March 28, 2023


We Bring Good Things to Life

Our Top 10 classic summer movie picks to beat the heat

Summer is a special season for film, and not just because its when studios trot out their loudest, most expensive fare. Filmmakers look to summer for its effects on friendships, the stories of youngsters coming of age and the ageless romances that blossom with a beach in the background. Whether it’s the burning passions to match the temps, the celebrations of freedom or the inherent comedy and horror of vacations, summer stories beg to be told.

If you’ve been looking to get reacquainted with the summer you’re missing by safely staying home as much as possible, Sentinel staffers have offered up 10 classic movies to help you remember the good times.

Thelma & Louise (1991)

“Thelma & Louise,” starring Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon, molded its own genre, a hybrid chick flick/buddy film/road movie with a pinch of scenic travelogue whilst on the lam back in 1991. The likeable, down-home title characters did bad things, encountered bad people (including then-unknown Brad Pitt), made bad choices. Yet, you might say “Good for them!” following its did-that-just-happen iconic ending.

— Dewayne Bevil

Dirty Dancing (1987)

The 1980s was the pinnacle decade for the teen movie. You had “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” “The Breakfast Club,” “Some Kind of Wonderful,” “Say Anything” and “Pretty in Pink.” All those films deliver nostalgia with a vengeance and should this romantic dance movie be on television when I pass by, you can be sure I’m camped out for the duration. “Dirty Dancing,” released on Aug. 21, 1987, earned more than $214 million worldwide. It brought us one of the most iconic dance scenes in all of filmdom from stars Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze (who hasn’t tried that water lift?) and one of the most often quoted movie lines with “Nobody puts Baby in a corner.”

The plot: Baby (Grey) is a teenager that is disappointed when her summer lands her at a sleepy resort in the Catskills in 1963 with her parents and sister. Her luck changes when, through a series of events, she becomes the new dance partner of Johnny (Swayze), the resort’s dance instructor. While practicing their routines, the two fall in love. Baby’s father finds out and forbids her from seeing Johnny, but she’s determined to make her own choices and decides to screw up her courage (in a move that appealed to my rebellious high school spirit) to help him perform the last big dance of the summer. Putting it into a dance metaphor, you could say she has learned that being an adult is knowing when to lead and knowing when to follow. Also, fantastic music in this film — “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life” won an Oscar for Best Music, Original Song. I might be lip synching to Mickey & Sylvia’s “Love is Strange” right now while Alexa shuffles through the soundtrack. Baby’s endearing awkwardness gave teenage me the hope that I, too, could learn to dance. Alas, I can’t dance any better now than I could then, but that doesn’t matter; I’m working remotely and Alexa won’t tell.

— Cassie Armstrong

Stand by Me (1986)

In Stephen King’s morbid take on the traditional coming-of-age narrative, a writer learns his childhood friend has suddenly died and flashes back to the Labor Day weekend when they and their two friends set out on a trek to see their first dead body. Important topics will be tackled (such as cherry-flavored Pez being the best food of all time), threats will be overcome, a story about a lot of vomit will be told and mortality will be reckoned with.

Rob Reiner directs a young all-star cast before most of them achieved stardom, including Wil Wheaton, Corey Feldman, Kiefer Sutherland and Jerry O’Connell. But probably the greatest confluence of tragedy resides in River Phoenix who plays the 12-year-old version of the writer’s friend who died. This would be one of the mere handful of roles from the promising actor before he died himself at age 23.

— Trevor Fraser

Beaches (1988)

The 1988 movie “Beaches” isn’t full of eye-candy lifeguards and sunbathers, it won’t give you those perfect moments of romance next to the ocean, and it most definitely doesn’t have the thrill and suspense of a shark attack looming over your head.

What it will provide is something deeper. “Beaches” speaks of the mystery of fate and how the life-long friendships and bonds we form can find us at the beach like it did for CC Bloom (Bette Midler), an aspiring singer who meets Hillary (Barbara Hershey) as a kid on the Venice boardwalk. If you’re like me, get ready to cry when “The Wind Beneath My Wings” ballad comes on.

— Amanda Rabines

The Sandlot (1993)

This charming coming-of-age story chronicles a group of kids playing baseball during the summer of 1962 and the adventures they go on together. Think “The Wonder Years,” but a movie about kids who played baseball — some better than others. It features lots of jokes and relatable moments that resonate with both nostalgic adults and their kids seeing it for the first time.

It was released April 7, 1993, but it’s really a summer film in every sense.

— Iliana Limón Romero

National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983)

I’m a Christmas Vacation diehard, so during the summer I resort to the classic Chevy Chase shenanigans seen in the original “National Lampoon’s Vacation.” Will Clark rise up to be the great dad he aims to be? Or will he get sidetracked with pretty girls and wayward impulses on the way to Walley World? It’s a hilarious adventure, and I never tire of this type of comedy. Chevy Chase is a genre entirely of his own.

— Patrick Connolly

Wet Hot American Summer (2001)

“Wet Hot American Summer” is the quintessential summertime movie. It takes place at a camp (Camp Firewood, to be exact), focusing on the lives of the counselors, campers and other workers. It has an all-star cast, featuring the likes of Bradley Cooper, Elizabeth Banks and Paul Rudd. The spoof movie also features moments of summer romance, a talent show and a piece of NASA’s Skylab hurtling toward the camp. Plus, the word summer is in the title. Bonus: If you can’t get enough of the movie, go to Netflix to check out two eight-episode, limited series — “Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp” and “Wet Hot American Summer: Ten Years Later.” Both reunite the gang for more summer shenanigans.

— Kathleen Christiansen

Meatballs (1979)

Are you ready for the summer…?

Always. It’s why I live in Florida. But this one brings me back to what makes summer so exceptional when the rest of the year is parents, school, life at home.

“Meatballs” is a time capsule – from the summer-of-‘78 fashion to the way it captures the essence of what sleep-away camp was for kids of that era: that first taste of true independence. No phones. No connection to home. A whole different set of friends. Scary perhaps, but also exhilarating. Empowering. Kids tasted freedom. Teens came of age. And there amid all the hijinx is young Bill Murray — still a newbie on ’Saturday Night Live’ at the time — as brilliant and crazy and charming as ever, leader of this ragtag pack of CITs (counselors-in-training). There’s innocence, romance, drama, fun characters and a whole lotta silly. It’s not high art but hey, “it just doesn’t matter!” 1/4 ud83d 1/4 ude0a

— Amy Drew Thompson

Camp (2003)

For anyone who ever felt like they didn’t quite fit in — or who tried to poison a rival diva to steal a leading role — “Camp” is an oddly endearing look at a bunch of artsy misfits at a theater-based summer camp. Among the cast: double Tony-nominee Robin de Jesus, “The Voice” star Sasha Allen and Oscar-nominee Anna Kendrick in her first movie role. But it’s not the stars who make the movie a cult favorite; rather, it’s the encapsulation of everything that’s so awful — and so wonderful — about being a high-school theater geek.

— Matthew J. Palm

Jaws (1975)

A 26-year-old director, looking for his sophomore silver screen project, takes a script based on a simple paperback about a man-eating shark and gives the world a cinematic epic that added a new term to the common lexicon: summer blockbuster. What else is there to say about “Jaws”? Books have been written and updated with major anniversaries about its making and its impact on film. So what more can one little blurb do to convince movie fans to devote two hours and four minutes of their summer to this incredible, indelible piece of Americana?

Nothing, really, except to remind you that every element of this masterpiece is worth watching on its own. Dive into it for the performances that capture each dynamic relationship among the leads and supporting cast. Dive into it for a script that builds tension, character and humor with almost every other line. (“Haha — They’re all gonna die.”) Dive into it for the unforgettable cinematography that turned idyllic Martha’s Vineyard into a place of nightmares. Dive into it just to relive John Williams’ Oscar-winning score.

The summer heat calls out for a trip to the beach. Give the summer the respect it deserves by tuning out the rest of your cares and returning to your friends on Amity Island. Amity, as you know, means friendship.

— Trevor Fraser


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