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WHAT IT'S ABOUT Camp North Star may not have the best food, the smartest staff, or as many activities as rival Camp Mohawk, but the kids there do have plenty of spirit, thanks to counselor Tripper (Bill Murray, above right).
WHY WE LOVE IT It might not be as funny now as when you first saw it, but after all his recent sad-clown performances, it's cool watching Murray go crazy in his first big movie role. (Highlight: Tripper pretends to be a Camp Mohawk counselor, and tells a news reporter the the kids in his charge will be spending a week with hookers.)
FUN FACT The score was composed by Oscar winner Elmer Bernstein (Thoroughly Modern Millie). So that explains all the oboe solos during the sentimental parts...
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Little Miss Sunshine (2006)
WHAT IT'S ABOUT The Hoovers drive from New Mexico to California in a beat-up (and slowly dying) yellow VW van so that 7-year-old Olive (Abigail Breslin) can participate in the Little Miss Sunshine beauty pageant.
WHY WE LOVE IT Olive being left at the gas station, pushing the van to get it started, and the ''Superfreak'' dance sequence are only three of the great scenes in this movie. What family hasn't had a trip like this?
FUN FACT This is Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton's first feature film. They made their mark by directing videos for Janet Jackson, Smashing Pumpkins, R.E.M., and Weezer, among others.
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Dirty Dancing (1987)
WHAT IT'S ABOUT A Catskills resort provides the backdrop for the early-'60s love story between Baby (Jennifer Grey), the wealthy teenage daughter of a doctor, and Johnny (Patrick Swayze, above with Grey), an older, greasy dance instructor. Conflicts are resolved through dance, dance, and more dance, some of it dirty.
WHY WE LOVE IT The movie's a fun take on class differences in pre-Vietnam America, and it costars two well-known TV actors (Law & Order's late great Jerry Orbach and Gilmore Girls' Kelly Bishop) as Baby's parents. Mostly, though, you'll have the time of your liiiiiiiife watching Patrick Swayze throw around seductive looks while swiveling those hips.
FUN FACT The original soundtrack (featuring sappy hits like Eric Carmen's ''Hungry Eyes'' and Swayze's own ''She's Like the Wind'') sold so well that a second volume, called More Dirty Dancing, was released soon after. (They were combined in 2003 for Ultimate Dirty Dancing.)
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Sleepaway Camp (1983)
WHAT IT'S ABOUT Shy girl Angela (Felissa Rose) and her cousin Ricky (Jonathan Tiersten, pictured with Rose) go to Camp Arawak, where they face the requisite teasing and counselor indifference. But things get interesting when the gruesome killings begin...
WHY WE LOVE IT Sure, the plot is a blatant rip-off of the Friday the 13th films. But creative killings (death by curling iron!) and a shocking twist ending (the killer is who?!?) make it a summer-camp classic.
FUN FACT Sleepaway Camp has spawned four sequels; most recently 2008's Return to Sleepaway Camp (starring The Sopranos' Vincent Pastore and Isaac Hayes). A fifth film, Sleepaway Camp Reunion is reportedly in the works.
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The Sandlot (1993)
WHAT IT'S ABOUT New kid on the block Scotty Smalls (Tom Guiry, above, far right) makes friends with the neighborhood boys and learns how to play baseball. After they hit a baseball over the fence into the home of a ball-eating dog called ''The Beast,'' they plot to get it back.
WHY WE LOVE IT It's a nice reminder of the good old days, when neighborhood kids actually used to play sports together during the summer (instead of huddling in front of Grand Theft Auto for hours on end).
FUN FACT James Earl Jones pops up as the owner of ''The Beast.''
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The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants (2005)
WHAT IT'S ABOUT A group of four friends (Amber Tamblyn, Alexis Bledel, America Ferrera, and Blake Lively) share a pair of magic jeans found at a vintage store over the course of their first summer apart.
WHY WE LOVE IT One of the few films where four intertwined stories make perfect sense. It also runs the emotional gamut from elation to utter despair.
FUN FACT Tomboy Bridget (Blake Lively) went on to find success on the small screen as a fashionista on the CW's Gossip Girl. Next up she?ll appear in Ben Affleck's cops and robbers drama The Town, which hits theaters in September.
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WHAT IT'S ABOUT A group of smart-ass kids in a special science program are chosen to sit in an actual shuttle. Unlucky for them (but lucky for us!), the ship blasts into space and they have to maneuver it back.
WHY WE LOVE IT Even though the premise is ridiculous, this adventure made real space camps (including one at Kennedy Space Center) into a choice summer destination for years to come.
FUN FACT It starred Lea Thompson, Kelly Preston, and was the film debut of Joaquin Phoenix (then known as Leaf).
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Summer School (1987)
WHAT IT'S ABOUT No one wants to spend the summer in school, unless it's run by Mr. Shoop (Mark Harmon, pictured standing) and full of fun-loving miscreants (a moonlighting stripper, the horror-film geeks, a pregnant girl, and a hot foreign chick).
WHY WE LOVE IT It's the dream version of summer school (bonus points for those amazing field trips!). And it even has a good lesson at the end: As long as you get a 60 on the final, you don't fail.
FUN FACTS Courtney Thorne-Smith (that's the future Melrose Place and According to Jim star on the far right) played a student with a huge crush on Mr. Shoop. And like another favorite on our list (see the next page), this one was directed by Carl Reiner.
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Summer Rental (1985)
WHAT IT'S ABOUT After flipping out at his job as an air traffic controller, Jack Chester (John Candy, pictured with Karen Austin) takes a mandatory vacation with his family to Florida. After some plans go awry, they end up squatting in a house located along one of the main paths to the beach.
WHY WE LOVE IT Anyone who's ever had a terrible family vacation can appreciate the Chesters' ability to make the best of a bad situation. How can you not be enamored by the Chesters' tenacity when, after the fancy seafood eatery runs out of lobster, they settle for ''Scully's Special'' (a.k.a. frozen fish sticks) from a decrepit boat restaurant?
FUN FACT Summer Rental was little Joey Lawrence's big-screen debut.
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Race for Your Life, Charlie Brown (1977)
WHAT IT'S ABOUT The ''Peanuts'' gang, at summer camp for the first time, compete in a river raft race against a group of bullies.
WHY WE LOVE IT Charlie Brown, Peppermint Patty, Marcy, Franklin, and Linus are not only lovable, they're resourceful, too: While stuck out in the woods, they manage to have cereal for breakfast. (Were they carrying boxes of it in their backpacks?) Race for Your Life even sneaks in some sly lessons about democracy: Peppermint Patty is obsessed with voting on every little decision the kids have to make.
FUN FACT Co-director Phil Roman later worked on several Garfield specials.
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WHAT IT'S ABOUT A slew of beautiful ''gringo'' travelers (including Josh Duhamel) become stranded in a remote part of Brazil after their bus plunges down a hill and crashes.
WHY WE LOVE IT Eye candy for both men and women! And even though the travelers are being hunted for their organs, it's hard to not want to visit Brazil and take in its lush scenery and underwater caves. (We just don't want to get stuck in one.)
FUN FACT Director John Stockwell also helmed Crazy/Beautiful and Blue Crush.
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National Lampoon's Vacation (1983)
WHAT IT'S ABOUT The Griswolds — dad Clark (Chevy Chase), mom Ellen (Beverly D'Angelo), and kids Rusty (Anthony Michael Hall) and Audrey (Dana Barron) — travel cross-country to the theme park Wally World. Of course, it turns into the road trip from hell.
WHY WE LOVE IT It's hilarious watching the disasters mount up: an aunt dies, a hot blonde (Christie Brinkley) gets Clark in hot water, Clark launches the station wagon through a ''Road Closed'' sign and into the desert (pictured), the family runs out of money... Seriously, we could go on for days.
FUN FACT A young Jane Krakowski plays Cousin Vicki, who tries to seduce Rusty.
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Wet Hot American Summer (2001)
WHAT IT'S ABOUT Welcome to 1981 and the last day at Camp Firewood, where the counselors (including Michael Showalter and A.D. Miles, above left and right) only care about hooking up, the kids don't shower, and the nerds — along with the help of an astrophysicist (?!?) — save the camp from a falling piece of Skylab.
WHY WE LOVE IT An homage to the silly summer-camp movies from the '80s, it's got kids being thrown out of vans and a Vietnam-vet cook who speaks in sexual Freudian slips (Christopher Meloni, above center). Still, it's smart enough to skip the trite ''competition with a rival camp'' sequence.
FUN FACT Dinner for Schmucks' Paul Rudd plays Katie's obnoxious and unfaithful boyfriend Andy.
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Little Darlings (1980)
WHAT IT'S ABOUT Ferris (Tatum O'Neal) and Angel (Kristy McNichol) compete to see who will lose their virginity first while at summer camp.
WHY WE LOVE IT The movie opens with Angel kicking a guy in the crotch, and proceeds to a bus fistfight. And treating the condom machine like a piñata seriously kicks ass. Too bad summer camp wasn't always this awesome.
FUN FACT This was Cynthia Nixon's film debut as Sunshine, a teenage granola girl. The movie also features a young Matt Dillon.
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Mr. Bean's Holiday (2007)
WHAT IT'S ABOUT Mr. Bean (Rowan Atkinson) travels to the south of France for a holiday but runs into a few hiccups along the way, culminating in his vacation video diary being screened at Cannes.
WHY WE'LL LOVE IT It's Mr. Bean! What's not to love? He's a middle-aged bumbling idiot with the mind of a 4-year-old! If this is anything like the original Bean (1997), it'll be brilliant.
FUN FACT Willem Dafoe is in it! That's reason enough to lose control.