16 Throwback Movies That Perfectly Capture the Essence of Summer

Anne Meadows | Jul 8, 2016 Movies

When the summer sun bakes your backyard to the point where even sprinklers and Popsicles can't cool you down, the only option is to give up playing outside and head back into the delightfully air-conditioned indoors -- most likely to settle in for an afternoon in front of the TV. It's no big loss, really, because Hollywood has provided us with myriad movies famously set in or around summer -- so that we can indulge in campfires, boat rides, and baseball all from the comfort of our own couches.

True, you could head to your local multiplex to catch a recent summer blockbuster (if you're in the mood for a ton of explosions and mind-numbing CGI). But these 16 classic movies conjure up summer as we remember from our childhoods -- when we had the freedom to get caught up in low-stakes adventure, stretch the bonds of friendship, and even flirt with first love.

Put down the sunscreen and bug spray, and instead, grab some popcorn, start up your streaming service of choice (or dust off your DVDs, if you're rolling old-school), and re-watch some of these nostalgia-worthy summer movies.

 
Image via Buena Vista Pictures / blu-ray.com
  • The Sandlot

    1

    The Sandlot gave us so much. It gave us major crushes on the movie's cutie-pie baseball prodigy Benny "The Jet" (Mike Vitar). It gave us the classic line: "You're killing me, Smalls." It gave us the adorable love story (sort of?) of nerdy Squintz and hot lifeguard Wendy Peffercorn. It's an indisputable summer classic, and always will be. For-ev-er.

  • Die Hard With a Vengeance

    2

    There's just something undeniably magical about this third film of the Die Hard franchise. The bombs look like large pitchers of Kool-Aid; the weirdo villain loves riddles and Simon Says; the chemistry between the unlikely allies played by Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson is perfect buddy comedy -- and the whole thing goes down in a delightfully oh-so-'90s New York City. Yippee-ki-yay ... well, you know.

  • Camp Nowhere

    3

    Camp Nowhere was the camp experience of our adolescent daydreams: no counselors, no cleaning duty, no curfew. Just cute boys, sunshine, and an off-kilter camp leader (so that's what happened to Doc Brown after Back to the Future!). This underrated flick was the '90s answer to brat pack movies of the '80s.

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  • Dazed and Confused

    4

    The stoner movie to beat out all others, Dazed and Confused took us on a weed-fueled trip back to the summer of 1976. It helped spur the bell-bottomed jeans trend in the '90s, and had a badass classic rock soundtrack. But what we're most grateful for is its part in launching the career of a certain Mr. Matthew McConaughey. Bless you, Dazed and Confused, for this, the greatest of your gifts. 

  • Dirty Dancing

    5

    There are many summer holiday coming-of-age stories. But none of them got our hearts palpitating quite like Dirty Dancing did. Another movie set 20 years prior to its production, the nostalgia quotient in this film is high. That's probably a big part of why we love it so much -- it inhabits an imagined innocent time when summer fun was (mostly) risk free. Oh, and Johnny (Patrick Swayze). Enough said.

  • Field of Dreams

    6

    Who would have a thought that a story about a farmer who hears voices (and actually does what the voices tell him to do!) would result in such a heartwarming film? Another summer movie revolving around the all-American sport of baseball, Field of Dreams throws in some serious daddy issues to up the drama ante. Just remember, if you start hearing random whispers telling you "If you build it, they will come..." -- then it might be time to see a shrink. 

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  • Do the Right Thing

    7

    Set in Brooklyn on the "hottest day of the year," racial and cultural tensions heat up in this Spike Lee–directed classic. It's a shame to see how far we haven't come in the 27 years since this seminal film was released.

  • Independence Day

    8

    Patriotism on overload, combined with peak (meaning DAMN fine!) Will Smith, make ID4 a classic summer film. No better summer pastime than kickin' alien ass and saving the earth -- because, 'Merica!

  • Now and Then

    9

    Now and Then is a sugary-sweet summer confection, with an extra ounce of #girlpower! whipped in. The girls had being BFFs down-pat, long before #squadgoals was even a thing.

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  • I Know What You Did Last Summer

    10

    Based on the urban legend of the man with the hook, I Know What You Did Last Summer is a screamfest that revolves around a shameful secret shared by a group of teen friends. While it wasn't the most sophisticated slasher flick by any means, the cast of '90s superstars and the numerous jump-scares make it a fun summer romp sure to give you shivers.

  • Jaws

    11

    If you have an irrational fear of open bodies of water, chances are a childhood viewing of Jaws is to blame. The first half of the movie suggests a shark without really showing you a full glimpse. Just like like a sunburn -- you don't really see it until it's too late. 

  • Friday the 13th

    12

    Sure, Camp Crystal Lake sounds like the perfect summer getaway. But this camp has a curse -- and something pretty foul polluting its lake water. Why risk it -- let's skip camping and stay in to watch movies.

    And, hey, remember when Kevin Bacon wasn't yet famous? 

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  • Addams Family Values

    13

    Wasn't little Wednesday Addams a delight? Her total camp takedown after being forced to play nice at Camp Chippewa was pure goth perfection. I guess if you can't avoid going to camp, you can always burn it down (in your dreams).

  • My Girl

    14

    Hypochondriac tomboy Vada from My Girl embodied all our most embarrassing pre-adolescent anxieties: getting our periods for the first time, our breasts growing at an uneven pace, learning our parents have sex drives, awkward first kisses, and even (spoiler alert!) dealing with loss. This cute tearjearker hits all the classic hallmarks of a great summer movie, and although Macaulay Culkin is in it, he doesn't do the Home Alone scream once.  

  • Stand by Me

    15

    Stand by Me is another cult-favorite movie with a rather bizarre-o premise: A group of young friends sets out on a hike in an attempt to find the corpse of a missing boy. On the way, of course, they find adventure and danger (in the forms of a junkyard dog and a gang of older boys). If nothing else, this classic is worth a rewatch for seeing the young actors (including River Phoenix) before they hit major stardom. 

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  • Wet Hot American Summer

    16

    Wet Hot American Summer is a farcical send-up of the nostalgia-overloaded camp films (some of which are included in this list) that dominated Hollywood in the '80s. With its all-star cast and sarcastic bottom line, no summer movie marathon is complete without it.

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