17 Movies That Capture the Joy of Summer Love (2023)

We’ve all likely found ourselves obsessed with a summer love — which is funny because there’s no other season when love seems so impermanent. Teenagers fall in love right before they go to colleges on opposite sides of the country. Young kids meet at summer camp and then never speak again. Steamy romances flourish in tropical places, only for people to return to their office jobs in a few weeks.

Maybe that’s exactly why we like summer romances. The impermanence makes for both gentler heartbreaks (it was inevitable) and greater joy when, against all the odds, a summer romance lasts into fall ... and maybe into forever.

For so many people who’ve gotten the coronavirus vaccine, this will be their first time socializing in more than a year. People are booking vacations to beaches and cities and countrysides, and they’re bound to meet some new loves along the way.

If summer 2021 is your summer of love, here is a list of movies selected to help you brush up on all things summer romance — the amusement-park dates, the intense conversations by the beach bonfire, the farewells, the grand romantic gestures — you name it. These movies will not only give you nostalgia, they’ll help you get reacclimated into the world of heady summer lovin’, and who knows? Maybe by the end of the summer, you’ll have your own love story to tell.

The Last Song (2010)

Streaming on Disney+ and Amazon Prime

This teen movie — based on a book by Nicholas Sparks, the undefeated king of summer romances — follows a rebellious 17-year-old girl named Ronnie (Miley Cyrus) who reconnects with her estranged father while she falls in love with an absolute heartthrob, Will Blakelee (Liam Hemsworth). It’s dreamy and sad and impossibly romantic with a happy ending. And though they didn’t last, it did birth the storied real-life romance of Miley and Liam.

Addams Family Values (1993)

Streaming on Amazon Prime and Apple TV

Who doesn’t love the Addams Family? They’re an iconic staple of pop culture, with their subversive, wacky, and strange ways highlighting the absurdity of “normie” suburban culture. They do it perfectly in this film, where the Addams kids get sent to a summer camp full of preppy, entitled children. However, Wednesday (Christina Ricci) falls in love for the first time, with a boy who is enamored with her. It’s a sweet summer romance with the Addams Family’s signature dark humor. A classic.

The Half of It (2020)

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(Video) Top 10 Movies That Capture The Joy Of Summer Love

Streaming on Netflix

What a love triangle. This movie shows Ellie Chu (Leah Lewis), a shy student who buries herself in books and spends most of her time with her widowed father. Popular jock Paul Munsky (Daniel Diemer) hires her to help him woo Aster Flores (Alexxis Lemire) through a series of love letters. There’s just one problem: Ellie falls in love with Aster too. What follows is a sweet movie about love, discovering sexuality, life transitions, and friendship.

The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement (2004)

Streaming on Disney+, Apple TV, and Amazon Prime

I can’t lie and say the sequel is as good as the original. I mean ... nothing can top The Princess Diaries. But the sequel is a swoon-worthy summer romance. Mia (Anne Hathaway) is all set to become queen of Genovia — only she has to get married first. In an arranged engagement, she meets a perfect match on paper. If only she weren’t falling for the bad boy who’s trying to sabotage her impending nuptials so he can steal her crown.

Premature (2019)

Streaming on Hulu, Amazon Prime, and Apple TV

Ayanna (Zora Howard) is going to college in the fall, but not before she has an epically wild summer in Harlem. The handsome Isaiah (Joshua Boone) crosses her path, and Ayanna’s summer heats up with the burn that only young love can bring.

Grease (1978)

Streaming on Apple TV and Amazon Prime

Ok, Grease can be a bit distressing. Why are “teenagers” so old? Why does Sandy (Olivia Newton-John) change her entire appearance and personality to accommodate the cartoonishly rebellious Danny (John Travolta)? Why does that car fly at the end?! However, it’s a classic musical about seeing whether the heat of summer romance can survive past fall semester. If you’re looking to become fluent in old movies and maybe shimmy a little while you watch, it’s worth a stream.

The Notebook (2004)

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Streaming on HBO Max, Amazon Prime, and Apple TV

Another Nicholas Sparks classic. I shouldn’t even have to explain this one. It’s that iconic. If you’re looking for summer romance, watching this movie is non-negotiable. Come for the passionate, forbidden love affair between Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams; stay for the impossibly sweet ending. And that iconic-kiss scene? It’ll take you all summer to emotionally recover.

Safe Haven (2013)

Streaming on Netflix

I know it’s getting a bit ridiculous, but Nicholas Sparks strikes again with this fantasy thriller summer romance. Katie (Julianne Hough) is fleeing her mysteriously dark past, which leads her to a small town on the North Carolina coast and into the arms of the incredibly hot widower Alex (Josh Duhamel). She finds love, but viewers are left biting their nails as her past threatens to destroy everything she’s found.

Mamma Mia! (2008)

Streaming on Amazon Prime and Apple TV

I would argue that Mamma Mia! is a cult classic, only the film — and the incredibly popular musical from which it’s adapted — has fans all over the world who are able to belt out every single dramatic song. But the movie is also pure summer romance, with bride-to-be Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) determined to meet her real father before her wedding. So she snoops through her mom’s (Meryl Streep) journal and invites all three potential daddies to their villa/inn on a gorgeous Greek island. Lovers reunited after decades is such an amazing romance genre, your heart is going to burst. You might also want to move to Greece.

Call Me by Your Name (2017)

Streaming on Starz and Amazon Prime

Call Me by Your Name is one of the most gorgeous summer romances I’ve ever seen. Set in the 1980s in a sleepy Italian town, the film portrays 17-year-old Elio (Timothée Chalamet) falling in love with his father’s research assistant — a much older man (Armie Hammer). Even if the age difference between the two lovers sits weird for you, the love and care we witness, plus Elio’s unconditional support from his family as he figures out his sexuality, is pretty amazing to watch.

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants (2005)

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Streaming on HBO Max and Amazon Prime

There are some steamy and tender romances in this classic teen movie, but the real love story is between the four best friends Lena (Alexis Bledel), Tibby (Amber Tamblyn), Carmen (America Ferrera), and Bridget (Blake Lively), who try to stay connected during a summer apart by sending a magical pair of pants all around the world, wearing them for good luck and sending letters about what they experienced while wearing said magical pants. It’s a story about four girls growing up and learning about all different types of love. Also, there’s Kostas, the ultimate Greek heartthrob.

50 First Dates (2004)

Streaming on Amazon Prime and Hulu

Getting someone to fall in love with you is hard. Imagine having to do it over and over again, with the same person. Set in gorgeous Hawai’i, this movie shows Henry (Adam Sandler) as he falls helplessly in love with Lucy (Drew Barrymore), a woman whose short-term memory loss means she can’t remember anything that happened the day before. Unfettered, Henry is determined to spend every day getting her to fall in love with him again. It’s a silly movie, but it might be Sandler’s sweetest and most chivalrous role ever.

Dear John (2010)

Streaming on Amazon Prime

At this point, it’s time for a disclosure — in no way is Nicholas Sparks paying me to put his movies on this list. He’s simply just that good at summer romance. That said, Dear John is a lot sadder than the other movies based on his books (which is saying something), so maybe don’t watch it if you want to feel cuddly and warm inside. This is a sobbing-into-your-ice-cream kind of movie. But it’s so good, and it stars Channing Tatum and Amanda Seyfried, which is reason enough.

Mystic Pizza (1988)

Streaming on Netflix and Amazon Prime

This entire movie can be summed up as a tribute to Julia Roberts’ curly-hair period. Weren’t those the days? But beyond that, it’s a movie about three Portuguese-American teenagers working at Mystic Pizza, a mom-and-pop restaurant in their small town. Daisy (Julia Roberts) is in a heady summer romance with a rich, entitled country-club boy. Her sister Kat (Annabeth Gish) is enamored with the married man she’s babysitting for (ew), and Jojo (Lili Taylor) is trying to balance her desire for commitment to her high school sweetheart with her need for independence.

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Adventureland (2009)

Streaming on HBO Max, Hulu, and Amazon Prime

Often disgusting places covered in sticky substances, theme parks don’t seem like the best place to fall in love. But that’s exactly what happens to James (Jesse Eisenberg) when he doesn’t have the money to embark on his dream trip across Europe. Sulking, James takes a job at a cheesy theme park, quickly falling in love with his coworker Em (Kristen Stewart).

Moonrise Kingdom (2012)

Streaming on Amazon Prime and Hulu

Is there anyone more determined than two preteens in love? Well, when 12-year-olds Sam (Jared Gilman) and Suzy (Kara Hayward) fall in love, they decide to run away from their island of New Penzance, which seems oddly isolated from the outside world. But just as they make their romantic escape, a fierce storm descends upon the island, and a motley crew of adults (Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Bill Murray) sets out to find the two lovebirds and bring them back to safety.

Say Anything ... (1989)

Streaming on Amazon Prime and Apple TV

Even if you’ve never watched this movie, you’ve definitely seen the images of Lloyd (John Cusack) holding a boom box over his head, wooing his girl, Diane (Ione Skye). Say Anything is the story of valedictorian Diane and slacker Lloyd’s summer romance right before she goes away to a prestigious fellowship in the U.K. Diane’s father doesn’t want her to be with Lloyd, and Diane is constantly wrestling with the expectations put on her and what her heart tells her to do.

Nylah Burton is a Denver-based writer. Follow her on Twitter @yumcoconutmilk.

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