33 Sweltering Summer Movies That Will Make Your Shirt Stick To Your Back
There’s a difference, of course, between a “summer blockbuster” and a movie that just *feels* like summer. Sure watching a beloved National institution get blown to Smithsonian smithereens evokes summer memories. As do certain Will Smith songs and action figure-y merchandise. But then there are the films that make you sweat a little just by looking at them. You’ll feel fireflies in your stomach and little beads of condensation will well up on the lemonade glass in your soul. Or something. Here are my picks, including two that are currently in limited release. They aren’t really ranked except for the final two. Which are the best. Feel free to add yours below.
The Wackness: Great soundtrack and even greater performance from Ben Kingsley and, oh yes, even one of the Olsen twins.
Stealing Beauty: Nothing dials those summer feelings up to eleven like a Tuscan setting. Liv Tyler is absolutely sumptuous in this quiet story of sexual awakening. Rachel Weisz ain’t so bad herself.
To Kill A Mockingbird: Though this film doesn’t take place only in the summer (there’s a Halloween pageant after all), there’s something about Southern porches, visiting friends, sweltering courtrooms and boiling tensions that makes me associate it with the hotter months.
The Way Way Back: As Dan mentioned in his review, this film doesn’t really come into focus until Sam Rockwell shows up. But there have been shakier, less charismatic tentpoles to hang a movie on.
The Seven Year Itch: If you were stuck in New York during a heat wave, you’d stand over a subway grate too.
Little Children: Much of Todd Field’s uncomfortable, anxious film takes place poolside and the summery setting only heightens the childlike behavior of Winslet and Wilson’s characters. A fantastic, dark film that both resonates with and bumps up against the hot, sticky setting.
Summer School: An all-time favorite guilty pleasure, this 80s underdog story is the only reason I understand my grandma’s fascination with “NCIS.”
Dog Day Afternoon: Oh god, I want to turn a cold hose on everyone in this film.
Don’t Tell Mom The Babysitter’s Dead: Quitting your sh*tty summer job and having unsupervised reign of the house? Yes please. Right on top of THAT.
My Girl: Despite the heart-slicing ending, My Girl perfectly captures what it means to have a best friend, a bike and nothing but wide open days. So lovely.
Raising Victor Vargas: A slow, amateurish film, this 2002 Sundance darling embodies what a lot of people despise about independent cinema. But the performance from the lead actor, Victor Rasuk, is electric and the movie crystalizes what it’s like to live in the city during the dead heat of summer.
Wet Hot American Summer: Obviously.
Dirty Dancing: There’s a reason the word “Catskills” is synonymous with summer for me. You add watermelons, manly tank tops and anachronistic jean shorts and you’ve got summer gold.
Dazed & Confused: Any movie that starts with Alice Cooper and ends with Foghat has got to be a summer classic. Set on the last day of school, Linklater’s film exactly captures what it feels like to be on the threshold of something new. Exciting and scary. Dazed and confused.
American Graffiti: Despite being set in a very different time period, this, in my mind, is a matched set with Dazed & Confused.
Rear Window: Do you think that if photographer Jeff Jefferies had broken his leg during winter any of this would have happened? I feel like he would have been content to cozy up to both Grace Kelly and a stack of books. But the heat makes all of us a little stir crazy and, thus, a thriller was born.
In America: Much like To Kill A Mockingbird this absolutely perfect, poignant film takes place over several seasons. But when it’s hot, it’s very hot. And, thus, the search for an air conditioner becomes a hero’s quest and the cool, cool shower an unimaginable delight.
Y Tu Mama Tambien: Nothing says summer like a road trip, sexually alluring older women and potentially being gay for your best friend. No, wait, it’s not gay if it’s a three-way, right?
The Kings Of Summer: Though this indie features a lot of Pajiba favorites (Nick Offerman, Alison Brie), it has massive, unshakable tonal and pacing problems. That being said, the young leads Nick Robinson and Gabriel Basso are real finds and the dreamy montage treatment of their escapist, Walden fantasy will shoot straight at your heart.
Field Of Dreams: You can almost see the fireflies, no? Summer and sports and daddy issues and Americana. It doesn’t get dreamier.
Weekend At Bernie’s: If it hadn’t been hot as balls in the city, these dead man hijinks never would have ensued.
Do The Right Thing: It’s possible that no one has ever used the “heatwave powder keg” concept as effectively as Spike Lee does here.
12 Angry Men: Except for maybe this classic flick which takes that powder keg and bottles it up into one cramped, sweaty room. Kaboom.
One Crazy Summer: Better Off Dead get the lion’s share of love when it comes to the Cusack/Holland collaborations but I’ve always had a soft spot for this flick. Likely because of my love for Bobcat.
A Walk On The Moon: While there are a few films that dance around the edges of Woodstock and the moon landing, none do it quite so effectively and with quite as much shirtless Viggo.
My Summer Of Love: One of the most gorgeous films about what it means to be a young woman. A must-watch for any and all Emily Blunt fans.
Mud: Honestly, if you’re going to see one independent film this year about two boys building something in the woods, it should be these boys and that boat over The Kings Of Summer. Throw in some dangerous criminals and the pied piper himself, Matthew McConaughey and you have one of the best films of the year. Plus an excuse to never wear a shirt. Alright, alright.
Point Break: Speaking of beach bum criminals, no one does bushy bushy blonde hairdos like Swayze’s Bodhi.
The Long, Hot Summer: Though A Streetcar Named Desire usually tops the list of melodramatic 1950s Southern films, this barn burner of a flick which features the incendiary sexual chemistry between real-life lovers Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward is my sentimental favorite. It’s packed to the rafters with southern cliches. But it’s worth it.
Body Heat: I’d strongly recommend watching this scorcher from the comfort of an ice bath. You’re going to need it.
Jaws: Half the joy of Spielberg’s classic is the way in which it rips apart something we have only positive feelings for. Sun and fun indeed. It’s like he torched the entire Beach Boys back catalogue right before our eyes.
Stand By Me: A sentimental favorite for many on this site, the rambling adventures and campfire bonding between these boys are hard to beat. Nonetheless…
The Sandlot: This is it. The king of summer films. It’s really a shame that two of the most solid summer flicks are all about the nature of boyhood. For young women it’s usually the ol’ “sexual awakening” plot. Come on, Hollywood, give the girls some time in the sun.
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