Summer camp: It’s not just a place where we go swimming, learn to tie knots, and try to hook up with a member of the opposite sex for the first time. It’s also a place where we learn important life lessons. Happily, the world of cinema has made it so we don’t even need to attend camp ourselves. We can just watch other people go to camp on-screen and live vicariously through them.
While the tropes of the summer camp movie genre are burned into our collective memory, there aren’t as many movies about summer camp as you probably imagine. With that being said, we would like to present you with the definitive guide to the best movies about summer camp. Ever.
20. American Pie Presents: Band Camp (2005)
Director: Steve Rash
Stars: Eugene Levy, Tad Hilgenbrink, Arielle Kebbel, Jason Earles, Crystle Lightning
When only half the cast returned for the second American Pie sequel, we really should have seen something like Band Camp coming. Seriously, if you can save money by not hiring people like Tara Reid and Chris Klein, imagine how much money you could save by re-hiring nobody from the entire series! Well, except for Eugene Levy, of course, who has long since proven that he’ll show up in just about anything provided there’s a paycheck involved.
Joking aside, the fourth entry of the American Pie franchise really isn’t as bad as you remember. This time around, we meet Matt Stifler – Steve Stifler’s younger, hornier brother – as he unwillingly attends band camp after ruining his school’s graduation ceremonies. What follows is an eyeball rape of virtually every cliché of the genre one could possibly imagine. Heaps of dirty jokes, hidden video, and more breasts than a KFC-catered frat house? You betcha! But what else would you expect?
In short, Band Camp is often mistaken for a terrible film when in fact it is a so-bad-it’s-great masterpiece. All hail the Stifmeister (as well as his siblings).
19. Race For Your Life, Charlie Brown (1977)
Directors: Bill Melendez, Phil Roman
Stars: Duncan Watson, Greg Felton, Stuart Brotman, Gail Davis, Liam Martin
Good grief! In this animated classic starring the characters from Charles Schultz’s Peanuts comic, the gang, including Snoopy and Woodstock, have gone off to summer camp. After a few days of the usual summer camp activities, they all take part in a rafting race. Battling treacherous rapids, wild animals, and obnoxious bullies from a rival camp, the teams make their way downriver to the finish line.
Throughout the proceedings, there are some bizarre twists and turns, and many of them make little sense (for instance, how often does it really snow at summer camp? Is there anyone monitoring these children?) Still, of all the Peanuts feature films, Race For Your Life, Charlie Brown may well be the Charlie Browniest. Simple, nostalgic and pleasant. Also, there is a scene where Snoopy and Woodstock get lost and separated from each other. Left alone to face the cruelty of nature, they both suffer physically and emotionally without their best friend at their side. Their ultimate reunion could surely melt the heart of even the coldest tough guy.
18. Cheerleader Camp (1988)
Director: John Quinn
Stars: Betsy Russell, Leif Garrett, Lucinda Dickey, Lorie Griffin, Rebecca Ferratti
Cheerleader Camp (aka Bloody Pom Poms) follows Alison, a cheerleader who’s grappling with feelings of inadequacy. Alison, along with her flirtatious boyfriend and fellow cheerleaders, attend Camp Hurrah, a cheerleading camp. Allison quickly realizes that her boyfriend seems to be more interested in the other cheerleaders then he is in her. Subsequently, the other girls at the camp begin to turn up dead one by one. With that, Alison starts to believe that she has a split-personality who’s doing the killing.
If you were to strip Cheerleader Camp down to the basics, it comes off as a poor man’s Friday The 13th or Sleepaway Camp (two films we’ll get to in a minute). However, even though it doesn’t bring anything new to the table, it still manages to perform an entertaining routine that will have you shaking your pom-poms in delight. The film has a fair share of inventive kills, some impressive gore, and will keep you guessing to the very end as to who the killer is.
17. Happy Campers (2001)
Director: Daniel Waters
Stars: Brad Renfro, Dominique Swain, Keram Malicki-Sánchez, Jaime King, Justin Long
What do you get when you mix a handful of co-eds, dozens of kids and no parental supervision? Total chaos! Welcome to Camp Bleeding Dove, where seven hot-blooded college freshmen are left in charge of dozens of high-maintenance campers. When the camp’s only responsible adult is inexplicably hit by lightning, it’s an hormonal free-for-all as the counselors struggle with their personal relationships while trying to control the underage masses.
Happy Campers is a sweet s’more of bawdy Meatballs behavior and schmaltzy John Hughes navel gazing (someone even blurts out, “Don’t get Breakfast Club on me bitch!”), and while not every crude water balloon hits its mark, it has some smart performances, an authentic summer camp atmosphere and ends up being a surprisingly poignant reverie on doomed love… and it’s funny. Maybe you should just approach it as a Friday The 13th flick in which nobody dies. And while that may not sound too appealing, you’ll just have to take our word for it that it is.
16. Little Darlings (1980)
Director: Ron Maxwell
Stars: Tatum O’Neal, Kristy McNichol, Armand Assante, Matt Dillon, Margaret Blye
Angel is a tough, poor, chain smoking tomboy. Ferris is a prissy rich girl wearing the latest designs. They’re sent off to summer camp by parents who are having problems: the former’s single mom is man hunting, and the latter’s parents are on the verge of a divorce. After the two polar opposites get off on the wrong foot with a fight on the bus, the pair are egged on to settle their differences with a contest. Said contest? As the only two “inexperienced” girls at camp, they will compete to see who loses her virginity first – with everyone else wagering on the outcome.
Upon its release, Little Darlings was naturally considered quite controversial. The picture was rated R, presumably for its frankness in dealing with its subject matter. But what’s remarkable about it today isn’t how innocent it seems; in fact, it comes off as unusually perceptive. Even though we generally think there’s more nudity, coarse language and sexual behavior in contemporary movies, the reality is that Hollywood is more skittish – perhaps more so than it has ever been – about showing sexuality on-screen, particularly when underage characters are involved. In this respect, Little Darlings really is in a league of its own.