Quintessential Summer Movies, By Decade

When you’re looking to scratch that summer itch, Hollywood has you covered. No, the smells of suntan lotion, fresh cut grass, and roasted marshmallows won’t be wafting through your television screens anytime soon (though let’s not completely write off a “Smell-O-Vision” revival), but over the years, some movies have managed to capture all the pleasantries associated with the summer season all the same. They gave audiences the breeze, but not the bug bites; the sun, but not the burn. And even in their boxy confines, there have been movies that encapsulate the summer season in all of its sun-kissed glory.

So, if you’re hankering for a summery trip down memory lane, look no further. (After all, why go outside when characters in a movie can do it instead?)

1950s: Stand By Me

Close friends, hiking, swamp leeches quenching their bloody thirst on an unsuspecting penis — this Stephen King adaptation’s exploration into friendship, mortality, and the ’50s is as transparent as a ghost in a campfire story.

Come for the journey, stay for the acting and tear-jerking nostalgia.

Runners Up: Gidget, Rear Window

1960s: Moonrise Kingdom

Young love, camping, getting struck by lightning while being chased by a prepubescent troupe of khaki scouts — Wes Anderson’s foray into childhood, small-town living, and the ’60s is as refreshing as a tall glass of sweet iced tea.

Come for the love story, stay for the period costumes and impeccable production design.

Runners Up: My Girl, The Sandlot

1970s: Jaws

Beaches, boating, a giant shark chewing off the leg of a local fisherman — Steven Spielberg’s swan dive into body horror, blockbusters, and the ’70s is as lively as a bunch of kids running through a sprinkler in a heat wave.

Come for the shark, stay for the camaraderie and family.

Runners Up: Dazed and Confused, Almost Famous

1980s: Call Me By Your Name

Forbidden love, bicycling, ruining the reputation of peaches everywhere for the sake of carnal shock value — this André Aciman adaptation’s sun-kissed trip into patience, impossibility, and the ’80s is as potent as the chlorine in a public swimming pool.

Come for the romance, stay for the scenery and Michael Stuhlbarg’s monologue.

Runners Up: Wet Hot American Summer, Adventureland

1990s: The Parent Trap

Summer camp, swimming, rekindling a failed marriage through unashamed duplicity—this Nancy Meyers remake’s pursuit of lost love, lies, and the ’90s is as cozy as a bonfire roasting hotdogs on the Fourth of July.

Come for the laughs, stay for the charm and convincing VFX.

Runners Up: Heavy Weights, Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead

2000s: Something’s Gotta Give

The Hamptons, walks on the beach, Jack Nicholson capping off his reputation in Hollywood by exposing his bare butt—Nancy Meyers’ plunge into passion, growing up, and the 2000s is as adorable as a sidewalk covered in chalk drawings.

Come for Diane Keaton, stay for the wit and beach house envy.

Runners Up: Forgetting Sarah Marshall

2010s: The Descendants

Palm trees, suntans, cold-cocking a beach bro for the sake of peace and quiet—Alexander Payne’s raw examination of grief, self-discovery, and the 2010s is as ripe as sliced watermelon at a barbecue.

Come for the setting, stay for the pathos and bittersweet vibes.

Runners Up: Hunt for the Wilderpeople, Piranha 3D

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