15 CLASSIC SUMMER-CAMP MOVIES, RANKED
Summer-camp movies have less to do with the experience of applying bug spray and learning to swim in the lake, and more to do with celebrating childhood, rebellion, groups of scrappy outsiders, and groups of like-minded people banding together to make something impossible and wonderful happen. Ahead, we rank the most memorable ones.
- •15. Ernest Goes to Camp (1987): Ernest has not aged well (and neither has the depiction of Kamp Kikakee’s founder, Chief St. Cloud), but the story of this hapless counselor who takes a pack of delinquents under his wing and ends up saving the camp from destruction by an evil industrialist is just the kind of fun that a camp movie is meant to have.
- •14. Indian Summer (1993): When good old Uncle Lou wants to relive the glory years of Camp Tamakwa (which is a real place in Ontario), he invites a group of grown campers back to revisit their youth and figure out adulthood. The plot is pretty simple and predictable, and a bit too similar to others in the same vein, but a great cast make up for it.
- •13. Space Camp (1986): Alright, this isn’t the woods-and-cabins kind of camp, but if you think about it, the rest of the conventions of the genre still apply. A bunch of underestimated kids who aren’t the best at their camp are placed in an unexpected circumstance where they have to prove that they were the best all along.
- •12. Camp Nowhere (1994): This bit of ’90s nostalgia isn’t necessarily a great movie, but it sure is a lot of fun, and a great spin on the usual concept. A bunch of teens don’t want to go off to camp, so they blackmail their no-good drama teacher into convincing their parents to pay him to take them to a made-up camp for the summer. Hilarity ensues.
- •11. Friday the 13th (1980): The rural setting, the isolation, the oversexed teens — they’re all ripe for a slasher to be dropped right in their midst. The creation of the hockey-masked villain Jason Voorhees, who terrorizes Camp Crystal Lake, led to a generation of people being petrified of being alone in the woods.
- •10. But I’m a Cheerleader (1999): Natasha Lyonne plays cheerleader Megan. Her parents send her to a gay reparative therapy camp, where she and other gay youth are forced to try to rewire their brains. Cathy Moriarty terrorizes them all, but eventually the kids rebel and, this being a camp movie, find their place in the big gay world.
- •9. Heavyweights (1995): A fitness guru, played by Ben Stiller, takes over a fat camp for boys, and drives the campers insane with his bonkers fitness regime. Of course the kids rebel, but a well-meaning counselor convinces them to fight childhood obesity. This moves up in the rankings because Judd Apatow and Paul Feig appear in small roles.
- •8. Addams Family Values (1993): Most of these movies pit the underdog camp against the snooty rich camp, but what would the underdogs do if they were stuck attending the snooty rich camp? They would burn it to the ground during a play about Thanksgiving, naturally.
- •7. Meatballs (1979): The original camp movie now seems tame thanks to all the imitators. When Camp North Star faces off against fancy-pants Camp Mohawk, you'd think North Star doesn’t have a chance. Of course they clean up in the end, all the counselors end up with a babe, and head counselor Tripper (Bill Murray) gets in one last prank.
- •6. The Parent Trap (1961 and 1998): Whether it’s the Hayley Mills Original Recipe or the Lindsay Lohan Extra-Crispy Edition of the movie, the message is the same: Camp brings kids together and saves families. Identical twin sisters are accidentally enrolled at the same summer camp and, after torturing each other, figure out that they’re sisters.
- •5. Wet Hot American Summer (2001): A parody of all the movies on this list, this ensemble comedy has counselors chasing after each other, kids running amok, and a camp that is in danger of being closed. This cult classic shows what happens when the genre is taken to its illogical extreme, and it is hysterical in all the best ways.
- •4. Camp (2003): Why deal with five long, heavy-handed seasons of Glee when you can get all of the sexual high jinks, self-acceptance feel-goodery, and production numbers in just under two hours?
- •3. Little Darlings (1980): Anyone who watched this movie when it aired on cable knows that it’s about two teenage girls in a bet about who can lose their virginity first at summer camp. Instead of being a stupid race to get naked like American Pie, this is a rather nuanced and dignified exploration of the emotions of having sex for the first time.
- •2. Moonrise Kingdom (2012): If there were ever a summer camp we would like to go to, it would be Wes Anderson’s picture-perfect Camp Ivanhoe. But life isn’t as neat for Sam and Suzy, who fell in love the previous summer and decide to run away together. It's a lovingly crafted and wonderfully ludicrous homage to young love.
- •1. Troop Beverly Hills (1989): We know, we know, they don’t even go to camp, so how can this be the best camp movie of all time? It has everything — a group of underestimated misfits, an unlikely leader, an overly sincere adversary who likes to cheat, and the renewal of traditional values through adversity.