10 Best Camping Movies, Ranked

10 Best Camping Movies, Ranked

Movies


There’s something about fresh air, mountain ranges, and woodland landscapes that invites an effortless backdrop for the ideal getaway. For cinematic camping connoisseurs, the sites and sounds of nature are enjoyed from the safe distance of a theater seat or home Wi-Fi network. For nature lovers, the best movies about camping capture the experience of adventure and serenity that nature has to offer. This subject is often intertwined with the wilderness survival genre with movies like Backcountry or well-produced TV series like Alone.




The best movies about pitching a tent or escaping to summer camp dwell more on the quest for unplugging, disrupting the 9-to-5, and making the perfect s’more. Camping movies signify the arrival of summer while also fleshing out personal and cinematic nostalgia with depictions of fashion, ways of life, and relatable summer camp activities. The genre features themes of rebellious escapism and emotional or self-revelations while portraying coming-of-age stories, and a few terrifying encounters in between.


10 ‘Brokeback Mountain’ (2005)

Directed by Ang Lee

Image via Focus Features


A doomed love story, Brokeback Mountain is an atypical camping feature, but a calculated one that uses the escape to nature as a shield to nurture and protect a complicated romance. While tending to a herd of sheep on Brokeback Mountain in 1963, Jack (Jake Gyllenhaal) and ranchhand Ennis (Heath Ledger) develop an unexpected romance. The pair kept their on-off affair secret for decades, using “fishing trips” as an excuse to spend time together after marrying their respective girlfriends.

Camping on Brokeback Mountain serves as the escape from reality that feeds the souls of Jack and Ennis. Being in the mountains, where the world is quiet, symbolizes the release from societal pressures that occurs, one that only nature purely provides. Audiences (and the protagonists) wish they could just exist in that space. The devastation of having to leave behind another life in the same world is what makes Brokeback Mountain a true camping film.


brokeback-mountain-poster

Brokeback Mountain

Release Date
September 10, 2005

Main Genre
Drama

Studio
Focus Features

9 ‘Stand By Me’ (1986)

Directed by Rob Reiner

River Phoenix, Wil Wheaton, Jerry O'Connell, & Corey Feldman playing with coins in 'Stand by Me'
Image via Columbia Pictures

The camaraderie bond of a shared experience cannot be underscored in the camping movie genre and is accurately portrayed in Stand By Me. Culminating in what would be a defining moment of the rest of their lives, four friends (Wil Wheaton, Jerry O’Connell, River Phoenix, and Corey Feldman) trek across the parts of their rural Oregon town to find the body of a missing boy. This iconic 80s film is an adaptation of the Stephen King novella called The Body.


While on this adventure, the boys divulge more information about their home lives and independent struggles than they would in an everyday scenario. Why? Because nature and the act of camping require a release of control to foster inevitable vulnerability. It’s a safe space while simultaneously being the most demanding for survival. Stand By Me is a coming-of-age tale about the bonds of friendship and boyhood that demands a backdrop like camping in order to secure a successful buy-in from audiences.

stand_by_me_movie_minimalist_poster_01

Stand By Me

Release Date
August 8, 1986

Studio
Columbia Pictures

8 ‘Camp Nowhere’ (1994)

Directed by Jonathan Prince


A clear feature for the younger audiences, Camp Nowherecaters to the 90s tween generation’s fantasy of an adult-free summer camp. Sick of spending his summer at computer camp, Morris “Mud” Himmel (Jonathan Jackson) devises a plan to create a fake summer camp with no itinerary or adult counselors, convincing ex-drama teacher Dennis Van Welker (Christopher Lloyd) to rent a campground and pose as the counselor to get parental sign-off. Things don’t go as planned when the campers’ parents plan a visit.

It’s the ultimate kid dream to run wild with no rules or regulations in the heart of summer while still getting the benefits of the experience. Camp Nowhere is undoubtedly a corny, far-fetched feature; however, through the antics, it displays the essence of tween determination, problem-solving, and creativity all in the name of summer camp.

Watch on Disney+


7 ‘Meatballs’ (1979)

Directed by Ivan Reitman

Bill Murray and Co. at Camp North Star in Meatballs
Image via Paramount Pictures

A buddy comedy nestled among bug spray and sunscreen of the summer camp genre, Meatballs is wonderfully cliché. Bill Murray stars as Tripper, the head counselor at Camp Northstar, although his maturity is only small steps above the campers he safeguards. Tripper befriends a camper outcast, Rudy (Chris Makepeace), whom he attempts to set up with camp counselor Roxanne (Kate Lynch). In addition to Tripper’s matchmaking folly, he rallies his camper troops to band together to beat the rival Camp Mohawk in the annual summer competition.


Meatballs features all the ingredients for an entertaining camping flick, including dramatized rivalry, lustful summer crushes, and the cool guy counselor leading the charge. With a strong performance from Murray, the movie instantly transports audiences to the campgrounds of their youth and the memories they made there.

Meatballs

Release Date
June 28, 1979

Cast
Bill Murray , Harvey Atkin , Kate Lynch , Russ Banham , Kristine DeBell , Sarah Torgov

6 ‘Into the Wild’ (2007)

Directed by Sean Penn


Based on the nonfiction novel by Jon Krakauer, Into the Wild is a stunning tale of the real adventures of Chris McCandless, a young man who went off the grid and hitchhiked to Alaska to live alone in the wilderness. In the film, McCandless is portrayed by Emile Hirsch as he donates his $24,000 worth of savings to charity, abandons almost all his belongings, and documents his trek across the country to Alaska, meeting several people who changed his life along the way.

The Oscar-nominated film expresses the restlessness McCandless experienced that only nature relieved as he lived out his final days living in a bus in the remote wilderness. Into the Wild, dramatized and fictional add-ons and all, demonstrates the powerful psychological effect that camping and self-reliance impart on those vulnerable enough to seek it out.

Watch on YouTube TV

5 ‘Wet Hot American Summer’ (2001)

Directed by David Wain

A group of camp counselors sit on the cabin porch steps in Wet Hot American Summer
Image via Focus Features


What’s a camp counselor movie without an excellent ensemble cast? Wet Hot American Summer features a star-studded cast of characters that are each grappling with their own unfinished business on the last day of Camp Firewood in 1981. It’s a comedy of chaotic proportions, staring directly in the face of unqualified, unbothered counselors and their inability yet miraculous ability to maintain the image of an ideal getaway for kids to attend.

A cult classic, Wet Hot American Summer is synonymous with the summer camp genre with its dedication to successfully emulating the 1980s. It accurately depicts the dread and realization that the fever dream of summer is ending and reality is calling and waiting to be taken off hold, a feeling many camping enthusiasts feel when it’s time to pack up and head home.


Wet Hot American Summer Film Poster

4 ‘The Great Outdoors’ (1988)

Directed by Howard Deutch

John Candy and Dan Aykroyd sit at a bar drinking in The Great Outdoors
Image via Universal Pictures

A love letter to the Midwest summer traditions, The Great Outdoors is the ultimate camping comedy featuring legendary stars John Candy and Dan Aykroyd. When Chet Ripley (Candy) and his family escape the Chicago suburbs to the tranquility of a Wisconsin lakeside cabin, they are not expecting their rest and relaxation to be disrupted by Chet’s brother-in-law, Roman (Aykroyd).


In a slapstick comedy event from the mind of John Hughes, it’s the epitome of the vacation-from-hell. The Great Outdoors hinges on the sarcasm and truth of its title that camping and nature require a love-hate relationship. There’s no denying the entertainment value of its leading stars, especially when nature is consistently rejecting them in the most over-the-top bits.

A poster for the movie The Great Outdoors.

The Great Outdoors

Release Date
June 17, 1988

Director
Howard Deutch

Cast
Dan Aykroyd , John Candy

Main Genre
Comedy

Runtime
90 Minutes

Watch on Prime

3 ‘Friday the 13th’ (1980)

Directed by Sean S. Cunningham

A wooden sign for Camp Crystal Lake stands at the edge of the forest road in Friday the 13th (1980)
Image via Paramount Pictures


Nothing screams (literally) summer and camping like the Friday the 13th franchise. In a well-meaning attempt to reopen Camp Crystal Lake years after the tragic events that marred the grounds’ reputation, a group of counselors is terrorized by a killer with ties to the campground. A symbolic installment in the slasher genre, Friday the 13th is not only a recognizable summer feature but also one to watch around the campfire.

Camp Crystal Lake is one of the most iconic cinematic summer camps. The film’s pacing of picking off counselors one by one is now formulaic in the genre, making it all the more terrifying for remote audiences who would rather not wander the woods alone. With camping horror, every sound is amplified, every shadow inevitably moves, and the trees transition from serenity to insanity, harboring something much more sinister.

Friday the 13th Film Poster

Friday the 13th

Release Date
May 9, 1980

Director
Sean S. Cunningham

Cast
Betsy Palmer , Adrienne King , Jeannine Taylor , Robbi Morgan , Kevin Bacon

Main Genre
Horror


Watch on Max

2 ‘Moonrise Kingdom’ (2012)

Directed by Wes Anderson

Moonrise Kingdom directed by Wes Anderson
Image via Indian Paintbrush

Wes Anderson brings his striking visual style to the camping genre with this whimsical adventure. In this coming-of-age tale, 12-year-old nature scout Sam (Jared Gilman) and angsty Suzy (Kara Hayward) declare their love by eloping into the wilderness, sending the town’s adult population into recovery mode as they form a search party to find the pair. The impending storm catches Sam and Suzy’s attention, disrupting their plan.

Moonrise Kingdom is hailed as some of Anderson’s best work, allowing nature audiences into the fantastical mind of a child and vast expanse of nature’s opportunity to run away. The narrative puts the excitement of backyard camping and scout survival into practice as Sam and Suzy chart their course. It’s a love letter to romantic innocence and the wonders of unlimited adolescent dreams.


1 ‘Blair Witch Project’ (1999)

Directed by Daniel Myrick & Eduardo Sánchez

Heather, illuminated by a flashlight, cries into the camera in The Blair Witch Project
Image via Artisan Entertainment

A slow-burn spectacle, The Blair Witch Project remains permanently etched in the horror and found-footage genres. While filming a documentary about the local legend, the Blair Witch, a trio of film students embarks on a camping excursion through the foreboding woods only to find themselves turned around. When only the camera footage of their journey is recovered, it seems that the Blair Witch may not be just an urban myth after all.


This is a camping movie that makes audiences want to stay out of the woods. It’s a psychological film that relies on the viewer’s imagination of what could be lurking among the pines to add the undoubted scare factor. Beautiful by day and terrifying by night, the woods are the central antagonist, administering palpable rising tensions among its trio of campers. A found-footage filmmaking relic, The Blair Witch Project is the ultimate camping movie to inspire caution when moving off-trail.

The Blair Witch Project Film Poster

The Blair Witch Project

Release Date
July 30, 1999

Director
Daniel Myrick , Eduardo Sánchez

Cast
Heather Donahue , Michael C. Williams , Joshua Leonard

Runtime
81 minutes

NEXT: The 10 Best Natural Disaster Movies, Ranked



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