Every summer, millions of kids go away to a camp. Many come back with positive experiences and memories from their time at camp. For most summer camp movies, the result is just the opposite. These movies have rehashed and/or unbelievable plots, stereotypical characters and gross-out humor rather than smart, character driven stories. But they nevertheless can have occasional moments of genuine pathos and humor. (I did not focus on summer camp movies that were geared toward adults.) Here they are:
The first movie is The Rainbow Tribe, in which a middle –aged man (David James Elliot), with his life in crisis, decides to work at the camp where he went as a kid. He meets five ten-year-olds with each of their own problems, and after a couple misadventures, comes to bond with each of them and the whole cabin as a group. One person who recommended the movie on IMDb admitted that the “troubled youths at summer camp” has been done a hundred times, so even though it has a positive message and is not as bad as some of the ones on this list, it doesn't tread any new territory.
Second on the list is Heavyweights, which involves a bunch of overweight boys going to a fat camp, which was initially a haven for overweight kids…until the original directors’ (an older husband and wife), with financial problems had to let their fitness obsessed son (Ben Stiller) take over. What follows after that is typical high jinks as the boys and the counselors try to take the summer camp back from Ben Stiller’s character. While the movie has a cult status among its fans, the critics gave it terrible reviews and did awful at the box office.
Earnest Goes to Camp is the third movie on this list. Part of a series starring Jim Varney as the childish Earnest Worrell, this film has the title character going to a summer camp as a maintenance man who hopes to be counselor. He has a chance when he decides to take on some juvenile delinquents who put another counselor in the hospital. Meanwhile, the Indian owner of the camp is tricked by a mining corporation into selling the land to mine for a valuable mineral. It’s up to Earnest and his troubled kids to save the day. Again, among its fans, it has a cult status, and it was a modest box office success. The movie garnered mixed-to-negative reviews, however.
The fourth movie is Meatballs (1979) is about a head counselor (Bill Murray) and his CITs who get into all sorts of trouble and high jinks at a Camp North Star. Bill Murray’s character Tripper bonds with a camper with self-esteem problems (Rudy), while the CITs all deal with relationship troubles. The other main plot is a show-down of competitive activities between Camp North Star and Camp Mohawk, in which the wealthier, snotty campers of the other camp dominate North Star at first. But then after a rousing speech from Tripper, the campers start winning and a surprise run from Rudy gives North Star its victory. Probably the best movie on the list, it had mixed to positive reviews and was a box office success. Stay away from the sequels though.
The final movie on the list is Camp Nowhere. In this movie, a young man named Mud and his friends don’t want to go to the specialty camps their parents signed them up for. Then Mud has a great (or perhaps awful) idea: make their own camp with no counselors and do whatever they want. They convince a drama teacher who owes money to a collector to help them with their scheme. All of the parents agree to send their kids to camp, and everything goes great until the parents want to come out to see the camp, and the campers have to change their do-anything camp to one with all the specialty interests. Probably the most ridiculous movie on this list, it has a cult following among the target age, who enjoy the wish-fulfillment element that the movie brings. The movie was not critical or box office success.
There are plenty more summer camp movies to go around, but you get the idea. Most of the rest would probably feature some of the elements or tropes featured in the above movies. Hopefully someday there will be a summer camp movie that actually details the summer camp experience.