Although Fast Five, Thor, and Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides kicked the summer movie season off a bit early this year, I still consider today to be the official start of summer itself. Maybe that’s because it’s the first hot, sunny day (without any 40-degree nights looming in the forecast) we’ve had here in Chicago for a long, long time. I thought I’d celebrate the occasion by sharing some of the films that always remind me of, or get me in the mood for, the warmer months that lie ahead. I admit that these films very much reflect that I’m a child of the ’80s, so be sure to tell me your favorites, too.
Who cares if there’s a gigantic man-eating shark lurking in the local waters? The businesses of Amity Island have no intention of losing any summer-tourist money over it, and the town council agrees. They refuse to close the beach, which makes new police chief Martin Brody (Roy Schneider) want to bang his head against the wall. It also makes him realize that if he doesn’t want the death of any more residents on his conscience, he needs to catch this beast before it strikes again.
Though a good chunk of the film takes place on a (not big enough) boat with Brody, shark hunter Quint (Robert Shaw) and marine biologist Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) attempting to track down and kill the great white, the first half of the film perfectly captures the anticipatory thrill that comes along with the beginning of summer. I love all of the beach scenes. Even though they’re totally tense because you can just feel that something bad is gonna happen, watching the hordes of families and kids frolic in the sand and splash around in the surf always makes me think of heading to the beach with my friends after the last day of school each year. It also reminds me of the shores of Lake Michigan, which team with tourists starting right about… now. At least there aren’t any sharks in the lake to worry about. Right? Surely none of the sharks at Shedd Aquarium could ever break free… wait a second, I think I just came up with the plot for Jaws 5!
Danny Zuko (John Travolta) and Aussie Sandy Olsson (Olivia Newton-John) fall in love one magical summer, and when they return to high school they can’t help but bust out a song, “Summer Lovin’,” about their whirlwind romance. So of course this musical, which is one of my all-time favorite movies and also one of a handful of films I know word-for-word by heart, will forever remind me of the carefree days of summer vacation.
The majority of the action takes place during Danny and Sandy’s senior year after she unexpectedly transfers to Rydell High and he starts fronting like he’s too good for her, but the aforementioned beginning of the film, as well as the jubilant post-graduation finale (set to the songs “You’re the One That I Want” and “We Go Together”) scream nothing but summer, summer, summer to me.
On a sad note, one of Grease‘s stars, Jeff Conaway (who played Danny’s best friend Kenickie and had been married to Olivia Newton-John’s sister) passed away last week. I think that calls for another rewatch in his honor.
Oh, how I loved this movie when I was younger. A lot of that had to do with the fact that I was crushing big-time on Mark Harmon, but overall it remains one of the quintessential ’80s goof-off flicks. Harmon’s a teacher (Mr. Shoop) who couldn’t care less about his job and is ready to jet off on vacation… until he’s forced to take over the summer school class or risk putting his tenure track in jeopardy. Of course the class is made up solely of misfits and social rejects who show little promise, and so Shoop does what any responsible adult would do: he takes them to the beach.
There’s so much outlandish, inappropriate stuff that goes down in this movie, it could very well define everything that was right about the ’80s. I don’t think anyone could make a movie like Summer School now — we’ve all grown too jaded. That’s why this one will always remain a go-to film for me whenever I want to snap out of a funk or get into a summertime frame of mind.
Believe it or not, I saw Dazed and Confused for the first time not too long ago — something most people my age find astonishing. I wasn’t a big fan (I think it’s just one of those movies that you have to see when you’re a teenager — or at least not in your 30s — or else it just doesn’t have the same effect), but can’t deny that it’s definitely a classic “summer movie.” It follows a group of kids on their last day of high school in 1973, and has everything from hazing to keg parties to making out to breaking up to, if you couldn’t guess from its title, lots of pot smoking. The best character by far is Matthew McConaughey’s Wooderson, who’s way past high school age, but prefers to continues to be a fixture at parties because,”That’s what I like about these high school girls; I get older, they stay the same age.” Alright, alright, alright!
Yep, Olivia Newton-John makes my list a second time! I had to include Xanadu in the mix because, I mean, half of the scenes involve a chick in all-white roller-skating around Los Angeles in the summertime. Yep, I was a big ol’ roller-skating dork back in the day, so I equate that most elegant of sports with summer vacation. And Xanadu‘s soundtrack? Come on — it’s up with with the Grease soundtrack in my mind. Who cares if the plot revolves around a Olympian Muse (one of the “nine sisters”) who’s stuck on Earth and ends up inspiring a jean-shorts-wearing painter to continue creating crappy record covers in addition to pursuing his dream of opening a roller-disco? It’s got Gene Kelly! It’s got songs by E.L.O! It’s got one of the most random animated film sequences of all time! (Not that I don’t love it.) It’s summertime frivolity at its best.
So there you have it — my admittedly bizarre list of movies that get me in the mood for summer. What are yours?
Redbox movies with a summer vibe: