As summer rolls around, kids around the world are heading to summer camp. Some for a good time. Or to learn. Or to perform. Or for athletic purposes or to simply get out of their parent's hair for a couple of weeks.
Here's a look at some of our favorite summer camp films, listed in chronological order.
It's only proper to celebrate both the original 1961 version of this beloved tale, starring Hayley Mills, and the recent 1998 version that made Lindsay Lohan a young star. Regardless of which version we're talking about, the story of two identical twin sisters separated at birth when their parents divorce, who eventually meet at summer camp, then try to reunite their mom and dad after all those years, is highly entertaining. Especially when it comes to their initial meeting in those camp settings.
Life at Camp Remote isn't what the Peanuts' gang thought it would be. Especially for Charlie Brown, who was left by the bus on his way to the camp. Once there, he and his famed buddies had to deal with a regimented schedule, bully campers, and elements. However, Charlie also learns a thing or two about himself, especially when it comes to his own self-confidence. This also happened to be one of Snoopy's finest moments.
This very well might be the best summer camp comedy of all time. It's Bill Murray's first leading film role, as wise-cracking, yet endearing senior counselor Tripper Harrison at Camp North Star. He's somewhat in charge of a group of horny, in-search-of-a-good-time counselors-in-training (CITs). He's also trying to pursue a female senior counselor Roxanne and make life miserable for camp director Morty Melnick (not Mickey). Not to mention, help North Star but the elites from nearby Camp Mohawk in the annual summer competition of events. And remember, when the going gets tough "It just doesn't matter!"
When it comes to summer camp slasher flicks, the Friday the 13th franchise is obviously hard to beat. While all the associated films that followed the first installment have their moments, there's still something about our introduction to the eeriness of Camp Crystal Lake. Really, no camp endured a tougher summer in terms of losing counselors, staff, locals, etc. than the first horror fans spent there.
Randy teenagers are often a central theme to non-slasher summer camp films. One of the best is Little Darlings, where tough girl Angel (Kristy McNichol) and well-off Ferris (Tatum O'Neal) make a bet to see which one of the two will lose her virginity first during a summer at camp. While each has a different initial approach to the topic of sex, they both learn about the responsibility that comes along with it all. That's what makes the movie quite endearing, and the eventual friendship that builds between these two rivals.
Indirect revenge is a common theme among summer camp horror movies. In this case, Cropsy (Lou David) is a former camp counselor who was severely burned as a result of a prank gone wrong. Years later, Cropsy, complete with a large coat, hat, and some garden shears takes his misery out on those at nearby Camp Stonewater. The gore factor is respectable, but the big-screen debuts of Jason Alexander and Holly Hunter also make this worth one's time.
Speaking of The Burning, when Madman was in production, there was some controversy in that the killer in the latter film was similar to the one from the 1981 movie. With the details changed, the plot of Madman highlighted the story of Madman Marz, who, according to a group of counselors and campers hanging out around a fire, killed his wife and children with an ax. Set to be executed, Marz managed to break free into the woods and was apparently still on the hunt.
Sleepaway Camp might be the "little slasher film series that could." Often overshadowed by the Friday the 13th series of films, Sleepaway Camp has produced four movies within its own relatively successful franchise. This first installment, arguably, is still the best of the bunch. Though a slasher film in nature, it's a thriller filled with suspense and a rather stunning final twist that sets the stage for the rest of this underrated franchise.
Back in the 1980s, NBC liked to showcase the network's young sitcom stars with a television movie every now and then. Family Ties ' Michael J. Fox and Nancy McKeon of Facts of Life fame starred in two of the most noteworthy movies: High School U.S.A. and this summer camp comedy. In both, Fox's character is attracted to McKeon's but has many challenges to get through in order to make it happen. In Poison Ivy, Fox's Dennis also has to deal with a cocky, con-man camper, budding young baseball star, and the token kid who does not want to be there. Not to mention the issues that arise during the camp's annual "Color War" competition.
Maintenance man Ernest P. Worrell (Jim Varney) desires to be a counselor at Kamp Kikakee, and won't stop trying to help those in need while dealing with some fortunes of misuse and abused power. Sure, Varney's Earnest character (usually talking to Vern) can be a little annoying, but this is a rather endearing film that was quite popular with audiences back in the mid-to-late 1980s.
Perhaps the best thing about Cheerleader Camp is watching how far former teen idol Leif Garrett fell as an entertainer. He stars opposite '80s screen siren Betsy Russell, whose Alison finds one of her bunkmates with her wrists slashed and begins to mentally struggle with her stay at the camp. The film tries to offer somewhat of a psychological approach to the typical summer camp slasher genre but ultimately fails. Still, there are some guilty pleasure moments, like the actual cheerleading competition, which is brutally entertaining.
Another one of those NBC made-for-television movies featuring some of the brightest young stars of its network, and the others. In this case, the likes of Candace Cameron (Full House), Jaleel White (Family Matters), plus Josh Saviano and Danica McKellar from The Wonder Years . As well as a then-unknown actress by the name of Jennifer Aniston. Not a great movie at all but harmless fun. John Ratzenberger (Cheers) is the surly camp director and the highlight must be the camp rap. That's right.
The deviant mind of Wednesday Addams (Christian Ricci) is on full display when she and brother Pugsley (Jimmy Workman) are sent away to Camp Chippewa for the summer. Wednesday wastes no time showing her disdain for the camp and is somewhat exiled to watch Disney movies with the hopes of making her disposition a little sunnier. When she eventually agrees to play Pocahontas in a poorly conceived Thanksgiving play, her dark side returns. Wednesday and other camp outcasts stage a coup and ultimately set the camp on fire. Just your average summer.
Indian Summer might have flown under some radars during its early 1990s release. But, it's a solid comedy-drama filled with plenty of nostalgia. Former campers of Camp Tamakwa return years later as adults to celebrate the retirement of owner "Unca" Lou Handler (Alan Arkin ). Diane Lane, Kevin Pollak, Bill Paxton, and Elizabeth Perkins make up a portion of the ensemble cast that, collectively, does a nice job expressing just how important the camp experience defined parts of their individual lives.
Critics didn't seem to like the idea of a group of disgruntled kids not wanting to go summer camp, but starting one of their own to appease and trick their parents. However, over time, audiences actually found the film entertaining enough to make it worthy of a spot on this list. Christopher Lloyd's Dennis character essentially gets blackmailed to become the adult proprietor of a camp run by kids. However, they come to his aide at the conclusion of a fun little comedy journey.
Judd Apatow helped write this family comedy about a summer weight loss camp for young boys . Protagonist Gerry (Aaron Schwartz) and his fellow camper friends find that the camp they expected to actually enjoy, has been turned into a boot camp of sorts by the new camp owner and fitness guru Tony Perkis Jr. (Ben Stiller). Gerry and Co. try to prevent that from happening, while also learning much about themselves and the value of friendship and self-confidence.
Sometimes it takes a film a while to draw a following. That's the case with Wet Hot American Summer . Even with a strong ensemble cast that includes Amy Poehler, Janeane Garofalo, David Hyde Pierce, Paul Rudd, Christopher Meloni, Elizabeth Banks, and Bradley Cooper in his film debut, the movie was not an initial hit with critics and audiences. Poking fun at the 1980s summer camp sex romps, this film about the shenanigans on the last full day at an early '80s summer camp eventually found success through cult status.
Writer/director Todd Graff based this film on his own experience of attending a performance arts camp in upstate New York. The film version of said summer locale is the fictional Camp Ovation, a theatre camp option for budding entertainers. These teenagers looking to lay a foundation for a potential entertainment career are a very diverse group, which adds intrigue to this underrated comedy-drama. Camp might be best known as multi-talented Anna Kendrick's film debut.
When Camp Rock aired on the Disney Channel in June 2008, nearly nine million viewed in to catch Demi Lovato and Joe Jonas sing and dance their way through a summer music camp. Lovato shines in the role of an aspiring singer who gets her shot at Camp Rock, only because her mother provides the catering for the location. Jonas, in a stretch, is the arrogant leader of the boy band Connect 3 (with his other two real-life brothers). There's plenty of Disney-appropriate drama between musical numbers to make this one of the network's most popular made-for-television movies.
From the mind of writer/director Wes Anderson. Young Sam breaks free from Camp Ivanhoe, a Khaki Scout summer camp, to be with Suzy, his pen pal and the object of his affection. Upon learning that Sam has bolted from the camp, the other campers and their leaders set out to find him. In true Anderson fashion, it's quirky and creative. Think of a more outdoor, scenic version of Rushmore, minus the overall pretentiousness. Although Jason Schwartzman is also in this movie.
One must know that perhaps the best thing about The Final Girls is that it does not take itself too seriously. Maybe because it's one of the more creative comedy slasher flicks to come out in a long time. After surviving a movie theater fire, a group of high schoolers find themselves transported into a 1980s slasher film Camp Bloodbath, which starred the late mother of the present-day character Max (Taissa Farmiga). The movie's homage to summer camp horror films of the past is a nice touch.
It doesn't really matter what nationality you are, Holy Camp! is one of the more unheralded summer camp movies released in recent years. This Spanish musical comedy, complete with subtitles, follows 17-year olds María and Susana, who have been going to Catholic summer camp La Brújula for years. Run by two nuns, Mother Bernarda and Sister Milagros, who have differing views on life, which impacts the young girls as they venture closer to adulthood.
Jeff Mezydlo has written about sports and entertainment online and for print for more than 25 years. He grew up in the far south suburbs of Chicago, 20 minutes from the Mascot Hall of Fame in Whiting, Ind. He’s also the proud father of 11-year-old Matthew, aka “Bobby Bruin,” mascot of St. Robert Bellarmine School in Chicago. You can follow Jeff at @jeffm401.