There are several movies that I will forever think of as some of the all-time best kids' summer movies. Many are films I watched as a child myself on muggy July nights. I have very fond memories of huddling around the TV with my brothers, eating Doritos in the dark, while onscreen someone named Johnny performed a feat of some kind. Johnny swept the leg. Or Johnny did the lift. Or Johnny scooooored toniiiiight.
Summer is kind of the ideal time to make family movie memories. For one, the kids are on vacay, so you don't need to stress about dragging them out of bed for school the next day. Plus, I just feel like kids' imaginations are in overdrive in the summer months — they have more unstructured free time to explore and create, and chase each other around the yard reenacting scenes from The Princess Bride.
Below, I've rounded up some of the best summertime classics to cuddle up on the couch with. Obviously, you need to take your child’s age into account with a few of the selections, or else plan to be quick with the remote. You also might want to be ready to offer some historical context with some of the older films. Expect questions like, “Why is the doctor always smoking cigarettes?” (Because he’s an idiot!) or “What is that strange machine they keep shouting into?” (It’s called a rotary phone!) Or “Why are the children riding their bicycles great distances in the dead of night completely unsupervised?” (Because parents in the '80s were very busy doing cocaine and dancing to Culture Club!)
Happy viewing, and don't forget the Doritos. Or popcorn. Or edamame. Or whatever kind of snack food your family likes to consume while staring at moving images.
Logically speaking, it seems like Jaws should be the worst summer movie ever. Why bring people's worst seasonal fears to life, right? It’s like cuddling up at Christmas and watching a movie about Santa falling down the chimney and breaking his neck. #WellPlayedGremlins. And yet, even 43 years on, Jaws remains one of the most thrilling summer flicks of all time. Just watch your kid’s eyes the first time she hears that opening theme… bath time shall never be the same again!
Bonus: it will also be an amusing watch for you, as you can take in the many fine fashions of Amity circa 1975. Forget shark fins — the lapels on some of those jackets could be spotted miles out at sea...
Awesome spacecraft? An adorable alien with an (only slightly creepy) extra long finger that glows? Kids riding their bikes across the freaking moon? Even in the age of CGI, E.T. is still a wow of a film, and remains as touching and entertaining as ever. And with everyone in short shorts, it simply feels made for watching while eating a popsicle.
Plus if you want to freak your kids out after, you can show them a short clip of Drew Barrymore eating a human foot in The Santa Clarita Diet and explain that that's the same little girl. (Or maybe not...)
3. 'The Karate Kid'
Nothing says childhood summer quite like skee-ball, a first kiss, and learning to stand up for oneself while wearing denim cut-offs. The story of dorky Daniel LaRusso waxing on and off still holds up nicely, while teaching kids valuable lessons about integrity, persistence, and why a shower is a much cleverer costume than a skeleton. Plus, I mean they even play "Cruel Summer" during part of it. C'mon!
4. 'A League of Their Own'
I accidentally first typed this in as A League of One's Own. As if Virginia Woolf had penned a revelatory essay on why every woman needs her own baseball team.
Anyway, while it might not have been written by Woolf, it was directed by another boundary-breaking feminist — the late Penny Marshall. So be sure to screen this one for the whole fam, lest your children think every film must star someone with a penis having an adventure.
This movie remains a fun, feel-good tale of empowerment, with a fab performance by Geena Davis, and of course has that awesome swing-dancing scene with Madonna.
5. 'Dirty Dancing'
Another stellar story of a young woman coming into her own — this time via pelvic thrusts and carrying a (very fateful) watermelon. Everything about Dirty Dancing screams summer: the lake swimming, the Berkshires, the sweaty gyrating to "Hey Baby"... This film is guaranteed to result in endless dance-offs in the front yard, as well as many a failed lift attempt at the local public pool.
6. 'The Sandlot'
This sweet and funny little flick is sure to delight both baseball fans as well as just fans of silly slapstick. It's centered around the summertime adventures of an awkward boy who struggles to learn how to catch a fly-away. Set in 1962, it's sort of like Stand By Me, but with fewer dead bodies and more dog humor. There are hot lifeguards, fireworks, and weirdly spooky neighbors — the very fabric of a childhood summer.
7. 'The Little Mermaid'
While I wish Ariel hadn't been so willing to literally give up her voice for the sake of a hot prince, it's hard not to love this movie. The music is amazing, and I mean you need to give your kid something new to belt into their hairbrush this summer. They need something other than Taylor Swift's "Me," for god's sake.
To make it extra fun, might I suggest presenting the children with their own mermaid tails, pre-viewing? Perfect for your next beach trip! Or rolling around in the sprinkler. Whichever comes first.
8. 'Grease 2'
Alright this one is a bit of a wild card. But my siblings and I loooooved this movie as kids. Unlike The Little Mermaid, the soundtrack is kind of terrible, but in the best possible way.
It's of course the candy-colored sequel to Grease, and tells the tale of a handsome nerd trying to win over an extremely bad*ss Michelle Pfieffer by riding a motorcycle ("Who's that guy?!?"). Everyone in it looks mid-30s but plays a high schooler, there are catchy numbers about both bowling and sex ed... I mean this movie seriously has it all. Your child is sure to stare transfixed at the television, though whether in wonder or confusion is uncertain.
9. 'The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants'
Best girlfriends, hot Greek dudes, and flattering jeans that fit everyone — I dare say there are few females who can't get on board with such a premise. With so many films devoted to the male coming-of-age experience, this sweet little story of four friends working through their own unique growing pains (I'd choose Alexis Bledel's personally) was and remains a refreshing delight. It captures all the angst and heartbreak and joy of a summer of new experiences.
10. 'Stand By Me'
Perhaps the ultimate in boyhood coming-of-age films, Stand By Me captures so much of what is hard and wondrous about being at the tail-end of childhood: questions about death, the the future, and how to handle leeches on the scrotum.
It's a beautiful and moving little movie that offers kids just the right balance of scary, funny, and real. And all set in the deep woods with rolled up sleeping bags beneath the stars (*Be prepared to later find Google searches for "Who Is River Phoenix?" and "Images of River Phoenix" in the family computer search history.)