I’m sending my oldest daughter to sleepover camp for the very first time this summer. I probably should be kind of an emotional wreck, but mostly I’m just ridiculously excited for her. I spent 11 summers at sleepover camp in Wisconsin and I have spent a lifetime living vicariously through a copious amount of summer camp movies.
And because I have seen so many of these movies—multiple times—my choices may surprise you. I tried to keep the really embarrassing ones off of the list, like Ernest Goes to Camp and The Lindsay Lohan version of The Parent Trap and, um, Camp Rock (I KNOW). And I tried to keep the list free of movies that are only kind of, sort of, maybe “camp” movies, like The Great Outdoors (which really is camping, not camp), and Dirty Dancing, which really is just summer in the Catskills.
So, behold, here are The Nine Best Summer Camp Movies Of All Time, in no particular order.
This 1979 cult classic is Bill Murray at his best, you guys. There’s nothing remotely un-obvious about this camp movie—romances, comic hijinks, canoe trips, swimming, the unathletic outcast, camp against camp competition. And yet. It’s just…hilariously perfect. Bonus: Bill Murray dancing.
2. Space Camp
I know Space Camp doesn’t exactly have the same summer camp feel as the rest of the movies on this list, but as a kid, after seeing this movie—about a group of kids at Space Camp (including a very young Joaquin Phoenix back when he was still Leaf) who accidentally get sent into, well, actual space—I’m still, at age 34, upset that my parents never let me go.
3. Friday the 13th
There were countless sequels that chronicled the story of Pamela Voorhees and her son Jason, but there was nothing more terrifying (and a little bit hilarious) than the original. It was the first time summer camp was seen as something more than budding romances, night swimming, and S’mores eating. “You’re doomed. You’re all doomed!!”
4. Poison Ivy
I’m almost 100% sure that Poison Ivy was a made-for-TV adventure that only my siblings and I ever actually watched, but it didn’t make me love it any less. I mean, in the 80s, was there anything better than Michael J. Fox as camp counselor and Nancy McKeon as camp nurse? I don’t think so. Also, my brother and I *still* use the ”Timmy Mezzy’s swimming the lake!” line. A lot.
5. Wet Hot American Summer
After spending 11 summers in the 1980s and 1990s at a Jewish summer camp, this one just really hit home for me. So, maybe only the Jews who watched this movie picked up on the hilarious lines like “I love it that sometimes for no reason you’re late for shul.” and the camper named David Ben Gurion, but everyone else who ever went to camp or who was ever a fan of Molly Shannon, Paul Rudd, Bradley Cooper, Amy Poehler, Christopher Meloni (and about 25 other mostly-known celebrities) could totally appreciate this comedy too.
6. Indian Summer
Seven ex-campers including Diane Lane, Elizabeth Perkins and Bill Paxton, now in their 20s, return to their old Canadian camp before the director closes up shop for good. This one is just a Big Chill-like feel-good film, including new romances, old secrets, and unexpected surprises.
7. Little Darlings
It all started with a bet. Two girls, two virginities up for grabs. Tatum O’Neal’s Ferris is after a camp counselor and Kristy McNichol’s tough Angel is after a fellow camper, played by a ridiculously young Matt Dillon. Who wins? It’s a mystery!
8. The Parent Trap—the 1961 version
Identical twins, both played perfectly by Hayley Mills, meet at summer camp and immediately become fierce rivals. That is, of course, until they realize that they are actually twin sisters. They spend the summer hatching a plan to switch places upon their return home in order to reunite their estranged parents. Expect many, many mishaps.
9. Camp Cucamonga
Um. Need I say more than Candace Cameron, Jaleel White, Danica McKellar, Chad Allen, and Josh Saviano RAPPING in the 90s? No. I think I do not.