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Cool off with 5 classic summer movies

By Robert Elsenpeter, Contributing writer
Published On: Jun 15 2011 09:44:00 AM CDT
Updated On: Aug 22 2013 09:13:46 AM CDT
Movie tickets, popcorn

iStock / YinYang

Being out in the sun is overrated. Even if you live amid picture-perfect paradise, there's only so much nature you can take before you need to get back inside to watch a movie, and the summer is a great time for some excellent films.

Since the mid-1970s, so-called "summer movies" have been the blockbusters that everyone sees and movie studios rely on to keep throwing millions of dollars at A-list celebrities.

Sure, there are still thoughtful, dramatic pieces, but they don't stand a chance during the summer, because that's when the movies are let off their chains and we get the movies that America wants to see.

We are an ugly people, but we know what we like: low-brow comedy, spaceships and lots of explosions.

Let's take a look at some of the movies you might want to enjoy after a day next to the pool.

Independence Day movie image

No. 5: "Independence Day"

There was a time (before "After Earth") when it wasn't summer without an epic Will Smith movie. There were the good ones ("Men in Black") and some not-so-good ones ("Wild, Wild West"), but no matter what the flick, you knew it was summer when Will graced the silver screen.

Was 1996's "Independence Day" the greatest story ever told? No. It was full of hackneyed and clich├ęd characters and situations.

And some of the dialogue? Cringeworthy. "Let's kick the tires and light the fires!" Oh, OK Harry Connick Jr., If you say so. And the ending was just laughable: How could Jeff Goldblum implant a computer virus on the alien mothership with a Macbook? Didn't the aliens have Norton Antivirus?

So why is this a classic? Just because. Cheesy and laughable though it is, it is a special effects powerhouse, and by the end of the show you wanted to go beat up E.T.

Rear Window, Jimmy Stewart

No. 4: "Rear Window"

Ah yes, "Rear Window" ... wait ... what?

Yeah. "Rear Window" is a great summer movie. Even though there aren't gun battles, space ships, horny teenagers, or jive talking robots, this movie is a great way of reintroducing some class into your summer movie repertoire.

In it, Jimmy Stewart plays a photographer who is stuck at home with a broken leg, left to voyeuristically watch his neighbors in the midst of a hot and humid of a New York summer. And what does he see? Murder.

One of the things that makes the movie so great is the painstaking attention to detail. While the main action is going on with Stewart, the lives of his neighbors are going on around him.

Technically, this movie, released Aug. 1, 1954, came out two decades before the notion of a "summer movie" even existed, but it is a marvelous film, and worth your time.

Meatballs, Bill Murray

No. 3: "Meatballs"

It's hard to believe that there was a time when Bill Murray wasn't making the greatest movies of all time.

But the movie that launched his cinematic career was a little 1979 flick called "Meatballs." In it, Murray plays a camp counselor to a bunch of quirky campers and counselors-in-training.

It wasn't your typical teen sex romp -- in fact the dirty parts were nonexistent. But what we did get was the template on which Bill Murray based his persona: the wise cracking smart aleck who gets the job done with charm and panache. On top of that winning formula, it was set in a summer camp, so we've got the complete setting for a summer movie.

While Murray introduced his wisecracking, coolest-dude-in-the-room persona on "Saturday Night Live," he brought it to the big screen with "Meatballs," and movies have never been so awesome.

Jaws movie poster

No. 2: "Jaws"

The music is instantly recognizable, even if you've never seen the movie. The alternating E and F notes are universally recognized as meaning that danger is near.

Whether or not you've seen "Jaws," you recognize the music and what it means.

It was the movie that wrecked swimming during the summer of 1975. Whether it was in the ocean or the local swimming hole, something HAD to be out there, and if a piece of seaweed touched your foot, you could run on top of the water to get back to the shore.

Jaws was the movie that created the summer blockbuster -- and the career of a then-unknown filmmaker named Steven Spielberg. The movie also had the odious honor of spawning so many reprehensible sequels, but that wasn't Spielberg's fault -- that was the studio trying to squeeze every penny they could out of the franchise.

National Lampoon's Vacation, Chevy Chase

No. 1: "National Lampoon's Vacation"

What is summer if not a time for a summer vacation? With that, we come to our No. 1 summer movie: "Vacation."

The flick is Chevy Chase's cinematic masterpiece -- the kind of movie you keep hoping the next Chevy Chase movie will be like, but then you realize you're watching "Cops and Robertsons."

The movie introduced us to a young Anthony Michael Hall, and showed us the crazy side of Randy Quaid, before he really became crazy -- or at least was formally charged by authorities.

The movie followed Clark Griswold as he aspired to take his family cross-country in the ultimate quest: visiting theme park Wally World.

While summer vacations rarely end up with Christie Brinkley driving next to you in a Ferrari convertible (and then joining you for a skinny dip), the movie was pure hilarity.