20 Essential Films about Summer

best summer movies

As August reaches its end, and September inches closer and closer, perhaps now is as good a time as any to reflect nostalgically on some particular images and memories that help make summer so memorable. Memories like family barbeques, sparklers on the Fourth of July, swimming in cool water on the hottest day of the year, or perhaps just lounging around the house while reading a good paperback.

While we wax nostalgic about summer, let’s talk about another essential part of any good summer: movies. There’s nothing like sitting in a nice, air-conditioned theater on a hot and humid day (it doesn’t really matter if the movie is particularly good, sometimes). The following list is compiled of twenty films that perfectly capture the mood and feel of the summer experience. Grab a cool drink, sit down in a nice, shady spot and enjoy the twenty essential films about summer before fall rears its head.


20. Jazz on a Summer’s Day (1959, Dir. Bert Stern)

Jazz on a Summer’s Day. 1959

Photographer Bert Stern’s sole directing credit was helming this joyous documentary that chronicles the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival. The color photography is especially lush and vibrant, and contributes to the electric energy of the film.

Stern perfectly captures the spirit of summer, and was also able to film some truly astounding musical performances. The iconic Louis Armstrong is in top form with his set, and Chuck Berry absolutely devastates the stage with his remarkable work. Also worth mentioning is Thelonious Monk, Dinah Washington and, in the climatic highlight of the film, gospel singer Mahalia Jackson, who practically steals the film with her performance.


19. La Collectionneuse (1967, Dir. Eric Rohmer)

La Collectionneuse. 1967

The films of legendary director Eric Rohmer are, perhaps an acquired taste, but truly, he made films of such intelligence and beauty that they could never be confused for any other filmmaker’s work.

La Collectionneuse, the fourth entry in Rohmer’s series Six Moral Tales, is about, like many of Rohmer’s movies, the various games that men and women play. Two friends (Patrick Bauchau and Daneil Pommereulle) on vacation must share their Riviera chateau with a young woman, played by Haydée Politoff, in a tricky and subtle portrayal.

Rohmer and his cinematographer, the great Néstor Almendros, convey the lazy, sunny summer days that lead to seductive confusion for the three main characters in this sly romp, Rohmer’s first film in color.


18. The Endless Summer (1966, Dir. Bruce Brown)

The Endless Summer

Documentarian Bruce Brown followed two surfers, Michael Hynson and Robert August, around the world as they surfed, frolicked with the locals and kept on looking for the next perfect wave. Yes, Brown’s non-stop commentary makes him come across like a bored narrator from a sixties era film strip, but almost fifty years after the film was originally released, the film remains an astonishing document of a particular time.

Despite his flaws as a narrator, Brown has an incredible eye as a filmmaker, and has captured many jaw-dropping moments. If you see one surfing documentary, it should be The Endless Summer.


17. Summer of ’42 (1971, Dir. Robert Mulligan)

Summer of ’42

Screenwriter Herman Raucher took his memories from the summer of his fifteenth year, and made this bittersweet, haunting film. Directed by Robert Mulligan, Summer of ’42 stars Gary Grimes as Hermie, the shy, teenage version of Raucher, and Jennifer O’Neil, the beautiful war bride anxiously awaiting news of her soldier husband.

The cinematography by Robert Surtees helps transform Nantucket Island into a strange, dreamlike place. Few films about summer look this gorgeous and heartbreaking at the exact same time. Grimes and O’Neil are terrific, but the supporting cast is just as adept, especially a supporting turn by Lou Frizzell as a hapless pharmacist, in a hilarious scene where Hermie attempts to buy some ‘rubbers.’


16. My Girl (1991, Dir. Howard Zieff)

MY GIRL, Macauley Culkin, Anna Chlumsky, 1991

What is it about the summertime that makes so many filmmakers get nostalgic? Just as Summer of ’42, filmed in the early seventies, pined for an earlier time, My Girl, shot in the early nineties, looks back fondly on another war-torn year: 1972. The film follows the summer antics of eleven-year old Vada Sultenfuss (a young Anna Chlumsky, in a star-making turn) and her best friend Thomas J. (Macaulay Culkin, in a supporting performance at the height of his stardom).

My Girl is the rare Hollywood film that is actually about a young girl, and her transition from childhood to the teenage years. The film stars Dan Aykroyd as Vada’s undertaker father and Jamie Lee Curtis, but this is Chlumsky’s picture all the way; and she gives the picture its humor, tragedy and depth.


15. My Summer of Love (2004, Dir. Pawel Pawlikowski)

Emily Blunt in My Summer of Love

One reason why the films of director Pawel Pawlikowski are so rewarding is because he dares to challenge his audience. He doesn’t force feed the plot points to you; he expects you to do some of the work. There’s an ambiguity and mystery to his work that seems to be missing from much of contemporary film.

His 2004 film, My Summer of Love, follows the evolving friendship between Mona (Natalie Press) and Tasmin (Emily Blunt, in her film debut). Mona and Tasmin are drawn together at first by the long, monotonous summer in the Yorkshire countryside, and then connect on a deeper level. At least, that’s one version of the story. Based upon the novel by Helen Cross, Pawlikowski and co-writer Michael Wynne have crafted a lush and romantic film that’s hard to pin down.

The film takes many surprising turns, and features some astonishing moments (a hillside procession featuring a large cross feels like something Herzog might’ve shot). Although Blunt is fantastic as the rich, seductive Tasmin, Press is more than her equal as Mona, while Paddy Considine is appropriately unsettling as Mona’s born-again, brute of a brother.