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Most Memorable Summer Camp Movies

Grab your sunscreen and pick a bunk because these films will make you feel like a kid again.

Allison Bowsher
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'Wet Hot American Summer' and 'Addams Family Values'

Focus Features/Paramount Pictures

Oh, the lazy, hazy days of summer. School's out, temperatures are high, popsicles are the best cool treat, and, for some, camp is home for a few weeks. According to movies, a summer camp is a place where first kisses take place, long-lost siblings are reunited, the underdog prevails, and things can get a little scary. OK, a lot scary. Camp is apparently a place where really good things and really bad things happen.

Whether you spent your summers sharing a cabin with a group of kids or use films to live vicariously through daily organized activities and meals in the mess hall, there seems to be a camp film for everyone: sports camps for the athletically inclined, scout camps for those looking for leadership skills, and plenty of camps run by teenagers who probably aren't nearly as well trained or interested in their job as they should be. There's even a camp for adults who, in the 1960s, seemed to get way more vacation time than adults do today. Is it just us or were the Catskills a magical place where people fell in love and carried watermelons in between hula hoop lessons?

To make our list of most memorable camp films, we looked at movies that made us laugh, made us cry, made us miss camp, made us happy we never went to camp and made us develop a fear of vintage hockey masks. Here, Metacritic highlights the top 10 camp movies, ranked by Metascore.


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'Moonrise Kingdom'

Courtesy of Universal Pictures

Moonrise Kingdom

Metascore: 84
Best for: Fans of charming art films with an impressive cast
Where to watch:

, Google Play, , iTunes,
Runtime: 94 minutes

Writer and director Wes Anderson rounded up frequent collaborators includingf Bill MurrayFrances McDormandJason SchwartzmanEdward Norton, and Tilda Swinton for 2012's Moonrise Kingdom. Set in New England in 1965, the dramedy follows 12-year-olds Sam (Jared Gilman), an orphan boy, and Suzy (Kara Hayward), a local girl who are pen pals that make plans to run away together, with Sam escaping from his scout camp and Suzy sneaking out of her parent's house. The pair's actions set off a manhunt in their small island town, while the children experience their first love while on the run. Earning both an Oscar and Golden Globe nomination, Moonrise Kingdom features the overly saturated color palette and frank performances that are Anderson's calling cards.

"Moonrise Kingdom is fun: a gorgeously shot, ingeniously crafted, über-Andersonian bonbon that, even in its most irritatingly whimsical moments, remains an effective deliverer of cinematic pleasure." — Dana Stevens, Slate


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Blake Lively in 'The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants'

Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants

Metascore: 66
Best for: YA fans who want to see the power of friendship celebrated on screen
Where to watch:

, Google Play, , iTunes,
Runtime: 119 minutes

Based on the successful YA novel of the same title by Ann Brashares, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants follows four best friends as they embark on a summer apart while using a pair of jeans that fits each of them to stay connected. The friends take turns wearing the jeans before sending the pants and a letter to the next friend. When the jeans reach Bridget Vreeland (Blake Lively), she is busy at soccer camp, where she has her sights set on a romantic relationship with Coach Eric (Mike Vogel). The second film in the Traveling Pants series also includes another type of summer camp, this time for Carmen (America Ferrera), who attends an acting workshop in Vermont and is encouraged to step out from behind the curtain and onto the stage.

"The four young stars are natural in their portrayal of teens with genuine issues, and, as real life goes, their endings leave the potential, though not a guarantee, of a happily ever after." — Ellen A. Kim, Seattle Post-Intelligencer


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'Dirty Dancing'

Courtesy of Lionsgate

Dirty Dancing

Metascore: 65
Best for: Dance fans who like films with iconic lines
Where to watch:

, fuboTVGoogle Play, iTunes,
Runtime: 
100 minutes

While most people think of kids when discussing summer camp, there are some adults who continue to celebrate the joys of organized activities in the great outdoors during July and August. Set in 1963, Dirty Dancing uses a resort in the Catskills as its backdrop for a rich college girl (Jennifer Grey) to fall in love with the camp's dance instructor (Patrick Swayze) from the wrong side of the tracks. Between the pair's dance practices and secret meetups, there are plenty of scenes of camp events for the adults, including wig demonstrations, bunny hop competitions, and rehearsals for the annual year-end talent show. The campers really do look like they're having the time of their lives.

"The dancing itself, especially the dirty dancing, choreographed by Kenny Ortega, looks very contemporary, or, at least, as contemporary as Saturday Night Fever, but it has a drive and a pulse that give the film real excitement." — Vincent Canby, The New York Times


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'The Parent Trap' (1998)

Courtesy of Disney

The Parent Trap

Metascore: 64
Best for: Fans of feel-good family flicks with lots of laughs and heart
Where to watch:

, , Google Play, iTunes,
Runtime: 
127 minutes

Most family films are made with so much sugary sappiness that it can be difficult for adults to enjoy them alongside their kids, but the 1998 remake of the (also very good) Parent Trap that starred Hayley Mills has the same smart dialogue and excellent acting from its young star to give it a wide audience. In the more recent film, Lindsay Lohan pulls double duty as a set of twins who are separated at birth and meet during summer camp. The girls concoct a plan to reunite their parents, this time played by Natasha Richardson and Dennis Quaid, before their father remarries. The Nancy Meyers-directed film turned a then 11-year-old Lohan into a film star and earned a loyal audience that still has a soft spot for the flick.

"An engaging, family-oriented romantic comedy that should appeal as much to fans of the original movie as to viewers unfamiliar with the 1961 Hayley Mills version." — Jean Oppenheimer, Dallas Observer


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'Addams Family Values'

Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

Addams Family Values

Metascore: 61
Best for: Fans of family films with a lot of edge and dark humor
Where to watch:

, Google Play, iTunes,
Runtime:
94 minutes

What do you do with kids who try to kill their baby brother? Send them to summer camp, of course. That's the tactic used by Morticia (Anjelica Huston) and Gomez Addams (Raul Julia), placing their very morbid children Pugsley (Jimmy Workman) and Wednesday (Christina Ricci) in the very sunny Camp Chippewa, run by the eternally bubbly Gary (Peter MacNicol) and Becky Granger (Christine Baranski). The siblings find some fellow misfits at the camp, including one played by a young David Krumholtz who becomes smitten with Wednesday, and create their own macabre version of camp spirit.

"It's the kind of wickedly delicious comedy one can savor without adding the proviso of guilty pleasure." — Leonard Klady, Variety


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Meatballs

Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

Meatballs

Metascore: 60
Best for: Fans of crude comedy bits and comedic legends on screen
Where to watch:

, Google Play, iTunes, Tubi,
Runtime: 94 minutes

A heartfelt film disguised as a crude comedy, Meatballs earned its place on our list and in film history as two major firsts: The 1979 film marks the first time Saturday Night Live alum Bill Murray landed a starring role in a film, and Meatballs was the directorial debut for Ivan Reitman. Filmed in Reitman's home country of Canada, the funny and touching coming-of-age movie about a camp leader with little regard for rules and lots of respect for fun (played by Murray) marked the first of many times Murray and Reitman would work together (Stripes andGhostbusters followed). The successful film, which earned a Golden Reel Award thanks to its big numbers at the box office in Canada and the U.S., inspired several sequels.  

"As the seniors boys' counselor, an easygoing role model and spontaneous comic genius, Bill Murray of Saturday Night Live makes a deceptively sensational debut as a film comedy star." — Gary Arnold, The Washington Post


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'The Final Girls'

Courtesy of Stage 6 Films

The Final Girls

Metascore: 59
Best for: Movie fans who aren't quite ready for a full-fledged horror and need some comedy and heart to soften their viewing experience
Where to watch:

, Google Play, iTunes,
Runtime: 88 minutes

The Final Girls turns the horror movie trope on its head while still paying homage to the genre. The comedy follows Max (Taissa Farmiga) and her friends as they attend a screening of Camp Bloodbath, a slasher film that stars Max's late mother (played by Malin Akerman). When the theater is set on fire, the group is transported into the film, which takes place at a summer camp. Using their knowledge of the film and the unofficial rules of slasher flicks, the group tries to save Max's mom and survive until the final credits.

"A playful deconstruction of the slasher film that ultimately packs a surprisingly affecting punch." — Michael Rechtshaffen, Los Angeles Times


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'Heavyweights'

Courtesy of Disney

Heavyweights

Metascore: 42
Best for: Fans of movies with underdogs that persevere
Where to watch:

, , Google Play, iTunes,
Runtime: 
100 minutes

Heavyweights wasn't a box office success when it was released and it hasn't aged particularly well, but the 1995 film about a camp for overweight kids earns a spot on our list for its impressive cast and eventual cult following. The first film written by  Judd Apatow (along with Steven Brill), Heavyweights stars Ben Stiller as Tony, a fitness-obsessed entrepreneur who buys Camp Hope from Alice and Harvey Bushkin, a couple played by Stiller's real-life parents and comedy legends Anne Meara and Jerry Stiller. Tony plans to turn the camp from a haven for overweight kids into a grueling fat loss retreat, with the campers eventually banding together and fighting back. Heavyweights' A-list cast is rounded out by Paul FeigJeffrey Tambor, and future Saturday Night Live star Kenan Thompson.

"Watching Heavyweights isn't as bad as either war or fat camp, but its few bits of truly comic dialogue (courtesy of co-writers Brill and Judd Apatow) and inspired acting aren't enough to save the film from its syrupy and predictable theme." — Alison Macor, The Austin Chronicle


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'Wet Hot American Summer'

Courtesy of Focus Features

Wet Hot American Summer

Metascore: 42
Best for: Fans of irreverent comedies and all-star casts
Where to watch:

, Google Play, iTunes,
Runtime: 
97 minutes

It's tough to find a movie with a more impressive lineup of comedic legends than the ridiculously outrageous Wet Hot American Summer. Starring Bradley CooperPaul RuddAmy PoehlerMolly ShannonJaneane GarofaloDavid Hyde PierceElizabeth BanksChristopher Meloni, and many more, the 2001 comedy about a group of camp counselors on the last day of camp is silly with a capital S. Though it received only a limited theatrical release and critics mostly didn't enjoy its sense of humor (see its Metascore), Wet Hot American Summer became a cult classic through movie rentals. Netflix was able to reunite most of the cast for the much more highly-rated 2015 prequel and 2017 sequel series.

"Harmless enough, and its team of actors so frisky and enthusiastic that it manages to deliver a modicum of laughs despite itself" — Edward Guthmann, San Francisco Chronicle


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'Friday the 13th'

Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

Friday The 13th

Metascore: 22
Best for: Horror fans who want to see the original film that is responsible for decades of people fearing hockey masks
Where to watch:

, Google Play, iTunes, , Pluto TV,
Runtime: 
95 minutes

The indie slasher about a group of counselors being brutally killed one by one while trying to fix up an abandoned camp introduced the world to the terrifying Jason Voorhees (Ari Lehman) and the power of a killer theme song. It's safe to say that critics were not fans of Friday the 13th when it first landed in theaters back in 1980. Although mostly panned by reviewers (the Chicago Tribune gave the film a zero), the horror flick had an impressive box office run and kickstarted one of the most successful movie series of all time. It also likely made kids everywhere equal parts terrified of old-school hockey masks and sleep-away camp. The film was remade in 2009 with only slightly less scary reviews.

"It's a formula with no pretensions." — Jeremiah Kipp, Slant