For cinephiles, summer is that time of the year where all the expensive and intensely hyped blockbusters are shown in theaters. However, with coronavirus cases in America leaving the future of theatrical screenings ambiguous, that is no longer the case. Instead, it’s time to look into the past and find movies that we really get a kick out of watching between June and August, whether as childhood nostalgia or for thematic motifs. With the solstice a week away, here are mxdwn Movie’s compilation of the best movies to watch and/or enjoy in the summertime.
3 Ninjas (1992)
When I was little, I was obsessed with three things: Ariel, strawberry shortcake, and ninjas! Bringing a twist to the already famous Home Alone formula, Jon Turteltaub’s 3 Ninjas relates to kids in such a profound way that the child actors were even nominated in the Young Artist Award in 1993. As a child, I don’t recall anybody who hadn’t played a make-believe game with their brothers that didn’t start with, “Now I’m Rocky, and you’re Colt.” Turteltaub captures the family dynamics of siblings and their riffing sometimes too perfectly, all while balancing the Home Alone ideals that leave children feeling like they can do anything.
What made this different than Home Alone or Disney was the martial arts. Not a single boy, or girl for that matter, came out of the theaters just having a conversation about the theatrical spectacle they witnessed. We were cartwheeling, flipping, or jump kicking out those doors, inspiring hyperactivity that lasted for months or years, as well as accidentally broken furniture and headaches for regretful parents. The film helped fill martial arts studios throughout the 90s and probably inspired some modern directors and stunt coordinators. Even now, I don’t watch this film as an adult, but rather that excited hyper little “me” from childhood. 3 Ninjas left me believing that I can do anything in the world, and that’s as valuable a feeling as any message for kids in the summer.
– Angelina Truax
Dazed and Confused (1993)
Whether you just graduated from school or the mere idea of summer vacation is a distant memory to you, Richard Linklater’s 70s revival Dazed and Confused brings everyone back to a time of being young. What better way to kick off the summer season than remembering that nostalgic feeling of running out of class on the last day of school. From hazing incoming high school freshmen to attending your first keg party, Dazed revives old feelings of teenage awkwardness and coming-of-age highs. To add to the summer fun, you wouldn’t want to miss out on Matthew McConaughey’s iconic “alright, alright, alright” in his cinematic debut as supersenior David Wooderson.
– Valentina Pagliari
Die Hard with a Vengeance (1995)
It may not be the best Die Hard for some, but this third entry is certainly the most entertaining! John McClane has a knack for being the wrong guy in the wrong place at the wrong time, but this time around, trouble finds him. Rather than being locked in a building or tied up at the airport, McClane has New York City for a playground. Director John McTiernan (who helmed the first Die Hard) antes up the action and thrills in a movie where the villain is personally after our favorite cop.
Of course, it’s just a game right? With a wonderful supporting cast including Samuel L. Jackson as McClane’s unwilling partner, this duo has quite the predicament ahead of them. Shoot-outs, car chases, bombs blowing up and even some flooding make for a movie that’s a total blast from start to finish. If that’s not enough to persuade you then perhaps the opening song by The Lovin’ Spoonful- “Summer in the City.” It’s a great song to open a movie and, in the case of Die Hard, this is my personal favorite entry of the entire franchise. McClane is about to have a bad day. Strap in because it’s about to get wild.
– Rick Rice
Do the Right Thing (1989)
Spike Lee’s magnum opus, both in its fun moments and its tense ones, is undeniably a film about summer. Taking place on a Bedford-Stuyvesant street during one of the hottest summer days on record, Do the Right Thing follows a collection of colorful characters doing what they can to survive the heat and the day. However, as temperatures rise, so do the simmering racial animosities amongst these neighbors, all leading up to a crushing finale at Sal’s Famous Pizzeria.
With its hazy orange color palette, Do the Right Thing physically looks like you’ve been thrust into the heat of a scorching summer day. Characters stand by their fans, take a splash in a leaking fire hydrant and chase down the shaved ice salesman, all relatable things ways to stay cool. But while it’s still unknown what heat records will be set in 2020, tensions across America currently mirror what the film’s characters experienced as that fateful day came to a close. It’s still unclear whether anyone in Do the Right Thing abided by its title’s namesake, but the fact that we’re still discussing its raw emotions more than thirty years later make it one of the timeliest summer movies to watch right now.
– Ben Wasserman
Independence Day (1996)
Come on, it’s in the name. Rolland Emmerich’s famed sci-fi disaster film airs every July 4 and, whether it was watching its ridiculous plot as a kid or playing it in the background while we make hot dogs, Independence Day remains a ton of fun. The film follows a handful of characters across the United States- a New York satellite technician, a L.A. Air Force pilot and the President of the United States- who eventually unite to take down an alien invasion of Earth. These beings command 15-mile long spaceships that emit laser beams capable of wiping out entire cities in gloriously spectacular destruction.
So much of Independence Day remains memorable. From the performance by Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman and Will Smith, to the corny dialogue to the explosive set pieces, the film know what it is and leans into that absurdist popcorn flick nature to great effect. Plus President Whitmore’s hanger speech at Area 51 more or less solidified him as one of the best fictional Presidents of all time. It’s definitely a 4th of July special unlike any other.
– Ben Wasserman
What summer movie could be more iconic to watch than the one that made you forever question whether or not it’s safe to go into the water? Amity Island is just beginning its summer season when a great white shark stakes a claim on the waters, threatening anyone who dares enters his domain. Featuring a phenomenal cast and a special mention to Murray Hamilton as Mayor Vaughn, a man reluctant to listen to reason or even scientific evidence of a threat looming over his city (sound familiar?), this was audience’s first introduction to the directorial talent of Steven Spielberg.
Jaws showcases our worst fears going to the beach and, with those memorable two notes of John Williams’ legendary theme, it’s a film you’ll never forget. With an excellent script and amazing moments (some of them terrifying) Jaws was the first film ever to draw crowds that encircled an entire block, making the term “blockbuster” commonplace. I love summer and I love the water, but I have a good reason for not going to the beach as often as others, and I have Steven Spielberg to thank for that. Who’s ready to go fishing?
– Rick Rice
Mamma Mia! (2008)
The epitome of light, summer fun. Mamma Mia! tells the story of a young woman named Sophie who, in preparation for her wedding, invites three men, each of whom could potentially be her father. Featuring a stand out ensemble cast that includes Meryl Streep, Pierce Brosnan, Christine Baranski, Colin Firth and more, the film relishes in its goofy, over the top tone. Of course the true star of this jukebox musical is the soundtrack composed entirely of some of ABBA’s greatest hits. Mamma Mia knows exactly its place as a cheesy, feel good movie full of catchy songs, wacky characters, and enough flashy spectacle to light up any movie night. As a bonus, the 2018 sequel, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again provides even more of that same glamourous ABBA fun.
– Evan Krell
This A24 blockbuster from Hereditary‘s Ari Aster arrived the summer of 2019 and has since solidified its place as a film with an undeniable association with the hot months of the year. Midsommar details the story of a young woman, Dani, as she, her boyfriend, and a group of friends take a trip to a reclusive town in Sweden. Her boyfriend and his colleagues head into the trip aiming to use the Swedish locale as inspiration for their anthropology thesis, while Dani attempts to escape the trauma of the death of her family. What what they find in this cult-like town changes their lives forever, especially Dani, who discovers a new sense of family there. This horror film is beautifully shot and it’s bizarre plot, which includes Pagan-esquire rituals, murder, and flower gowns, bring an interesting summer-y twist to the horror genre. Not only does the plot bring a lightness to its genre, it also establishes Midsommar as the perfect summer go-to for any women who are newly single.
– Natalie Holderbaum
While Independence Day represents the day of our country’s freedom, it also makes us reflect on our relationship to patriotism and American culture. Robert Altman’s Nashville brings everyone from all over the nation to the capital of country music in a witty satirical portrait of the United States of America. Following over 28 characters from a roster of iconic talent, Nashville’s musical storykeeps viewers on the outside looking in upon a world that they think they know so well. A critique of politics, celebrity culture, entertainment, and American values, Nashville interweaves bits of intertwining storylines and great music that bring along the audience for the strange and wild ride of what it means to be an American.
– Valentina Pagliari
The Muppet Movie (1979)
You may not think of the Muppets as traditional summer entertainment, but there’s just something about this quaint little movie that conjures up feelings of childhood summers. The film features all the classic characters like Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, and The Great Gonzo in a story about how they all met and hit the big time in Hollywood. It’s a road trip movie filled with fun songs, memorable comedic sequences, some crazy celebrity cameos and, despite all this, features some genuine heart and passion. If there’s one word to describe it, it’s a strong sense of nostalgia, even if you didn’t grow up with the Muppets. If you’re stuck at home for the summer and can’t get out to enjoy a usual vacation, it’s fun to just relive that road tripping experience with some timeless characters. This is a film for the lovers, the dreamers, and me.
– Evan Krell
The Sandlot (1993)
For every school field trip in the 90s that required a chartered bus, we watched The Sandlot. Like every other girl, I had a crush on Benny (Mike Vitar) and tried to impress boys with my knowledge of Babe Ruth’s nickname. Now, I like to watch it when I’m feeling nostalgic, usually in the summer months. Going to a pool, I think about Squints (Chauncey Leopardi) stunt with the lifeguard. At every carnival, I think about the carnival scene when they all vomit chewing tobacco after going on a ride. It is a perfect coming of age movie that taught me lessons I didn’t realize I knew until adulthood.
The film is about the summer Scotty Smalls (Tom Guiry) moved to a new town and his struggles of making friends as the “new kid.” Smalls is eventually accepted into a group of friends that spend their summer together playing baseball. I learned to root for the underdog, that change is a good thing, and we may never know when our last games will be with our friends. Looking back on The Sandlot and my youth, I’ve realized that we need to enjoy our moments because they are fleeting, and making new friends is not impossible.
– Angelina Truax
Romeo and Juliet (1996)
This stylized take on the Shakespearean tragedy is a refreshingly cool film to punctuate the hot summer months. Starring young Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes, this version of Romeo and Juliet distinguishes itself through its flashy costumes and set design, both of which incorporate unique twists on the classical play. The Montague’s and Capulet’s are rival gangs and and outburst of violence between the two feuding families only escalates as their youngest members, Romeo and Juliet, fall in love. The town where the lovers live, Verona, is staged as a wild beach town that erupts with gun fights and political plots for murder as the two teenagers begin their summer romance. Both the aesthetically alluring set and the love story, despite famously ending tragically, make this film a fun one to indulge in during the summer months.
– Natalie Holderbaum