There is surely nothing better than lazing around in the sun while on vacation, watching a movie which encapsulates the vibe of summer. It’s the bright sunny days, it’s a world without serious consequences, and it’s the feeling that, for once, your time is your own.
Netflix has plenty of films to cater to this sensation, letting you build a comfortable little cocoon, as the world passes by and does its own thing. You might need our ultimate Netflix guide in case you have trouble getting started, but it’s actually pretty simple.
All the movies in this list are available on Netflix in the USA. After Netflix’s recent crackdown on VPNs, non-Americans might not get to see all of these, but some VPNs still work with Netflix. So fire up the popular streaming service, sit back, and let the good times roll.
The Endless Summer (1966)
Starting a “summer vibes” movie list with a documentary might seem strange, but The Endless Summer isn’t your typical documentary. It perfectly captures that summertime feeling of freedom and discovery, while coupling it with another essential summer activity: surfing.
The documentary tracks two surfers, Mike Hynson and Robert August, in search of the perfect wave. The duo travels the whole world, meeting locals who match their passion for surfing and the love of the beach life. Director Bruce Brown films and narrates their adventures from Ghana to Tahiti, while also explaining the sport of surfing and its many challenges and conquests.
It really doesn’t matter whether you like surfing or not. This is a real, globe-trotting adventure, and you’re invited to surf along.
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)
No other director has managed to tap into the minds of children, teens, and young adults as successfully as John Hughes. Many of his movies could fit into this list, but unfortunately, only Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is currently available on Netflix USA.
The movie follows a day in the life of Ferris Bueller. Everyone has met a Bueller in their school years. He’s the cool and funny guy, who is the first to pull off a stunt and somehow manage to get away with it. On this day, Bueller has decided to skip school with his best friend and girlfriend, and go to Chicago. But his school principal is determined to catch him in the act and make an example out of him.
It’s the ultimate teenage adventure story, and a fantasy that every young heart wants to live out. The story of endless possibilities, of pulling a fast one on an authority figure, and of creating a memory that will live on forever.
Stand By Me (1986)
Author Stephen King is known more for his horror fiction books, but this morbidity comes from an incident early in his childhood. Stand By Me is based on King’s real-life experience as a kid, when he witnessed a horrific tragedy.
Stand By Me captures what it’s really like being a kid in small-town America, as urban myths become larger than life and friendships become the most important thing in the world. Set in the summer of 1959, four 12-year-old boys set off to find a dead body that a few others are rumored to have seen. The journey is a coming-of-age tale that dispenses the usual saccharin and feel-good factors of kids’ movies, and shows how children can grow up quickly.
Not only do you get four solid performances from the boys, but director Rob Reiner is at his absolute best in this one.
Wet Hot American Summer (2001)
When Wet Hot American Summer first released in 2001, it didn’t get much attention. In fact, critics were harsh on it. But over the years, it has developed a cult following, even spawning a Netflix original TV series.
Wet Hot American Summer is the ultimate satire of all those summer camp movies. The film takes us back to 1981, and the last day of a summer camp. As with any camp movie, there’s a large collection of kooky characters, adolescent feelings and relationships, heart-wrenching moments, rib-tickling humor, and well-meaning but misguided counselors. Everything builds up to the talent show at the end of the day, which can best be summed up as silly fun.
The movie’s cast wasn’t famous back then, but if you look at the names now, you’ll be surprised. It stars Bradley Cooper, Amy Poehler, David Hyde Pierce, Paul Ruud, Janeane Garofalo, Michael Ian Black, and several other recognizable actors.
50 First Dates (2004)
When you see the name Adam Sandler, you expect idiotic antics and frat-boy humor. But 50 First Dates is an exception, and one of the few Sandler movies that has a lot of heart. It’s the second movie of his pairing with Drew Barrymore, and the two actors have magical chemistry on screen.
Sandler plays a Casanova in Hawaii, jumping from fling to fling with tourists. He meets Barrymore and falls for her, but quickly learns that she has severe short term memory loss. Every time she sleeps, she forgets what happened the previous day. Undeterred, Sandler decides to win her over by going on a new date every day.
It’s quirky, it’s funny, and while the premise sounds silly, it’s the treatment of the movie where it shines. The refreshing locales in Hawaii, the constant pursuit of possibility, and the will-they-won’t-they should keep you hooked until the fine, unexpected climax.
Into The Wild (2007)
Sean Penn’s directorial venture is based on the true story of Christopher McCandless, who did something many of us only dream about. After graduation, McCandless gave away all his money and possessions and said goodbye to his simple suburban life, setting off for wherever the world took him.
Played by Emile Hirsch, the film plots McCandless’s course across America, the people he met, and the relationships he built. The cinematography is stunning, and somehow captures the freedom of the summertime spirit better than many “summer holiday” movies. Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam composed a custom soundtrack for the film, his voice perfectly complementing the long dialogue-less scenes.
The story of McCandless, AKA Alexander Supertramp, makes for one of those insanely weird Wikipedia articles, but you might want to hold off on reading it until you finish the movie.
Adventureland is perhaps the finest “summer vacation” movie in this list, and never really got its due. It’s a slice-of-life romantic comedy, starring Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Kristen Wiig, Bill Hader, and Ryan Reynolds.
Eisenberg takes a summer job at the local amusement park, Adventureland, to fund his travel plans. The movie is about the people who work at and visit the park, like the co-worker and love interest played by Stewart. With the love story as the background, the film charts the various people Eisenberg meets and the life lessons he learns along the way.
Adventureland won’t surprise you, it’s a tried-and-tested formula. But it’s done so well that you’ll be left with a smile on your face.
Super 8 (2011)
Geek darling J.J. Abrams is one of the biggest directors in Hollywood today, what with him making the new Star Wars: The Force Awakens movie. Super 8 is his homage to another directing legend, Steven Spielberg. Abrams himself said he wanted to capture the spirit of classics like E.T., and it probably helped to have Spielberg as the film’s producer.
A group of kids are making a zombie movie on a classic Kodak super 8 camera for a competition. While filming, they see a major train crash and realize there’s something fishy about it. Soon, the army swoops into their little town, while simultaneously, strange events start taking place. What was being transported in the train, and why is the army so interested?
There’s something “classic” about Super 8 that can’t be explained. It’s not just about the plot being set in 1979, there’s an innocence and earnestness that anyone who grew up on E.T. will instantly identify with.
Moonrise Kingdom (2012)
Director Wes Anderson has a distinct style and a bleak, dark humor. You can understand why he’s loved if you follow movie explainers on YouTube, but he’s not everyone’s cup of tea. Nonetheless, give Moonrise Kingdom a shot, as it’s a little bit different from his usual fare.
The plot is simple enough. A boy and a girl, in a rural English town, fall in love and run away to an island. The whole town, split in different groups and having various motives, decides to track them down. While it stars big names like Bill Murray, Bruce Willis, and Ed Norton, Moonrise Kingdom is squarely about children.
It’s about the two 12-year-olds who flee to set up their idyllic life together. It’s about the boy scouts who fight them and help them. It’s about how all the adults treat children. It’s about having the whole world open in front of you as children, and how the world conspires to make you grow up in a way that you don’t upset the status quo.
Camp Takota (2014)
We know that YouTube stars write awesome books, but can YouTube stars also make good movies? Find out with Camp Takota, a throwback to all those camp movies you grew up on.
YouTube star and author Grace Helbig leads the film as an adult who is forced to take up a job as a counselor at her old summer camp, after her personal and professional life implodes. At camp, she meets two old friends, and together, they have to save the camp from being shut down. Sounds like a “same old, same old” plot, right?
Well, it is. There’s nothing out of the ordinary here, but sometimes, all you need is a little bit of familiarity, right?
Which Summer Movies Did We Miss?
With this list, everyone will have something to watch that imbues the spirit of summer vacation. If you’re outside the USA or watch everyyhing on Netflix no matter where you live, check out The Great Outdoors (1988), The Sandlot (1993), and/or The Breakfast Club (1985).
Are there any other essential summer movies that we missed from this list? Tell us your recommendations in the comments below!