5 movies that will make your kids want to go to summer camp

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By: Peter HübertCC BY 2.0

I have always had a bit of a curiosity about summer camp. This is mostly because I never went to one, unless you count the strange religious camp I went to for two weeks that resulted in a case of the hives and broken furniture — which I don’t. I did, however, spend LOTS of my time as a young ‘un watching movies, and plenty of these movies were summer camp movies! I don’t know if your kids are yearning to attend a camp the same way I was (I imagine nowadays magical boarding schools are all the rage, right?) but perhaps a few of these cherished camp movies will rock their worlds.

If not, you’ll dig the trip down memory lane:

For the troublemakers: Camp Nowhere

If you somehow missed this GEM of a summer camp movie on one of the numerous weekends it was shown on network TV in the ’90s, allow me to summarize: Morris, aka MUD, and his friends are routinely dumped at summer camp each year as soon as school lets out.

The pack is hoping to avoid the same horrible places they always end up (science camp, military camp, fat camp), so they create their own camp and manage to convince their somewhat negligent parents that the fictitious camp is so much better than the one that was originally planned.

I forget exactly how it happens, but a former high school drama teach who is now out of work (Christopher Lloyd!) plays the counselor who swindles each set of parents into trusting him with their kids. What unfolds is total tween and teen greatness: the kids spend most of the summer running wild and loving it, but have to clean up their act at the end of the year when the parents expect to show up for Parent’s Day and want to see what their money’s been put toward.

For the homebodies: The Baby-Sitters Club

I am sure there are those of you who are all, “What?! The Baby-Sitter’s Club is totally NOT a camp movie!” But to you I say: AH-HA! You’re forgetting that the gaggle of teen baby-sitters start their own camp so they can spend the summer being BFFs and awesome, aren’t you!?

Let’s backtrack. If you’ve never read this series of books I can only recommend that you begin with the first one: The Baby-Sitters Club #1: Kristy’s Great Idea. If you haven’t read the books OR seen the movie, what you need to know is this: Kristy, an entrepreneurial young lady, starts a baby-sitters club with her friends Mary Anne, Claudia, and Stacey. Kristy is the outspoken one, Mary Anne is the shy one, Claudia is the artistic one, and Stacey is the one who is into shopping and has the coolest handwriting (you would know this if you had read the books).

The movie concerns itself with one summer in which the group — which now includes bonus baby-sitters Dawn (Mary Anne’s step-sister who is from California and likes to EAT TOFU, which is a BIG DEAL), Mallory (younger than the rest, has glasses, curly red hair, and a gaggle of siblings), and Jessi (the first black baby-sitter! She’s also a ballerina) — find themselves potentially split apart. They decide to host a summer day camp, and mayhem breaks loose because essentially we have children (they’re all eleven to fourteen, tops) taking care of younger children. It’s great. Watch it!

For twins, children of divorcees who secretly still love each other, and fans of Lindsay Lohan: The Parent Trap AND/OR The Parent Trap

I’m going to take a second to get a little elitist and say if you haven’t seen the original version of The Parent Trap, please show that to your kids first and watch it with them. I practically grew up on a weekly double dose of The Parent Trap and Pollyanna, and was partially convinced that Hayley Mills had all the keys to success in life. I was also jealous of the cool way she spelled her name. MOVING ON.

The basic premise of both the original and remake is the same: two girls who look remarkably similar arrive at the same summer camp. Even though they LOOK the same, they’re so totally different — they have different tastes in clothing, hair styles, and fun. Inevitably they end up marooned together, where they figure out that they look AN AWFUL LOT ALIKE and that their parents have creepily similar histories — like maybe they were married and that the two girls are actually twins and their parents each took one of them when they divorced. Hea-vy.

So once this has been established (and it happens pretty quickly) the girls start scheming a way to get their parents back together. They (predictable spoiler alert!) switch places, each going back to the parent they haven’t known since they were infants. My personal favorite moment of either film is when the two Hayley Mills sing “Let’s Get Together”:

For misfits: Heavyweights

Heavyweights was created by the same guy who created The Mighty Ducks, which automatically makes it a good movie in my book, and is arguably Ben Stiller’s greatest performance in any film, ever. He plays the guy who bought out a much-loved summer camp and turned it into a fitness camp that’s hellbent on ruining the lives of the young attendees.

The movie combines all those classic teenage feelings and experiences — angst, paranoia, hijinks and getting up to no good, and a little bit of crazy — with a message that’s solid: regardless of their size, kids can all do the same things. The kids decide to band together and overthrow Stiller’s regime, and in the meantime challenge their local rival camp to a series of spectacular games. Heavyweights is definitely a cult classic, so people are very protective of it: watch it, love it, share it.

For music-theater geeks: Camp

Camp is set at Camp Ovation, a summer camp for music and theater geeks alike. Things get all kinds of crazy when a STRAIGHT dude joins and promptly disrupts the normalcy of the camp. As someone who loves music but has NEVER even pretended to attempt performing musically or theatrically, I wasn’t sure if it would appeal to me — but it totally does.

Camp is different from the rest of the movies mentioned in numerous ways — besides the obvious (all that singing and performing), it’s set in upstate New York and there’s nary a nature walk or hot dog roast to be had. The campers put on a new show every other week (and they’re at the camp for eight weeks), so there are pleeeenty of musical numbers.

Basically: this film is perfect for the music-theater kiddo in your life.

What summer or camp-themed movies did you guys love growing up?

Comments on 5 movies that will make your kids want to go to summer camp

    • Nope! A)it’s super new, and b) it’s my understanding that it’s about kids who run away, not kids who go away to summer camp. 🙂

      • It’s an adorable movie (I recommend it!) and while part of it’s set at a camp, it’s about a boy who runs away from the camp. For adults the camp scenes are charming and hilarious, but a kid might not really feel the same way.

  1. I attended camp for 8 years as a kid and worked at a camp for a summer in college. It’s a pretty magical place!

    When I was a camper aged kid I loved watching Salute Your Shorts on Nickelodeon. As a grown up I absolutely love Wet Hot American Summer. I also second the vote for Moonrise Kingdom. It really gets to the heart of the intensity of camp relationships. The full life span of a relationship can be lived out in a week when you are on camp time.

  2. Heavyweights is one of the best camp movies ever! The fact that it was created by the same guy that did The Mighty Ducks makes it an even bigger win.

    On another note, I went to camp from 8th grade to my junior year and LOVED it. It was technically a summer school for nerds (CTY-we called it nerd camp) but it was absolutely fantastic even though I was horribly homesick the first week. I’d totally recommend sending kids to camp once they’re comfortable with the idea. I could have gone the year before but decided not to and my parents didn’t push me.

  3. Oh man, Wet Hot American Summer is fabulous (for teens+). When I worked at a summer camp, we showed it to staff before all the kids showed up as a lesson on what NOT to do : )

    I also second Salute Your Shorts & the camp scene in Addam’s Family. Some of the old reality shows (Bug Juice?) show a little more realistic view of camp.

    Summer camp is a very special place where kids and teens and 20-somethings learn a lot about themselves and the world. And if parents truly knew what went down, they’d probably all be shut down, haha.

  4. Oh my gosh, trip down memory lane INDEED! I can’t believe how much I actually remembre about the Babysitter’s Club (I actually made a babysitting “kit” when I was younger, complete with fun things to do for hours… even though I never babysat…) and I’m pretty sure I actually have “Let’s Get Together” memorized still (although that may be because it’s on the Disney CDs I listened to non-stop when I was younger).

    I never went to any camps; I spent the summer living on a small sailboat with my family in the wilderness of Canada, but I was always so jealous of the Sea Scouts (think boy scouts but high-school ageed, on a big ship). And now I secretly want to watch Camp….

  5. Going to camp every summer from an early age (usually just a week a summer) was probably the best thing for me in my childhood. I’ve always been social nervous, but camp helped me because hardly anyone knew anybody. Camp also taught me how to relate to people in a non-school setting. I went to Christian camps but they were really nice. Pretty much normal camp with some bible study thrown in.

    So I don’t know about the movies, but if you can (I know camp is expensive) I’d really suggest sending your kids as soon as they hit 1st grade. Camp was definitely one of the best experiences I had as a kid.

  6. I LOVE THE BSC! I was always a huge fan of Claudia, but I used to dot my eyes with hearts because I wanted to copy Stacy’s handwriting. Remember the Super Special when they went to Camp Mohawk? Awesome!

  7. Loved the movie Heavyweights growing up! I have been trying to find it on dvd or blu ray, now I really want to watch so I guess its off to Amazon.com for me. I seriously recommend this movie!

  8. Ernest Goes to Camp didn’t make the list? This was THE movie that made me want to go to camp. Who wouldn’t want to go to Kamp Kikakee and learn the path of the brave?

    “If he had faith in the great one, the knife would not cut him. If he had courage – true courage – the rock could not break him. If the brave was pure of heart, the arrow could not catch him. And that was the ritual of the blade, the stone, and the arrow.”

    Like in our culture: Paper, rock, scissors.


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