Even if the weather's not cooperating for your summer plans, you can still get that beachy, carefree feeling by loading up one of these movies and shows that scream "summer."

By Lisa Milbrand
May 28, 2021
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It's the time of year when you swap serious books for beach reads, and lighten up your accessories to make your home feel more like your favorite summer rental. So maybe it's time to lighten up your watch list, too.

That means scrapping those dark, depressing dramas and looking for things that are fun, or at least a little bit juicy—bonus points if they include beachy destinations and plenty of eye candy.

No matter what kind of summer vibe you're hoping to rock this year, there's a summer movie or show for you.

P.S. Feel free to bookmark this list for January, when we're all wishing for a little taste of summer.

If your summer vacation plans are a little meh

If the experts are right, you're probably planing to have a fab time visiting your family back home, having a staycation, or trying a toe-dip trip. But if you're still pining for something that requires a passport stamp and a long flight, you can at least eat up a little gorgeous, summery scenery in the movies, for now.

Crazy Rich Asians

A lot of people added Singapore to their travel bucket list after seeing the gorgeous settings from this charming rom-com—with good reason. A love story featuring a smart heroine, a handsome and wealthy beau, Awkwafina as her scene-stealing BFF, and some of the most luxe locations on the planet? Sign us up.

Where to watch: HBO Max

Mamma Mia

Mix together frothy ABBA music, incredible Greek beaches, and Meryl Streep singing and dancing—and you have the recipe for a perfect summer movie night.

Where to watch: Peacock TV

Class Action Park

If thrill rides are more your speed, this crazy documentary about one of the most legendary—and dangerous—theme parks ever created may be right up your alley.

Where to watch: HBO Max

If you want that last day of school vibe

Remember that last day of school, when you have that long stretch of lazy summer ahead of you? Get that feeling back (if only for a couple of hours).

Dazed and Confused

The entire plot of this movie is "kids in the '70s party after the last day of school." Hidden in that description is a whole lot of heart and smarts, and all the drama you'd expect from a group of teenagers running wild (fights, romance, immature pranks, and generous helpings of beer and weed, all set to a killer '70s soundtrack).  Shout out to Matthew McConaughey's smarmy performance as that 20-something guy who's still hanging out with high schoolers.

Where to watch: Peacock TV

Stranger Things

It's time for a rewatch of season three to prep for the latest season, which finds the group of alien-fighting teens engaging in a totally '80s summer—hanging out at the pool, the mall, and (spoiler alert!) saving the world from some evil Russians.

Where to watch: Netflix

If you want some soapy summer drama

It's summer! Trade in your gritty Mare of Easttown obsession for something a little less grim.

Dead to Me

This darkly funny Netflix series is essentially a girl-buddy film—with gorgeous California scenery, a few deaths, and some serious plot twists thrown in.

Where to watch: Netflix

Big Little Lies

Death visits a group of ubermoms living in grand homes in Monterey—but a lot of the drama comes from affairs, party invitation snubs, and a production of Avenue Q.

Where to watch: HBO Max

Cruel Summer

In this twisty she said/she said thriller, it's not quite clear which girl is telling the truth about a kidnapping and its aftermath.

Where to watch: Hulu

If summer chills are more your thing

Halloween isn't the only scary time of year—some of the most popular horror movies of all time have a summery vibe.

Jaws

The blockbuster movie that made everyone afraid to go into the water is a time-honored summer watching tradition—and that soundtrack alone will give you shivers. (Bonus points if you do an outdoor movie screening from your swimming pool.)

Where to watch: HBO Max

Midsommar

This ubercreepy horror flick about a young couple on an anthropology trip to a Swedish cult that goes horribly, horribly wrong was one of the most talked-about movies in 2019—and is definitely NSFW (or kids).

Where to watch: Amazon Prime

I Know What You Did Last Summer

Teenagers do the dumbest things—like running over a man and dumping the body. A year later, they begin to pay the price in some wickedly gory ways.

Where to watch: Peacock TV

If you're feeling a little nostalgic

Wish you could go back in time to the 1980s (or at least, prepandemic)? These movies and shows will let you reminisce about times gone by.

Firefly Lane

This ode to BFFs follows a pair of friends from their teen years in the 1970s through their lives in the early 2000s—and actors Katherine Heigl and Sarah Chalke are a winning combination.

Where to watch: Netflix

Wet Hot American Summer

This goofy 2001 sendup of the schlocky summer camp movies stars some very famous faces (hello, Bradley Cooper, Amy Poehler, Elizabeth Banks, and Paul Rudd) as teen camp counselors on the last day of summer camp. The gang got back together for two Netflix series more than a decade later—a prequel and a sequel—still playing teenagers at 40+.

Where to watch: Netflix and Showtime

If you're feeling really nostalgic

If you really want a blast from the past, blow past the new releases and rewind to a summer movie you loved way back when.

Caddyshack

The beloved golf comedy is a bit light on plot, but features an epic comedy cast, including Bill Murray, Chevy Chase, and Rodney Dangerfield.

Where to watch: HBO Max

Do the Right Thing

Spike Lee's legendary film about racial inequality on a scorching hot day in a Brooklyn neighborhood feels just as relevant today as it did when it was released back in 1989.

Where to watch: Hulu

National Lampoon's Vacation

The long family road trip is a time-honored American tradition—and sending the goofy Griswolds trekking across the country to Wallyworld is pure comedy gold.

Where to watch: Peacock TV

Dirty Dancing

Baby falls in love with a dance instructor (and dancing) during a sleepy summer she spends at a Catskills resort. This is the summer hit that launched a thousand parodies and memes.

Where to watch: Peacock TV

If you're having a summer movie marathon with the kids

If you're hosting an outdoor movie night with the kids, most of Disney+ will fit the bill (think Moana or Star Wars). But two classic summer movies may be just what your family is craving.

Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants

Follow four teen friends on their summer adventures—all linked by a pair of pants they share between them. (And enjoy some early performances by Blake Lively, America Ferrara, Alexis Bledel, and Amber Tamblyn.)

Where to watch: HBO Max

The Goonies

A group of kids sets off on swashbuckling adventure looking for a pirate's treasure, with a gang of cartoony criminals in hot pursuit. It may just inspire your kids to drop the screens and explore the outdoors a little more.

Where to watch: HBO Max