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Classic summer movies: 5 blockbusters and cult classics for a film festival at home

“The Endless Summer” was written and directed by Bruce Brown. Contributed by Bruce Brown Films
“The Endless Summer” was written and directed by Bruce Brown. Contributed by Bruce Brown Films

With the summer movie season on hold, create your own film festival at home

Hollywood blockbusters are as much a part of the summer season as beach vacations and sleepaway camp. But just as COVID-19 has put the kibosh on music festivals and air travel, so has it halted us from sitting in darkened theaters and watching new movies.

Once again, it's time to pivot. With all the streaming services available and movies that can be rented or purchased through iTunes and Amazon, you can host your own blockbuster movie nights or indie film festival at home. Here are a few movies we recommend to get you started. Just think how much money you'll save on snacks.

» RELATED: Timeless ‘80s music: 60 songs (and videos) you might have forgotten

‘Jaws’

Considered the quintessential summer blockbuster, Steven Spielberg’s 1975 horror flick about a blood-thirsty shark menacing the good people of Amity was the first movie to surpass $100 million at the box office, according to Guinness World Records. Just as Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho” ruined the pleasure of a hot shower for a generation of filmgoers, “Jaws” ruined the ocean for a generation of vacationers headed to the beach for vacation.

“Jaws” is considered by many the original summer blockbuster. Contributed by Universal Pictures
“Jaws” is considered by many the original summer blockbuster. Contributed by Universal Pictures

“Jaws” was not Spielberg’s first major theatrical release. That distinction goes to “Sugarland Express.” But it was the movie that put him on the map and established many of the elements that define a Spielberg film: the intimate portrayal of white suburban family life; the sweeping John Williams score; the dolly zoom shot of an actor reacting to something off-screen; the memorable one-liners. (“We’re gonna need a bigger boat!”)

The movie has fresh relevance, too, thanks to a rash of recent "Jaws"-related memes that swap out the great white shark for COVID-19 in the scene where the Amity mayor promises to reopen the beaches despite the fact disaster still looms. And we all know how well that ended. (Streaming on HBO Max, for rent on Amazon and iTunes)

‘Coming to America’

This 1988 Eddie Murphy classic is part rom-com, part buddy flick directed by John Landis, who had a track record for transforming “Saturday Night Live” cast members into movie stars.

Murphy plays Akeem, an African prince who is bored with his pampered life. On his 21st birthday, he rejects his arranged marriage to a fawning bride-to-be and goes to New York City with his manservant (Arsenio Hall) to find a future queen.

“Coming to America” starring Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall. Contributed by Paramount Pictures
“Coming to America” starring Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall. Contributed by Paramount Pictures

There are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments, and part of the fun is spotting the characters Murphy and Hall play in disguise, like the opinionated proprietor of the My-T-Sharp Barbershop, or the cameos by Don Ameche and Ralph Bellamy, which reference their roles in the 1983 Murphy/Landis movie “Trading Places.”

The movie was a massive financial success, bringing in $350 million worldwide, according to some reports. Fans will be happy to know that Murphy and Hall have teamed up for a sequel 32 years later. "Coming 2 America" is slated for release later this year. (For rent on Amazon and iTunes)

‘The Endless Summer’

This classic 1966 movie purports to be a documentary about two surfers chasing the summer season around the world in search of the perfect wave. But it’s really just 95-minutes of surf clips narrated into a loose storyline by filmmaker Bruce Brown, who punctuates the stilted script with goofy dad jokes. Nevertheless, there is something strangely hypnotic about watching these amazing athletes ride the waves with such grace while the rocking soundtrack of surf tunes plays in the background.

“The Endless Summer” was written and directed by Bruce Brown. Contributed by Bruce Brown Films
“The Endless Summer” was written and directed by Bruce Brown. Contributed by Bruce Brown Films

Shot on 16mm for $50,000, the movie follows Robert August and Mike Hynson from Malibu to Hawaii, Ghana, Nigeria, New Zealand, Australia and Tahiti. Brown captures a sweet naivete of the times, reflected by the surfers’ clean-cut appearance as they navigate airports in their suits and ties. Adding to the nostalgic appeal is the yellowish tone of the film, which gives it the patina of a Polaroid picture. One of the most charming moments is a surprisingly long sequence of August and Hynson teaching a group of kids how to surf in Ghana.

Brown received resistance from movie distributors who thought the film lacked mainstream appeal, but he proved them wrong. It grossed $20 million and was named one of the best 10 films of 1966 by Newsweek magazine. (Streaming on Amazon Prime, for rent on Amazon and iTunes)

‘How Stella Got Her Groove Back’

Don’t expect any surprises in this frothy 1998 rom-com. It has all the usual tropes: the meet-cute moment, the mismatched lovers, the last-ditch reconciliation at — you guessed it — the airport. But you don’t watch a movie like this for the plot. You watch it for the stellar cast.

Angela Bassett and Taye Diggs in “How Stella Got Her Groove Back.” Contributed by D. Stevens/ Twentieth Century
Angela Bassett and Taye Diggs in “How Stella Got Her Groove Back.” Contributed by D. Stevens/ Twentieth Century

A luminous Angela Bassett plays Stella, a divorced, 40-year-old stockbroker and mother. Taye Diggs is the charming 20-year-old islander she meets while she’s on vacation in Jamaica with her fun-loving friend played by Whoopi Goldberg. You also watch it for the lavender sunsets of the tropical locale, the steamy love scenes, the sultry R&B soundtrack and the guaranteed happy ending.

Based on the novel by Terry McMillan, "Stella" received a lukewarm reception from critics, ranking a 49 percent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. But what do they know? It swept the NAACP Image Awards and grossed $39 million, which more than made back it's $20 million budget. (Streaming on HBO Max, for rent on Amazon and iTunes)

‘Harold and Maude’

Recently made available for streaming on HBO Max, this subversive, dark comedy from 1971 stands up to the passage of time surprisingly well for a movie so steeped in the zeitgeist half a century ago. A rich, death-obsessed man-child played by a delightfully deadpan Bud Cort falls in love with a hippie-dippy octogenarian portrayed by the incomparable Ruth Gordon. The movie was helmed by one of the most significant filmmakers of the ‘70s, Hal Ashby (“Shampoo,” “Coming Home,” “Being There”), and it was backed by one of the most evocative soundtracks of the era featuring music by Cat Stevens.

A scene from “Harold and Maude.” Contributed.
A scene from “Harold and Maude.” Contributed.

When it debuted, moviegoers didn't know what hit them and critics mostly panned it, but it was an instant cult classic, and appreciation for it has grown over time. No. 45 on the American Film Institute's list of 100 Funniest Movies of All Time, it is an ideal flick to kick off your indie film festival at home. (Streaming on HBO Max, for rent on Amazon and iTunes)