Summer Camp Movies You’ve Probably Never Seen

Summer Camp movie lists are more or less a dime a dozen. You don’t have to look too hard to find a list of summer camp movies on the web with familiar titles like Meatballs, Heavyweights, The Parent Trap, Wet Hot American Summer and Little Darlings, questionable entries like the Jesus Camp documentary (despite its name the movie spends most of its time not at camp) and more recent movies like Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom and Camp Takota.

Most of these lists barely scratch the surface of the genre and more often than not leave out some of my personal favorites like A Pig’s Tale, Summerhood and Poison Ivy and a host of other summer camp movies, some good and others virtually unwatchable. Here are some summer camp movies you likely won’t see on any lists and will have trouble even finding in your preferred streaming service library.

GORP
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Gorp came out a year after Meatballs and is more or less the forgotten film of the late ’70s, early ’80s run of summer camp movies. Like a lot of summer camp movies, it focuses on the staff, in this case the kitchen workers who spend the summer waiting on and cleaning up after the bratty and entitled campers at Camp Oskemo. Though it’s set at a summer camp, the movie at times more resembles a frat movie than a summer camp movie because most of the action takes place in one building, the insanity of the kitchen downstairs and the tomfoolery that goes on in the staff bunk upstairs. Though you won’t see it on any summer camp movie lists, the film is notable for its cast, which includes Dennis Quaid, Fran Drescher and Rosanna Arquette in early roles.

Her First Romanceherfirstromance

Based on the the 1948 Herman Wouk novel City Boy: The Adventures of Herbie Bookbinder, Her First Romance is a 1951 film about a city girl named Betty Foster (Margaret O’Brien) who goes away to Camp Chippewa, where she competes with a rival to become the Queen of Camp Chippewa. While Betty is a stand-in for Herbie from the book, the plot is very similar to the book.

The Under-Pup
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This 1939 feature film tells the story of a streetwise girl named Pip-Emma Binns (Gloria Jean) who writes an essay that earns her a scholarship to attend a summer camp for wealthy girls. Pip-Emma is bullied at first by the other girls but eventually wins the other girls over to earn herself a place in the group known as The Purple Order of Penguins. The movie was adapted by Grover Jones from a magazine story by Australian writer I. A. R. Wylie. 

The First Turn-On!thefirstturnon

This 1983 Troma movie is, like other Troma movies, intentionally low budget and cheesy, but has a lot of the elements that Wet Hot American Summer would later spoof – short shorts, oversexed teenagers, etc. Set on the last day of camp at Camp Big-Tee-Pee, the story centers on a group of campers who get stuck in a tunnel and pass the time telling stories about their first times, each more embellished than the next.

Weekend With Fatherweekendwithfather

Single parents Jean Bowen and Brad Stubbs meet at the train station when they send their kids off to camp in this 1951 film. The two hit it off, but there are complications: Brad’s engaged to a TV star named Phyllis and Jean has attracted the attention of camp counselor Don Adams. The kids get involved trying to play matchmaker when both their parents and an uninvited Phyllis arrive at camp for parents weekend.

Zelimo
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This 2001 film tells the story a Russian Jewish boy named Zelimo who attends a camp for Jewish boys in the Catskills in 1964. Zelimo is miserable at camp, has frequent flashbacks to his childhood in Russia and escape in 1959 and is the target of bullying but finds solace in his mother working at the neighboring girls camp and a camp counselor named Hector, a Cuban Jew who takes him under his wing.

Princes In Exile
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Based on the novel by Mark Schreiber, this 1990 Canadian film follows an angry 17-year-old cancer patient to Camp Hawkins, where he clings to two goals: publishing his journal and losing his virginity.

Geronimo
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Geronimo is a 1990 low budget Christian movie about a teenager who is forced to attend a summer camp where he is put in charge of bunk of five gang members from Chicago. The counselor, Jeremy, is more interested in hanging out with a girl that he likes and his campers are merciless but as is the case in Christian movies before long he manages not only to reach the kids but come to terms with his grief over his sister’s death and make things right.

The Acorn People
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Based on the 1976 nonfiction book with the same name by Ron Jones, The Acorn People was a 1981 TV movie about an unemployed teacher who works at a summer camp for kids with severe disabilities. The camp, Camp Wiggen, isn’t really equipped for handicapped children which makes it especially trying for the counselors as they attempt to give their campers a memorable experience.

Sterling: The Secret of the Lost Medallioncampsterlingmovie

A mix between a summer camp movie and a Goonies knock-off, Sterling  is a 2003 Christian movie (it looks even more dated) that follows the camp director’s son Alex Sterling and his friends on a quest to find a legendary medallion they find out about in an old journal left behind by his deceased grandfather. The medallion is believed to be owned by King Solomon.

Summertime Switchsummertimeswitchscreenshot

Rider Strong of Boy Meets World fame starred in this 1994 TV movie about a rich kid who ends up at a juvenile detention camp while a trouble maker with a similar name enjoys the creature comforts of the luxurious camp he was supposed to be attending. The movie’s cast included Jason Weaver as Fast Freddie Egan, Soleil Moon Frye as a cheerleader and Barry Williams as Frederick Egan II (Rider’s dad).

Betaville
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This movie about a futuristic summer camp for world leaders threatened by an attack from another planet/dimension/universe is basically unwatchable. Though it was released in 2001 and is supposed to be set in the future, it looks much older and dated than that and has a plot that is impossible to follow or care anything about. Be thankful you haven’t seen this one.

Summer Switch
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Based on the Mary Rodgers Freaky Friday-at-summer-camp book, this 1984 ABC Afterschool Special is about a son dreading another summer at Camp Soonawissakit magically trading places with his movie executive father who wishes he could go back to the carefree days of summer camp. Hilarity ensues when Ben Andrews (Scott Schwartz) awkwardly tries to navigate a grown-up world as his father and his dad Bill (Robert Klein) brings his cutthroat film industry chops and pipe with him to the world of summer camp.

Matt Ralph

Matt Ralph

I'm the editor of Summer Camp Culture and also blog at Tangzine.com and MatthewRalph.com. I live in the Philadelphia area and went to camps and camp meetings growing up in Ohio, Maryland and New Jersey.

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