Summer Movies

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Every summer for as long as I can remember Hollywood has released at least a dozen epic blockbusters. These have been high-octane spectacles that specialize in escapism with little regard for more meaningful rewards. Some of these films have become popular classics not because they offered audiences something unique or original, but because they were fun and captured the zeitgeist. Typically, once the buzz around a film’s first release has dissipated, these summer blockbusters fade into memories and aren’t likely to be revisited every summer.

But there are movies that audiences think of as summer films. Perhaps the film came out when a viewer was at a certain age or the film just happened to replicate a certain summer experience or feeling. These films are the ones that, back in the day, were rented like clockwork when school was out and the days were hot. Fast Times At Ridgemont High (1982) became a summer movie because when else does one have the house to one’s self to pause the movie at that crucial, infamous moment? For others Friday The 13th (1980) was the movie of choice since parents wouldn’t be around to object to the gore and mutilation.

The “parent factor” wasn’t responsible for all the classic summer movies. Others like American Graffiti (1973) or Grease (1978) transported viewers to summers of their youths or to a time that seemed better suited to their tastes. Films like The Sandlot (1993) and Wet Hot American Summer (2001) accomplished something similar, but with a sense of irony to match their sentimentality. Each time the impulse is the same; too recreate or to recall those carefree summers of childhood.

There are also those films that take the childhood adventures of summer and transpose them into adult oriented narratives. These films recreate the lazy, hazy days of summer as non-stop thrill rides akin to the rollercoaster at the fair. Movies like Jaws (1975), Piranha (1978), and Humanoids From The Deep (1980) fit this bill. Instead of firecrackers and bikes audiences got nudity, boats, and gory thrills.

The notion of the summer movie is, of course, totally subjective. My own experience with summer movies and my definition of which of those movies is classic has been entirely informed by a childhood spent in video stores. In the age of streaming it is impossible for me to know what the new classics of this vaguely defined genre are. Do people still watch Easy Rider (1969) and Sleepaway Camp (1983) every July?