These Are the Best 10 Summer Camp Movies for Kids
Ten movies to get your kids in the summer camp spirit, plus five movies for mom and dad
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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.
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