If you hadn’t noticed, the days are getting longer, and the heat just won’t quit. What does that mean? Looking at the calendar, today is the first day of Summer – a time when the world eases into that time-honored tradition of watching movies in the cool of the cinema. But what to watch? Something loud? Something scary or funny? For my money, I’m looking for the perfect Summer movie. Now, if you’ve been burned by trailers misrepresenting films or giving everything away, a perfect film is not an easy thing to find.
What is the perfect Summer movie? The answer is up to you. To help answer that, I’m calling for us to revisit films of the past, and as such, this post will be a somewhat retrospective piece. Why? Well most of what’s today is inspired by (or a remake of) films of the past.
I’m also going to say that the perfect Summer movie is likely something you’ve already seen or own. There are really amazing stories out there, so many in fact that we don’t always have to look for something current to be surprised, entertained, and delighted. Films can be hailed critical and financial successes the instant they hit theaters, but to truly be great, they need to permeate. Also, in many proven cases, it takes time (and multiple viewings) for something to be deemed a classic.
No film is perfect because film is subjective. Full stop. As an art form, it hits people in vastly different ways…and that’s ok. If enough creative elements come together to impress a vast majority of the population something could be called a hit and yet someone may still find some element to criticize. Conversely, even something that just plain stinks may have some redeeming value to someone on the planet while the rest of the population loathes it.
If you’re looking for the answer to our question – one that serves the ultimate goal of escaping the mundane – this list will not identify any one title as the undisputed king of Summer. With this post, we seek only to help narrow the field a bit. But before we get into our criteria, let’s open this post up a bit more.
Earlier this year, friend of the site, Emmy-winner Matt Schrader, and his team released Blockbuster – a podcast which told of the friendship between young George Lucas and young Steven Spielberg. The story at the heart of Schrader’s six-part series (which is exceptional, so check it out ASAP!!) is how the two ultimately re-invented, by accident, what it meant to go to the movies. They reminded us how joyful and wondrous escapism can be, and also wrestled back TV viewership which, at that time, was all but killing the theater-going experience.
Why bring that up? Well, in discussing or selecting the perfect Summer movie, it is all too easy to pick films from the Spielberg/Lucas catalogs because their cinematic escapades set the bar for generations of film fans. But we want to branch out a bit and not mention anything they had hand in. Bold move, we know, but doing so can bring to light other movies that some may overlook.
So, if you’re still with us, here’s some criteria to help you find your perfect Summer movie, and a few suggestions of each to aid in your search…
Fun factor: To that end, “fun” really can be any genre – comedy, action, horror, even drama. Look all the way back to Gunga Din – that was a film which really had it all. There was excitement, action, bravado, humor and an epic scale that films of the day rarely got close to. Now what’s fun for the goose is not necessarily fun for the gander. Fun can be escapism, side-splitting gags, zany characters, fair amounts of quirkiness all tied together with razor-sharp editing. If that’s what you need, then you’ll get it (all of it, actually) in a few titles, namely Galaxy Quest, The Fifth Element, Life of Brian, Sing Street, and recent Edgar Wright fare like Baby Driver.
Here comes the Boom: My Dad used to say that you can’t have action without the explosions. He was not wrong. Well, maybe that’s not always the case, but actiony affairs usually fare better with a whole lotta pyrotechnics. Unless you’re a super spy, or an autonomous robot from the planet Cybertron, or Tony Jaa, or Arnold Schwarzenegger, you don’t just get to run around shooting, punching, speeding by, and exploding anything that crosses your path. These kinds of movies capture the imagination of kids, and, regardless of age, they move the mercury as well as a seismograph. For my money, Predator, Aliens, Leon, Pacific Rim, Independence Day, and Terminator 2 all fit the bill.
Emotions run high: I’m not talking about weeping and bawling, or rousing love affairs. Not at all. Save those movies for late Fall, or a rainy Sunday. In the heat of the Summer, we’re looking at emotion from the standpoint of empathy. “Yes, I totally feel what this character or characters are going through.” But you couple that with engaging, nail-biting drama, and when things get going, you won’t even realize you’re holding your breath. Apollo 13, Carlito’s Way, Casablanca, Midnight Special, Life of Pi, Logan, and Water for Elephants deliver in their own way. And if you’ve got a tear in your body, they’ll find it.
Cool factor: It goes without saying that one way to beat the heat is to up your cool factor. What’s cooler than being cool? Some would say “ice cold,” but how about characters you’d want to be friends with? Or just plain be? You wanna see things no one else can see, and do things no one else can do? How about dodging bullets? For me, my dream come true would be to walk around as Jack Burton from Big Trouble In Little China for a day. Same with Neo from The Matrix, or Cliff Secord from The Rocketeer, or any of the Ghostbusters. I’d even put my hand up for Wreck-It Ralph.
Check your brain at the door: When I sit down to a movie, I think back to a quote I heard somewhere which, I’m paraphrasing, infers that complex minds require simple pleasures. Suffice to say, “checking your brain” and enjoying barrage of visuals or barely cohesive dialog does mean embracing the moronic. Not at all. Something can be smart and silly at the same time. After all, comedy is a carefully worked out and choreographed means of entertainment, NOT just random elements the illicit a laugh. And as long as you stay out of Hard R territory, “dumb fun” might even be fun for the whole family. You can’t lose with Flash Gordon, G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra, Office Space, or My Blue Heaven.
Quotability: Not sure it can be charted mathematically, but things tend to have more resonance if they’re memorable. So if a movie’s got the quotes, it gets my votes. If you find yourself constantly thinking of dialog or quips from a movie, then you might just have your perfect Summer movie in mind. For me, that would be Friday. That’s a case where, time and again, a line from that movie finds its way into conversations daily – yes, daily – and I’m not even joking. Others, for completely different reasons, are Risky Business, Finding Nemo, Encino Man, and Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.
Hot fun in the Summertime: This really goes without saying, but if it’s a Summer movie you’ve got to feel the heat. And there are few things more satisfying than watching gladiators or treasure hunters duke it out under the desert sun or in a tropical setting, all while you’re sitting in a perfectly air-conditioned environment. Give me a sweeping high seas adventure, sword and sandal epic, or any period-piece where the temperature of the desert visibly scorches the edges of the silver screen. The like of the Winter Olympics don’t compare to the running and gunning that takes place when gold-hunting or swashbuckling, and I’d pay double the admission price for films like Gladiator, The Mummy, Tombstone, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Kon-Tiki.
Laugh ‘til it hurts: Part of what makes enjoying movies is checking your brain at the door. Letting loose in Summer is essential and you can’t lose with a feel-good comedy. Why does it feel so good watch someone suffer pratfalls and inescapable or uncomfortable situations?Simple: it’s because we aren’t and they are. Many entries in this post have solid amount of humor and hilarity, but if you have a knee that needs slapping, or a side that really needs splitting, give Liar Liar, The Hangover, Keanu, Three Amigos, Get Him to the Greek, Van Wilder, EuroTrip and the excellent The Pirates! Band of Misfits a spin.
Adventure Time: The best part of the Summer is exploring. When I was a kid, I would spend hours with my friends riding bikes and exploring the woods. The best part of those days was the freedom and imagination that came with being young. I was out the door by 8 AM and came back when it was dark. Those were the days. Now what is the best way to recapture that feeling? Throw on some fantasy films like The Princess Bride, The Time Machine and The Wizard of Oz that take us to far away lands, forests, and castles we wished we could venture to. Then there’s the reality-based outings where 9 year-olds dare to dream what being older just might be like, and the kind of wish-fulfillment that comes with License to Drive, The Sandlot, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Big is all too enticing. Even the impossible plots of Turbo Kid, Up, Moonrise Kingdom, and The Lost Boys have a lot to offer.
Baseball!: Whoever coined the phrase “dog days of Summer” was probably a catcher and sitting through a scorcher of a double header in August. What’s exciting about athletic films is that you don’t even have to like the sport for it to be captivating and rousing. A cinematic spin on any competitive outing can make the events on screen more interesting than they should be. I’m not a baseball fan, and, to be honest, the game is a little slow. But it can be sped up and edited to be quite thrilling and rather emotional. Case in point: A League of Their Own, Little Big League, Major League, League of Dre, I mean Field of Dreams…you get the idea.
Music, melody, & more: Film scores, or a fantastic compilation of needle drops can have you humming, smiling and recalling even the most atrocious plot lines with an air of feel-good pep in your step. Music, if it’s not abundantly clear, is a manipulative element in the cinematic process. Whether it’s Patrick Doyle‘s strings, or John Williams’ French horns, or James Gunn‘s impeccable taste for ’80s folk music, the best way to your heart is, apparently, through your ears. And you’ve really got to hand it to the masters who spin straw into acoustic gold. As such, Men in Black, Top Gun, Drive, X-Men: First Class, and Superman become indelibly carved on our inner ear canals. Good thing is that the movies work, too!
Vroom vroom: If you’ve got to get from point A to point B, “flights of fancy” can very literally mean flights. Further, in this case, we want vehicles. Lots and lots of vehicles. Rounding out this piece we have to look at the entertainment that defies expectations and blows back eyelids with the glitz and the glam of mechanical prowess. To quote Tim Allen, “Arh, arhh, arhhhh!” So then we’ll take anything with a little extra power: helicopters, expensive super-cars, speed boats, tanks, motorbikes, spaceships and other awesome hardware. For this list, literally anything would do, and the more unbelievable the better. “Bayhem” comes to mind, but you can’t go wrong with The Rock, Batman ‘89, Mission: Impossible II, Mad Max: Fury Road, Goldeneye, The Martian, or even Innerspace.
That’s what rings our bell, but no matter what your criteria, I’m sure you’ll find something you’ll enjoy. These movies are fun picks because the replay value is high, and with each viewing there’s something new to discover. These kinds of stories are worth seeing over and over again.
That also lends itself to owning a particular title instead of just renting/streaming it. There is a lot of pride in displaying your video library, but that’s a personal choice. I enjoy pulling films I love off my shelf, and I for one will not let the death of the physical library be a quick one. I love that kind of media but I think we can all agree on one thing: love of movies.
Enjoy the Summer season, and let us know your picks for the Perfect Summer Movie!