Total Recall

10 Best Summer Vacation Movies

We run down some of cinema's finest seasonal getaways.

by | June 17, 2011 | Comments

Attention, people who are not fans of pencils, books, teachers, and/or dirty looks: This is your time of year. The mercury is rising, schools are closing their doors, wardrobes are shrinking, and folks all across this great nation are getting ready to go on — you guessed it — summer vacation! In honor of our collective yearning to clock out of work, buckle the family into the minivan, and head off for sunny adventures, we’ve decided to dedicate this week’s Total Recall to movies that revolve in some way around summer vacation. We picked a few classics, but we tried to include a few surprises, too — all in the name of giving you a well-rounded list with room for comedy, drama, dancing, and even a little sci-fi. Are you ready for the summer?

Dirty Dancing (1987) 69%

Dirty-Dancing-2

Dirty Dancing director Emile Ardolino didn’t use actual mountains of cheese to stand in for the Catskills, but he may as well have; this tale of a brooding dance instructor at a swanky resort (Patrick Swayze) who falls for a wealthy teenage guest (Jennifer Grey) during the summer of 1963 is filled to the brim with pungent dialogue and plot devices. But underneath the schmaltz beats an endearingly earnest heart — and some pretty good dance moves, as noted by Steve Rhodes, who wrote that “the film’s saving grace is that fully a third of the film has the actors dancing rather than talking.”

Watch Trailer


The Endless Summer (1966) 100%

Endless-Summer

For a lot of us, summer loses its promise of fun and freedom as we get older and assume responsibilities that can’t be set aside for three months at a time. What if you could not only recapture that youthful summer feeling, but keep it going all year long? That’s the question posed by Bruce Brown’s classic documentary, which follows a pair of surfers (Mike Hynson and Robert August) as they pursue the summer surfing season across the globe, from California to Africa, Australia, and beyond. The Endless Summer boasts a killer soundtrack and Brown’s style was groundbreaking for the genre at the time, but — and probably most importantly — it’s just a really entertaining film. As Christopher Null wrote for Filmcritic, “you can’t help but laugh and feel good while watching their lighthearted antics.”

Watch Trailer


Last Summer (1969) 78%

Last-Summer

For teenagers, the summer is often seen as a time of reinvention — an opportunity to try new experiences and adopt different behaviors away from the judgment of classmates who know who they “really” are. This kind of experimentation can produce unintended results, as demonstrated in Frank Perry’s Last Summer, which follows four deceptively worldly teens (played by Barbara Hershey, Bruce Davison, Richard Thomas, and Catherine Burns, who earned an Oscar nomination) through a Fire Island vacation that tests their darkest and most selfish impulses. The film’s explicit content originally cost it an X rating, but it was that brutal honesty that appealed to critics like Roger Ebert, who wrote, “There are good movies about other people’s lives, but rarely a movie that recalls, if only for a scene or two, the sense and flavor of life the way you remember it.”


Meatballs (1979) 72%

Meatballs

The summer camp comedy is pure formula, but it can be a winning one with the right ingredients. Case in point: Bill Murray and director Ivan Reitman, who kicked off their American film careers with this harmlessly raunchy look at a week in the life of Camp North Star, where lackadaisical counselor Tripper (Murray) helps a misfit camper (Chris Makepeace) come out of his shell just in time to give the rich kids over at Camp Mohawk a taste of their own medicine. “You don’t mind the lack of structure,” noted Filmcritic’s Pete Croatto, “especially since it’s delivered by a good-natured and good-humored young cast.”

Watch Trailer


Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation (1962) 80%

Mr-Hobbs-Vacation

Decades before Chevy Chase blundered his way across the country in National Lampoon’s Vacation, Jimmy Stewart suffered through his own surprisingly stressful family getaway. Surrounded by a mismatched brood that includes four children (two of whom are married with kids of their own) and a wife whose well-meaning vacation rental turns out to be a dilapidated house of horrors, Stewart’s Mr. Hobbs is forced to “relax” by warding off bats, fixing a water pump, and bribing a teenage boy (played by Fabian) to pay attention to his brace-faced daughter. Not exactly cutting-edge comedy, even in 1962, but as Reel’s James Plath pointed out, “Stewart’s performance alone makes this an entertaining film.”

Watch Trailer


National Lampoon's Vacation (1983) 93%

National-Vacation

For everyone who ever suffered through a hellish forced march through “quality time” gone wrong with the family, National Lampoon’s Vacation is a soothing (and laugh-out-loud funny) reminder that you are not alone. Chevy Chase was never more squarely in his wheelhouse than when he played the arrogant, incompetent, but ultimately sweet-natured Clark Griswold, and many of his funniest moments (not to mention most quotable lines) come in the original Vacation. Even Dave Kehr of the Chicago Reader had to laugh, noting, “Despite plenty of gross-out gags and dumb slapstick bits, the careful viewer can occasionally detect some acrid and original satire in this 1983 film.”

Watch Trailer


One Crazy Summer (1986) 45%

One-Crazy-Summer

Savage Steve Holland followed up his classic Better Off Dead by reuniting with John Cusack for this equally madcap — albeit far more uneven — tale of an aspiring cartoonist who spends the summer after high school in Nantucket, where he gets mixed up with a singer (Demi Moore) and her quest to save her grandfather’s home from a wealthy local family. Sadly, One Crazy Summer failed to generate much heat at the box office, despite Holland’s flair for the absurd, a charming cast (which also included Curtis Armstrong as the unforgettably named Ack Ack Raymond), and reviews from critics like Gregory Weinkauf of the New Times, who asked, “Remember fun? This movie does.”

Watch Trailer


On Golden Pond (1981) 93%

On-Golden-Pond

In a marvelously successful example of art imitating life, Jane Fonda purchased the film rights to Ernest Thompson’s novel about a fractured family’s lakeside summer and used it to build an onscreen parallel to her relationship with her own father — and the film’s eventual star. On Golden Pond went on to gross over $100 million and earned 10 Academy Awards nominations, including Best Actor and Best Actress wins for Henry Fonda (in his final role) and Katharine Hepburn, and although its scenes of lovingly photographed wilderness and overdue familial bonding struck some critics as overly sentimental, most scribes couldn’t deny the power of its expertly assembled cast. Sighed Time’s Richard Schickel, “When it sometimes seems the whole society has spiritually decamped for Tinseltown, the movie offers the hope that people can come home again — at least for a visit.”

Watch Trailer


SpaceCamp (1986) 46%

Spacecamp

A movie about kids spending their summer at a NASA space camp probably wouldn’t have been very exciting, so this family-friendly 1986 actioner (adapted from the book by Patrick Bailey and Larry B. Williams) threw in a sentient robot who hears a camper (played by Joaquin Phoenix) daydreaming about going into space and decides to make his wish come true. Hobbled by poor reviews and an ill-timed release four months after the Challenger explosion, SpaceCamp nonetheless entertained critics like Nina Darnton of the New York Times, who wasn’t looking for anything more than a “cheerful, optimistic space-age film” and “a wholesome and fun-filled summertime diversion.”

Watch Trailer


Summer of '42 (1971) 79%

Summer-of-42

It’s a coming-of-age movie about sex-obsessed teenagers during a bygone era, but Summer of ’42 is no Porky’s; instead, this is a sweetly nostalgic look back at a few memorable months in the youth of screenwriter Herman Raucher, who learned some lifelong lessons about love and friendship as a 15-year-old boy on Nantucket Island. Boasting a $20 million return on its $1 million budget, Summer was one of the most profitable films of the 1970s — and a runaway success at the bookstore, where Raucher’s novelization of his screenplay helped generate interest in the movie before it had even reached theaters. “Summer of ’42 is a memory movie,” wrote Vincent Canby of the New York Times, calling it “written, directed and acted with such uncommon good humor that I don’t think you’ll be put off by its sweet soft-focus, at least until you start analyzing it afterwards.”

Watch Trailer

 

Tag Cloud

christmas movies OneApp Paramount Captain marvel Oscar know your critic Black Mirror Rom-Com Freeform leaderboard theme song Lucasfilm live action Red Carpet Fargo sequels Pirates social media slashers USA laika PaleyFest Nickelodeon 2018 rt labs Valentine's Day The Purge festivals Shondaland Hollywood Foreign Press Association docudrama streaming movies YouTube Anna Paquin Hallmark Schedule Starz blockbuster 2020 based on movie Kids & Family Best Actor ABC Signature WGN Marvel Television archives CBS mission: impossible Elton John toronto critics aliens rom-coms historical drama Stephen King justice league Universal documentaries Television Academy zero dark thirty news Spike monster movies reboot Britbox children's TV Musicals Binge Guide free movies movie japan spanish Logo BAFTA Image Comics telelvision Family Ghostbusters South by Southwest Film Festival Superheroes Reality Competition Fox News Paramount Pictures cancelled comics TIFF movies Reality Star Wars YouTube Red cats 2015 National Geographic Hear Us Out chucky Star Trek book Geeked Week Indigenous Alien Western Comic-Con@Home 2021 Television Critics Association streaming Certified Fresh DC streaming service toy story comic book movie trailers Shudder docuseries Christmas Rocky twilight scene in color film series razzies spain Marathons kong San Diego Comic-Con Star Wars Celebration name the review See It Skip It BET Awards Film Video Games Spectrum Originals Mary poppins criterion Bravo television ratings Cannes Lifetime Christmas movies Travel Channel Disney streaming service 2019 romance lord of the rings 71st Emmy Awards gangster diversity cancelled TV shows crime drama cartoon Marvel binge asian-american obi wan rotten movies we love richard e. Grant nfl Awards suspense 72 Emmy Awards 99% discovery hidden camera Sundance TV Marvel Studios VICE TLC Cosplay TV One GLAAD scene in color series Sci-Fi Infographic TCA Esquire supernatural batman VH1 Netflix italian jurassic park Universal Pictures Nominations Tomatazos Pixar dragons Disney Columbia Pictures remakes scary Academy Awards teaser American Society of Cinematographers streamig game show Broadway IFC Films Hulu adventure Paramount Network A24 Country dogs 2017 green book series boxoffice MTV SDCC casting Amazon Prime Video romantic comedy art house Apple TV Plus Film Festival Set visit crime thriller fresh Acorn TV Martial Arts Action Hallmark Christmas movies Food Network cooking blockbusters australia satire genre unscripted Awards Tour Fox Searchlight Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Winners CW Seed Holidays Baby Yoda Black History Month Musical Comedy TCM joker facebook basketball rt archives Disney Channel game of thrones Ovation Calendar films renewed TV shows Paramount Plus Song of Ice and Fire DGA TCA Winter 2020 First Look CBS All Access composers fast and furious Grammys period drama OWN The Walking Dead sequel President Biopics Writers Guild of America The Academy Disney Plus Brie Larson TV kaiju IMDb TV Focus Features TNT south america Sundance cops Discovery Channel french CMT Pacific Islander godzilla NBA Lionsgate finale YouTube Premium crossover prank Quiz boxing Chernobyl Apple TV+ Oscars Arrowverse franchise canceled Heroines Tokyo Olympics parents Warner Bros. 90s zombies saw black comedy scene in color Photos Funimation Spring TV 93rd Oscars new zealand Pride Month TCA 2017 Native anthology 2021 1990s VOD Women's History Month golden globe awards Comic Book Cartoon Network Mystery Thanksgiving harry potter Comics on TV target scene in color Amazon Prime concert BET strong female leads a nightmare on elm street ITV ABC Family FX on Hulu Tarantino spy thriller new york stop motion canceled TV shows The CW Tumblr Mudbound spanish language DirecTV Fall TV HBO Go comiccon Turner Classic Movies latino football Rocketman Showtime indie comic book movies Superheroe Amazon Studios rotten mockumentary Fantasy miniseries Best Picture TV renewals GoT king arthur Tubi Netflix Christmas movies video on demand LGBTQ dexter 21st Century Fox ViacomCBS Mary Tyler Moore hispanic heritage month Teen 45 Pop Countdown Dark Horse Comics The Walt Disney Company debate breaking bad SXSW 2022 marvel cinematic universe ESPN First Reviews E3 Mary Poppins Returns HFPA Disney+ Disney Plus History emmy awards space 73rd Emmy Awards Endgame deadpool wonder woman SXSW sag awards psychological thriller festival biopic summer TV preview stand-up comedy Apple Legendary Trivia nature pirates of the caribbean Box Office Best Actress psycho documentary halloween tv doctor who Summer animated independent dceu halloween Walt Disney Pictures CNN live event A&E Exclusive Video new star wars movies elevated horror spinoff Epix witnail Pet Sematary black blaxploitation LGBT Sony Pictures target adaptation 79th Golden Globes Awards Sundance Now Masterpiece ghosts werewolf war Holiday medical drama FOX universal monsters FX sitcom The Witch Watching Series New York Comic Con cancelled TV series TruTV Rock versus Nat Geo APB screenings HBO Max scorecard NBC TCA Awards Peacock spider-verse Lifetime Avengers worst Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt 24 frames young adult Trophy Talk reviews TBS revenge IFC Comedy Central comedies biography mutant HBO MCU Turner MSNBC action-comedy Adult Swim WarnerMedia Wes Anderson cinemax classics Crunchyroll critic resources 4/20 Syfy popular X-Men Pop TV award winner sopranos Emmy Nominations hollywood Super Bowl Crackle police drama rt labs critics edition dark trophy posters dreamworks comic zombie science fiction broadcast Polls and Games spider-man high school Trailer RT History Creative Arts Emmys TV movies die hard natural history king kong Extras PBS golden globes venice royal family RT21 Amazon Interview Prime Video slasher 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards ABC aapi all-time directors summer TV hispanic Year in Review FXX mcc indiana jones superman AMC Plus mob legend true crime disaster crime feel good japanese foreign transformers Podcast Ellie Kemper Best and Worst singing competition anime hist Tags: Comedy DC Comics SundanceTV Music serial killer E! sports 94th Oscars Vudu Premiere Dates BBC One interviews The Arrangement Mindy Kaling Best Director heist movie summer preview jamie lee curtis obituary robots GIFs DC Universe ID what to watch cars tv talk cancelled television video El Rey international Animation technology politics vampires TV Land dc nbcuniversal AMC PlayStation superhero Instagram Live thriller Character Guide women james bond Emmys travel vs. Classic Film political drama quibi BBC stoner USA Network book adaptation Opinion BBC America scary movies talk show 007 2016 worst movies Election YA adenture marvel comics Sony comic books Horror Winter TV cults MGM dramedy olympics 20th Century Fox NYCC child's play screen actors guild Toys Drama Sneak Peek kids Neflix best