Undefended: Summer Break Movies

Film Fisher Blog

Undefended: Summer Break Movies

FilmFisher’s own Joshua Gibbs recently published a list of ten summer movie recommendations at the CiRCE Institute, together with some thoughts on the nature of the season’s moviegoing habits. Along similar lines, though with a slightly different bent, FilmFisher’s writers compiled lists of films they’d specifically commend to young people on summer break – films that, as Gibbs puts it, “satisfy the natural inclinations of the Summer but resist the purely sensual temptations inherent to it.”

Timothy Lawrence

  1. 12 Angry Men (Sidney Lumet, 1957) – Even though it’s blazing hot, Henry Fonda slowly convinces eleven other sweaty guys in a cramped room to take justice and mercy seriously.
  2. Badlands (Terrence Malick, 1973) – Gives perfect larger-than-life expression to the aimless yearning that typifies an American adolescent’s summer.
  3. Picnic at Hanging Rock (Peter Weir, 1975) – A summer daydream: hazy and hauntingly unsatisfying.
  4. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (Steven Spielberg, 1984) – If Summer is pagan madness, as Gibbs suggests, this is the perfect summer movie. Wild and anarchic, but cherishes the innocence of children and regards lust with knowing irony.
  5. Spider-Man 2 (Sam Raimi, 2004) – Offers all the thrills one expects from a “big summer movie” as well as genuinely stirring exhortations to virtue. Few films do a better job making me want to be a better person.

BONUS PICK: The Lone Ranger (Gore Verbinski, 2013) – The best “big summer movie” made in the last ten years. I watch this every 4th of July.

ADDENDUM: Casino Royale (Martin Campbell, 2006) – After rewatching this lately, I felt compelled not only to go back and make mention of it on my list, but to write an essay on it. A thrilling spy movie that doubles as a nearly-Hitchcock-level treatise on the fate of eros in the modern world.


Robert Brown

  1. High Noon (Fred Zimmermann, 1952) – Before Star Wars and superheroes, Westerns were the genre of summer. As in 12 Angry Men, it is also a blazing hot summer day, but here Gary Cooper fails to convince even one person to take his side. Figuring out why that is the case would make for a fantastic post-movie discussion.
  2. The Dark Knight (Christopher Nolan, 2008) – The epitome of the brainy blockbuster that doesn’t skimp on thrills or on thoughtfulness. It is also a great present-day follow-up to High Noon. Make it a double feature.
  3. Treasure Planet (Ron Clements and John Musker, 2003) – I associate the summers of my youth with reading adventure novels, watching epic films, traveling, and growing up. Treasure Planet takes all these things and melds them into a near-perfect package. (Ironically, the film was released in November – but that might help explain why it flopped at the box office.)
  4. The Sandlot (David Mickey Evans, 1993) – This list would be incomplete without at least one baseball movie, and Sandlot is about what summer means to us when we are growing up. But if you are looking for a baseball film that is more substantial (and less given to juvenile humor), Field of Dreams or Moneyball would also do.
  5. Jaws (Steven Spielberg, 1975) – The earliest definitive summer blockbuster, and still one of the best.

A.C. Gleason

  1. Die Hard was released in July of ’88. It is not a Christmas movie. And yes, I am only including this for “political” reasons.
  2. Orange County (2002)
  3. Fanboys (2009)
  4. Friday (1995)
  5. I’d like to say Lone Ranger, but it’s been a while and I think I like it more ironically than Tim does… so I’m gonna say Jeff Daniels Triple Feature for my 5: Arachnophobia (1990), Dumb & Dumber (1994), and Gettysburg (1993 – the battle took place July 1-3)


Jackson De Vight

  1. Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl (2003) – It’s campy, it’s a lot better than you think it was, and nothing pairs as well with some summer drinks and a warm evening.
  2. Walk the Line (2005) – Excellently acted and produced, it’s a more somber film than you might want from a summer flick, but sometimes it’s a bracing relief to feel something real in the midst of the summer haze.
  3. Jaws (1975) – The ultimate classic summer thriller. Enjoy the beach.
  4. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013) – Charming, better acted than you’d have any reason to expect from Stiller, and beautifully shot.
  5. Ip Man (2008) – Phenomenal action, well shot, and a go-to classic.

Travis Kyker

  1. The Fall (2006) – In the summertime, imagination, uh… finds a way (even if you’re bed-bound with a broken arm).
  2. Chinatown (1974) – One of those movies, like Fury Road and my number 5 pick, that makes you feel the heat and dirt and sweat in almost every shot.
  3. Stand By Me (1986) – If you never daydreamed about a summer adventure like this one, you didn’t have a childhood.
  4. Mission: Impossible – Fallout (2018) – A pure summer blast with a conscience.
  5. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) – The heat will drive you mad. Spend five hours pulling weeds in July or watch this ninety-minute film; either way, you’ll feel the same.

American Graffiti_7

William Connor Devlin

  1. The Wicker Man (Robin Hardy, 1973) – The most bizarre and disturbing portrayal of pagan madness committed to celluloid, this is sun-soaked horror as its strangest, skin-crawling best. It’ll make you wanna stay-in this summer.
  2. The Goonies (Richard Donner, 1985) – Summer is a metaphor for childhood, in a stream-of-consciousness adventure filled with imagination, friendship, and the realization that there’s an end to every summer.
  3. American Graffiti (George Lucas, 1973) – Speaking of endings, this is one summer night that starts as something conclusive before it opens itself up to a world of new possibilities for its characters when the sun comes up.
  4. Adventureland (Greg Mottola, 2009) – An underrated, quietly introspective comedy that best depicts the doldrums of a summer spent working a crummy job, with the added caveat of no prospects when summers ends.
  5. The Nice Guys (Shane Black, 2016) – Captures both the arid heat and the sheen of old school California in ways that are equally nostalgic and a bit scummy. Also, I couldn’t go without have Ryan Gosling in at least one of my picks.

Tom Upjohn

  1. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (Steven Spielberg, 1982) – Skip the perpetually unsatisfying serialization and manufactured nostalgia of Stranger Things for something truly timeless, adventurous, and hopeful.
  2. Apocalypse Now (Francis Ford Coppola, 1979) – Heat makes madmen out of us all.
  3. 500 Days of Summer (Marc Webb, 2009) – See what I did there? Also, foolish romances abound in the summer months.
  4. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (Sergio Leone, 1966) – To echo Robert, yesteryear’s blockbusters often came in the patient, gritty, and sweaty form of the western.
  5. The Sound of Music (Robert Wise, 1965) – Something about the sweeping musical romance fits well with the seemingly endless possibilities of the summer.


Royce Benson

  1. The Endless Summer (1966 – Surfing, what’s more summer defining than that)
  2. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986 – A senior’s defiance for Summer to begin early)
  3. Stand By Me (1986 – The transition from childhood to manhood while exploring)
  4. Little Miss Sunshine (2006 – A classic dysfunctional family road trim with plenty of warmth)
  5. Moonrise Kingdom (2012 – The social awkwardness of love between tweens while camping)

Robert Heckert

  1. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (2015)
  2. Baby Driver (2017)
  3. Mud (2012)
  4. The Darjeeling Limited (2007)
  5. Top Gun (1986)
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