On Camp: 10 Super-Cool Movies About Summer Camp

“On Camp” Month:

1. Introducing Camp Autostraddle, by Riese
2. “On Camp” Call For Submissions, by the team
3. 10 Super-Cool Movies About Summer Camp, by Riese

Summer camp movies are almost a genre in and of themselves: it’s ripe material, certainly, all that wily adolescence and isolation-enabled drama, all that swimming and crafts-making and such. To kick off April’s theme, “On Camp,” I present you with ten decent or otherwise memorable movies about summer camp. Salute Your Shorts isn’t on this list, because it’s a television show. But if it wasn’t, it would be.

Ten Great Or Otherwise Memorable Movies About Summer Camp


10. Camp Cucamonga (1990)

This movie is bad, but it’s also amazing because it was released on my birthday and because it stars Rachel Green, Steve Urkel, D.J. Tanner and the guy responsible for Watergate.


9. CAMP (2003)

[watch it]

CAMP, “a comedy about drama,” takes place at a performing arts camp (based on the director’s experiences at Stagedoor Manor) — a wooded respite for talented weirdos who can’t be gay, love musical theater, or get anyone to make out with them in regular life but live for their eight weeks of summertime freedom. I think if you cross it with Girl Interrupted, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and the The Dead Poets Society, you’ve got yourself a fairly accurate picture of what arts boarding school was like for me, which’s why I think this movie is better than it probably is.


8. Little Darlings (1980)

[watch it]

This movie stars now-currently-out-lesbian Kristy McNichol as Angel, a girl who looks and acts like a lesbian but is not a lesbian — we find this out almost right away, when a group of de-virginized bitches tease Angel on account of her virginal status and then predictably accuse her of being a lesbian. The plot of the movie, then, is a contest between Angel, the tomboy “girl from the wrong side of the tracks,” and Ferris (Tatum O’Neal), the rich girl, to see who can lose their virginity first. Now-currently-out-lady-lover Cynthia Nixon also stars.


7. Stagedoor (2006)

[buy it]

I first encountered storied performing arts camp Stagedoor Manor in the back of The New York Times Magazine, where the Catskill Mountains-based summer program advertised relatively luxurious accommodations and a staff prepared to foster young people’s dreams of stardom. Unfortunately my parents didn’t see the hidden child star I saw inside of myself and were uninterested in sending me to Stagedoor. Parents who did see fit to ship their kids to Stagedoor include the parents of Natalie Portman, Lea Michele, Mary Stuart Masterson, Mandy Moore, Zach Braff, Michael Ian Black, Jon Cryer, Robert Downey Jr., Jennifer Jason Leigh and Mia Tyler.

The documentary is a winner, and any former theater kid (or any kind of awkward outsider) will see themselves in these young aspirants, grappling desperately for affirmation and praying for the possibility of unveiling transcendent talent.


6. Meatballs (1979)

Bill Murray made his lead-acting debut in Meatballs, a movie about dudes and girls in bikinis and — let’s be real, I have no fucking idea what this movie was about, only that it was a huge deal in the 80’s, spawned a lot of sequels, and is considered a “quintessential” camp film.


5. Girls Rock! (2007)

This empowering documentary tells the story of the five-day Rock ‘n Roll Camp for Girls, where girls between the ages of eight and 18 “are taught that it’s OK to sweat like a pig, scream like a banshee, wail on their instruments with complete and utter abandon, and that “it’s 100% okay to be exactly who you are.” The affirming emotional experience of making rock ‘n roll opens the door to discussions about the trials and tribulations of contemporary girlhood, from eating disorders to drug addiction to your more benign everyday self-loathing. As the website promises: “What happens to the girls as they are given a temporary reprieve from being sexualized, analyzed and pressured to conform is truly moving and revolutionary.”

Also; Carrie Brownstein.


4. Jesus Camp (2006)

[watch it]

Unlike most of the other films on this list, Jesus Camp is kinda serious and also quite scary. Documentary filmmakers Rachel Grady and Heidi Ewing earned an Academy Award nomination for this look at an Evangelical Christian Summer Camp “Kids On Fire School of Ministry,” which essentially indoctrinates children into “taking back America for Christ” every summer. This involves worshipping a cardboard cut-out of George W.Bush, speaking in tongues, participating in anti-choice protests, confronting strangers in bowling alleys about their relationship with Jesus, “training for God’s army,” decrying Harry Potter and listening to Ted Haggard deliver a sermon condemning homosexuality. It’s also a pretty damning look at how Evangelicals took over American politics.


3. Ernest Goes to Camp (1987)

[watch it]

After Ernest Saves Christmas, this overlooked gem is the best of the Ernest cannon. I can say this with certainty because I was a big Ernest fan throughout childhood. In Ernest Goes to Camp, Ernest gets promoted from handyman to camp counselor when the camp’s participation in the “Second Chance” programs lands a rowdy bunch of juvenile delinquents on site and nobody but Ernest is willing to take care of them. Hijinks ensue.


2. Wet Hot American Summer (2001)

[watch it]

This cult movie takes place on the last day of a Jewish Summer Camp in 1981. It stars Janeane Garofalo, David Hyde Pierce, Amy Poehler, Molly Shannon, Michael Ian Black, the guys from ‘The State’ and Detective Stabler. How can you go wrong with a cast like that? You can’t, actually.


1. Parent Trap (1961/1998)

[watch the 1998 version]

I know the Lindsay Lohan version has captured a place in your young sweet hearts, but the Hayley Mills edition will forever hold a special spot in mine.

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Riese is the 41-year-old Co-Founder of Autostraddle.com as well as an award-winning writer, video-maker, LGBTQ+ Marketing consultant and aspiring cyber-performance artist who grew up in Michigan, lost her mind in New York and now lives in Los Angeles. Her work has appeared in nine books, magazines including Marie Claire and Curve, and all over the web including Nylon, Queerty, Nerve, Bitch, Emily Books and Jezebel. She had a very popular personal blog once upon a time, and then she recapped The L Word, and then she had the idea to make this place, and now here we all are! In 2016, she was nominated for a GLAAD Award for Outstanding Digital Journalism. She's Jewish and has a cute dog named Carol. Follow her on twitter and instagram.

Riese has written 3200 articles for us.


  1. I remember as a kid always watching Camp Nowhere with Christopher Lloyd and the usual gang of 90’s child/teen stars. I have a lot of nostalgic feelings thinking about that movie. Also, paintball and tie-dyed shirts.

      • I managed to grab Heavyweights on DVD recently! Best find in a while. My next attempt should be the original Parent Trap. I love the camping scenes.

    • I was just about to post that my favorite summer camp movie is Camp Nowhere. I think I had a crush on the pretty blonde girl, Trish. (Sidenote: I just looked this movie up on IMDb b/c I couldn’t remember the blonde girl’s name, and apparently Jessica Alba was in this. I have no recollection of her character so perhaps a re-watch is in order.)

  2. I finally got Hayley Mills singing “Together” out of my head. And now, she’s back. Ah well, there are worse things I suppose

  3. I’ve reached the point in my life where I can quote “Wet Hot American Summer” backwards and forwards, and I’m ok with that.

  4. Ernest Goes to Camp! my cousins would rent that movie every summer when i was visiting. it was tradition.

  5. I feel woefully remiss for having not seen ANY of these films except for (both versions of) The Parent Trap. I think I need to have a camp movie marathon and go make friendship bracelets now.

    • Same here! And now my watching of all these other camp movies that I haven’t seen will be delayed while I go relive my childhood with a Parent Trap double feature. (See what I did there?)

      • Me three! I love Heavy Weights! I worked at a camp, and the staff loved to watch it during time off.

    • AH yes! This! I should have read all the comments before calling for help on this title! Thank you!

    • I was just talking about this movie earlier today! Freaks and Geeks was on and I’m pretty sure one of the side characters was in Heavy Weights.

    • oh yeah heavyweights was totally on my list in my head, i guess i must have forgotten when i put this together today

      • It can wait for another list. Maybe: “heavy kids who find empowerment through teamwork and hiding candy in bunk-bed posts”

  6. I know you said Salute Your Shorts doesn’t count, but all I have to say is Camp Anawana, we hold you in our hearts!

    • Salute Your Shorts always counts.

      Also, I want to throw Hey, Dude into the mix as well. It was kinda a camp. With horses and shit.

      • I too thought of Hey Dude immediately…it was camp-like right? And I’m pretty sure the girl who played Brad on that show is one oof the reasons I’m gay.

        • YES! I went and looked the actress up immediately after typing this comment the other day. I blame her for my love of girls with typical guy names. Brad, Kyle, Sam, etc.

    • Have you ever seen The Trouble With Angels? My Mom was a sucker for those movies. I had the worst crush on Hayley Mills as a result.

      • Is it somewhat disgusting that most of my years in all girls Catholic school had the innocent, happy aura of The Trouble with Angels?

        • I wanted so badly to go away to a Catholic girls school because of that movie. I spent years afterward annoyingly stating that I had “A scathingly brilliant idea!”

          • I went through that phase too – but realizing I would never carry it off in reality, I only plagarized the phrase in letters.

  7. I just recently got introduced to CAMP. Only got half way through but it was redic & I loved it

  8. Does anyone remember that Disney movie about a fat camp? Ben Stiller was in it as a sadistic weight loss guru and camp director who laid on a bed of nails while someone smashed an ice block on his abdomen with a sledgehammer. Clearly, I have very vivid/traumatic memories of this movie but have blocked out the name. We’re talking early ’90s maybe?

  9. Happy Campers is my favorite obscure camp movie

    it also features these scenes
    (hot lady gayness with minor spoilers)

    its on nextflix

    • Happy Campers was filmed at the camp where I went as a camper and worked as a counselor. They keep it on the DL but even ten years later there are random artifacts (Bleeding Dove mess hall sign, stuff carved on trees, etc.) I love it!

      Also worth noting, the dining hall/gym in Happy Campers is the same as the gym in Heavyweights! The rest of Heavyweights was filmed at the boys camp down the road.

    • I LOVE that movie. It’s got a homicidal Joan Cusack, and Harmony from Buffy is the bitchy girl at camp, and Christine Baransky and Peter MacNichol are the aggressively cheerful camp counselors! Love.

  10. Okay so the only three movies on this list that I’ve seen are girls rock! and the parent traps, but I feel like I’ve seen 10 plus horror movies involving camp. camp presents such rich multi-genre cinematic opportunities.

  11. my mind is drawing a blank- was it camp or school when hillduff was in that movie with military uniforms, sexual tension and choreographed gun tossing/spinning?

  12. OMG I was waiting for the Parent Trap: Lindsay Edition. Also glad you followed Jesus Camp with Ernest Goes to Camp, cause just seeing the synopsis gave me flashbacks to when I tried to watch it. MOST. TERRIFYING. MINUTES. OF. MY. LIFE.

  13. I’m glad Camp made the list. I remember being kind of obsessed with the then unknown Anna Kendrick(who completely steals the movie) at the time and thinking it was going to be a crime if that amazing girl didn’t become a star. She’s doing quite well for herself now. Really, all of kids in the movie are pretty fantastic and I always stop to watch it whenever it comes on tv even though I have seen it dozens of times.

  14. YES YES YES YES YES YES you had the parents trap (lindsay version) and it was even in first place andnow the world is happy

  15. I want to say CAMP BEVERLY HILLS but I haven’t watched it since I was about eleven and therefore am not sure if it was actually good.

    • My best friend and I had a strange obsession with these movies when we were young. I still quote the first one from time to time:

      “In fact, I tied a string around my finger so I wouldn’t forget.”

  16. I’m still convinced that Hallie from the Parent Trap grew up to be a lesbian. “Now THAT’S my kinda woman!” about a girl in a rainbow shirt…just sayin’…

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