Summer camp is a unique experience. There's the apprehension of being away from your family, the excitement of relative independence, the prospect of meeting new friends, and the exciting activities you undertake to ensure that.
As a result, the summer camp concept has made for a wide variety of movies- some presenting the experience as joyful, others not so much.
This list will take you through a dozen of the finest summer camp movies that have ever graced the silver screen.
1. Friday The 13th (1980, Directed by Sean S. Cunningham)
Friday the 13th is an iconic slasher horror movie. The plot focuses on a group of teenage camp counselors at the fictional Camp Crystal Lake in Cunningham County, New Jersey. While attempting to re-open the camp, they end up being murdered one by one by an unknown assailant.
An Iconic Slasher Movie
Jason Voorhees is the classic villain in this franchise, but this opening installment is the one in which his mother, Pamela, is the killer. It's no masterpiece, but it's a classic, thanks to the fact it was the platform from which an iconic horror series was born. Tom Savini's make-up work is fantastic, it's a suitably gory movie, and there's enough suspense and terror to keep you up at night.
2. Meatballs (1979, Directed by Ivan Reitman)
Meatballs is a sidesplitting comedy movie that launched both its director Ivan Reitman and its star Bill Murray into the Hollywood big time – and it began a fruitful relationship between the pair that would also produce the likes of 1981's Stripes and 1984's Ghostbusters. It's about the crazy antics of counselors and campers at the cut-rate below-par Camp North Star in Ontario, Canada.
Crazy Antics of Counselors and Campers
It's the first movie in which Murray had a starring role (and his second overall), and he lights it up. It doesn't take itself seriously and benefits hugely from that. It's nutty, zany, and completely unpretentious. It's also squeaky clean and lacking the cheap gratuitous sauciness that's typical of this genre, and that's refreshing.
3. Sleepaway Camp (1983, Directed by Robert Hiltzik)
Sleepaway Camp is another slasher horror movie that its predecessor, Friday the 13th, heavily influenced. The film takes place in the fictional Camp Arawak in Hudson Falls, New York, and it follows a young girl who is sent to the camp just before a series of gruesome murders happen there.
A Series of Gruesome Murders
Although it's the lesser-known of the two movies, this is superior to Friday the 13th – and by some distance. It has a genuinely interesting (and shocking) plot twist and some highly creative kills. Its young cast performs very well, and Sleepaway Camp has deservedly garnered a cult following recently.
4. Addams Family Values (1993, Directed by Barry Sonnenfeld)
Addams Family Values is a supernatural black comedy movie and the sequel to 1991's The Addams Family. The film sees Pugsley and Wednesday Addams sent to the fictional Camp Chippewa (Sequoia National Park in the Sierra Nevada of California was the setting for it), resulting in a hilarious clash of cultures.
Hilarious Clash of Cultures
It would always be entertaining with a cast that includes a returning Raul Julia, Anjelica Huston, Christopher Lloyd, Christina Ricci, and franchise newcomers Joan Cusack and Peter MacNicol. It's significantly better than its predecessor, has a lot of brilliantly subversive humor, and looks terrific.
5. The Final Girls (2015, Directed by Todd Strauss-Schulson)
The Final Girls is a brilliant comedy horror about a group of high school students who are inadvertently transported into a 1986 slasher film called Camp Bloodbath. They have just been watching it in a movie theater. One of the students, Max Cartwright, is the daughter of the movie's late star, Amanda.
Transported Into a Slasher Film
It's a pleasantly unique movie that's both meta and self-mocking. It pays heartfelt homage to the slasher genre and, as well as being rather funny and a little scary, it features genuine emotion and an engaging plot. Its talented core cast of established stars – Taissa Farmiga, Malin Åkerman, Adam DeVine, and Thomas Middleditch – perform adeptly.
6. Ernest Goes to Camp (1987, Directed by John Cherry)
Ernest Goes to Camp is a comedy movie starring the late Jim Varney in his iconic titular role as Ernest P. Worrell – the second movie featuring the character. The movie's location is the fictional Kamp Kikakee, built on Native American lands. In the film, Ernest is the camp handyman who dreams of becoming a guidance counselor. He must inspire some juvenile delinquents while preventing a shady mining company from closing the camp.
The Camp Handyman Inspires
It's much like every other Ernest movie – it feels very “cookie cutter” in that sense – but it's good, wholesome, innocent fun. Varney's youthful playfulness and nonsensical humor make it very watchable. Ernest Goes to Camp is one to watch with the whole family.
7. Indian Summer (1993, Directed by Mike Binder)
Indian Summer is a comedy-drama set at the real-life Camp Tamakwa in Ontario, Canada. It's about seven friends who reunite at the camp for a week, having attended it as children, with the place now being threatened with closure. The movie boasts an incredible ensemble cast that includes Alan Arkin, Diane Lane, Bill Paxton, Elizabeth Perkins, and director Sam Raimi.
Seven Friends Reunite
This movie features some stunning performances and a unique tone. It's mildly funny without causing any full-on belly laughs. It's wonderfully wholesome in that it beautifully portrays the bonds that people can make at summer camps. Sure, it's a tad predictable, but it's worth watching for the cast alone.
8. Race for Your Life, Charlie Brown (1977, Directed by Bill Melendez and Phil Roman)
Race for Your Life, Charlie Brown is an animated adventure comedy where the Peanuts gang heads off to Camp Remote “somewhere in the mountains.” While there, they compete against cheating bullies in a river raft race. It was the third feature-length movie based on the Peanuts comic strip.
Up Against Cheating Bullies
Plenty of humor, excitement, peril, and several valuable lessons are taught in this classic Peanuts feature, making it a fun experience for all. It's crudely drawn, but that adds to its charm. While Charlie Brown is the eponymous star of the movie, Snoopy and Woodstock unsurprisingly steal the show.
9. Moonrise Kingdom (2012, Directed by Wes Anderson)
Moonrise Kingdom is a coming-of-age comedy-drama with an incredible cast that includes Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Tilda Swinton, Frances McDormand, and Bill Murray. It's about a young boy who escapes from a Khaki Scout summer camp called Camp Ivanhoe on the New England island of New Penzance to unite with his female pen pal and love interest.
Coming-of-Age Dramatic Comedy
It's a beautiful and charming movie with utterly stunning cinematography. It's Wes Anderson at his absolute distinctive and eccentric best. It expertly captures the wonder of quintessential childhood summers and has some pretty funny moments to make it even more enjoyable. Moonrise Kingdom is one of the finest movies of the new millennium.
10. Holy Camp! (2017, Directed by Javier Ambrossi and Javier Calvo)
Holy Camp! is a Spanish musical comedy (Spanish title La llamada, which means “The Call”) that's an adaptation of the musical of the same name. It's about two rebellious teens who spend their summer in a Catholic camp called La Brújula in Segovia. They find they have music in common, and their lives end up changed by the camp staff and (of course) God.
A Spanish Musical Comedy
It's a movie with a straightforward premise but one that looks great and teems with sincerity. Holy Camp! is wonderfully performed by its cast and will undoubtedly make you feel happier. We highly recommend putting up with the subtitles on this one – even if that usually puts you off a movie.
11. The Burning (1981, Directed by Tony Maylam)
The Burning is the final slasher horror movie on our list, and it's undoubtedly one of the best. Based on the New York urban legend of the Cropsey maniac, it's about a sadistic alcoholic caretaker (“Cropsy”) at the fictional Camp Blackfoot. After being badly burnt from a prank gone wrong, the caretaker seeks vengeance years later at Camp Stonewater.
Based on a New York Urban Legend
Another movie boasting excellent special effects courtesy of Tom Savini, The Burning is full of suspense and gore. It attempts to copy Friday the 13th in many ways, but its departure from some of the slasher genre's tired cliches makes it a better movie. If the genre weren't so saturated in the 1980s, it would undoubtedly be considered more of a classic than it currently is.
12. The Parent Trap (1961, Directed by David Swift / 1998, Directed by Nancy Meyers)
The Parent Trap is about teenage twins who separated at birth. When they inadvertently reunite at summer camp (Miss Inch's Summer Camp for Girls in the 1961 movie and Camp Walden in the 1998 remake), after initially being rivals, they plot to reunite with their divorced parents. We're opting to include the original and remake in this entry, as they're both excellent movies.
Twins Reunite at Summer Camp
Each movie thrives with Hayley Mills playing a pair of twins in the original and Lindsay Lohan tackling the task in the remake. They're both funny, witty, charming, and emotionally driven. Mills has an excellent knack for comedic timing, while Lohan does a phenomenal job creating two distinct personalities. We highly recommend watching these movies back-to-back.