who are being stalked and emotionally manipulated by a hook-wielding killer. In this tense but cheesy thriller, the killer knows the truth about a terrible incident the four of them were involved in the prior summer, and it seems that their deadly secret is finally about to catch up with them.
Almost Famous is a period piece that takes viewers along for a ride through the 1970s and the rock n’ roll music that inspired millions of listeners. William Miller (Patrick Fugit) is a young journalist for Rolling Stone who is writing about his experience on the road in the hopes to get his first cover story published with the magazine. The film, which feels like a road trip through a 70s summer, is partially autobiographical as director Cameron Crowe actually wrote for Rolling Stone himself and toured with groups like Led Zeppelin and the Allman Brothers Band.
An adaptation of Ann Brashares’ novel, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants is a silly and touching movie about four friends who stay connected during their first summer apart thanks to a magically fitting pair of jeans. The ensemble flick, featuring future starlets like America Ferrera and Blake Lively, follows each of the young adults as they embark on new adventures in their life (while wearing some extremely comfortable pants) and remain linked to their far-off best friends.
Going to a summer carnival can be a fun, food-filled time, but working at one isn’t always quite as exciting. Adventureland follows recent college graduate James Brennan (Jesse Eisenberg) as he finds himself working a summer job at a carnival instead of traveling across Europe after learning about some financial troubles in the family. The run-down amusement park is a wonderful setting for the endearing comedy film as James frets about his life before departing to graduate school and strikes up a relationship with Emily (Kristen Stewart), a co-worker at Adventureland.
A 1966 documentary film directed, edited, and narrated by Bruce Brown, The Endless Summer follows surfers Mike Hunson and Robert August as they embark on a global surf trip. The film, which still stands up as exciting despite its time-capsule qualities, sees the two legendary surfers touch down in new countries and spread the joys of surfing to new individuals like only two California-natives can.
After Kale (Shia LaBeouf) is put on house arrest for the summer and finds himself suddenly watching his neighbors more closely with all his spare time, he becomes convinced that he is living next to a serial killer. Alongside new friend and neighbor Ashley (Sarah Roemer), Kale becomes increasingly obsessed and starts investigating his suspicious neighbor in this nail-biting thriller.
Most families are a little dysfunctional, but the Hoover family in Little Miss Sunshine blows the rest of us out of the water. A dramatic comedy movie about a supportive family who piles into a VW Bus and hits the road to watch Olive (Abigail Breslin) compete in the Little Miss Sunshine pageant competition. The stacked ensemble features performers like Toni Collete and Steve Carell and does a wonderful job at showing how wonderfully screwed up everyone can be at times.
Written by John Hughes, The Great Outdoors is one of those good-old-fashioned 80s comedy movies starring Dan Aykroyd and the legendary John Candy. Chet Ripley (Candy) takes his family on a nice summer vacation to a lake in Wisconsin, but everything goes downhill once his wife’s sister and her snobby husband Roman (Aykroyd) show up. The peaceful vacation slowly turns hostile as Roman’s antics spark a full-out war between the two radically different men.
A weekend getaway for Thelma (Geena Davis) and Louise Sawyer (Susan Sarandon) quickly goes south after Louise kills a man who sexually assaults Thelma. The two women quickly try to flee the country but ultimately have to deal with the law and criminals while on the road. Thelma and Louise is an incredibly entertaining and thought-provoking film and its screenwriter, Callie Khouri, won the 1992 Oscar for Best Original Screenplay.
Staying on the topic of iconic women, the Marilyn Monroe-led The Seven Year Itch sees the starlet take on the topic of reduced sexual desire in long-term relationships in this silly 1955 romantic comedy. An adaptation of the three-act play of the same name, The Seven Year Itch, sees the married Richard Sherman (Tom Ewell) suddenly find himself infatuated with a nameless beautiful actress (Monroe) who is staying in the apartment above his while on a summer trip to Maine.
Starring Jack Nicholson and Diane Keaton, Something’s Gotta Give is a romantic comedy about two individuals who find love later in life that isn’t afraid to shy away from the baggage people carry along with them. A funny and touching film written and directed by Nancy Meyers, Something’s Gotta Give is especially iconic for the fact that it features the 60-something-year-old Harry (Nicholson) somehow beating out the young Dr. Julian Mercer (Keanu Reeves) for Erica’s (Keaton) affections.
Released in 1993, The Sandlot tells the story of a group of kids who fill their summer days by playing baseball. A story about friendship and acceptance, The Sandlot is full of hilarious moments where the kids all rag on each other in a way only young boys can, but it is also extremely touching and feelings-inducing as we hear an older Scott Smalls (voiced by director David Evans) reflect on those simpler days and what those old relationships meant to him.
Despite how hard high school seniors Amy (Kaitlyn Denver) and Molly (Beanie Feldstein) worked, it seems that everyone who spent their time partying got into equally prestigious colleges and job programs. In Booksmart, the best friends decide to make up for lost time and cram four years’ worth of partying and teenage debauchery into one big night- but it quickly becomes clear that their book smarts have not prepared them for this kind of chaotic evening. Directed by Olivia Wilde, Booksmart is a unique coming of age film that is full of both hysterical and heartwarming moments.
Written, directed by, and co-starring Spike Lee, Do the Right Thing explores the racial tensions simmering right under the surface on a hot summer day in Brooklyn. Mookie (Lee) is a young pizza delivery man at a local shop owned by an Italian man named Sal (Danny Aiello), but things become heated and complicated after Buggin’ Out (Giancarlo Esposito) calls out the fact that the pizzeria’s wall of famous people doesn’t include any black people despite the fact that it is located in a predominantly Black neighborhood. As the temperature increases, the ensemble film heats up, and people’s differences quickly turn to chaos and violence.
Based on Kaui Hart Hemmings’ novel, the Hawaiian set The Descendants is a tragicomedy that follows Matt King (George Clooney) as he struggles to deal with his wife’s debilitating health condition and familial pressures to sell a family land trust worth millions of dollars. As Matt’s life is torn apart, he struggles to be a good father to Alex (Shailene Woodley) and does everything he can to keep his mental health in check.
Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) just wants to take his family on a classic cross-country trip for the summer, but nothing seems to go right for the Griswolds in the hilarious and over-the-top National Lampoon’s Vacation. The movie went on to spawn a massive film franchise and is a must-watch for any diehard fan of 80s movies as it is directed by Ghostbuster Harold Ramis and written by John Hughes, the Don of 80s cinema.
Written and directed by Richard Linklater, Dazed and Confused follows different groups of teenagers as they celebrate the last day of high school in 1976 year. Set in Austin, Texas, the hilarious ensemble film features actors like Matthew McConaughey and Ben Affleck as everyone prepares for their summer and either tries to avoid bullies or prepares to party.
Summer lovin’ happened so fast in Grease, Randal Kleiser’s adaptation of the Rock-N-Roll musical set in the late 1950s. Greaser Danny Zuko (John Travolta) and good girl Sandy Olsson (Olivia Newton-John) have a summer fling and unexpectedly reunite after Sandy transfers to a new high school. Social awkwardness ensues in this dance-filled flick as the two characters slowly reunite despite pressures from their friend groups: the T-Birds and Pink Ladies.
Directed by Rob Reiner, Stand By Me is based on a short story by Stephen King and follows four young boys as they discover a dead body one day while hiking. Set in a small town in 1959, the film explores the personalities of the four different kids and sees how their home lives all impact them in different ways. Dramatic and tense, Stand By Me is one of the best coming-of-age movies ever made.
Released in 1987, Dirty Dancing follows France Houseman, a.k.a. Baby, (Jennifer Gray) on a summer vacation at the upscale and somewhat snobby Catskills resort with her family before she’s set to join the Peace Corps. While on the trip, she falls for dance instructor Johnny Castle (Patrick Swayze) and strikes up a romance punctuated by numerous steamy dance numbers. Even though Baby’s Dad metaphorically puts her in a corner and bans her from seeing Johnny, she’s determined to follow her heart and perform with Johnny.
Directed and co-written by Alfonso Cuarón, Y tu mamá también follows two young friends Julio (Gael Garcia Bernal) and Tenoch (Diego Luna) as they embark on a summer road trip with a slightly older woman named Luisa (Maribel Verdú) when both of their girlfriends are gone on holiday. The coming of age story is set against the changing political backdrop of Mexico in 1999 and explores how the character’s different class backgrounds impact their outlooks, but it’s an incredibly funny and thought-provoking movie that shows how important and fleeting connections can be in one’s life.
For those who have been to an awkward summer camp and can’t quite explain the experience, Wet Hot American Summer is the gag-filled movie for you. An ensemble comedy directed and co-written by David Wain, Wet Hot American Summer is a satirical take on the 80s “sexy summer feel-good movies” and follows a group of kids – portrayed by people like adult Paul Rudd and Elizabeth Banks – as they try to have fun and get laid on their last day of summer camp.
Instead of depicting a relaxing summer vacation, Steven Speilberg’s Jaws takes the opposite approach and focuses on a small beach town in the thralls of a shark attack. Based on Peter Benchley’s novel of the same name and co-written by the author, Jaws is considered the first summer blockbuster and follows a small crew of individuals as they try to deal with the city’s aquatic menace.