Movies truly do suit every season, but there’s nothing quite like curling up with an old favorite at the close of a long summer day. These five films are a perfect watch for your vacation moving night, the kind with ice cream, late bedtimes, and homemade popcorn.
Mamma Mia! (2008)
Nothing says relaxation like Greece in the summer — that is, until three grown men show up to reunite with their long-lost lover and arrive to find they may or may not have a daughter. Mamma Mia! pulls out all the stops to dazzle audiences, and its star-studded cast is up to the task with memorable musical sequences like “Voulez Vous,” “Does Your Mother Know” and “Lay All Your Love On Me.” It’s 90 minutes of pure entertainment.
There’s also something to be said about the youthful and energetic performances put forth by Amanda Seyfried (Sophie Sheridan) and Meryl Streep (Donna Sheridan), who excel together at making the movie feel like a slice of island life at one of the world’s most desirable paradises. When Sophie and Donna argue, you believe it. When each father promises to make the wedding amid dancing twenty-somethings and moonlit terraces, you get caught up in Sophie’s bridal shower. This film is a visually gorgeous spectacle, from glimmering Grecian waters to dramatic confrontations in lanterned courtyards and guitar ballads on sun-drenched sailboats. Armed with its chart-topping score of ABBA songs and endless supply of spunk and style, Mamma Mia! is a frolic for the whole family and remains the cinematic equivalent of a fireworks display on the fourth of July.
Back to the Beach (1987)
Back to the Beach is a pricelessly crafted film, serving as an open parody of the 1960’s beach party and a riotous 90 minutes on its own. It stars former teen idols Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello, who are extremely good sports about the liberal usage of sight gags, in-jokes, and beach tunes from their era. Rest assured that writer/director James Komack leaves no (skipping) stone unturned in unveiling wink after wink to the campy, screwball genre the movie hails from.
Several moments swim around the mind even months after watching the film, including many quips and sequences that deliberately jump the shark for audience amusement. There’s something special about watching an extremely treacherous surfing contest that is so obviously staged in a Hollywood studio, interspliced with clips of beachgoers shouting desperate words of advice.
As an added bonus, try to see how many celebrity cameos you can spot on your own — Stevie Ray Vaughan and David Bowie lead the way for a California coastline that appears to be bursting with stars playing themselves. Independent of that, though, is the simple pleasure derived from rooting for a washed-up car salesman (Avalon) to prove he’s still the king of all surfers and stick it to a gang of beach punks. If you’ve got a hankering for wickedly niche satire, look no further than Back to the Beach.
Big Fish (2003)
Grab a date and carve out a couple hours to watch the extraordinary life of Edward Bloom (Ewan McGregor and Albert Finney). With its sweet and satisfying soundtrack, this film blends everything under the summer sun for a roaring good time, from audacious carnival settings and far off villages to World War II action sequences. Best of all are actors Alison Lohman and Ewan McGregor, who have excellent chemistry and partner up to tell a love story that appeals to all generations.
Ultimately, the setting is what makes Big Fish the perfect summertime selection, and each scene bursts with some vivid new color. The most memorable moments are all drenched in natural beauty, which pulls viewers into the screen and sweeps them off their feet into inescapable fantasy. In fact, the most irresistible exchange in the film takes place in a sprawling field of daffodils, a token of affection put forth by young Edward Bloom for the woman he yearns to marry. You can practically smell the morning dew and hear the crickets chirping in the meadow grass. No matter what age you are, Big Fish will draw you in and help you find beauty in the ordinary.
Editor’s note: This and Mars Attacks! are the best Tim Burton movies. I would also like to take this opportunity to recommend listening to star, icon, legend, and two-time Tony Award nominee Kate Baldwin sing “I Don’t Need a Roof” from Andrew Lippa’s 2013 stage adaptation.
Dazed and Confused (1993)
That one art teacher from your childhood loves this movie — but you should too, because it features some of the most insatiable characters to ever grace the silver screen. What do Ron Slater, Randall ‘Pink’ Floyd and Mitch Kramer all have in common? They were all at Lee High School’s impromptu keg party on the last day of school.
One of the remarkable things about Dazed and Confused is its complete lack of plot. High school students listen to rock music, knock over mailboxes and stop at the hamburger drive-in. The stakes never get higher than obtaining Aerosmith tickets, for crying out loud. But therein lies the timeless appeal of a film like this, which is so deeply rooted in the youth scene of the mid-1970’s. It truly captures the feeling of the era – the fistfights, the hazing, and the urge to sprawl out on a football field at night and smoke marijuana with your friends.
That’s all this movie offers, just a field of kids in different circles under a moonlit tower. But for so many people, Dazed and Confused is a perfect snapshot of what life was like in high school, down to the last empty beer can.
The Notebook (2004)
Yes, The Notebook is the perfect romantic comedy for any day of the year, but it also slots into the summer season quite nicely. Whether it’s the charming small-town aesthetic, the brilliantly lit fairgrounds or that haunting piano melody that pulls at the heartstrings, we don’t know — either way, it keeps us coming back for more of Allie and Noah every summer.
Of course, one of the film’s strongest traits is its relatable material. Either audiences can sympathize with Noah, the working-class boy next door, or they can relate to Allie, whose wealthy parents won’t accept her involvement in a relationship that reaches beneath their social class. Any way you slice it, The Notebook is wonderfully subtle — you know how it’s going to end, but you still want to hear the story.
On the other hand, its bigger moments are captivating and easy to appreciate at first glance. Noah and Allie’s lakeside embrace is still considered a genre classic, marked by flawless dialogue and wrapped in that memorable downpour. The same goes for their heart-wrenching breakup, which transpires one warm August evening and seeps into the ensuing year for a truly devastating split.
The Notebook dares to be different, and it does so in a seductively familiar setting. Whether you’re commemorating 50 years of marriage, nursing a recent breakup or caught up in a thrilling romance of your own, do yourself a favor and watch The Notebook this summer.