The weather is warming up, college graduation season is here, and The Avengers has just kicked off the summer blockbuster season with record-breaking numbers at the box office. Inevitably, at this time of year, working folk like us begin to fantasize about vacations — a month abroad, perhaps, or at least a long weekend at the beach. But since Memorial Day is still a few weeks away, most of us are just going to have to wait. To help you count down the weeks (or perhaps convince yourself that trips aren’t always all they’re cracked up to be), we’ve rounded up cinema’s most famous summer vacations. Pay a virtual visit to Barcelona, the South of France, and New England’s most beautiful beach towns after the jump, and add to our list in the comments.
National Lampoon’s Vacation Destination: Walley World (Los Angeles, California)
There’s no way to get around kicking off this list with Vacation; the ’80s family road-trip movie owns this category. Here, we find Chevy Chase as a patriarch on a mission to spend some quality time with his wife and two kids — which means a seemingly endless drive from Chicago to Los Angeles’ Walley World amusement park that results in danger, dysfunction, and more than one hilarious death. If for some reason you’ve never seen this movie, make sure you cross it off your list this summer.
Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday Destination: The French seaside
If your taste in comedy runs more to the stylish, French end of the spectrum, you’ll want to follow Jacques Tati’s technophobic, pipe-smoking Monsieur Hulot on an August vacation to a resort by the sea. Aside from featuring some of cinema’s best physical comedy, the film is a social satire whose observations about class and the difficulty of finding true relaxation are even more relevant today than they were in 1953.
Jaws Destination: Amity Island (Martha’s Vineyard, MA)
Even if you’re as disaster-prone as Clark Griswold, chances are your late-night walks on the beach turn out better than Chrissie Watkins’. She’s the first victim of the great white shark that terrorizes vacationers at a New England resort town in Jaws, the 1975 thriller that set the bar for decades of summer blockbusters to come. If you ever need to convince yourself that another week in your air-conditioned cubicle might actually be more fun than a trip to the seashore, this is the movie to do it.
Y Tu Mamá También Destination: A Mexican beach that doesn’t exist
What do you do when you’re a pair of teenage boys whose girlfriends fly off to Italy for the summer? Well, if you’re Gael García Bernal and Diego Luna, you meet a beautiful older woman at a wedding, tell her lies about an idyllic beach called “Heaven’s Mouth,” and talk her into a road-trip to try and find it. You don’t need to know whether or not they locate the non-existent beach; what matters is what transpires both emotionally and sexually between the three travelers, complicating their relationships and putting a definitive end to the boys’ childhoods.
Vicky Cristina Barcelona Destination: Barcelona
In one of Woody Allen’s best movies of the 21st century — and that’s actually saying something, since he makes one a year — Rebecca Hall and Scarlett Johansson spend a summer in Barcelona, where both fall for the charms of an artist (Javier Bardem) and find themselves wrapped up in romantic drama involving their mutual love interest’s ex-wife (Penelope Cruz). It’s a gorgeous and odd little film, and one whose European setting and ambivalence about marriage makes it a perfect complement to Allen’s most recent movie, the wonderful Midnight in Paris.
One Crazy Summer Destination: Nantucket, MA
In this 1986 comedy from what you might call John Cusack’s absurdist teen movie phase (he and the film’s director, Savage Steve Holland, had just teamed up a year earlier for Better Off Dead), the actor plays a high-school grad charged with creating an illustrated love story in hopes of gaining admission to the Rhode Island School of Design. This may sound fairly straightforward, but it takes place against the backdrop of an incredibly weird summer with a friend on Nantucket, and eventually includes people with names like Ack Ack Raymond and Aquilla Beckerstead, a blitzkrieg on the beach, and Bobcat Goldthwait. One crazy summer, indeed.
Summer Holiday Destination: Athens
Rocker Cliff Richard stars in this 1963 British musical about a group of bus mechanics who manage to get their hands on a double-decker bus that they intend to drive to the South of France. The boys end up in Athens instead, and meet plenty of interesting characters along the way — including, of course, some lady love interests. A huge hit in the UK when it was released, Summer Holiday is a charming (yet somewhat forgotten) artifact that makes for excellent light viewing.
Stealing Beauty Destination: The Tuscan countryside
Liv Tyler glows all the way through this very ’90s coming-of-age film about an American girl who spends the summer at a family friend’s Italian villa looking to find love and, in the wake of her mother’s suicide, figure out who her father is. Directed by the incomparable Bernardo Bertolucci, infused with the romance of youth, and packed with gorgeous shots of the countryside, the film is more than just beautifully shot eye candy — but it’s that, too.
Swimming Pool Destination: The South of France
Sarah Morton, an Agatha Christie-like mystery author, receives an offer no one in their right mind would turn down: a summer in the South of France, at her publisher’s luxurious country house, where she hopes beautiful weather and solitude will help her write. But soon after she arrives, Sarah is joined by a vivacious and promiscuous young woman who claims to be the publisher’s daughter, and whose wild energy distracts her from her novel. A very French tale of obsession and illusion follows, culminating in what looks to be a real murder mystery — but don’t believe everything you see, because in Swimming Pool, even the most vivid of images can be deceiving.
What About Bob? Destination: Lake Winnipesaukee, New Hampshire
Finally, because your author’s summer vacation is still a good few months away, let’s end this with another miserable jaunt. In What About Bob?, Richard Dreyfuss is a cocky, uptight psychiatrist who visits his vacation home in Lake Winnipesaukee, hoping to relax and spend some time with his family. Unfortunately for him, a highly neurotic new patient (Bill Murray) can’t deal with being abandoned by his shrink, and he shows up at the family’s doorstep. As in most classic Bill Murray films, dark hilarity ensues.