If your kid is having a hard time getting into the “summer camp spirit,” maybe these classics (and modern classics) will help get them in the spirit. And once they’ve gone to bed, there are plenty of goofy (or scary!) camp flicks for adults, too!
Top 10 Summer Camp Movies for Kids
Overweight Gerald “Gerry” Garner’s parents send him to Camp Hope, a fun-loving weight loss camp for boys. The fun doesn’t last long, however, when the camp’s kindly owners declare bankruptcy and sell to Tony Perkis, a wild-eyed, money-obsessed fitness freak who runs the camp with an iron fist. Judd Apatow was a writer on this one (check out his pre-pre-40-Year-Old Virgin sensibilities), and Ben Stiller appears.
Camp Nowhere (1994)
Morris “Mud” Himmel’s parents want to send him to summer camp, which Mud is adamantly against. Fearing another “boring” summer, Mud plots with a group of his friends (and blackmails former drama teacher Dennis Van Welker) to fool his parents into sending him to a made-up camp where there are no rules — and no parents allowed.
The Parent Trap (1961, 1998)
Whatever the cast (Hayley Mills in the original or a young Lindsay Lohan in the popular Disney remake), The Parent Trap is a captivating story about a pair of separated-at-birth identical twins who run into each other one summer at an all-girls camp. Eventually the two sisters plot an elaborate plan to switch places and get their estranged parents back together. The film will undoubtedly keep your kids entertained and qualify as a little love-story indulgence for you.
In this classic comedy and cheery ode to summer camp, Bill Murray stars as Tripper, the quippy, big-brother type counselor who wants to help his campers have the best summer of their lives. Filmed at a real camp in Ontario, the feel is retro, the hijinks whacky, and the humor timeless. (Tripper: “Attention. Here’s an update on tonight’s dinner. It was veal. I repeat, veal. The winner of tonight’s mystery meat contest is Jeffrey Corbin, who guessed ‘some kind of beef.’”) This one’s a must-see camp primer.
Addams Family Values (1993)
If you’ve got a camper-to-be who doesn’t…quite…fit…in…sit them down in front of Addams Family Values, where Wednesday (Christina Ricci) and Pugsley (Jimmy Workman) attend the freakishly chipper Camp Chippewa and do battle against their overly blonde, preppy fellow campers. It’s Gothic, and it’s got Anjelica Huston as the glorious Morticia. And if that’s not enough enticement, check out a cameo from Nathan Lane, who went on to portray Gomez in the 2010 Broadway hit The Addams Family.
Race For Your Life, Charlie Brown (1977)
Good grief! In this animated classic starring the characters from Charles Schultz’s “Peanuts” comic, Snoopy, Linus, Lucy, and the gang goes to camp while participating in a variety of summer activities ranging from a rafting race to a battle with some obnoxious bullies from a rival camp.
Space Camp (1986)
Before Space Chimps and Space Cowboys, there was Space Camp: A group of kids attend space camp over the summer, where they learn how to operate a space shuttle…and accidentally launch it (and themselves) into orbit. Your kids will get a glimpse of what NASA used to be like, and you’ll recognize a devilish Joaquin Phoenix (then known as Leaf Phoenix) in one of his early roles.
The Adventures of Spin & Marty (1955)
Originally broadcast as a television series as part of the first year of The Mickey Mouse Club, this ’50s-era gem will draw in your family with its dude-ranch appeal, city-country dynamic, and stories of burgeoning friendship. Freckle-faced returning camper Spin is joined by rich-kid urbanite Marty, who brings along his butler to Triple R summer camp and has no desire to engage in outdoor antics. This is another timeless treasure from the Disney vault.
For all those kids who love theater and music and drama (we’re all within day-trip distance of Broadway, after all), this IFC Films offering will become a mainstay—especially if said kids attend a specialty camp in the arts. Set at Camp Ovation (based on New York’s real-life Stagedoor Manor, famously attended by Natalie Portman, who grew up in Long Island, and NYC native Robert Downey Jr.), this fictional film boasts infectious musical numbers—and no outdoor cookouts or sleeping bags. Anna Kendrick shines as an attention-starved camper, but the whole cast is fun and, well, creative. At times charming, silly, and show-stopping, this one’s got universal themes galore, too (think ambition, acceptance, and finding a place in the world).
We added this documentary to the bunch because, while it’s not a “reality show” in the way we’ve come to know the term, its reality is certainly what makes it so appealing. Watching a group of tween campers come into focus as real individuals—including their ups, downs, adolescent rituals, and camp experiences both high and low—is heartwarming. And it’ll ultimately sway your camper-to-be to dive into his or her own camp experience headfirst.
Top 5 Camp Movies for Parents (After the Kids Have Gone to Bed)
Friday the 13th (1980)
In this time-honored horror prototype, a group of counselors decide to reopen Camp Crystal Lake, the site where a child drowned years earlier. Unfortunately for the group of counselors, an unseen stalker starts killing them off one-by-one. The deadly Jason original spawned numerous sequels…and a whole generation added hockey masks to their Halloween repertoire. Turn off the lights for full effect.
Wet Hot American Summer (2001)
Starring a slew of famous faces in comedy (Janeane Garofalo, Molly Shannon, David Hyde Pierce, Michael Showalter, Paul Rudd, Amy Poehler), cult favorite Wet Hot American Summer portrays a whole lot of hilarity on the last day at Camp Firewood in the year 1981. If you haven’t already seen it, do. The parody is quirky, for sure. And beware: It’s rated R for a reason.
Jesus Camp (2006)
This jarring documentary follows several children as they attend a summer camp that preaches evangelical Christianity. Be prepared for mature scenes and for enduring post-viewing conversation, as the doc hits on brainwashing, parental responsibility, and the great divide that exists among many Christians and so-called cults in our country. An eye-opener, albeit one that may leave you with more questions than answers, this film is worth adding to your Netflix queue.
Indian Summer (1993)
Alan Arkin stars in this endearing comedy about a group of camp friends who meet up at their old summer stomping grounds when they are well into their 30s. After much reminiscing, they are shocked to discover that the camp’s owner, Unca Lou (Arkin), plans to shut the camp down. This one’s a heartwarming comedy that could have gone schmaltzy but didn’t—it succeeds due to a great cast (including Diane Lane, Kevin Pollak, Bill Paxton, and Elizabeth Perkins)—and it’s a great option for mom and dad alone or with the kids, giving a nostalgic taste of camp “back in the day.”
Little Darlings (1980)
Oh, the loss of innocence…girls fighting and making up (in a real, honest portrayal of young female friendships)…jealousy…and a trio of then-teenage heartthrobs Matt Dillon, Kristy McNichol, and Tatum O’Neal—enough said. If you saw this movie as a tween (before that word even entered the lexicon), it would have seemed like you were watching something oh-so-grown-up. And somehow, 40 years later, it still feels like a fun romp that rings true and brings you back to the days of adolescent yearning. And oh yeah, the action takes place at summer camp.