As summer fades into fall, it is the perfect time to watch a classic summer film that makes one think of love, coming of age, and facing fears. There is something about the end of summer that makes one think of slowing down and enjoying simpler times, enjoying life, having a good laugh, and, of course, sometimes, it is about kicking alien butt.
Here are 15 movies made between 1953 and 1996 that are perfect at catching that summer vibe. There are many others, but these are some classic pics.
Roman Holiday (1953)
A romantic romp taking place in Rome, it tells the tale of princess Ann, played by Audrey Hepburn, who is overwhelmed by her suffocating touring schedule and takes off on a free evening after taking a sedative her doctor gave her. She is discovered asleep on a park bench by American reporter Joe Bradley, played by Gregory Peck, who takes her back to his apartment for safety only to discover she is royalty. Romance gets in the way of the exclusive interview he promised his editor.
Where the Boys Are (1960)
Not the typical 1960s summer beach comedy, this movie tells the tale of four female friends from a midwestern college who go to Florida for Spring Break. While there, they experience the ins and outs of first love and the changing sexual mores of the time. Not all of the lessons they learn are pleasant. It does a great job of mixing humor and pathos.
American Graffiti (1973)
Another study of American youth, this movie follows a group of friends on their last night together before heading to college. It is famous for its introduction of a number of up and coming actors of the time, as well as being George Lucas’ first LucasFilm production. The ensemble cast engages in drag races, following a mysterious blond in a white Thunderbird convertible, and cruising the town with stops at the local drive in. It is about love, friendship and facing adulthood.
You can almost hear the da-DUM, da-DUM of the theme song just reading the name “Jaws.” In 1975, it was THE book to read and THE movie to watch. Once viewing the movie, who can forget Robert Shaw’s gripping monologue about the USS Indianapolis or Roy Scheider as Chief Brody saying they are going to need a bigger boat after coming face to face with the killer shark?
Adapted from an award-winning Broadway musical of the same name, Grease was the word in the summer of 1978. The comic tale of a high school romance between Danny the greaser and Sandy the innocent sweetheart struck a chord and became a hit and an eternal favorite. While many people played Sandy on Broadway, once the late Olivia Newton John took the role, she was forever the face of the character. While it too deals with adolescent sexuality and first love, it does it with humor. And the music by the Bee Gees stayed on the charts for months.
National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983)
It is the movie that started it all. The ultimate family road trip gone horribly wrong is the beginning of the franchise that eventually brought into existence National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation and National Lampoon’s European Vacation. Introduced for the first time to Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo as Clark and Ellen Griswold, this comedy follows their family from one mishap to another as they travel by station wagon from Chicago to an amusement park in southern California. It also featured Christie Brinkley’s first movie role. Nothing like watching Clark flirt with Brinkley’s character using a piece of white sandwich bread.
The Goonies (1985)
A group of misfits, known as the Goonies, living on the Oregon coast find a treasure map and head off on an adventure to find pirate gold to keep their homes from going into foreclosure. During their adventure, they get mixed up with thieves who want the treasure for themselves. It becomes a comic game of cat and mouse that ends happily ever after. It introduced a number of young actors who have made a name for themselves, including Sean Astin, Josh Brolin, Corey Fledman, Ke Huy Quan and Martha Plimpton. It was conceived by Stephen Spielberg, written by Chris Columbus, and directed by Richard Donner.
Ferris Buller’s Day Off (1986)
“Life moves pretty fast,” says the title character, played by Matthew Broderick, to the fourth wall. “If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” With that statement he proceeds to take his best buddy and his girlfriend on the adventure of a lifetime in the city of Chicago. The city itself becomes part of the action, especially when Ferris decides to join a parade and lip sync “Twist and Shout” on one of the floats. It is all about Ferris experiencing life, while not getting caught by his school principal and getting put back a year for truancy.
Stand by Me (1986)
Another “buddy” film about kids coming of age after going on an adventure, it starred the late River Phoenix, Wil Wheaton, Jerry O’Connell, and Corey Feldman as four friends who go on a journey to see the dead body of a boy who had been hit by a train. It was based on a novella, “The Body,” by Stephen King, and directed by Rob Reiner. The movie was titled after the song by Ben E. King, which was also used at the theme song.
Dirty Dancing (1987)
Most famous for the line about no one putting “Baby” in the corner, and the final dance number, the movie, much like “Where the Boys Are,” deals with the changing morality and structure of the family in the early 1960s. It follows Francis “Baby” Houseman at a summer family resort in the Catskills as she faces the result of classism and sexism, and chooses to do what is right to help those considered her inferiors. It is, in the end, a timeless romance about growing up in changing times.
Weekend at Bernie’s (1989)
Using the concept of the classic farce, “Weekend at Bernie’s” is all about two young salesmen who get caught in the middle of the mob hit of their boss and they manipulate his dead body in order to have some fun, keep from being charged with this death and get the girl. It is all wacky madcap fun as the two salesmen, played by Andrew McCarthy and Johnathan Silverman, do all they can to stay alive so they can get some incriminating information to the police about their now dead boss.
Point Break (1991)
Drawing on the growing personal development wave of the 1990s, Point Break puts a self-exploration spin on a heist movie. Keanu Reeves plays young FBI Agent Johnny Utah who infiltrates a gang of surfing bank robbers led by Patrick Swayze as Bodhi. Bodhi is a Nietzsche follower, looking for the ultimate human experience by pushing the limits of existence. The interaction between the two men, as they play their game of cat-and-mouse as Utah tries to catch the gang, in the end changes Utah forever. There are a number of cheesy 90s elements, but the movie has developed a following. Those that love it say the remake is a weak second.
Jurassic Park (1993)
There is something about the scene when Alan and Ellie first see the valley of living dinosaurs that is so breathtaking that you feel as if you are there. While the book tells a tale that wraps you up in the story from page one and never lets you go, that one movie scene offers a visual that words can never capture. It is just the beginning of a series, but to many it is and always will be the best because the audience goes into the story from the point of view of Alan, who has spent a lifetime studying creatures dead for millions of years only to find them suddenly alive. Then he realizes that those who brought the creatures back to life are playing God, and that didn’t turn out so well for Dr. Frankenstein.
“As if!” Loosely based on Jane Austin’s “Emma,” the movie follows a beautiful, fashionably dressed, rich, and superficial young woman in 1990s L.A. named Cher Horowitz. She chooses to involve herself in the love lives of her friends and associates, which becomes a large mess, but everything ends up working out in the end. It has such a cult following that Alicia Silverstone recently reprised the character for Rakuten ads.
Independence Day (1996)
What happens when aliens attack the earth? You call in David Levinson and U.S Marine Captain Steven Hiller to kick booty. Played by Jeff Goldblum and Will Smith, respectively, this unlikely duo saves the day as the world suffers from the machinations of a species determined to harvest Earth’s natural resources and leave everything else dead. The movie blends sci-fi, romance, humor and drama leading to top box office results.