The 25 Best Summer Movies Ever
From breathtaking love stories to coming-of-age classics and everything in between, these 25 movies perfectly capture the sun-soaked days and cool, carefree nights of summer.
Summer Movies Everyone Needs to Watch At Least Once
Call Me by Your Name (2017)
If you fantasize about escaping to a coastal Italian village and are a sucker for summer romances, Call Me by Your Name is undoubtedly one of the best summer movies for you. Based on the bestselling book by André Aciman, this contemporary classic stars Timothée Chalamet as 17-year-old Elio, the precocious son of an archaeology professor. His family spends their summers in the northern town of Crema, where Elio swims, reads and plays the piano. When his father brings aboard a summer research student, Oliver (Armie Hammer), tension builds between him and Elio, resulting in just the right amount of drama and emotion that will undoubtedly stay with you long after the film’s remarkable final scene.
You hear it before you see it: the infamous score by John Williams, an aquatic villain’s ominous stage (sea?) cue. Is it playing in your head already? That’s the power of Steven Spielberg’s Jaws, the quintessential blockbuster that terrified audiences—and set a new bar for summer movies—more than 40 years ago. The premise is straightforward: a great white shark with a taste for human flesh terrorizes a small island village, prompting a police chief (Roy Scheider), oceanographer (Richard Dreyfuss) and shark fisherman (Robert Shaw) to hunt it down. If you’ve somehow never dipped your toes in Jaws’ waters, there’s no better time to dive in.
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Do the Right Thing (1989)
Blistering temperatures tend to bring conflicts to the surface, and the mercury soars in this Spike Lee Joint. A heat wave-centred classic, Do the Right Thing transports audiences to the predominantly Black neighbourhood of Bedford–Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, where racial tensions that have been simmering for years finally come to a head on one scorching summer day. More than thirty years later, Do the Right Thing has lost none of its power.
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Beach Rats (2017)
Before acclaimed director Eliza Hittman made waves with 2020’s Never Rarely Sometimes Always, she created a vision of sultry summer nights in Brooklyn and Coney Island. Beach Rats tells the story of Frankie (Harris Dickinson), a wayward teen with too much time on his hands and an inward reckoning of his sexuality and identity. Quietly tough and beautifully shot, Beach Rats is a compelling coming-of-age tale whose empathy drives the story home.
The Kings of Summer (2013)
What’s a teenage summer without fantasies of running away? In the endearing The Kings of Summer, three boys, exhausted by their families and domestic responsibilities, escape to the woods to live as independent “men.” Fires are burned, lessons are learned and a girl’s entrance into the boys’ club sends the pals into a tailspin—what more could you ask for from a charming coming-of-age movie?
Before Sunrise (1995)
Writer-director Richard Linklater lets “the ones that got away” be damned in this gorgeous portrait of summer love. Jesse (Ethan Hawke), an American tourist travelling around Europe, locks eyes with French student Celine (Julie Delpy) on a Vienna-bound train, and thus begins a spontaneous night spent together. Though they know they’ll have to part ways come morning, the young lovers decide to make the most of each moment—after all, nights are longer in the summertime. Lucky for us, Before Sunrise is the first entry in a trilogy, so we don’t really have to say goodbye to Celine and Jesse at the train station.
Rear Window (1954)
A wheelchair-bound shutterbug, a heat wave and boredom are the recipe for a perfect storm in this Alfred Hitchcock classic. Confined to his small East Village apartment thanks to a broken leg, L.B. “Jeff” Jeffries (James Stewart) is a photographer turned Peeping Tom, whose games of “I Spy” become cause for suspicion of a potential neighbourhood murder. Rear Window‘s thesis? It’s better to mind your own business.
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The Florida Project (2017)
Children and Walt Disney World go together like Mickey Mouse-shaped ice cream cones and giant turkey legs, but behind all the tricks and treats is a seedier scene. Director Sean Baker shows us the underbelly of the most magical place on earth, taking viewers to the Magic Castle Inn and Suites, where six-year-old Moonee (Brooklynn Prince) and her teen mom Halley (Bria Vinaite)—both troublemakers in their own rights—are barely scraping by. Motel manager Bobby (Willem Dafoe), meanwhile, attempts to balance his responsibility as a business owner with care for his tenants. The Florida Project is a breathtaking look at America’s hidden homeless and a gorgeous portrayal of youthful innocence, making it one of the best summer movies you’ve never heard of.
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A summer job at an amusement park is practically a rite of passage for many suburban teens, and Adventureland captures this defining period so well it’ll make you nostalgic for some of the best and worst days of your life. Starring Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig, this underrated comedy-drama takes place in 1987 and details a summer of reluctant young Adventureland employees’ hijinks; falling in love, rigging games and eating snow cones are all on the agenda.
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The Seven Year Itch (1955)
Summer conjures images of dripping ice cream cones, packed beaches and, for many film lovers, Marilyn Monroe’s iconic white dress billowing in the “delicious breeze” of a subway grate. The Seven Year Itch is a beloved rom-com featuring Monroe as “The Girl” who moves into the apartment above publishing executive Richard Sherman (Tom Ewell) during a sweltering New York summer. With his wife and son conveniently away on vacation, Richard can’t help but fantasize about The Girl. What could possibly go wrong?
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Weekend at Bernie’s (1989)
Sure, it revolves around fraud and a planned murder, but this buddy comedy keeps things light with slapstick humour and an infectious pop soundtrack. The plot is simple: the titular Bernie invites his carefree employees Richard and Larry to a beach house weekend. Little do Richard and Larry know that Bernie’s intentions are not as sweet as cocktails and suntanning. Luckily, the fun-loving guys don’t let a murder plot get in their way—and they’ll do anything to cover their tracks.
Real Women Have Curves (2002)
Before America Ferrera took on a job at a fashion magazine (Ugly Betty) and managed a big-box store (Superstore), she was Ana, an 18-year-old begrudgingly working in a rundown sewing factory in Los Angeles with her mother for the summer. In Real Women Have Curves, Ana wants more than her uneventful life has to offer, struggling between the obligation to stay home and help provide for her family, and dreams of moving to New York for college. If you loved Lady Bird, this is one of the best summer movies for you.
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Mamma Mia! (2008)
Set in Greece, soundtracked by ABBA and starring Meryl Streep and Amanda Seyfried, Mamma Mia! is the definition of a feel-good summer movie. The musical-offshoot is a romp through a fictional Greek island, as Sophie (Seyfried) invites her three potential fathers to her wedding, unbeknownst to her mother (Streep). There’s singing, dancing and even an all-male routine with full scuba gear to “Lay All Your Love on Me.” You’ll be having the time of your life watching this!
The Graduate (1967)
Benjamin Braddock (Dustin Hoffman) has just graduated college and feels aimless in his pursuits; that is, until he meets the wife of his father’s business colleague, Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft), and her daughter, Elaine (Katharine Ross). Ranked amongst the best films of all time, The Graduate features an incredible breakthrough performance by Hoffman, a sharp, forever-quotable screenplay, and a Simon and Garfunkel soundtrack that includes the irresistible “Mrs. Robinson.” This is one of those summer movies you can’t miss.
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American Graffiti (1973)
Nostalgia runs high in this early smash hit from George Lucas, released in 1973 and set 11 years prior. The film focuses on a group of California high school students, played by the likes of Ron Howard, Richard Dreyfuss and Cindy Williams, enjoying one epic summer night before they have to face the “real” world of college. As much an ode to youth as it is to sixties rock ‘n’ roll, American Graffiti is perhaps the ultimate summer coming-of-age movie.
I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997)
I Know What You Did Last Summer is one of the best summer movies for those who can’t wait until Halloween for slasher screenings. Equal parts spooky and campy, this ’90s favourite checks all the boxes—a time capsule of a cast (Jennifer Love Hewitt, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Ryan Phillippe and Freddie Prinze Jr.), a storyline following reckless teens who think they’re invincible and a killer who neither forgives nor forgets.
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The Sandlot (1993)
There’s no crying in baseball, but there sure is a whole lot of heart. That’s what The Sandlot proposes, anyway, making it one of the best summer movies around. A group of neighbourhood kids with nicknames like “Ham” and “Squints” spend their summer playing ball at the local sandlot, where they welcome nerdy newcomer Scotty Smalls to their rowdy collective. Adventures and troublemaking ensue—it’s great fun for the whole family.
Dirty Dancing (1987)
While Baby (Jennifer Grey) is on vacation with her family at a resort in the Catskills, she meets the rebellious and handsome Johnny (Patrick Swayze), a dance instructor, and soon begins swaying and swooning over her love interest. Unfortunately, her strict father does not approve of her new beau, but as we all know, “nobody puts Baby in a corner.” Dirty Dancing’s classic moments make it one of the best summer movies to date.
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The Way, Way Back (2013)
You can find your chosen family in the unlikeliest of places—in The Way, Way Back, that unlikely place is a water park. This coming-of-age film is a fun and heartwarming look at a family—teenage Duncan (Liam James), his mother (Toni Collette), her unbearable new boyfriend (Steve Carell) and his unapproachable teenage daughter (Zoe Levin)— trying to come together during a vacation. Though Duncan’s summer seems lame beyond repair, he eventually finds refuge in a job at the local water park, where he meets manager Owen (Sam Rockwell), the father figure he never knew he needed.
Moonrise Kingdom (2012)
Allow Wes Anderson to transport you to a fictional New England island in 1965, where the kids run wild and the twee is palpable. With an all-star cast (Frances McDormand, Bruce Willis, Bill Murray, Edward Norton and Tilda Swinton) and a spunky spirit, Moonrise Kingdom captures the essence of childhood joy and growing pains in equal measure.
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Though Grease mostly takes place during a school year, “Summer Nights” sets everything in motion and gives the rest of the film an unshakable feeling of sunshine. Most of us have already watched Danny and Sandy’s love story unfurl many times over, but there’s nothing like a summer rewatch to boost your spirits—and maybe even compel you to buy a pink varsity jacket.
Channel Grease’s ’50s vibe by catching a flick at one of Canada’s greatest drive-in theatres.
Little Miss Sunshine (2006)
Dysfunctional families have nothing on the Hoovers, whose journey to the “Little Miss Sunshine” pageant is not without bumps in the road. Starring Steve Carell, Alan Arkin, Toni Collette, Paul Dano and Abigail Breslin, this Academy Award-winning sleeper hit will make you want to hug your loved ones and simultaneously avoid any future road trip plans.
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National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983)
Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) wants to spend more time with his family this summer. His solution? A road trip from Chicago to an L.A. amusement park, of course. The close quarters of a car definitely provide some quality time, though the hurdles they encounter would ensure they never leave their homes again…that is, until they venture to Europe.
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The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999)
Patricia Highsmith’s acclaimed tale of lust and greed is adapted into a steamy summer thriller starring Matt Damon, Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow and Cate Blanchett. Social climber Tom (Damon) is tasked with venturing to Venice to convince Dickie (Law), heir to an exorbitant inheritance, to return to the US. Tom, however, becomes infatuated with Dickie’s luxurious lifestyle and quickly learns he will do anything to achieve the same—even if it means committing a murder or two.
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Thelma & Louise (1991)
A feminist road movie, Thelma & Louise is a tale of friendship, loyalty and the lengths we go to to protect one another. Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis (who both nabbed Best Actress nominations at the Oscars) square off against Brad Pitt, set to music by Hans Zimmer; it’s really the whole package for a perfect summer movie.
Now that you’ve added these summer movies to your watch list, check out the best movies on Netflix Canada, according to Rotten Tomatoes.