I’ve hosted quite a few projector nights over the years, including a few float-and-watch in the pool parties (which are the best!) I’ve found that certain movies play better than others in this type of setting, and there’s definitely a formula to follow for optimum fun. First, the movie needs to be lighthearted enough for people to feel comfortable interjecting their own commentary, talking, and laughing throughout. Movies with a strong seasonal theme make for memorable nights. And of course a killer soundtrack never hurts. With all that in mind, I’ve rounded up ten summer movies that would be perfect for you next backyard movie night. I’m assuming you already know about Dirty Dancing and Blue Crush, so this list focuses on a few great summer films you might have missed. (Be sure and put the kids to bed first, because some of these aren’t exactly family friendly.) Break out the projector and popcorn, and sink into summer with one of these 10 backyard movies.

featured photo by buff strickland

Inherent Vice, 2014.

Follow drug fueled private investigator Larry “Doc” Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix) through 1970s beachside California as he tries to track down a missing ex girlfriend. This is a stoner romp that pays tribute to The Big Lebowski, while still being it’s own wonderfully weird thing. Directed by P.T. Anderson.

Dazed and Confused, 1993.

Richard Linklater’s cult classic just celebrated it’s 25th birthday, and it’s still just as watchable (and quotable) as it was in 1993. A group of bored teenagers search for something to do in small town Texas on the first night of summer in 1976, dropping hilarious insights and theories along the way. Be sure and follow up by watching the McConaughey audition tape afterward. You’re welcome, ladies.

Tangerine, 2015.

This is a summer story like you’ve never seen before. Shot completely on iPhone, Sean Baker’s award winning film follows transgendered sex worker Sin De-Rella and best friend Alexandra as they attempt to track down her cheating boyfriend/pimp Chester in West Hollywood. This little movie about friendship is pure heart, with plenty of swag to boot.

Lords of Dogtown, 2005.

I’ve honestly never understood why this movie is so poorly reviewed. Maybe it’s because Dogtown and Z Boys (a documentary about the same group of guys) is so good. In any case I really like Lords of Dogtown, and so does Chanel. It’s based on the true story of the guys in Venice Beach who invented modern skateboarding, and was written by one of them himself. This movie is has major 70s summer vibes, the skateboarding scenes are really fun, and the cast is adorable. You only thought you were over skater guys.

Blow, 2001.

If you’re too young to remember when Johnny Depp was hot — and I mean crazy hot — then this movie is your next assignment. He and Penelope Cruz are FIRE in this biopic about cocaine lords George Jung, Pablo Escobar, Carlos Lehder Riva. Blow is (much like a certain substance) a real fun ride that seems like it could keep going forever. Until it doesn’t.

Dope, 2015.

Three geeky high school friends (who happen to be obsessed with 90s hip hop) find themselves accidentally entangled in a drug deal gone wrong in this lighthearted comedy set in Inglewood, California. Dope was a big hit at SXSW a few years ago, and cast members Zoe Kravitz and Shameik Moore have already gone on to big things.

Little Darlings, 1980.

This coming-of-age film is a true cult classic. You’ll recognize a very young Cynthia Nixon (aka Miranda) among a group of girls spending the summer at a camp in Georgia. When two of the 15 year old campers make a bet about who can lose their virginity first, the entire camp gets involved. This is definitely the most serious film on our list (in tone), but a classic summer movie nonetheless.

Bottle Rocket, 1996.

This is Wes Anderson’s first feature length film, and the one that launched his career (as well as brothers Owen and Luke Wilson). It’s a great little road trip movie, and fun to see the trademarks of the director’s style already present in a low budget indie. Three friends embark on a half-baked crime spree through West Texas, never quite escaping the mundane realities of regular life.

Wattstax, 1973.

This would be a really fun one for a float-and-watch party, especially because it’s a concert documentary (so plenty of time to chat with friends during songs.) Wattstax was a benefit concert hosted by Stax Records in 1972 on the anniversary of the 1965 riots in the African-American community of Watts, Los Angeles. With great performances by Isaac Hayes, Luther Ingram, and Pops Staples, Wattstax is dripping with seventies style and attitude. This film is a serious window into African American culture in the 70s, with lots of humor and fun moments along the way.

Wet Hot American Summer, 2001.

This camp spoof is definitely divisive (critics and audiences generally hated it when it was released back in 2001.) But since then it’s gained a cult following, and Netflix even revived it as a series in 2015. The counseling staff of Camp Firewood attempt to make romantic connections as the summer term comes to an end in 1981, while also putting on the greatest talent show Camp Firewood has ever seen.


  1. 1
    Amy | July 19, 2019 at 8:05 am

    Tbh I’m kind of disappointed Dazed and Confused is on your list. I finally watched it a few years ago and was completely horrified. Bullying portrayed as “cool”, an adult (good ole Matthew McConaughey) who preys on underage girls for sex, and just the overall “boys will be boys” excuses for unbelievably bad behavior. Can you even imagine if you found out your 14-year-old daughter was forced to wear a dog collar and bark on all fours, then offer sexual favors to 18-year-olds?? I’ll never understand how that movie is seen as cute and funny.

    • Jennifer Rose Smith | July 20, 2019 at 12:07 pm

      Hi Amy, and thanks for your comment. You’ve raised some very interesting points about this movie. I agree that the hazing and casual sexism in the film are presented in a relatively “harmless” light. But I would also argue that the film quietly and persistently questions these issues throughout — McConaughey’s character is referred to as “creepy” and “gross”, the Ben Affleck character as “kind of a joke”. It’s important to remember that this is a period piece about Texas the 70s and doesn’t portray the world as it should be, but rather how the director remembers it. I would argue that the McConaughey character has been glorified by audiences over the years, not really by the film itself. At the end of the day, this movie is a lot like a cold case of domestic beer — easily abused in immature hands.

  2. 2
    Jenn | August 24, 2019 at 11:38 am

    It was a great movie and actually, it shows how far we have come (even if we still have a long road ahead of us!).

    Lessons do not always have to be dark and heavy. I have found that some movies like this have been a source of great conversation among our gay friend group and family.

    I love this list!! Pinning it for sure! I love to host movie nights with somewhat of a themed dinner and sex these are great!!

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