Is there anything that exemplifies an American childhood more than summer camp? Each year, over 11 million people go to summer camp, so odds are that either you, your spouse, your children or at least someone you know has attended summer camp at some point.
For those of us who haven’t been, we still know all about it because it’s such a common thing. It’s also a very popular setting for summer movies, particularly teen movies.
Here are some of the best family-friendly summer camp movies, starting with my favorites at the top.
Note: This list is geared more towards fun, lighthearted kid-friendly camp movies. As a result, I’ve left out popular horror, thriller and slasher films set at summer camps.
Summer Camp Movies
Camp Nowhere (1994)
Ah, the 90s, the era of grunge and movies about kids trying to trick their parents… Camp Nowhere is the perfect example of both. A young Andrew Keegan and some of the other boys at camp are totally rocking the grunge look, and the whole plot of the movie follows a group of kids’ scheme to create their own fake summer camp to avoid going to the computer, military and fat camps their parents have planned for them.
In addition to Keegan, there are probably a few other names you’ll recognize scattered among the large group of kids (Jessica Alba, Jonathan Jackson and Allison Mack) but the real star of the show isn’t one of the kids at all.
That honor goes to Christopher Lloyd, the man the kids blackmail into pretending to be their camp counselor. In order to sell the ruse to the parents, Lloyd’s character must pretend to be a computer genius, a fat-camp counselor, a drama teacher and more. It’s probably one of my all-time favorites when it comes to summer camp flicks.
Addams Family Values (1993)
Guys, this movie is just plain fun. While most people would argue that Addams movies are more appropriate for Halloween than summer, this one’s the exception.
This sequel sends Wednesday and Pugsley off to an upbeat, ‘chipper’ summer camp called Camp Chippewa. The absurdity of the two Addams children placed in such a brightly colored, ‘kum ba yah’ kind of place is absolutely hilarious, and when the two of them turn the “First Thanksgiving” play into a more… let’s say realistic version of events, I crack up every time.
Morticia and Gomez are perfect as always, and Joan Cusack’s portrayal of Debbie, Uncle Fester’s new black widow bride, cemented Cusack in my mind as one of my all-time favorite actresses.
Moonrise Kingdom (2012)
Wes Anderson is mostly known for his odd, cerebral-type films, so it may surprise you to know he once made a summer camp movie – a really great one, in fact.
Moonrise Kingdom is about two 12-year-old campers who fall in love and, after a year of being pen pals, decide to run away together at camp the next summer.
This doesn’t work out so well, and they end up running from the entire camp of Khaki Scouts, led by camp counselor Edward Norton, Suzy’s parents (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand) and the cops, led by Captain Bruce Willis.
The movie’s packed with big name talent, and the lesser-known child actors are excellent as well. If your kids are into movies that are a little off-kilter, they’ll probably really enjoy this one.
While this movie wasn’t exactly a hit when it was released, it’ll always have a place in my heart. I’m a huge Judd Apatow fan, and this movie combines Apatow’s hilarious writing with the talents of several chunky, adorable and talented then-child actors.
Ben Stiller’s camp counselor character is also uproariously funny. (If you’ve ever seen Dodgeball, think of his Peter La Fleur character in that, only younger and given the task of slimming down a group of husky teenage boys at “fat camp.”)
The plot is pretty standard: Kids are sent to a summer camp they think will be fun and then forced to “make a plan” and turn things around when it turns into something horrible.
Furthermore, some of the jokes definitely fall into the ‘potty humor’ category, but it’s fun, lighthearted and not a bad flick overall.
Space Camp (1986)
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Space Camp holds a special place in my heart. I grew up about 45 minutes away from the original Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama, and that’s the exact camp this movie is based on, although this one is set at Cape Canaveral.
While this movie isn’t exactly a “summer camp” movie, it’s summertime, and four kids are selected to go to camp, Space Camp. Through an odd series of events, the kids are actually launched into space on a rocket and have to use their brains and wits to fly themselves back to Earth.
It may not be as summer-like as the others on this list, but it’s certainly worth watching.
It Takes Two (1995)
Before Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen were successful fashion designers, they were just a pair of adorable twins with big blue eyes and gorgeous smiles.
It was around that time that they starred together in this adorable movie that actually shares quite a few similarities with The Parent Trap, only in this movie, the two identical girls aren’t actually long-lost sisters. They’re two non-related girls who just happen to look exactly alike. (I know; it’s ridiculous, but that’s part of its charm!)
Much like The Parent Trap, the two girls meet at summer camp and are vastly different. One’s an orphan living in an orphanage, and one’s a boarding school resident and the daughter of a very wealthy man.
The two girls naturally decide that the woman who runs the orphanage (who the orphan girl loves very much) and the wealthy man (who the boarding school daughter loves very much) should get married, and they concoct a plan to make it happen.
It’s true that it almost sounds like an exact ripoff of The Parent Trap, but it’s still a lot of fun, and if your kids can’t get over the dated visual style of the 60s classic, this one might be a little easier for them to digest.
Rim of the World (2019)
Netflix has really been on a roll lately when it comes to creating great kid-centric, “feel good” movies with obvious throwbacks to the 80s. They started with Stranger Things, which is, in my opinion, one of the best shows on television today, and just kept rolling out hits. Rim of the World is one of these hits.
I don’t want to give away too much of the plot, but suffice it to say it’s the only science fiction space camp adventure film on the list. It’s bound to be a real hit in the household that loves Stranger Things, The Goonies and other similar titles.
Race for Your Life, Charlie Brown (1977)
Charlie Brown is always good for some warm, wholesome fun, and this movie that finds Charlie and the rest of the Peanuts gang at the idyllic Camp Remote summer camp is no exception.
They have to deal with some mean bullies, a summer that’s more scheduled and disciplined than fun and river rapids that are a lot more dangerous than they expected.
Ultimately, though, there’s the happy ending we’ve come to expect from the Peanuts, followed immediately by Charlie Brown being left behind once again. Young kids will love it, and it’ll fill you with quite a bit of nostalgia yourself.
If you extend your definition of summer camp to include detention camps for troubled teens, Holes definitely fits in with the rest! I was actually a really big fan of this book. My son and I read it together, and we were both really excited to watch the movie when it came out in 2003.
I was a little disappointed in it, but my son absolutely loved it, and it was full of mystery, adventure and misfit kids saving the day, so it definitely wasn’t all bad. It’s mostly a comedy, but there’s some kid-friendly action as well. All-in-all, it was worth the watch.
Ernest Goes To Camp (1987)
Jim Varney’s various portrayals of Ernest P. Worrell were a staple of my childhood, and although all the movies – this one included – are ridiculous, cheesy and over-the-top, they’re also a lot of fun and pretty clean.
Even though younger children might not understand all the humor in this movie, there’s certainly very little in it that would be considered objectionable.
In this film, the lovable but eternally clumsy and dorky Ernest becomes a camp counselor to a group of delinquent misfits.
The plot isn’t very complex, but there are plenty of instances of Ernest getting himself into one misadventure or accident after another, and your younger children especially will be rolling with laughter throughout the whole thing.
Troop Beverly Hills (1989)
Okay, so calling this one a “summer camp movie” is a bit of a stretch. It’s actually more of a Girl Scout movie, but it just feels like a camp film.
There’s the traditional group of misfits, an unqualified den mother who really only signed on to connect with her daughter, a coming together of the whole troop (and den mother) over the course of the film and a rival who doesn’t mind cheating to win.
It has all the good plot devices of a good summer camp film, so I say it qualifies. It’s also pretty funny, especially when the den mother, who thinks “survival” means finding the best deals at Saks Fifth Avenue, realizes she’s actually going to have to teach the girls true wilderness survival skills. It’s a little bit dated, but it’s enjoyable nonetheless.
Daddy Day Camp (2007)
Okay, so I know this movie has probably one of the worst ratings of all time. I’ll even admit that most parents aren’t going to get a lot of enjoyment out of it. Despite that, I have a huge soft spot for it.
This was one of my son’s favorite movies as a child, and now that he’s a teenager who’s growing up way too fast, I really miss the days when he was overcome with laughter at the crude potty humor that runs rampant in this film.
I can’t lie and claim this is the best summer camp movie; maybe it shouldn’t have even made the list, but if you have little kids who are in that stage where they giggle uncontrollably when someone passes gas and who love to make gross vomiting noises for fun, they’ll enjoy it.
Summertime Switch (1994)
This made-for-TV movie didn’t get a lot of press when it premiered, and a lot of people have never even heard of it. When it comes to summer camp movies, though, it’s one of my favorites, despite the fact that it has a tendency towards stereotyping. Still, it’s fun, and it has some great lessons about life.
In it, a wealthy kid on his way to summer camp accidentally switches places with a poor kid on his way to a boy’s detention facility. It isn’t a Freaky Friday type of switch. It’s just a simple mix-up that takes each boy to the other’s destination.
Of course, chaos and hilarity ensue, and each boy learns a lot about living life on the other side of the economic divide.
Magic Camp (2020)
The fun thing about summer camp movies is that there are camps for everything – theater, dance, cheerleading and more.
This movie is about a very special kind of camp – magic camp. It premiered in 2020 and is one of Disney’s cheesier films, but despite the cheese, I actually really liked it.
Adam DeVine is one of the goofiest but most lovable actors to come out of the last ten years, and he’s perfect as a semi-failed magician who goes back to work as a counselor at the same summer camp he loved so much as a child.
The kids at the camp are great, and there’s a lot to laugh at in the film. It’s also pretty heartwarming, which isn’t surprising considering it’s Disney. It’s a good family movie.
This movie has some sexual innuendo and other aspects that make it most suitable for older teens, but despite that, it’s a fairly decent movie. If you and/or your children were fans of Glee, then Camp will probably be a big hit on movie night.
Anna Kendrick is the only big name to come out of this film about dedicated kids devoting their summers to musical theater camp, but all the performers were hugely talented.
It’s a fun, music-filled camp movie that’s based on the writer/director’s own childhood experience with theater camp. It’s also totally relatable if you are or ever were a kid with big dreams and very little sense of how the world actually works.
The Parent Trap (1961)
While there is a more recent version of this movie starring Lindsay Lohan as the twins, in my opinion, it doesn’t hold a candle to the original starring Hayley Mills. While at a summer camp, two twin sisters who’d never met before meet and immediately dislike one another.
They each start pulling pranks on the other until they’re stuck alone with each other as punishment. That’s when they find out they’re twins and that their now-single parents were once married.
This leads to a set of high jinks where the girls ‘switch places,’ and each goes home with the parent they can’t remember. Then they begin to devise a plan to try to get their parents back together.
It’s a sweet, wholesome movie that’s heartwarming in a way few child/teen movies are today. This is an especially great one to watch on family movie night because it’s pretty much fun for all ages.
Camp Rock (2008)
I absolutely don’t like Camp Rock, and my son maintained that it was “too girly” for him; however, despite being born eight years after its premiere, my niece still thinks this is the best movie ever made.
Furthermore, according to my students, it’s a hit, so I guess my son and I are in the minority on this one. It’s got a lot of catchy music and stars a few mid-2000s teen icons like Demi Lovato and the Jonas Brothers.
It’s Disney, so it’s pretty clean, and it’ll remind you a lot of High School Musical, only at music camp instead of high school. If you have younger children in the house, they’ll probably enjoy it.
Summer Camp Television Shows
Just for fun, I thought I’d throw in three of the best summer camp television shows I’ve seen as well.
Salute Your Shorts (1991-1992)
This is an old-school Nickelodeon show that only ran for two seasons, but I loved it so much that I can still sing the entire theme song – which was the camp anthem – from beginning to end.
It was the 90s, so there’s some serious stereotyping with the cast members that wouldn’t fly in a show today. There’s the grungy, bad boy bully, the chunky kid with the insulting nickname (Donkey Lips), the glasses-wearing nerd, the pretty boy, etc.
The list goes on and on. Still, despite all that, it made a huge impression on me as a kid, and I think most kids would still appreciate its humor, which was admittedly crude at times, even today.
Bunk’d is a fairly popular show that’s still airing new episodes on Disney. It takes place at Camp Kikiwaka. A group of kids whose parents met at the camp years before are sent there for the summer. It’s a typical kids/tweens show, and it features a nicely diverse cast.
It mainly centers around the three main characters, but a story line will branch out every now and then to include the minor characters in camp. It’s not something you, as a parent, are likely to enjoy, but your kids will probably dig it.
Bug Juice (1998-2001) & Bug Juice: My Adventures at Camp (2018)
The original Bug Juice was Disney’s early attempt at trying to create a reality TV show. It featured kids adjusting to camp life at Camp Waziyatah.
I never cared much for it myself, but then, I also dislike reality TV of any kind. It was pretty popular with my students, though. Disney rebooted the series in 2018, but it wasn’t quite as popular then. It only ran for one season.
Still, if you’re looking for another semi- accurate portrayal of camp life, either of these would be okay.
Summer Camp Documentaries
If you have the kind of kids who enjoy watching true stories and documentaries, they might enjoy these summer camp documentaries instead. All three of these films are pretty good, and if you’re looking for movies that actually show you (and your children) what the summer camp experience is really like, you might want to check them out one night.
These could also be good to watch if you’re considering sending your kids to camp for the first time and want to give them a feel for what it’s going to be like.
Girls Rock (2008)
If you’re looking for a movie about a musical summer camp and can’t sit through Camp Rock one more time, convince your kids to give this documentary a try. It’s set at a real life rock ‘n roll music camp for girls.
They get to spend their days connecting with other rock aficionados, playing various instruments including the drums, guitar, bass, etc. and singing.
It’s a camp that strives to empower young women to do what they love while also teaching them a little about what it takes to become successful musicians. It’s my favorite of the three documentaries.
If your children are performers or are thinking about heading to a drama, musical, dance or theater camp this summer, this is a great documentary that really provides a realistic idea of what those types of camp cultures are like.
It follows the story of five participants who head to a Broadway-like summer camp in the Catskill Mountains. The kids aren’t the entire focus of the film, though.
Instead, it takes a broader view of what goes on at the camp, the types of kids who attend it, the hard work they put in each summer and things like that. It’s really quite good.
To me, this documentary takes a slightly darker look at summer camp, and at first I didn’t think I was going to enjoy it. After all, summer camp is supposed to be fun and lighthearted!
However, as it played on, I warmed up to it a bit. It does focus on some of the downer elements of camp, such as homesickness, bullying, not fitting in, etc., but it also showcases all the fun times kids have as well, and I suppose you can’t make a totally realistic movie about summer camp if you don’t add in those less fun parts as well.
Plus, it has a killer soundtrack, which I really wasn’t expecting.
For Adults & Mature Teens ONLY!
Ok, these 2 summer camp movies are definitely NOT family friendly, but I just could not bring myself to write a post about the best summer camp movies without including these 2.
I hid them way down here at the bottom of the post and put the title in red so you would not inadvertently add them to your Netflix que and show them to you 6 year olds! But if you ever get a moment to yourself and want a good laugh, these 2 movies are VERY funny.
If you look at any list naming the best summer camp movies of all time, you’ll usually find Meatballs at the top, and it is the quintessential camp movie. Starring Bill Murray, it’s also one of the funniest.
I don’t, however, recommend watching it with your children before you’ve previewed it yourself. While there’s no actual nudity, the whole movie is practically an homage to sexual conquests.
Don’t get me wrong; the plot’s not bad, and the friendship between Murray’s character and the super shy, 11-year-old Rudy is actually pretty touching.
Still, the three words used most often to describe the film are “raucous,” “raunchy” and “irreverent,” and I think that sums it up fairly well. I also wasn’t surprised when the last two films in the series got bumped to ‘R’ ratings.
Wet Hot American Summer (2001)
First and foremost, you should know that this film does have a well-deserved ‘R’-rating, and it’s not for children under the age of 16, maybe older. There are frequent references to sex, over-the-clothes touching of bodies and multiple same-sex pairings.
Despite those things, this movie is hilarious. Done in the vein of Scary Movie or Not Another Teen Movie, this one is a satirical parody of everything that’s usually involved in a traditional summer camp film. The cast is an SNL lover’s dream – Paul Rudd, Amy Poehler, Elizabeth Banks, Molly Shannon and more.
My own secret crush, Christopher Meloni, even has a role. This movie is a true cult classic, and although it makes a bit of a mockery out of everything that makes summer camp movies so great, it’s a whole lot of fun.