• Classic summer movies evoke nostalgia and capture the unique atmosphere of the season in various genres.
  • Summer blockbusters have evolved over the years, shaping big-budget cinema and entertaining audiences.
  • From romcoms to horror, summer movies offer a range of experiences, tapping into the essence of the season.

The start of summer means that it’s time to return to some classic summer movies to help welcome the season. Summer at the movie theater usually means that there are plenty of big-budget blockbusters. While there are plenty of exciting upcoming movies hitting theaters this summer, including A Quiet Place: Day One and Deadpool & Wolverine, the season has inspired filmmakers in a wide variety of genres.

Romcoms are naturally suited to summer, as are coming-of-age dramas. There’s something nostalgic about long summers that seems to fit with both these genres. However, there are also horror movies, crime dramas and musicals which manage to evoke the feelings of summer. A great summer movie only needs to tap into the unique atmosphere of the season, but there are still endless possibilities to explore.


10 Movies That Redefined The Summer Blockbuster

The summer blockbuster has gone through several different phases over the years, with many movies and directors changing big-budget cinema.

15 Palm Springs (2020)

A time loop romcom with irresistible chemistry

Summer is a great season for romcoms, so it’s no coincidence that one of the best romcoms of recent years takes place in the sunshine. Unlike in Groundhog Day, the most famous time loop movie of all, Nyles gets to repeat a glorious sunny day over and over again. His nihilistic bliss is interrupted when he accidentally drags somebody else into his sci-fi predicament. As Nyles and Sarah seem to have an eternity to get to know each other, there’s plenty of time for the kind of breezy chatter that romcoms thrive on. Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti are a fine pair to spend some time with.

14 The Sandlot (1993)

The family classic beloved by baseball fans anywhere

The Sandlot

David Mickey Evans

Release Date
April 7, 1993

Marty York , Tom Guiry , Chauncey Leopardi , Marley Shelton , Patrick Renna , James Earl Jones , Brandon Quintin Adams , Mike Vitar

There are plenty of baseball movies that could count as summer must-watches, but none evoke such feelings of nostalgia for so many fans of the sport as much as The Sandlot does. The family classic follows a young boy who moves to a new neighborhood and tries desperately to connect with the local kids by taking up baseball. Endlessly quotable and undeniably charming, The Sandlot perfectly captures the joy of long childhood summers. The characters see their every move as grandiose and vital, and this only adds to their likability.

13 Thelma & Louise (1991)

A summer road trip that turns into a sun-baked nightmare

For about 15 minutes, Thelma and Louise paints the idyllic image of a summer road trip, as two best friends leave their irritating husbands behind to set out across the American west in search of a good time. Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon strike up a tender dynamic as the two friends whose bond is pushed to the limit after they kill a handsy man at a bar and decide to make a run for it. Their chase is a rejection of the world that has been handed to them by men, and the two women would rather die together than survive to be judged by a society that isn’t set up to understand them.

12 Portrait Of A Lady On Fire (2019)

A seductive sapphic romance in gorgeous surroundings

Portrait of a Lady on Fire

Céline Sciamma

Release Date
September 18, 2019

Over the course of one summer in the late 18th century, Marianne and Héloïse are left to share an island paradise isolated from the rest of society. Marianne is originally sent there to secretly paint a portrait of Héloïse so that she can be married off. She studies her throughout the day and paints her alone at night, but her obsessive watching takes on a different meaning as she opens herself up to the possibility of love. Portrait of a Lady on Fire uses music incredibly sparingly, which creates a seismic impact in the final scene, as Marianna watches Héloïse for the last time, accompanied by the Presto from “Summer” in Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons”.

11 Breaking Away (1979)

A coming-of-age classic about a young man with no direction

Dave lives in the university town of Bloomington, Indiana, but he has no plans to enroll himself. This means that the students sneer at him and his friends. Dave distracts himself from his listless life with his love of cycling, whether he’s going nowhere fast on his racing bike or idolizing the famous Italian cyclists. Dave is irresistibly charming; a kindhearted optimist who just needs some outside influence to give him a push. He and his friends luxuriate in the heat of summer as if it will never end, but Dave comes to realize that he must take his own initiative.

10 Independence Day (1996)

Independence Day

Release Date
June 24, 2016

Bill Pullman , Sela Ward , Vivica A. Fox , Jessie Usher , Charlotte Gainsbourg , Liam Hemsworth , Maika Monroe , Judd Hirsch , Brent Spiner , William Fichtner , Jeff Goldblum , Joey King

Independence Day helped redefine the summer blockbuster, and its effects hold up surprisingly well almost 30 years later. Will Smith plays a fighter pilot who finds himself on the front lines of an alien invasion. He and the rest of the cast, consisting of Bill Pullman, Jeff Goldblum and a likable roster of stars, go a long way to ensuring that Independence Day remains fun without being overly cheesy. With a good mix of sci-fi thrills and personal drama, Independence Day is primarily concerned with providing an incessantly entertaining ride. The script also gives Will Smith a good number of quips to let him flex his comedy muscles.

9 The Graduate (1967)

The quintessential movie for new college graduates

The Graduate

Mike Nichols

Release Date
December 21, 1967

Dustin Hoffman , Katharine Ross , Murray Hamilton , Anne Bancroft , William Daniels

Dustin Hoffman delivers one of his greatest comedic performances in The Graduate. He plays Benjamin Braddock, a smart college graduate who seemingly has the world at his feet, although he hesitates to take a single step. Between his parents pressuring him into graduate school and his family friend advising him to take up an uninspiring career in plastics, Benjamin instead spends his energy on having an affair with his neighbor’s mother. The Graduate is filled with memorable quotes, but its most iconic moment features Benjamin and Elaine unable to say a single word to each other, as their bus takes them away to an uncertain future.

8 Once Upon A Time In Hollywood (2019)

Tarantino’s sumptuous summer film imagines a different history of Hollywood

Quentin Tarantino’s love letter to the Golden Age of Hollywood is a stylish delight.Once Upon a Time in Hollywood‘s music, fashion and cultural references are all perfectly designed to evoke the legendary summer of 1969. Brad Pitt, Leonardo DiCaprio and Margot Robbie each get plenty of time to strut their stuff around Tarantino’s Hollywood, but there is danger lurking just beneath the surface. Originally, the movie seems concerned with the fading career of an aging movie star, but the Manson family cult rear into view, bringing the story toward an unforgettable finale.

7 Jaws (1975)

Steven Spielberg’s horror classic shows the dark side of summer


Release Date
June 18, 1975

Roy Scheider , Robert Shaw , Richard Dreyfuss , Lorraine Gary , Murray Hamilton , Carl Gottlieb

Horror fans deserve great summer movies too. Friday the 13th and Midsommar are two great examples, but Jaws remains the most unforgettable summer horror film. Steven Spielberg’s early-career masterpiece helped forge his reputation as the king of summer blockbusters, as he subverted the beautiful, sunny locale to create a piercing horror story about a creature lurking just beneath the water. Although the shark scenes are appropriately terrifying, Jaws functions better than most horror movies because of the compelling dynamic between its three main characters, who each have their own reasons for hunting the shark together.

6 Romeo + Juliet (1996)

Baz Luhrmann puts a modern spin on Shakespeare’s summer tragedy

William Shakespeare understood better than most that sometimes, long summer days are simply too hot. In Baz Luhrmann’s modernization of Romeo and Juliet, the heat is palpable and dangerous enough to make the warring Capulets and Montagues murder each other in the streets. The violence of the story is more apparent in this version compared to more traditional adaptations, but Luhrmann’s Romeo and Juliet mostly sticks to the play, even refusing to update Shakespeare’s language. This decision breathes new life into Shakespeare’s prose, and the tragedy of the two star-crossed lovers becomes fresh and vibrant once more.

5 Moonrise Kingdom (2012)

Wes Anderson corrals a brilliant ensemble cast in this tale of young love

If Fantastic Mr. Fox is the perfect fall movie, Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom is the director’s ode to youthful summers. The fairy tale romance of Sam and Suzy is adorably awkward, but they soon have to contend with a ludicrous number of adults who butt their heads in and try to put an end to their elopement. Bruce Willis, Ed Norton, Bill Murray and Tilda Swinton all have stand-out moments, and together they contribute to a risible cacophony of voices all squabbling over one another. Moonrise Kingdom displays Anderson’s trademark visual style without straying into playhouse abstraction like some of his other movies, making the story feel more relatable.

4 Point Break (1991)

Keanu Reeves and Patrick Swayze make an dazzling duo in Kathryn Bigelow’s heist thriller

Bodhi is a charismatic bank robber who uses the profits from his life of crime to travel the world in search of the ultimate surfing experience, and Johnny Utah is the FBI agent tasked with tracking him down. The two cross paths during a rollercoaster summer in California, and Johnny finds himself sucked into Bodhi’s hypnotic philosophical worldview. Point Break is one of the best heist movies ever, not just for the thrilling crimes, but for the absorbing dynamic between the two main characters. It takes a potentially silly premise and slowly convinces the audience of Bodhi’s way of life.

3 Grease (1978)

Summer Nights is just the beginning


Randal Kleiser

Release Date
July 7, 1978

John Travolta , Olivia Newton-John , Stockard Channing , Jeff Conaway , Barry Pearl , Michael Tucci

Grease starts and ends in summer. It opens with “Summer Nights,” and Danny and Sandy’s whirlwind summer vacation romance, the kind that only exists between two young lovers who know that the world is conspiring to keep them apart. After much consternation, a falling out and a brief interlude featuring an iconic car race scene, Danny and Sandy find themselves together during summer again. The second time around, their romance is more than a fling, as they have both grown and abandoned their immature fling for something more meaningful and permanent.

2 Do The Right Thing (1989)

Spike Lee views America’s racial tensions through his own unique lens

Spike Lee’s masterpiece portrays the insufferable heat of summer in a big city better than any other movie. The characters are constantly dripping with sweat as their tempers flare, and the heat ramps up the tension in a racially diverse neighborhood in Brooklyn. Do the Right Thing lays bare the sticky complexities of race relations in modern America, but it’s also a deeply human tale of passion, rage and love. Somehow, Do the Right Thing feels urgent and alive while still delivering plenty of big laughs. Giancarlo Esposito is given many of the funniest lines, and his performance is a reminder that he needs to be freed up from playing the same old villain roles.

1 Roman Holiday (1953)

Two Hollywood icons on top form in a dreamlike summer romance

It’s a cliché to see movies from a certain era and say that studios don’t make them like this anymore, but this aphorism rings true in the case of Roman Holiday. It’s rare to see a romantic comedy these days that places more emphasis on the romance than on the comedy. There are jokes in Roman Holiday, but these mostly come from the characters trying earnestly to make each other laugh in the way that lovers do. Although it has excellent script, Roman Holiday works so well because of its two stars, Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn, who seem to have a summer vacation so light and playful that it’s tempting to fall right in.

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