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9 Perfect Summer Vacation Movies: From ‘Jaws’ to ‘Dirty Dancing’

Movies have long been obsessed with summer. It’s not just a time of year to release big, mindless blockbusters featuring Avengers or Transformers. It’s also an opportunity to memorialize beach-going, keg-standing, and first loves — all the central ingredients to a memorable holiday. From thrillers to comedies to slasher flicks, Variety is counting down nine films that will get you in the summer vacation spirit.

JAWS (1974)
Why It’s the Perfect Summer Vacation Movie: The film that launched both the modern studio blockbuster and Steven Spielberg’s career is also the quintessential summer movie. It boasts both a picturesque beach community setting and an unforgettable central character, a really big fish who likes to nibble on tourists. Four decades after it hit theaters, “Jaws” still has a savage bite. John Williams’ propulsive score will leave you on the edge of your seat, and the sequences where the shark hurtles toward its prey have an intensity that hasn’t been equaled by any other horror film. You may never go back in the water.

ADVENTURELAND (2009)
Why It’s the Perfect Summer Vacation Movie: This indie dramedy about a recent college graduate (Jesse Eisenberg) working at a rickety amusement park perfectly captures that awkward transition between adolescence and adulthood. It also boasts a great performance by Kristen Stewart as the object of Eisenberg’s affections, a sardonic co-worker whose wit masks a damaged heart. “Adventureland” is the perfect way to relive the arrogance and uncertainty of youth.

DIRTY DANCING (1987)
Why It’s the Perfect Summer Vacation Movie: Who doesn’t fantasize about blossoming under a hot dance instructor’s tutelage? The sleeper hit had temperatures rising with its story of a sheltered 17-year-old girl (Jennifer Grey) whose vacation at a Catskills getaway takes a turn for the sultry when she falls for Johnny (Patrick Swayze), a member of the resort’s entertainment staff, who also happens to be from the wrong side of the tracks. “Dirty Dancing” boasts a killer soundtrack and overflows with quotable lines like “Nobody puts Baby in a corner.” Plus there’s Swayze at his teen idol peak.

REAR WINDOW (1954)
Why It’s the Perfect Summer Vacation Movie: The story of a photographer (Jimmy Stewart) who grows obsessed with his neighbors after breaking his leg and getting laid up during a heat wave could have been titled “The Problems With Peeping.” This being an Alfred Hitchcock film, there are deadly consequences to Stewart’s curiosity. A taut thriller that just gets better with age.

WET HOT AMERICAN SUMMER (2001)
Why It’s the Perfect Summer Vacation Movie: Camp Firewood, the summer escape filled with closeted counselors, shell-shocked chefs, and hormonal campers and staffers, is the perfect setting to send up the sex comedies of the ’80’s. There’s also a who’s-who of comic greats such as Paul Rudd, Amy Poehler, Molly Shannon, Janeane Garofalo, Elizabeth Banks, and a very funny, and very young, Bradley Cooper.

SUMMER OF ’42 (1971)
Why It’s the Perfect Summer Vacation Movie: Nantucket + horny teen + grieving widow = bittersweet, coming-of-age romance. It’s an odd equation, and it’s true that some parts of the hit drama haven’t aged so well. For instance, are we really supposed to be okay with a 15-year-old boy bedding an adult? But the summer resort setting and some affecting performances by the youthful cast makes this worth a rental.

DAZED & CONFUSED (1993)
Why It’s the Perfect Summer Vacation Movie: Richard Linklater’s big-hearted look at growing up in 1970’s Austin follows a group of high schoolers on the first official day and night of summer. There are keg parties, lots of classic rock, and some good, old-fashioned hazing. To borrow a line from the poster: see it with a bud.

FRIDAY THE 13TH (1980)
Why It’s the Perfect Summer Vacation Movie: The slasher classic about a group of teens who are terrorized in an abandoned campground introduced Jason Voorhees to the masses. Keep an eye out for a young Kevin Bacon as one of Jason’s victims.

THE WAY, WAY BACK (2013)
Why It’s the Perfect Summer Vacation Movie: This comedy about a teenager (Liam Jones) forced to vacation at his mom’s boyfriend’s beach house illustrates the fun of summer getaways and also their downsides. The adults (Steve Carell, Allison Janney) use the ocean air as an excuse to party like they’re twenty-somethings, while the townies (a sublime Sam Rockwell) shirk responsibility for a few months in the sun. A coming-of-age classic that’s wise beyond its years.

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