It’s almost biblically unfair that we’re stuck inside during these warm summer days. Sure, you can sit six feet from your friends down the park or in a pub garden, but in any case, this is likely to be a pretty quiet summer.
To make you feel like you’re not missing out, we’ve put together a list of the best summer movies that’ll make you feel like you’re really there, enjoying the outdoors or on holiday in northern France somewhere, enjoying a cocktail with your feet dangling in a pool, without a care in the world. Of course, they might also make you incredibly jealous as, after the credits roll, you're transported back to that dark living room with the hours ticking away until you have to start working from that very same stodgy sofa, but that’s a risk you’re going to have to take. But, for at least a few hours, let these – our selection of the best summer movies – take you away.
- The 30 best movie double bills (opens in new tab)
- The 30 best feel-good movies (opens in new tab)
- The 30 best family movies (opens in new tab)
Wet Hot American Summer (2001)
David Wain’s 2001 cult classic Wet Hot American Summer is the best gift you can give yourself on a long afternoon sitting inside. Set in 1981, the film follows a group of camp counsellors on their last day as they attempt to have one last romantic fling before they go home. Of course, it isn’t that simple – a parody of camp movies, Wet Hot American Summer descends into chaos, madness and absurdity as some characters prepare for a talent show while others attempt to prevent the end of the world. Starring future huge names like Paul Rudd and Bradley Cooper, the film is full of very familiar faces and very worth a watch, even if it’ll make you furious that you aren’t in the woods somewhere.
Call Me By Your Name (2017)
You’ve probably, by now, come to terms with the fact that you won’t be going to Italy anytime soon. That means no sunny strolls, no exploring ancient buildings, no wine by the pool, no outdoor dinners, no fresh tomatoes, no illicit romances with older men. A viewing of Call Me By Your Name, in which 17-year-old Elio (Timothée Chalamet) and Oliver, his father’s 24-year-old graduate student assistant, embark upon a complicated affair might break your heart, but it might also make you feel as if you’re there, among the olive trees and vineyards. Just try not to get too upset when you realise you’re in a share house in East London, the only wine on offer Echo Falls from the shop.
Moonrise Kingdom (2012)
Of course, many of us haven’t had a truly carefree summer since we were a lot younger and didn’t have jobs or responsibilities. In Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom, 12-year-old scout Sam sneaks away from camp to meet up with his penpal Suzy. With little regard for the panicking of the adults they left behind, Suzy and Sam embark on adventures, having their first kiss, fishing, dancing, and generally avoiding all of their earthly cares. While the real world catches up to them eventually, in Wes Anderson’s hands, Moonrise Kingdom feels like a genuine escape to watch. With its soft pastels, big bodies of water and abundant trees, you’ll put “camping” on your post-lockdown bucket list.
Magic Mike XXL (2015)
Of all the films on this list, Magic Mike XXL perhaps has the purest, hedonistic summer energy. Retired stripper Mike (Channing Tatum) has hung up his tearaway pants to run a furniture business when his former colleagues, the Kings of Tampa, invite him to roadtrip to Tampa for a stripping convention. From there, it has all the hallmarks of a go-big-or-go-home Florida summer: MDMA, sex, big mansion parties, and finally, a great big final bang of a stripping performance by the lads. If that wasn’t enough, there’s also a pool party and a 4th of July celebration. Magic Mike XXL is sweaty, fun, and will make you crave a wet hot American summer–if only.
Again, what better way to escape than to live vicariously through teenagers who have their whole lives to go to work and be boring? In Olivia Wilde’s 2019 directorial debut Booksmart, two bookish high school seniors, Molly (Beanie Feldstein) and Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) realise they missed out on some classic high school experiences in their obsessive pursuit of Yale. Feeling left out and realising that other classmates still got some partying done, Amy and Molly decide to go to a graduation party and fulfil all their desires. Things go awry, with serial killers, arguments and accidentally drugged strawberries, but the pair make up and Amy finds romance with a classmate. Booksmart is hilarious, enjoyable, and so sweet, even if Amy’s running off to Botswana on a gap year might make you jealous.
The Lost Boys (1987)
Joel Schumacher's genius levels of creepy kitsch and camp live on forever (and ever) in 1987’s The Lost Boys. Brothers Michael and Sam (Jason Patric and Corey Haim) move to the seaside town of Santa Carla to live with their grandfather but end up getting embroiled in the underground world of the town’s local vampire population. The Lost Boys is a lot of fun, with all the heat of summer nights, but it is also a fairly accurate analogy for our current situation–the characters live in a sunny seaside town, but can’t go out to enjoy it fully. While we don’t have to worry about being turned into vampires or burned up by sunlight, it’s not a million miles away. Of course, masks can’t protect you from vampires.
The Parent Trap (1998)
Some people go to summer camp and hate it, other people go to summer camp and find their long lost twin. Who knows what could happen! In the 1998 remake of The Parent Trap, also known as the only legitimate version as far as '90s kids are concerned, Lindsay Lohan plays both Annie and Hallie, two twins who were separated by their divorcing parents and never told about the existence of the other. Moral issues with that aside, the pair switch places in an attempt to reunite their parents and become one big happy family. It’s a fun, sunny, film with a big happy ending.
Addams Family Values (1993)
Not everyone has the same experience of summer, or the same approach to it, and that’s OK. Some of us are cursing the sun not because we aren’t allowed to go out and play in it, but because it might mess up our perfect gothic pallor. In Addams Family Values, the original baby goths Wednesday and Pugsley are shipped off to a summer camp by their uncle’s new wife so she can murder Fester for his money. Once there, they’re pushed into activities they hate, forced to befriend people they’d rather murder, and bullied into smiling and acting like the rest of the kids. It’s a nightmare, but it’s one that’ll have you yearning for school trips and summer holidays – if only to rediscover the pure comforts of coming back inside.
High School Musical 2 (2007)
While a lot of the High School Musical films are about kids and teenagers who don’t have any responsibilities over the summer, the second instalment focuses on a group of teenagers who have way too many responsibilities. It’s a lesson in class disparity, one felt by those of us without access to our own pools: while the rich kids get to sunbathe at their parents’ country club, the poor ones have to work at the club and watch Troy (Zac Efron) ascend through the ranks and receive preferential treatment. It’s a fable with a valuable moral, and plus, it has some really fun songs about summer that’ll get stuck in your head while you sit on your square of balcony.
The Graduate (1967)
There is no summer more simultaneously exciting, confusing, and terrifying than that of the first one after you graduate. A generation of graduates will be experiencing all of the terror with none of the excitement this year, left to drift with no idea when or whether they’ll be able to fully enter the world. In The Graduate, Dustin Hoffman’s Benjamin has returned home for what he hopes will be a summer of drifting in the pool, but his parents have other ideas. So, it turns out, does the iconic Mrs Robinson, the wife of Benjamin’s father’s business partner. She decides to seduce Benjamin and the pair embark on a summer affair while he dates her daughter. It’s a whole mess – a parable, really, on the dangers of drifting around planless for the summer. Just try not to get involved with any family friends and you should be safe.
I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997)
If, in a year’s time, you receive a letter reading “I know what you did last summer”, you’re unlikely to find it very threatening. You’ll run through the things you got up to: went to the park, watched these films, maybe went to a pub garden if you felt brave. Hopefully, you won’t have accidentally killed a pedestrian while driving home from a party. Starring Sarah Michelle Gellar and Freddie Prinze Jr. at the height of their '90s fame, I Know What You Did Last Summer is an enjoyable, spooky, summer-set alternative to the more carefree films on this list. If nothing else, it’ll make you glad you’re not up to much: going out and having fun only leads to all of your friends being stalked and hunted down by a mysterious assailant.
Dazed and Confused (1993)
Does anything capture the laziness of summer quite like the laziness of stoners? In Richard Linklater’s 1993 film Dazed and Confused, set in the '70s, we join a group of teenagers on the last day of school. A football player is required to sign a pledge promising not to take drugs over the summer, so as not to jeopardise the champion season, but eventually refuses, opting to defiantly smoke on the football field. Taking place over a single 24-hour period, Dazed and Confused captures the excitement of the last day of school before the last free summer of your life: parties, drugs, romance and arguments feature in the heat of a summer night.
Mamma Mia! (2008)
For pure, European on-screen escapism, you don’t get much purer than Mamma Mia! Set on a gorgeous island in Greece, Mamma Mia! Is a high-energy, absurd musical comedy about a woman who invites three men to her wedding in an effort to find out who her father is. In short, anyway. Depending on how much you love Abba and/or Meryl Streep, Mamma Mia! might be utterly unwatchable, but if you can stand it, it captures the wholesome, old-world fun of a Greek holiday. If you try really hard, maybe you can imagine you’re in a crumbling old Greek villa somewhere eating tomatoes off the vine rather than sitting in your living room wondering when you’re going to get “Dancing Queen” out of your head.
A lot of the movies on this list might be making you wish you were at the beach, but Jaws is unlikely to be one of them. That being said, if you’re missing sun and sand that much, maybe you’d be willing to risk a shark attack. In Steven Spielberg’s Jaws, a weirdly malevolent shark is terrorising the beaches of Amity Island, murdering dogs, adults, and children without remorse. A group of men vow to track it down and kill it, but in the meantime, a mayor more focused on the economy and the town’s image is insistent that the beaches remain open to tourists. Sound familiar? As well as the politically prescient nature of Jaws, it captures the hot, sweaty, closeness of a New England summer without the respite of a nice dip in the sea. Too real.
American Pie 2 (2001)
For pure summer escapism, there is nothing quite like dipping back into the simplicity of the early 2000s. The second American Pie film, the last before things got a little bit too ridiculous, sees the gang heading off to a beach house for the summer, reluctantly inviting Stifler. Filled with all the dumb sexcapades you’ve come to expect, plus the necessary cameo from Eugene Levy’s eyebrows, American Pie 2 is a pure vacation from reality, not least of all because the humour is... outdated. But where you can stop yourself from cringing, you can find yourself on vacation by the beach, with nothing to do but drink and party and misbehave, if only for a couple of hours.
Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019)
Sometimes blowing off all your responsibilities to run off on a trip is the worst possible thing you can do. In the second Tom Holland-starring Spider-Man movie, Far From Home (opens in new tab), Peter Parker is grieving the loss of Tony Stark after the events of Endgame. With a threat looming, Nick Fury plans to drag Parker back to work, but he essentially turns off his phone and runs off to Venice on a school trip for two weeks. While the events of the film aren’t really ideal summer holiday vibes, it’s a very relatable impulse – who among us wouldn’t like to turn their phone off and run to Europe? Plus, seeing all those gorgeous old buildings and canals on-screen, even if they’re being destroyed, will make you feel like you’re there.
While few of us have the stamina, skills or physique of Dwayne Johnson, what we do all have in common right now is the desire to just lie down on a beach and forget about all of our problems. 2017’s Baywatch movie, also starring Zac Efron and Alexandra Daddario with cameos from old stars like Pamela Anderson, is a fun, silly ride in which the lifeguards work to track down criminals and crack down on crime on their stretch of beach. It’s a playful, over-the-top film that pokes fun at Baywatch while having a good heart, and the scenes of sand, bikinis, sea and sun are likely to have you refreshing the news to see if you’re allowed to run off just yet.
Scooby-Doo: The Movie (2002)
What’s better than a paradise island vacation in the summer? The 2002 Scooby-Doo live-action movie is criminally underrated: least of all because it stars an early-00s ensemble cast of Freddie Prinze Jr., Sarah Michelle Gellar, Linda Cardellini, and Matthew Lilard as the Mystery Inc gang. After splitting up and spending time apart, they reunite to solve a mystery on thriving resort Spooky Island. They have to sneak Scooby on the plane dressed as an old woman, naturally, and when they arrive they discover all isn’t as they seem. Scooby-Doo: The Movie is silly, heartwarming, and it’ll make you willing to risk losing your soul for a fun trip to an all-inclusive resort.
Y tu mamá también (2001)
Alfonso Cuarón’s Spanish-language Mexican road trip movie is maybe one you shouldn’t watch in the living room with the family. But if you’re alone, or at least without your parents watching, the Gael García Bernal and Diego Luna-starring Y tu mamá también, in which they travel across the country with an older woman while talking about sex (and having lots of it) captures all the heat of a very, very steamy summer. It’s funny, explicit, and will make you want to get in your car and drive away immediately–if only you were in Mexico and not, well, here.
Whip It (2009)
Whether it’s stripping or rollerskating, if you’re missing your friends after months apart, these films about friendly camaraderie are likely to make you miss being within two metres of the people you love most. In Drew Barrymore’s 2009 directorial debut Whip It, Bliss (Ellen Page) is drifting through life without a purpose when she decides to join a roller derby team. She finds meaning through her teammates, and while she gets some bruises and has some fallouts, it’s ultimately a summer full of love and friendship. She also has a weird, contrived romance with a boy and they kiss in a field of wheat or something, which is very summery too, but the movie could have existed without it. Whip It is all about the warm, complicated arms of female friendship.
Honestly, things are so desperate right now that even having a good old-fashioned summer job seems like a better alternative to staying inside. In Adventureland, set in the late '80s, James (Jesse Eisenberg) is faced with a not dissimilar conundrum to ours when his plans to spend all summer in Europe are scuppered by his dad’s suggestion that he get a job at an amusement park due to his family’s financial problems. He’s understandably disappointed and bitter, but after meeting a cute colleague called Em (Kristen Stewart) cheers up a bit. He doesn’t have the best time in a summer of work and failed romance, but he and Em end up getting it together in the end, which offers up the possibility that no matter how boring and desperate your summer may be, you could end up meeting someone when you least expect it.
The Goonies (1985)
Right now, we have to make our own fun, keeping it close to home and far away from other people. In many ways, this summer is likely to evoke the same feelings as those of childhood: intense boredom with few indoor activities on offer will lead you down some pretty desperate paths. Or you might just drink down the park every day, who knows? The immediate vicinity is your oyster. In The Goonies, a group of friends get together for one last time in a very Spielberg-y adventure, using an old treasure map to lead them to a hoard of pirate’s treasure. They end up in a lot more trouble than they expected, but it’s a testament to the power of what happens if you open yourself up to mystery and friendship this summer.
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)
Right now, the idea of being able to do anything spontaneously without forward planning to incorporate masks, social distancing and other hygiene measures seems way, way off. In Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, the titular lazyboy Ferris Bueller is heading towards the end of the school year and wants to take a well-deserved break. Roping in his best friend Cameron and girlfriend Sloane, the trio “borrow” Cameron’s dad’s car and head into the city of Chicago for a day of art and mischief. It’s a fun, fast movie that encapsulates teenage irresponsibility, and Bueller’s closing words seem more or less as relevant as ever: “Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”
American Honey (2016)
Sometimes, whether or not it’s the best thing to do, you just have to escape. In Andrea Arnold’s 2016 movie American Honey, which took a somewhat unconventional approach to the coming-of-age genre, teenager Star (Sasha Lane) is desperate to run away from her abusive home. Tired of caring for her family, she is offered a job on a magazine crew by Jake (Shia LaBeouf) and ends up joining, selling magazine subscriptions door to door and travelling across the country. The adventure isn’t always smooth sailing – far from it – but it offers a respite from her life of responsibility, and American Honey itself is a hot, stifling film that captures the feelings of a close, muggy summer and the desperate need to be free.
Don’t let the fact that the actors are all clearly 40 fool you – Grease is actually, once again, about the lives of a bunch of high school seniors. When Danny and Sandy meet on a beach vacation the carefree summer of 1958, they enjoy a romance free of the burdens and expectations of their family and friends. When she unexpectedly joins his school (particularly surprising, as she is literally 30) the clash between their perception of one another and the summer and who they really are in front of friends and peers becomes incredibly apparent. Grease is a very American summer film, all bonfires, diners and drive-ins, and as such it’s a glorious escape from our constricting reality–plus, as with Mamma Mia!, is there anything more escapist than a good old-fashioned singalong?