16 Superb Summer-Related Flicks

After a rather chilly May, a heat wave has been hitting Minnesota in the month of June.

It has been hot here. Maybe not reaching the temperatures that our neighbors in the southern states experience, but up north, anything above 80F feels like a scorcher. 

The warm weather certainly makes it feel truly like summer, though, and plenty of fine films have been set during the hottest season. This is a list including some of my favorite movies set between spring and fall.

500 Days of Summer (2009)


This indie romcom offers viewers a fascinating look at the ins and outs of a relationship, as well as the many emotions that come with. Of course the Summer in the title is actually one of the main characters, but this flick has a real bright, vibrant atmosphere during many sequences to parallel periods of the relationship. 

The feeling one gets from those segments is the season of summer. With a fantastic script as well as two great performances from Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel, “500 Days of Summer” is a great watch during those warm months.

A League of Their Own (1992)


America’s pastime comes to the screen with a full ensemble cast in “A League of Their Own,” and it’s a really enjoyable watch. I’m not a fan of baseball (but go Twins anyways), but even I get caught up in the Peaches’ campaign for a title in this movie.

Baseball is of course a staple of the summer months and this film captures that gameday atmosphere, while also featuring a great array of characters to follow for those who are less interested in the sport. The all star cast, humorous script, some good emotional moments and the inspiring story of these women makes this a winner.

Call Me By Your Name (2017)


The problematic claims made against Armie Hammer have taken some of the luster off of my favorite movie of 2017. Still, the film itself is a masterful work of art, with a moving story and superb performances.

It’s placement on this list is from the fact that the film takes place during the summer of 1983. The season is well represented in the setting, as the characters spend days and nights in gorgeous areas of rural Italy.

There’s a free-spirit atmosphere incorporated as well, something that’s appropriate for the season of summer. It fits well with the main relationship featured.

Dirty Dancing (1987)


This is another romance film set during a summer vacation and it captures that free-spirit, getaway theme, too. There’s a feeling of breaking free in “Dirty Dancing,” exploring how forms of expression can bring out who a person really is.

Additionally, the film boasts solid performances from Jennifer Grey, Patrick Swayze and Jerry Orbach. What really steals the show, though, is the music. The soundtrack is exceptionally well incorporated in this picture and it makes the whole thing really work.

Do the Right Thing (1989)


A hot summer day can lead to frustration, and few movies portray such a boiling point like “Do the Right Thing.” Right from the start there’s an underlying tension in this neighborhood, with many of these characters having strong personalities that often clash in the Brooklyn heat wave.

Director and writer Spike Lee really showed off his abilities in this picture. There’s such a wide array of memorable characters and the charged script keeps an audience engaged through the various interactions shown. 

Independence Day (1996)


This blockbuster is more than 20 years old but it’s still a total blast to watch. Yes it has a good share of cheesy moments and some of the characters feel stereotypical, but the execution is on point in a lot of ways.

Will Smith, Bill Pullman and Jeff Goldblum are solid in the lead roles, with Smith especially making things work with his charisma. Those performers and the rest of the cast come together to bring memorable characters and quotable lines to life.

Plus, all of that is mixed in with great action from Director Roland Emmerich and his crew. The movie is of course set during summer and it’s hard to pass up an opportunity to watch this large-scale, fun flick when the Fourth of July rolls around. Watching the characters work together and succeed just feels good to cheer for.

Jaws (1975)


A young director with a vision, the right cast, the right composer and even the right problems came together for a truly great cinematic experience. Steven Spielberg’s big scale movie magic shines through , as do the lead performances from Roy Scheider and Richard Dreyfuss.

What really steals the show, though, are three things. One, the great, grizzled portrayal of Quint by Robert Shaw. Two, the phenomenal, memorable music by John Williams. Third, the shark itself, or more importantly, how it was featured in the movie with a steady build-up of screen time. Its thrills and engaging characters make it a compelling watch. 

Little Miss Sunshine (2006)


This indie film deserved all of the praise it received, including its two Academy Award wins. Themes of parenting and family relationships are nicely brought to the screen with a script by Michael Arndt that was both comedic and compassionate.

The film is of course benefited by its cast, with major standouts in Abigail Breslin, Steve Carell and Alan Arkin. Watching this family make a memorable summer road trip is incredibly charming.

Magic Mike (2012)


When “Magic Mike” was first promoted in trailers it seemed like it was going to simply be a raunchy comedy with maybe some romance thrown in. That’s what the sequel ended up being.

The 2012 film, though, helmed by Oscar-winning director Steven Soderbergh, is a compelling character study with humor, romance and drama all mixed in nicely together. Set during the hot summer days in Tampa, “Magic Mike” follows the titular character who’s working as a stripper to get enough money so he can start his own furniture business.

The humor is clever, the emotions are relatable and the drama that comes up is engaging. The film is also benefited from a strong performance from Channing Tatum and great work by Matthew McConaughey. The latter won an Independent Spirit Award for his performance, as well as accolades from several critic organizations.

Midsommar (2019)


Director Ari Aster had quite the job in making a worthy follow-up to his freshman horror effort, “Hereditary.” While “Midsommar” didn’t reach that movie’s quality, it was still a really solid sophomore effort.

As the name implies, “Midsommar” takes place in the midst of a midsummer festival. Aster, who also wrote the script, created an intriguing horror film, with an eerie atmosphere and a plethora of disturbing, weird moments.

As the creepy cult nature begins to increase, so does the tension. The fact that the sun always seems to be out adds to the uncanny feeling, so it takes advantage of the fact that it’s set during summer, too. The subtext of a relationship breakup also contributes to the film’s interest.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019)


The climax of “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” is during early August, when the Manson Family murders took place. The summer atmosphere extends throughout the whole feature, though.

The bright sun over Hollywood is almost always incorporated as the characters interact with Quentin Tarantino’s memorable dialogue. When the sun isn’t shining in the film, there’s the night scenes where characters are surrounded by neon lights and the summer air.

The seasonal setting gives the film a vibrancy that matches a golden time in Hollywood. The movie is benefited by Tarantino’s superb writing and direction as well as award caliber acting from Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio.

The film is well rounded out by a supporting cast that includes Margot Robbie, Timothy Olyphant, Bruce Dern and Al Pacino, as well as a strong visual identity thanks to cinematographer Robert Richardson.

Palm Springs (2020)

Palm Springs — Still 1

I’m not sure if it was stated in “Palm Springs” that it was summer. However, I worked in hotels for four years during high school and college, so I know damn well that most weddings are in the summer.

A wedding is what brings the characters together in “Palm Springs,” but it’s not the main focus. The central point of this film is a time loop for the two protagonists, Nyles (Andy Samberg) and Sarah (Cristin Milioti).

The loop concept has always been something I’ve appreciated, from “Groundhog Day,” to “Edge of Tomorrow” and more recently, “Happy Death Day.” I was pleased when “Palm Springs” came out and was another well executed film using the concept.

“Palm Springs” has a great comedic balance of subtle, cynical humor and more outrageous moments, which both produce laughs. There’s a lot of heart in this picture, too, and the main relationship has chemistry. Helping to make the relationship work are the strong performances from Samberg and Milioti.

The Sandlot (1993)


The 90s had a lot of family sports movies. To name a few, there were “Little Giants,” “Rookie of the Year,” “Angels in the Outfield,” “Air Bud” and “The Big Green.” For me, though, the only ones that reached a good level of quality were “The Mighty Ducks” and “The Sandlot.”

The good array of memorable characters, the solid comedic writing that works for the whole family and the entertainment value that comes with trying to get the signed baseball back all contributed to making this film good. However, what’s really great about “The Sandlot” is how timeless it all feels.

Even though the movie takes place in 1962, there was a lot to relate too here for most generations. Having the freedom to spend summer days playing games, going to fairs, enjoying fireworks on the Fourth of July, spending time at treehouses, telling scary stories and going to the pool on hot days. All of that is featured in “The Sandlot” and incorporated well. It didn’t feel as if the movie was trying to fill a checklist, but simply recapturing summers as a kid.

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)


The events in “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” take place in late August, and a viewer can certainly tell that’s the case because the movie looks hot as hell. It’s not surprising that the movie has that look, because the movie was shot in the Texas heat, and it definitely wasn’t a comfortable production.

Despite the tough shoot, Tobe Hooper’s low budget film was a huge success and is now a horror classic. The hot Texas summer season really helps the uncomfortable feeling for the film.

On top of that, the film was enhanced by its grainy, raw look, as well as its cast, who did impressive work, especially during the infamous dinner scene. The movie also has an interesting subtext about automation and the counter culture era of the 60s and 70s.

National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983)


Enduring and endearing is what “Vacation” is. The movie has a lasting legacy thanks to its great comedy and is also rewatchable because of characters who may be bumbling, but are still likable.

This is actually true with both this film and its winter counterpart, “Christmas Vacation.” Clark Griswold (and sometimes others in the family) has his fair share of clumsy moments, yet he means  well and genuinely cares for his family. As a result, an audience is fully ready to put up with his antics.

Obviously his never-ending effort to make the vacation great goes off the rails, but there’s still a likable, goofy charm he carries. There are so many hilarious moments throughout, from the scene where Clark drives while sleeping to the family’s quick visit (and robbery) at the Grand Canyon.

Just as Chevy Chase deserves credit for his portrayal of Clark, Beverly D’Angelo is worthy of praise for how she plays Ellen.

The Way Way Back (2013)


“The Way Way Back” is a fantastic coming-of-age dramedy full of heart. The film captures the feeling of those awkward teenage years quite well.

The writing/directing duo of Nat Faxon and Jim Rash were able to incorporate that spirit with an endearing script focusing on an introverted teenager who’s still discovering who he is. It’s a relatable concept that’s executed nicely.

The cast is quite strong in this feature, but the standout is undoubtedly Sam Rockwell, who portrays the positive role model for the main character Duncan.


Author: Matthew Liedke

Journalist and film critic in Minnesota. Graduate of Rainy River College and Minnesota State University in Moorhead. Outside of movies I also enjoy sports, craft beers and the occasional video game.

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