Summer Movies for Summer Moviegoers

Great films about being outside for people who want to stay inside

Because of the pandemic, no one went to movies last summer, unless you were the cranky editor of a certain pop-culture publication. Productions screeched to a halt. Theaters closed down all over the place, sometimes for good. But now the movies are back, and so is summer. Here’s a list of summer movies that venture into the many different ways that summer happens. It’s more fun than sweating your ass off, swatting bugs, inhaling chlorine, and getting a sunburn. 

Stand By Me (Amazon Video)

Especially when you’re young, summer gives you a chance to escape stupid stuff like school and homework and start exploring. Of course, your little gang of pals are bound to come along, and you never know what might cross your path. The Brat Pack that would eventually conquer 80’s box offices are adorable with their baby fat and peach fuzz: Corey Feldman, Kiefer Sutherland, Jerry O’Connell, and poor River Phoenix. But these kids find out more than they expected, and get a crash course on life’s darker side, when they come across something unexpected in the woods.     

Dazed and Confused (Amazon Video)

The longing for summer doesn’t end when you’re in your teen years. The emotional stakes are a ratch up a little higher, adulthood is nigh, and yet you’re still an adolescent. Richard Linklater’s ensemble grow up in 70’s era Texas in the humid confusions that come after graduating from High School. The seniors are brutal to the frosh, Aerosmith tickets must be scored, Matthew McConaughey’s Eternally Cool Guy with his greasy hair and Ted Nugent shirt scopes out the chicks , there’s keggers in the woods, plenty of weed, and a party at the moon tower. The magnificently shaggy 70’s soundtrack is totally far out. But Linklater the slacker philosopher never forgets the quiet trepidation about what the future may hold: “all I’m saying is that if I ever start referring to these as the best years of my life, remind me to kill myself.”  

Bull Durham (Amazon Video)

No doubt baseball is the true sport of summer. It’s the ideal time for sitting outdoors under the lights, having a beer, and rocking the bleachers. The Durham Bulls are a minor league team in North Carolina. Most of them know they don’t have the stuff to make it to the big show, but they don’t let that dampen their love of the game. Kevin Costner plays the sage catcher Crash Davis, who’s knocked around long enough to be wise about his limitations. He mentors Tim Robbins’ amusingly immature fireball pitcher and competes for the affections of Susan Sarandon’s genuinely sexy Annie Savoy. It’s one of the greatest sports movies ever made because it understands that the real game happens off the field. 

Summertime (Criterion Channel) 

Another important part of summer is the chance to travel. Grande dame Katherine Hepburn plays a middle aged Midwesterner who saves up for a once in a lifetime trip to Venice in the mid 50’s. Bask in the gorgeous architecture, laugh at her doofus fellow Americans, and swoon at the quiet loneliness of wandering alone through a new city. She gets some attention from a well-dressed local, but she’s still a repressed American at heart, until she isn’t. 

Do The Right Thing (Amazon Video, Hulu)

Spike Lee’s masterpiece takes place on the hottest day of the year in a lively late 80’s Brooklyn neighborhood seething with racial tensions. Everyone on the block has got a style, a voice, and a beef of their own. Being Brooklynites, they’re not shy about giving the camera a piece of their mind. Riots tend to happen when temperatures rise and this perpetually relevant classic shows us why that happens and what’s at stake. Jittery critics cluelessly predicted riots when DRTR first came out. But this is exactly why we should heed Samuel L Jackson’s delightful DJ Mr. Senior Love Daddy when he proclaims that “y’all got to chill, and that’s the double truth, Ruth!” 

Wet Hot American Summer (Amazon Video, Showtime)

If inner city blues have got you down, there’s always the retreat to summer camp. This absurd, cynical, and hilarious parody of teenager movies (not the Netflix spinoff) stars all kinds of great people: Paul Rudd, Michael Ian Black, Jeanine Garofalo, Molly Shannon, Michael Showalter, and Christopher Meloni as a ridiculously intense camp cook. Knee socks are up, sideburns are down, shorts are very short, friendship bracelets are being braceleted, and everyone’s running around doing the usual stupid camp stuff. It’s kind of impossible to explain why this movie works, but it does, and if you dig it you can’t stop quoting it: “you taste like a burger, I don’t like you anymore.”  

George Washington (Criterion Channel) 

Summer can be full of adventures, but let’s be honest—most of us don’t know what to do with all this newfound freedom. Time just passes in the heat. David Gordon Green’s elliptical meditation on the otherwise insignificant dramas of a small southern town captures the poignant aimlessness, the casual plans that go awry, the light and the heat and the boredom that hangs over everything in the dog days. It’s a Terence Malick-like reverie about an ordinary place with ordinary people who find small but powerful moments of illumination and pathos amid the slow motion decay of Nowhere, USA.   

Jurassic Park (Amazon Video, Google Plus)

All that cinematic poetry is lovely, but summer movies are about blockbusters. You could always go with Jaws, but there’s nothing like some summertime amusement park terror. Jurassic Park holds up as well as Steven Spielberg’s other summer-fear classic, Jaws. The effects are still scary, Jeff Goldblum is still hilarious, and we all still need to heed his warnings. Just like life itself, summer always finds a way.  

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Matt Hanson

Matt Hanson is a contributing editor at The Arts Fuse. His writing has appeared in The Baffler, The Guardian, The Millions, The New Yorker, and elsewhere.

One thought on “Summer Movies for Summer Moviegoers

  • May 31, 2021 at 12:28 pm

    Dazed and Confused gets so much about the 1970s just right. A wonderful film overall. I only wish it could have been just a bit funnier.


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