Dirty Dancing, Meatballs, Friday the 13th: Best Summer-Camp Movies
From ‘Meatballs’ to ‘Dirty Dancing,’ watch videos of 12 of the best summer-camp movies ever.
Long before he earned an Oscar nod for playing an aging and cynical movie star (much like himself) in Lost in Translation, Bill Murray catapulted to comedic stardom as Tripper Harrison, the head counselor at Camp North Star, in the 1979 cult classic Meatballs. The film centers on Tripper’s friendship with Rudy “the Rabbit” Gerner (Chris Makepeace), an awkward and isolated teen who is quickly shunned by his fellow campers at North Star for his lack of athletic prowess. With a healthy dose of encouragement from Tripper, Rudy helps Camp North Star clinch its first win in the Summer Olympiad against rival Camp Mohawk. One thing’s for certain: With the kind of dance moves displayed by Bill Murray in this scene from Meatballs, it’s a good thing his day job worked out.
Teen heartthrobs Kristy McNichol and Tatum O’Neal star in this coming-of-age film about two girls from opposite sides of the tracks who become instant rivals at Camp Little Wolf. The girls agree to a bet that each will lose her virginity before the other. Street-tough Angel (McNichol) sets her sights on fellow camper Randy (played by a young Matt Dillon) while pampered Ferris (O’Neal) focuses her attention on Gary (Armand Assante), one of the camp counselors. By the end of camp, one of these girls of summer will take the bet, but both will be winners.
“Nobody puts Baby in a corner.” These six words put a low-budget film from a virtually unknown studio on the map during the summer of 1987. In the summer of 1963 when Frances “Baby” Houseman (Jennifer Grey) and her family visit Kellerman’s resort in the Catskill Mountains, she soon learns that there is more to a camp than shuffleboard and ping pong. One night after all the guests have gone to bed, Baby stumbles into a dance where Kellerman’s staff is grinding away to the soulful sounds of the Ronettes, the Five Satins, and other R&B greats. Johnny Castle (Patrick Swayze), Kellerman’s dance instructor and chief rebel, captivates Baby and the two soon become exclusive dance partners. In this famous scene, Johnny and Baby take over Kellerman’s final show of the season after Johnny is ousted from his job on some trumped-up charges.
Wet Hot American Summer
It’s August 1981 and Camp Firewood faces imminent destruction from a piece of the space station. The only person who can save the campers from certain death is none other than… David Hyde Pierce? This is only one of the many unusual plots to unfold in this strange film about summer camp. A lot of people don’t know what to make of this film: Is it satire? Is it social critique? Is it just plain weird? The story focuses on a single day at the end of summer when residents of Camp Firewood are looking for one final opportunity to find that special someone to have a meaningless relationship with before they return home. In this scene, Gene (Christopher Meloni)—Camp Firewood’s resident chef—explains how a talking can of vegetables gave him the strength to name his attraction to the kitchen refrigerator. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, you are not alone.
Indian Summer (1993)
“Uncle” Lou Handler (Alan Arkin), proprietor of Camp Tamakwa for nearly four decades, invites a group of former campers to relive the camp’s “golden days” during a weeklong reunion. “I’m getting old and sappy, guys,” Uncle Lou explains to the group of adults, “so take advantage of me while you can.” What the group doesn’t know is that Uncle Lou plans to shut down the camp at the end of the summer. During their week together, friends rekindle old romances, make ice-cream raids on the kitchen, get high, and enjoy one last hoorah before returning to the lives they left behind.
At the beginning of Heavyweights, the 1995 comedy directed by Steven Brill and co-written with Judd Apatow, Gerald Garner (Aaron Schwartz) learns that his parents are sending him to Camp Hope, a “fat” camp run by the affable Harvey (Jerry Stiller) and Alice Bushkin (Anne Meara). A disappointed Gerald arrives at Camp Hope to find that the Bushkins are out and that a psychopathic fitness guru (played brilliantly by Ben Stiller) has purchased the camp with the intention of turning it into the greatest fitness infomercial ever. The campers unite to overthrow this new dictatorship, with some surprising results.
Camp Nowhere (1994)
Morris “Mud” Himmel (Jonathan Jackson) hates the rigors of summer camp: the restrictive rules, the annoying counselors, and the boring “enrichment” activities. Mud develops an elaborate scheme with his classmates that involves blackmailing a former drama teacher who is on the run from a collections agent to front a fake summer camp that will be all things to all parents: a drama camp, a “fat” camp and a military-style camp. The campers take control of a former “hippie commune” where they spend their summer while their parents do not suspect a thing.
Friday the 13th (1980)
“You’re doomed. You're all doomed.” If only the counselors at Camp Crystal Lake had heeded the advice of the old man on the bike, they might still be with us today. In the summer of 1980, director Sean S. Cunningham introduced moviegoing audiences to Jason Voorhees, a boy who had drowned at the lake 20 years earlier and who is now exacting his revenge from beyond the grave. One by one, a new set of camp counselors is picked off until only one remains. With a budget of just $550,000, the slasher film went on to gross nearly $40 million at U.S. box offices and spawned a series of sequels, the most recent of which appeared in 2009.
The Parent Trap
Forget Lindsay Lohan’s 1998 remake of the same title; the original production has a unique charm all its own. Sharon McKendrick and Susan Evers (Hayley Mills) are identical twins who meet for the first time at summer camp. Although the two are initially rivals, they eventually learn that they are sisters whose parents split up when they were only babies, each taking custody of one daughter. Switching identities, the two girls return to their homes and work to bring their parents back together. Only after a series of mishaps do the girls succeed in their mission.
Race for Your Life, Charlie Brown
Charlie Brown can’t seem to catch a break. His friends make fun of him, Lucy always snatches the football away before he can kick it, and he’s prematurely bald. Yet, for all this, Charlie Brown is a natural-born leader, a quality he demonstrates in Race for Your Life, Charlie Brown. When the Peanuts cast arrives at Camp Remote, they soon learn that they will participate in a river race that's been won by a group of bullies and their feral cat, Brutus, every year since they’ve competed. Undeterred, Charlie Brown almost leads his friends to victory, only to be bested by Snoopy and Woodstock.
At the end of Camp, a film directed by Todd Graff, Jenna Malloran—whose parents have relentlessly carped on about her weight—sings “Here’s Where I Stand,” a stirring ballad that speaks directly to the film’s major themes: love, acceptance, and the beauty of difference. The film follows a group of teens who arrive at Camp Ovation excited to perform, but uncertain of themselves and their abilities. Michael—an openly gay teen who was violently attacked for showing up to his prom in drag—struggles to make sense of the society in which he lives. Vlad, described as “an honest to god straight boy,” struggles with his OCD. And Ellen, who seeks Vlad’s attentions, wants nothing more than to be accepted on her own terms.
But I’m a Cheerleader
Megan (Natasha Lyonne) is not like other cheerleaders at her high school. When she’s kissing her football player boyfriend, she’s thinking about the other cheerleaders on her team. She likes Melissa Etheridge’s music, and she’s a vegetarian. Suspecting that she might be a lesbian, her parents send her to True Directions, a camp that converts gay and lesbian teenagers into heterosexuals. True Directions has an opposite effect on Megan, allowing her to embrace her sexuality and affording the opportunity to meet fellow lesbian Graham (Clea Du Valle). Not your typical camp movie (no pun intended), But I’m a Cheerleader offers an important commentary on the power of love to conquer all.