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Ah, summer: the least serious of the seasons. Even the words and phrases used for the waterpark months convey a deep and serious lack of concern: summer romance, summer job, summer love. Each conveys wonderful frivolity and exuberant youth. Another load-bearing cultural structure-in Hollywood, at least-is the summer box office. No theme is more appropriate for ushering in the summer season than the top five movies about summer camp.
At number five is “Dirty Dancing,” the 1987 release that vaulted out of the theaters and into the cultural lexicon. “Nobody puts Baby in the corner” might be in the running for the most romantic thing ever said onscreen. Patrick Swayze poured every last drop of his years of intense dance training into the role. Jennifer Grey brought the innocent rich girl element to this swirling love story about a teenager coming of age at a posh resort in the Catskills in 1963.
Shortly after the number-five entry on this list came out, moviegoers were treated to “Addams Family Values,” which earns a place at number four. The gags in the “Addams Family” films were always very simple and frequently telegraphed from a mile away, and they rarely rose to a level much above puns. Somehow, Raul Julia and Anjelica Huston formed such a compelling pair of lovers that they pulled it off with room to spare-so much room, in fact, that four or five other characters had space to act out various interwoven subplots of extraordinary complexity. Like the computer code that consists of mere 1s and 0s yet combines them to build what will ultimately be a hilarious cat video, “Addams Family Values” welds together its puns, sight gags, and slippery banana peels to deliver positively vicious social commentary, and it almost reinvents the genre of lighthearted summer comedies.
Every silver lining has a dark cloud, and no film is better suited to living up to that truism than “Friday the 13th.” This movie, which spawned a film and merchandise empire that still hasn’t entirely abated, was the original bone chiller. It’s a cliché now to set a horror movie at a summer camp that’s host to nothing but rowdy teenagers, but the overused trope got to be overused simply because it’s the setting for this, the most successful of slasher flicks. Just play the heart-stopping theme from this scary movie to raise the hair on the neck of any twenty- to fifty-something even today.
Immediately after the granddaddy of violent movies, “Race for Your Life, Charlie Brown” switched gears harder than a racecar. Charlie Brown has spent the last fifty years steadfastly holding up his corner of the cultural landscape. The gang from Peanuts has put its indelible stamp on Valentine’s Day, Christmas, and Halloween, so it comes as no surprise that summer-with its sun, fun, and even romance-should fall squarely within the franchise’s sights. It’s fair to say that, for a certain type of boy or girl, “Race for Your Life, Charlie Brown” practically defined summertime. The camp setting, the boat races, and the big kids from the camp across the lake combine to flawless effect. So total is the immersion a viewer feels watching this flick that most people grow to adulthood before even wondering where the kid’s parents were while they were holding what amounts to the chariot race from “Ben Hur” on water.
Finally, it might actually be illegal to write an article about movies set at summer camp without putting “Meatballs” at the top of the list. This 1979 gem starred a post-“Saturday Night Live” Bill Murray before he grew into the Oscar-winning thespian he is today. Indeed, it marked the beginning of a full decade of successful Bill Murray comedies and catapulted him along the path to a career as a beloved comedic punching bag. In “Meatballs,” his reaction shots are priceless, his energy is unmatched, and enthusiastic dancing is wildly entertaining.
Each of these films has its place in the great constellation of Hollywood stars. Each occupies a cultural turf all its own. However, each is a perfect example of a particular and rewarding genre-the summer camp movie.
write by Ladonna