Whether you’re about to send your nervous kids off to their first summer camp experience or you’re looking to relive the campfire memories of your youth (or even if you’ve never been to camp at all and just want to know what it’s like) there’s a wealth of cinematic options out there for you. Luckily, we’re here to pick out a few of the best. From modern art-house love stories by Wes Anderson to iconic 90s movies about fat camp – it counts – here are just a few great movies that capture the spirit of youth and camping in an unparalleled manner.
This writer’s personal favourite from this list, Moonrise Kingdom is one of Wes Anderson’s most celebrated films – and rightly so. Beautifully shot on a New England island, and tenderly written, Moonrise Kingdom explores the forbidden love between boy scout Sam, at Camp Ivanhoe, and a young resident of the island named Suzy. The pair run-off together through forests and caves, and are chased by Suzy’s parents, played fantastically by Bill Murray and Frances McDormand. A triumph of dreamlike childhood film-making, with a cutesy but meticulously efficient scout camp at the centre of the story, Moonrise Kingdom is a summer camp movie with something to appreciate for all ages.
The Parent Trap (1998)
The daddy of all summer camp movies, this 1998 remake of the classic 1961 award-winner brings the story (almost) up to date for modern kids. Marking the screen debut of a young Lindsey Lohan, in two roles no less, The Parent Trap tells the story of identical twins separated at birth and fortuitously reunited by chance at Summer Camp.
But really, this is a movie about eating peanut butter Oreos under a blanket fort. A wholesome tale with a happy ending for all, if The Parent Trap doesn’t get your young children excited about going to summer camp then we don’t know what else to suggest.
Wet Hot American Summer!
One for the slightly older kids, or adults, amongst us Wet Hot American Summer is a cult classic that apes on many of the other films on this list. Inspired by director David Wain’s personal experiences at Summer Camp, this riotously lewd comedy has a crackpot cast of over-the-top clichés characters. They include a shell-shocked ‘Nam vet camp chef, prancing metropolitan theatre arts teachers and insecure virgin who brags about his promiscuity – as well as a talking can of vegetables.
Derided by critics at the time of release in 2001, Wet Hot American Summer developed a cult following years after release and was picked up by Netflix for a sequel series in 2017.
The second Bill Murray movie on this list, Meatballs is an iconic 1980s camp movie – the kind of film that Wet Hot American Summer affectionately parodies. Chronicling the rivalry between Camp North Star and Camp Mohawk, Meatballs includes a cool kid camp counsellor who rides a motorbike and a lonely boy who comes good as he develops in confidence over the summer. A perfect little nostalgia trip for those who remember summer camps in the 80s, or those of us who wish they did!