With Memorial Day here and COVID numbers subsiding, I have begun to reminisce about my days at Summer Camp. Summer Camp movies have some pretty well known tropes. The majority of the genre is filled with low budget movies primarily marketed towards horny teens with just as much gore as sexual content. As someone who spent all of his formative summers at different camps, I believe my experience allows me to make the definitive Summer Camp movies list.
After doing some research, it became increasingly clear that most Summer Camp movies are…garbage. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying a B-movie here and there, but so much of this genre is just atrocious. Therefore I’ve decided to provide a list of honorable mentions along with my definitive Top 5 Summer Camp movies. The honorable mentions either partially devote their story to summer camp, or at the very least provide the appropriate vibe.
The Parent Trap (1961/1998): Probably one of the first films associated with summer camp. Identical twins learn of each other’s existence by sharing a cabin. As only part of this film takes place at camp, it has fallen outside of our top 5 rankings.
Addams Family Values: The camp scenes in this quirky 90’s flick had it land in my list of best Thanksgiving movies last fall. A great sequel for sure, but we don’t get quite enough time at summer camp for this one to crack into our top 5.
Dirty Dancing: More of a family get away than a traditional summer camp, but Dirty Dancing certainly contains some of the Summer Camp movie staples. Namely, horny teenagers enjoying some freedom they wouldn’t get back home. Adult situations galore.
Troop Beverly Hills: A brief time spent camping during the scout jamboree isn’t enough for this to count as a summer camp movie. It also is a bit more focused on the parents drama than anything the kids are dealing with. Whether you consider this a camp movie or not, it certainly delivers the vibes and similar doses of nostalgia.
Indian Summer: Speaking of nostalgia, Indian Summer contains it in multitudes. A group of adults return to their summer camp years later to say goodbye as the camp closes. An incredible cast sticks to the summer camp basics and delivers a pretty good camp movie. But, it’s all about adults. I’m ruling it out of the top 5.
Top 5 Summer Camp Movies
Doc Brown is blackmailed by a group of teens who are sick and tired of their themed summer camps and decide to start their own. No counselors, CITs, or adult supervision; a kid’s dream. When a parent’s day is planned, they have to put together Fat Camp, Computer Camp, Theater Camp, and Military Camp presentations to keep the ruse going. This one isn’t spectacular by any measure, but will certainly scratch that summer camp itch.
The premier camp slasher movie. It birthed an entire genre and deserves to make this list solely for its influence. The original film sticks to the camp theme tightly, as counselors are hunted one at a time by the bloodthirsty camper from the lake. Teenage horniness abounds as a central theme of this movie is punishing the sexual immorality of counselors, like the ones who were responsible for the death of a young Jason by being more concerned with flirting and fooling around instead of keeping their campers safe.
Disney’s attempt to recreate the magic of our top ranking movie came awfully close to matching it. With developed Counselors, hilarious campers, and a deranged Ben Stiller, Heavyweights is a delight. With a little taste of the anarchy from Camp Nowhere as well, this one is a classic. Young Kenan Thompson and Goldberg from Mighty Ducks is enough to make 90s kids’ hearts flutter.
This movie is absurd and I have no idea how it was made. The cast contains more than a dozen all stars, some of whom wouldn’t break through for years. The story is patently absurd, but the Counselors and CITs come together to make the last day of camp as memorable as the first. A truly bonkers parody of our top ranking movie. If you like it, be sure to watch the prequel on Netflix made 20 years later with all the same actors playing the same teenage characters.
Bill Murray plays the greatest camp counselor one could imagine. He takes the loner camper under his wing and watches him blossom through the summer. He lets the CITs get into appropriate trouble, sometimes encouraging their teenage antics. He delivers the inspiring speech that leads the camp to victory over the rich kid camp from across the river. This may not be the best movie mentioned here, but it unquestionably covers every Summer Camp movie trope perfectly. And hey, it’s Bill Murray.