Summer comedies (not necessarily comedies with a particularly summer-y theme, but rather comedic films that are released in theaters during or around the summertime) have exhibited a very strong trend of targeting a teenage audience, both in terms of subject material and the primary viewers of the films, practically the inception of the film industry. Let’s take a stroll down memory lane and examine some of the biggest and most memorable summer comedy hits over the years.
1. Meatballs (1979)
This Canadian small-time movie really embodies the ‘summer’ bit of summer comedies: it’s set at endearingly cut-rate summer camp Camp North Star, following the stories of a lovable bunch of misfits, counselors and campers alike, who bond in the summer heat and team up to beat the rich rival camp, Camp Mohawk. There’s romance among camp counselors, a kid who just doesn’t seem to fit in, a wealthy, cheating team of buff bad guys, a strict head who gets pranked endlessly: all the marks of a really great underdog story.
2. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)
Does this one even need an explanation? Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is still one of the most-watched and most-adored movies among teenagers, and even among people of other ages. It’s a common choice for bus rides, end-of-the-school-year movie days, sleepovers, and practically any occasion. There’s practically no one around who has, if not seen the movie at least twice, heard countless summaries, references, and quotes from it since its release in the mid-eighties.
Quick recap for those of us who haven’t had the good fortune of being exposed to this classic (anyone?): Ferris Bueller is a charismatic, cool high school senior who decides to fake being sick in order to skip school for a day. He, his friend Cameron Frye, and his girlfriend Sloane Peterson spend the day out on the town, having their fair share of trouble and fun on the embodiment of the “perfect day.”
A heart-warming comedy with plenty of spunk and the true spirit the teenage attitude, it was a smashing success at the box office and was (and still is) acclaimed by critics everywhere. It definitely marks a shift in the way teens were portrayed, managing a duality of innocence and mischief, and ending with a great message.
3. Clueless (1995)
Jane Austen’s Emma eventually gave way to this older hit, going through a series of novels and a TV show first. It follows a good-natured but superficial girl who fits the “popular clique” high school stereotype to a T. Cher fancies herself a philanthropist, though her social causes usually end in some sort of gain for her (example: when she sets up two of her teachers so they’ll loosen up and let her “renegotiate” some bad grades). Friendship and love are both at play as Cher learns, over the course of the film, to be less selfish and more genuinely interested in happy endings for herself and her friends.
There’s no question that this movie was marketed towards teens: producers for the film actually sat in on classes at Beverly Hills High School in order to get a feel for how things actually work for teenagers, how we think, speak, and act (or at least how teens did, in the mid-nineties). Despite the little amount of attention it received pre-release, Clueless went on to be a big hit, and is still popular with teenagers, moviegoers, and Austen fans alike.
4. Accepted (2006)
The tag line of this fairly recent comedy is “Reject Rejection,” which encompasses the story quite well. The film follows the story of a high school senior, Bartleby Gaines, who is rejected from every college he applies to. Afraid of his parents’ disapproval, he enlists the help of a motley crew to create a fake college: the South Harmon Institute of Technology (humorously abbreviated S.H.I.T.). The college quickly takes off, accepting others in the same predicament as Bartleby. Predictably, there are some bumps in the road that Bartleby and S.H.I.T. soon try to take from being a fabrication to a real college. The characters in the movie live out the “worst-case scenario” in many teenagers’ minds, and are admirably able to turn their failures into a massive success.
Featuring appropriate amounts of romance, drama, defeat, and triumph, this movie was a hit among teenage viewers, and despite mixed reviews, was number 5 at the box office on its opening weekend, continuing to earn much more than the funds put into the project.
5. The Internship (2013)
Even though this recent summer hit features a couple of older main characters (portrayed by Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson), most of the other characters are in fact teenagers, in or recently out of college, and facing something that, in today’s world, we’ll all have to go through: as the title suggests, working towards getting an internship. The movie follows a team of rejects trying to get internships at Google, and features a series of crazy tasks and competitions that really highlight the strangeness of finding an internship in today’s job market. Even though not a lot of us have to go through the particular struggles this host of misfits faces over the course of the film, I’m sure we can all relate to feeling like everyone else is more capable and more equipped that us, not to mention having to jump through hoops to get a job or even an unpaid internship in today’s market.
No spoilers on how the movie ends, but this movie is definitely targeted squarely at teenage viewers, with a happy ending and an uplifting message for those of us struggling to find a way to succeed despite the unique problems we face.
It’s clear that teenagers and the movies aimed at them have ruled the summer comedy scene for, really, the majority of the life of the film industry itself. There are countless other examples of movies targeted at teens that have experienced great success — romances, dramas, tragedies, Christmas movies, and everything in between — but summer comedies in particular seem to have long been the territory of the teenaged generation, no matter who that includes at any given moment.