Happy summer, Polygon readers. As the weather warms up, there’s plenty to do. You could go to the beach! Play some sports with some pals! Read a good book! Go to an air-conditioned movie theater and catch the latest blockbuster event!
Whatever your summer plans are, we have movies to accompany them. We’ve put our heads together as a staff and came up with a selection of movies to help get you in the mood for summer, and then augment your enjoyment of the season once you get there. Each week, we’ll update this list with an additional entry, so you can join us in Polygon’s informal summer movie festival.
This week: High School Musical 2
Run time: 1h 55m
Director: Kenny Ortega
Cast: Zac Efron, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Tisdale
2007 was a simpler time — and for Gen Z/millennial cuspers everywhere, we may never reach the sheer high of the back-to-back High School Musical 2/Phineas and Ferb debut on Aug. 17, 2007.
Yes, High School Musical is a classic, but High School Musical 2 is bigger, bolder, and dare I say… better? The first movie’s soundtrack was mostly diegetic duets, with only a handful of big ensemble numbers. But the second movie pulls more of the cast into bigger, dynamic musical sequences that defy logic in a good way. It’s a musical, after all!
Sharpay croons about why she deserves the best of the best, floating on a pool toy while everyone else around her bends over backward to meet her increasingly outrageous demands. Chad and Ryan and their squads of friends have the most homoerotic baseball scene in cinematic history. The whole school bursts into excited song and dance after they count down the seconds to summer vacation.
Most of the movie takes place not at a high school, but at Lava Springs Country Club, where the students of East High (save for Sharpay and Ryan, who are members) are working summer jobs. Like how High School Musical presented an idealized Disney Channel reality of high school extracurricular activities, High School Musical 2 nails the idealized summer break experience, where even nitty-gritty things like summer jobs turn into time to hang out with friends and break into song and dance by the gorgeous blue pool.
Yes, watching High School Musical 2 might fill you with nostalgia for simpler days of watching Disney Channel, but it also imbues a particular nostalgia for the elusive idea of a perfect summer break that doesn’t quite exist. —Petrana Radulovic
High School Musical 2 is available to stream on Disney Plus.
Run time: 2h 42m
Director: Andrea Arnold
Cast: Sasha Lane, Riley Keough, Shia LaBeouf
Andrea Arnold’s swoony, prickly jaunt across the American Midwest hits all the summer standards. Brilliant sunny skies and endless clear weather? Check. Cross-country road trip? Check. Giddy drunken outdoor parties and woozy late-night hangouts? Check. Ill-advised summer fling? Hoo boy, gigantic red-flag-waving check. Sasha Lane (How to Blow Up a Pipeline) gives a star-making performance as Star, an 18-year-old Oklahoma girl with a bad home life and a hunger for anything even slightly resembling freedom. When a reckless crew of traveling magazine-sellers blows through her town, she joins them in a van that moves from state to state, looking for neighborhoods where the crew can try to charm strangers into buying subscriptions.
Arnold, a British director who wanted to get a handle on The Real America, made the film by going on her own cross-country road trip, handing out with teenagers in parking lots and vacant lots, and casting many of them in her movie. The center of the film is Star’s off-again, on-again relationship with ultra-sleazy crew wrangler Jake (Shia LaBeouf, rarely better cast), who’s definitely gonna grow up to be the weapons-obsessed slimeball James Franco plays in Spring Breakers. But the best part of the film is really just watching the amateur actors build their relationships and tell their stories, in ways that feel heightened but real — and like being along for the ride in this ultimate summer vacation. —Tasha Robinson
Everybody Wants Some!!
Run time: 1h 57m
Director: Richard Linklater
Cast: Blake Jenner, Zoey Deutch, Tyler Hoechlin
Ring in the summer with one of the best coming-of-age movies and one of the best summer movies made in the last decade.
Richard Linklater returns once again to his roots in this college comedy about a baseball team in 1980s Texas, taking place in the final days of summer break before the start of school. New freshmen are moving in, upperclassmen are establishing their superiority, and everybody’s looking to have a good time.
Spotlighting the adventures of young people with a lot of confidence and even more time on their hands, the movie works because of the grounded feel of the environment and the excellent cast. Wyatt Russell and Glen Powell stand out in scene-stealing roles, but everyone is game in this ensemble piece, bringing both the experience of being on a sports team and of being on a college campus to life. —Pete Volk
Run time: 1h 45m
Director: Richard Linklater
Cast: Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy
Romance is the stuff of summer. Whether it’s friendships that blossom into lifelong love or situationships that peter out into lifelong lessons, the essence of the summer months is inseparable from the rush of excitement that comes with being with someone who truly gets you for who you are. Before Sunrise’s Jesse and Céline, played by Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, exemplify this perfectly. Their love is at once archetypal yet multifaceted; simple yet inevitably complicated by the feeling of never quite having enough time to do, say, or fully feel everything that’s on your heart and mind. Linklater’s Before trilogy is one of the greatest love stories ever committed to film, and it’s truly no coincidence that every installment in the series takes place during summer. There’s a season for all things, but no other season gets love quite like the summer. —Toussaint Egan
Summer of Soul
Run time: 1h 58m
Questlove’s Oscar-winning documentary about the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival is the perfect watch for you and your loved ones this summer. Overlapping with Woodstock, and with just as impressive of a musical lineup, the festival has nevertheless been overlooked when compared to the other big musical event happening in New York at the time. The doc digs deep into this lack of awareness and access, all while showing off the incredible talents of Nina Simone, Mahalia Jackson, Stevie Wonder, and so many more.
With fantastic musical performances and insightful context from modern-day interviews, it’s equally suited for a summer movie to watch or to put on in the background as a mood-setter while you brunch or play games or do other summer activities. —PV
Run time: 1h 40m
Director: David Robert Mitchell
Cast: Maika Monroe, Keir Gilchrist, Olivia Luccardi
Summer is a season that always feels like it exists in some uncanny Twilight Zone dimension. The weather gets hotter, and people just start acting… well, weirder. It Follows certainly isn’t the first supernatural horror thriller set during the summer, but in my humble opinion, it’s one of the best.
David Robert Mitchell’s 2014 film is my go-to summer film because its world exists on the border of mundanity and surreality, desolation and idyllicism, adolescence and adulthood. It’s about a group of teenagers tackling a vicious supernatural curse that stalks them like the spirit of puritanical punishment made manifest, where adults are either suspiciously absent or pointedly uninterested in the horrors surrounding them to the point of nearly bordering on complicity. It Follows is just a damn good movie through and through, but one that feels particularly perfect to watch during the summer. —TE
Recess: School’s Out
Run time: 1h 24m
Director: Chuck Sheetz
Cast: Andrew Lawrence, Rickey D’Shon Collins, Jason Davis
When I think of summer, I think of Recess: School’s Out. The direct-to-video movie based on the 1997 adventure comedy series came out just around the time I graduated from grade school and hit me directly in the feels. The story of TJ Detweiler dealing with the disappointment of being separated from his regular group of friends hit home for me as the reality of getting older and drifting apart from my own close-knit group of friends became more apparent to me.
The film is a perfect summation of everything that made the original Recess series so entertaining: quirky characters, pitch-perfect jokes, and an absurdly over-the-top premise of a conniving former secretary of education attempting to abolish summer vacation across the nation with his army of ninja operatives. Strip all that away, though, and you still have a really touching coming-of-age story about a kid growing used to the idea of getting older all while learning to enjoy the best of life in the moment. —TE