An Analysis – The Best Summertime Movies
I have always been the type of person who requires many conditions to enjoy my media. For example, when discovering that a certain kind of music sounds a lot better when heartbroken, I will specifically wait to break out certain CDs until the day I am left in shambles. I can’t only watch one part of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings without watching the whole trilogy, and I WILL NOT watch a Christmas movie unless it’s within the months of November or December—and, yes, that includes Die Hard (1986) and Batman Returns (1992).
These geeky types of obsessive nitpicks gives me something to look forward to from year to year. Every season has its favorite music or movie accompaniment with which to fulfill its optimal enjoyment. With my college year ended and my summer ahead, I can now begin to revisit some of my favorite summertime films. With this list I have collected and calibrated my top five summer flicks, and what is left is a strangely eclectic collection. In fact, with genres ranging from slasher-horror to heartwarming family pictures, the only thing that really connects these movies is their relationship to the summer months and the glorious freedom that they suggest for me.
So, plenty of people probably watch this around the October/Halloween season, but for me the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) is absolutely a summer movie. The dry Texas landscape, the sweaty and visibly uncomfortable actors and the fly-swarmed rotting meat all remind me of the countless car trips I was forced to endure whilst traveling on many summer family vacations. Besides, what says “summertime” more than barbeque?
With the exception of some horror films, like John Carpenter’s winter-only film The Thing (1982), scary movies go very well with the summer. I don’t know why, exactly—maybe something about remembering being a teenager and staying up on those late summer nights with a bloodfest blockbuster rental. Cabin-in-the-woods movies such as Evil Dead (1981) and Sleepaway Camp (1983) obviously have an outdoorsy getaway aesthetic (as in “get away from me, you crazy psycho killer!”)—but Texas Chainsaw is only appropriate to play in the hottest days of summer, when you don’t want to leave your air conditioning and you can’t eat your Otter Pops fast enough before they melt (which by the way, only makes them better).
As a person who grew up in the ’90s, and who never got into too much trouble as a teen and never smoked a lot of pot, I was under the impression for a the longest time that Dazed and Confused (1993) was not only one of Richard Linklater’s most overrated movies, but one of the most overpraised films of all time. Then, a few years into college, I watched it again and I finally “got it.” It’s not about plot, it’s not about having a resolution, and it’s not even really about what it was like to grow up in the ’70s. It’s about the characters and just watching as they interact for a couple of hours. Also, for the sake of this list, it’s about the kinetic excitement of summertime freedom and teenage rebellion.
The movie spans the course of a day and night, into the next morning, and the way Linklater paces the episodic events between the different teenage cliques accumulates into a hypnotic real-time quality, where you feel like you’re there with them as they kick off the first day of summer vacation. He tried a similar technique in his debut film Slacker (1991), but with lesser results. All together, the rock and roll soundtrack, the night cruises in their cars, and the cute girls in hot pants reflect an idealistic haze of your best summer high school memories, or at least what you might have wished them to be.
Sometimes when I am driving home from work at night, I pass a local baseball field with the lights shining down on a city league softball game. I see this and I feel a weird urge to pull over and watch, not because I like or know anything about softball, but because there is something so deliciously Americana about summertime night games that I can’t help but get sentimental. This inner conflict in me is exacted in the wonderful preteen sports comedy The Sandlot (1993), a staple of my youth.
Some older readers might look at The Sandlot and only see the off-brand version of Stand by Me (1986), but no other film that I can remember better captures what it is like to be a kid in small town America. (Also, it’s was a lot easier for me to relate to the dilemma of losing a baseball behind a fence than trekking miles from home to find a dead body.) I should reiterate that I was never really a sporty kid, but I did play a bit of tee-ball in my day (and sucked really bad at it). The scene in which the all-child cast stops their game and watches the Fourth of July fireworks while a gospel version of “America the Beautiful” plays in the background somehow chokes me up every time. That kind of bright-eyed earnestness, mixed with all the layers of nostalgia that the film encompasses, keeps this as one of my on-hand summer movie picks.
As a Coen brothers fanatic, many of their movies, even the ones some people hate, have a special place in my life. It becomes increasingly difficult to rank their films against one another, but I would have to say that O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2002) would rank pretty highly. The music, the color-corrected photography, the goofy slapstick between the three leads—everything in this movie works.
Set in the dustbowl 1930s, this semi-musical revisionist version of Homer’s Odyssey is one of the Coens’ most stylistically ambitious movies and carries with it a joyous exuberance that none of their other films really approach in the same way. This would be in large part because of the great soundtrack. Despite being from smalltown Idaho, I have never been too keen on country music. But the bluegrass plank-stoppers peppered throughout become the star of the movie, and made me really have to reconsider my position on overalls, banjos, and holding a long strand of grass in my teeth.
Like Fargo (1996), which for me can only be a winter movie watch, O Brother always has to wait until summer, and like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the hotter and dryer in the year it is, the better it seems to play. The implied heat in this southern gothic fairytale almost creates a sense of hallucinatory mirage that fits very well within the broad evocations of Biblical and classical themes in the narrative. Also, there’s a scene where the Soggy Bottom Boys steal a tasty-looking pie out of an open window , and a funny bit with a bullfrog.
I always wanted to visit the island town of Amity, because this movie portrayed it as the ultimate friendly hot-spot for summer vacations…well, besides that whole man-eating aquatic leviathan thing going on.
As per tradition, I always have to watch Jaws (1975) around the Fourth of July. The swimming, the beach, the adventure, the killer shark—every aspect of this movie has some sort of connection to summertime for me. Also, who doesn’t like going to the movies and watching a sensational spectacle during hot weather? Actually, you can thank Jaws for that, since its massive success in the ’70s set the precedent for what we now consider the “summer blockbuster.” Had there never been a Jaws, there may have never been The Avengers (2012).
At a young age, I caught this movie on TV with my parents, and ever since it has been an annual treat for me. Of course, it was also responsible for an unwarranted fear of being around any body of water for some time after I watched it. Even waterbeds were in the red-zone for possible shark attacks. Anyway, I shouldn’t have to convince you to see Jaws, since I am sure you already have. But what I can say is that there is no better way to appreciate your American independence than watching Robert Shaw get bit in half by a giant fish.
So, there you have it, the top five summer films that I must watch at least once every year. Now that I am rejoicing in the long daylight hours, outdoor concerts, and snow cone shacks all over my town, I am reminded as to why I always have to go into a state of emotional hibernation in the winter months. But with these movies to look forward to, I can at least store away enough reminders of warm-time sustenance to keep me optimistic when I have to scrape the ice from my windows every morning. I really hate the cold.
Feel free to comment below and give me your picks for the best summertime movies. I know that were plenty that could have made my list but didn’t. For instance, I very nearly included A Goofy Movie (1995) as well as Tiny Toons Adventures: How I Spent My Vacation (1992).