Have there always been “summer movies”?

Summer Glau was born in 1981, so in that respect, no.

If time is a construct introduced by humans because they don’t have the ability to see the totality of action in an absolute universal sense, then yes. Everything has always been and will always be, including summer movies.

In the more limited sense of U.S. cinema, my thoughts before turning to Google:

Before television, movies were produced and released in a constant flow. There were seasonal inflections caused by the advent of holidays such as Christmas. Whether release considerations went beyond that, I don’t know. But I doubt it.

With television came the concept of TV summer reruns. It may be that the studios regarded this fallow TV period as a time to introduce especially attractive movies. No data in my memory bank on this.

Also, in the late 50s and early 60s, the first baby-boomers entered their teen years. Hence, movies like Where the Boys are (1960) and the Funicello/Avalon beach-blanket movies, such as Beach Blanket Bingo (1965), were made. Perhaps these youth-targeted movies were introduced in the summer months. Could be wrong.

The summer movies that I’m considering here are seasonal offerings aimed at a youthish demo. Summer blockbusters are a whole different animal, from both marketing and genre perspectives, targeted even more tightly at the teen demo, with, also, the world market in mind. Summer blockbusters were invented with Jaws in 1975.

Finally, off the subject, I’m thinking of adults who are recently out of school and in the workforce and who now no longer have a clear concept of “summer,” as their year blends together for them with a vacation or two thrown in at arbitrary times – as opposed to youth free from school for several hopefully halcyon months. For such adults, if there were summer movies, perhaps now there aren’t, at least until kids of their own come along.

Turning to Google:

So much for my thoughts above. “Where the Boys Are” is a classic movie about summer, but its release date was three days after Christmas. “Beach Blanket Bingo” was released in April. So movies about summer and movies released in summer are two different things. Wet Hot American Summer (2001) came out in the summer. Random? Endless Summer (1966) was released in August in Japan. Ok. I know nothing about the relationship between “release” and “opening,” or why a movie would be released first in Japan. You can explain all this to me in a comment or guest post. Or not.

Now I’m thinking that there is no special seasonal-release category for summer movies (movies released in the summer), only for “summer blockbusters.”

There have not always been summer blockbusters. “Jaws” represents a change in Hollywood’s business model. Gone with the Wind (1939)  was released in January. Ben Hur (1959) in December. Old-fashioned blockbusters.

So, bottom line, there have not always been movies about summer  that were released specifically in summer; but there have always been movies about summer – a summer-movie genre. Let me see if I can turn up some titles from the 30s and 40s.  Blondie Takes a Vacation (1939). Summer Bachelors (1926). Say, here’s a summer-camp movie rated 8.9 in IMBD: Thrill of a Lifetime (1937), with Ben Blue, Judy Canova, and Betty Grable. Uh oh. Frank Nugent in the NYT: “You have, in point of accuracy, an insipid concoction of sour japes and flat romantics which Fanchon (of Fanchon & Marco) has strung together like one of her old stage shows at the Roxy.” Oh, well. Would movies about county fairs count?

Who could have guessed, back in the day, that the drive-in would go away. Sitting out under the stars on the benches in front of the concession stand, we automatically classified whatever we were watching as a summer movie.

Which brings me to a treasure trove of summer-movie lore: the page that is displayed when you Google “summer movie memories.” For example, seven New Yorker essays on the subject. Based upon this veritable landslide of summer-movie nostalgia, to mix my metaphors, there have always been summer movies.

7 Responses

  1. Dear Joe,

    Thank you. I will refer to this post next time I am wondering about seasonality and film.

    I thought Endless Summer was a movie with Brooke Shields and a boy wearing a leopard skin swimsuit. But I have not yet googled that.

    The last drive-in movie I went to was Looking for Mr. Goodbar. It was in 1980-something. I’m glad the sound in the car didn’t work (it was freezing out and I think we decided it was okay just to watch it and not try to open the window and figure out what was wrong with the speaker). It looked sort of scary and I’m not sure I really wanted to know the details of why she ended up dead. I could guess, and that was enough for me. It was not a summer movie, obviously.

    Your faithful reader, Lily

  2. Hi, Lily. As you may know, Looking for Mr. Goodbar was a best-seller back in the 70s. As you could probably tell by watching, it was about a woman who flirted with men she didn’t know.

    Endless Summer is a wonderful 60s movie about surfing around the world. Brooke was in Endless Love and Blue Lagoon.

    • Is it even remotely possible that if you combine Endless Love and Blue Lagoon you’d get Endless Summer? Probably not. As for Looking for Mr Goodbar, I think it was more about what happens to a woman who’d rather have sex than love, two things that seemed to be mutually exclusive to her, for reasons that would probably be clearer to me had I either read the book or watched the movie with the sound on instead of just googling it and seeing what Roger Ebert and the New York Times book review from 1975 had to say about it. But now I think I should read it. Although I draw the line at watching it.

      • I never watched it, or Titanic, for the same reason.

        Now in Mrs. Harris, on the other hand, she does the deed at the beginning, so there’s no waiting.

        By the way, I visited a blog today that, like this one, had only a reader or two for most of its existence, but then suddenly went virial. From the sound of it, I think I like it better this way.

  3. Now that would be a great blog post — movies you chose not to watch. Or just plain missed. (I didn’t see Titanic either. I’ve also never seen the planes hit the towers. We didn’t have a tv when it happened and then I decided there was no point.)

    What would you do if agents started calling you and wanted you to make a book called “Your Topic Here”? Would you freak out? How much would you ask for?

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