'Meatballs'It's summertime. And that means it's time for summer camp. And summer camp movies.

We're all well acquainted with the traditions of summer camp, both good and bad: intense friendships and crushes, homesickness, sadistic or sympathetic counselors, talent shows, sexual awakenings. The heavy nostalgia (or nightmares) evoked by this particularly American institution has resulted in a variety of movies, from the goofy fun of 'Camp Nowhere' to the bloody horror of 'Friday the 13th.'

To welcome summer 2010, we've complied a list of the best summer camp movies. So grab your bug juice and bug spray and bask in the nostalgic glow of movies about summer camp: 'Meatballs'It's summertime. And that means it's time for summer camp. And summer camp movies.

We're all well acquainted with the traditions of summer camp, both good and bad: intense friendships and crushes, homesickness, sadistic or sympathetic counselors, talent shows, sexual awakenings. The heavy nostalgia (or nightmares) evoked by this particularly American institution has resulted in a variety of movies, from the goofy fun of 'Camp Nowhere' to the bloody horror of 'Friday the 13th.'

To welcome summer 2010, we've complied a list of the best summer camp movies. So grab your bug juice and bug spray and bask in the nostalgic glow of movies about summer camp:

'Camp''Camp' (2003)
A fictional ode to performing arts camp Stagedoor Manor, attended by director Todd Graff (as well as Natalie Portman and Robert Downey Jr., among others) many summers ago, 'Camp' is an energetic, upbeat mix of bitchy backstage humor and show-stopping performances. Its main story line concerns the arrival of an attractive, straight singer-songwriter (Daniel Letterle) who bewitches male and female campers alike. (Anna Kendrick plays a mousy sidekick who upstages her diva pal.) The 2005 documentary 'Stagedoor,' about the real-life Catskills, N.Y., camp, is less focused, but provides a fascinating window into an insular world inhabited by young theater geeks.


'Camp Nowhere''Camp Nowhere' (1994)
Four kids (unhappily) destined for individual camps devoted to computer science, theater, military training and weight loss decide instead to design their own no-rules camp. They enlist a former drama teacher (Christopher Lloyd) to scam their parents into the plan, which spirals out of control when two dozen other kids find out about the scheme and crash their paradise. Along with having all sorts of fun, the kids inevitably learn valuable lessons about life and growing up. A funny joyride of a movie. Unlike our next entry ...



'Friday the 13th' (1980)'Friday the 13th
' (1980)
This seminal slasher flick, which spawned several equally gruesome sequels, took an already proven formula ('Halloween') and set it at an abandoned summer camp, where a group of nubile young counselors (including Kevin Bacon) converge to re-open the place (and have sex), blithely ignoring the fact that it's notoriously cursed by previous murders. Naturally there's an isolating rain storm, which leads to a string of creative and gory deaths, courtesy of an unseen maniac with earlier ties to the camp. A classic of its kind.


'Heavyweights' poster'Heavyweights' (1995)
Co-written by Judd Apatow early in his career, 'Heavyweights' stars Ben Stiller in what some consider one of his finest comedic performances: An unhinged fitness guru who takes over a boys' "fat camp" and institutes sadistic weight-loss regimes, to be documented for an infomercial. Naturally, a camper rebellion follows. This feel-good Disney production is pretty heavy on the virtues of moderation, self-acceptance and good nutrition, but is quite entertaining nonetheless.


'Indian Summer' poster'Indian Summer' (1993)
In this nostalgic, golden-hued film, a disillusioned camp supervisor (Alan Arkin) decides to close down Camp Tamakwa (which really exists and was attended by director Mike Binder), but first invites a group of former campers from its "golden age" to visit one last time. Now in their twenties, the 'Big Chill'-like assortment of characters (including Diane Lane, Elizabeth Perkins and Bill Paxton) reconnect, pull pranks, engage in classic camp activities and work out their various problems. Affectionate and heartwarming.


'Little Darlings' poster'Little Darlings' (1980)
The stars of 'Little Darlings,' Tatum O'Neal and Kristy McNichol, were teen supernovas in 1980, which fueled much of the hype surrounding the film's release. Its heavily marketed premise -- two 15-year-olds at summer camp bet on who will lose her virginity first (to Armand Assante and Matt Dillon, respectively) -- didn't hurt ticket sales, either. The movie itself is an odd hybrid of slapstick high jinks and serious, thoughtful drama (McNichol, playing a tough kid, is especially good) about friendship and teen sex that resonated with many young viewers. Bonus: Hippie camper Sunshine is played by a very young Cynthia Nixon.


'Meatballs' poster'Meatballs' (1979)
The first collaboration between director Ivan Reitman and Bill Murray (they re-teamed for 'Stripes' and 'Ghostbusters'), 'Meatballs' is a sweet/raunchy, refreshingly naturalistic ode to summer camp. As goofy but good-hearted horndog counselor Tripper Harrison, wise-cracking Murray makes shabby Camp North Star tolerable, even enjoyable, for unpopular kids like Rudy (Chris Makepeace), psyching them up to compete with elite Camp Mohawk in the annual Olympiad. 'Meatballs' marked Murray's first credited movie appearance and raised the bar impossibly high for actual camp counselors everywhere. (Several terrible Murray-less sequels would follow.)



'The Parent Trap' poster'The Parent Trap'
(1998)
Though only part of the movie takes place at summer camp, it's the memorable setting for the unexpected reunion of separated-at-birth twins Hallie and Annie, a Californian and Londoner, respectively (both played nicely by Lindsay Lohan). The duo's initial hostility leads to a series of competitions and silly pranks played on the clueless counselors of their upscale New England camp, which results in banishment to an isolation cabin. There the girls finally figure out why they look exactly alike and hatch a plan to get their parents back together. A solid remake of the 1961 original.


'Summercamp!' poster'Summercamp!' (2006)
This poignant documentary doesn't dig too deeply into the minds and hearts of campers and counselors at Wisconsin's Swift Nature Camp, but instead presents glimpses -- some charming, some heartbreaking -- into everyday camp life: homesickness, outcast status, cool or uncool counselors, canoeing, lime Jell-O. Two kids are especially memorable: quiet, wispy Holly, who's obsessed with chickadees; and chubby, aggressive Cameron, who cries daily. It's all set to music by the Flaming Lips.


'Wet Hot American Summer' poster'Wet Hot American Summer' (2001)
Almost universally dismissed by critics upon release, this eccentric, free-ranging parody of summer camp movies, directed and co-written by David Wain ('Role Models') along with his 'The State' mate Michael Showalter, subsequently attained cult status. The film details the last day of summer 1981 at Camp Firewood via various genre stereotypes (nerd? slut? dim stud? CHECK!), along with sundry other odd characters, played with great relish by established and upcoming comedy talents including Janeane Garofalo, David Hyde Pierce, Amy Poehler, Paul Rudd and Molly Shannon, plus Chris Meloni as a shell-shocked Vietnam vet and camp chef. In a crazy class by itself.


Honorable mentions: 'Addams Family Values,' in which Pugsley and Wednesday must suffer the horrors of an elite summer camp; super-cheesy cult slasher 'Sleepaway Camp' (and sequels); 'SpaceCamp' (featuring a very young Joaquin Phoenix), which unfortunately coincided with -- and eerily mirrored -- the Challenger space shuttle disaster at the time of its release.