Camp Rules!

Even if you never leave home.

Bill Murray as the best counselor ever in Meatballs

All through my adolescence I hoped that someone would send me to summer camp. Sadly, it never happened. This is one of the greatest tragedies of my life, because camp always seemed like this Shangri-lawless place totally devoid of parents where you ran wild, tried out new personas, ate oatmeal, and made out with people. If you’ve never gone to camp or you’re just nostalgic for the time when you did, you’ll be happy to know that I’ve figured out how to replicate the experience within the comfort of your own room by watching the movies and TV shows (and reading the one book) on this list.

Camp Rock (2008)
Camp Name: Camp Rock

Don’t let the name fool you: Camp Rock isn’t for geology enthusiasts. (Did you even think that it was?) While most traditional camps are all about canoes and whatnot, Camp Rock molds youngsters into pop stars. As one girl says at the beginning of this Disney Channel movie, “anybody who wants to be somebody in music goes to Camp Rock,” which is why aspiring singer Mitchie (Demi Lovato) is so jazzed when her folks agree to let her go for the summer. Less than 10 seconds after arriving, campers are doing backflips and clickety-clacking their drumsticks. A few kids even pop and lock their way off the camp bus. This is how you know the place is hardcore! Throughout the summer, boys and girls learn how to lip-sync to a backing track and hold a guitar while pretending to play it. The lucky ones get to take a class with bad-boy counselor Joe Jonas, who teaches them the ancient art of dancing in skinny jeans.

Camp Nowhere (1994)
Camp Name: Camp Nowhere

The intrepid kids at Camp Nowhere hire an out-of-work junior-high-school drama teacher (Christopher Lloyd, mad scientist Doc from the Back to the Future movies) to pose as the director of a phony camp, swindle their parents into giving them thousands of dollars, and then use the money to rent a former hippie commune for the summer. Ringleader Morris “Mud” Himmel (Jonathan Jackson, who has the most beautiful ’90s mullet that ever existed) and his crew of 13-year-old rascals spend their adult-free days jumping off of cabin roofs onto piles of dirty mattresses and skateboarding with fireworks strapped to their helmets (that is, all of the things that I do constantly now that I’m grown up and in charge of my life). If you actually tried to pull off a Camp Nowhere scenario (which I suggest you do), you wouldn’t have to worry about getting in trouble. When your parents inevitably find out what you’ve been up to, they’ll just be like, “Touché. That was an awesome idea, y’all.”

Camp (2003)
Camp Name: Camp Ovation

If you listen to mix CDs of Broadway ballads whenever you’re feeling blue, or casually reference Barbara Stanwyck films in everyday conversation, then the teens at the summer performing-arts program in Camp are your kindred spirits. During the school year, these kids are misfits, but Camp Ovation is their refuge, a place where they’re completely accepted and can proudly display their framed photos of Stephen Sondheim.

Addams Family Values (1993)
Camp Name: Camp Chippewa

In this sequel to The Addams Family, “altogether ooky” siblings Wednesday (Christina Ricci) and Pugsley (Jimmy Workman) go to summer camp after a scheming nanny tricks their parents into sending them away (NOT because they want a break from watching their overly amorous mother and father come pretty close to having intercourse in front of them on a daily basis). Camp Chippewa is operated by two inordinately upbeat counselors and primarily populated by WASPy kids who can’t appreciate Wednesday’s morbid one-liners or her amazing vintage Victorian bathing suit. Spending eight weeks with Wednesday Addams would be a total dream—even if she ended up hating you after you asked her to braid your hair like hers.

Goosebumps #9: Welcome to Camp Nightmare (1993)
Camp Name: Camp Nightmoon

I imagine that the best part of any camp experience has to be the moment when you—and you alone—are called on to solve a mystery. That’s exactly what happens to Billy when he goes to Camp Nightmoon and the kids in his cabin start disappearing. Other great things about camp revealed in this book, which I like to imagine R.L. Stine wrote by candlelight while wearing a velvet cloak: every day closes with a cliffhanger, and there’s a shocking, life-altering twist when camp ends.

Bug Juice (1998-2001)
Camp Name: Camp Waziyatah

For three years at the turn of the millennium, the Disney Channel aired a reality show about summer camp. It was called Bug Juice, and it was amazing! According to the theme song, the show chronicled the “true life adventures” of “real kids, makin’ friends, havin’ fun” at a camp in Maine. You’d be hard pressed to find a more compelling premise than that! The carefree group of 12-to-15-year-olds played volleyball, waterskied, went on overnight hikes, lived in cabins, wrote poetry, and sang campfire songs. Mainly, though, the show was like junior high to the nth degree. Most of the girls were boy crazy, the boys were immature, and during their little camp dances, they’d all do what I call the “junior-high slow-jam shuffle” (you know, where you and your partner stiffly spin around in circles, both of you looking away from each other like you couldn’t be less interested in what’s going on).

Wet Hot American Summer (2001)
Camp Name: Camp Firewood

Co-writer/actor Michael Showalter was so devoted to telling this story of infatuation, rejection, redemption, gum-chewing, and calf-high tube-sock wearing, that he lost a ton of weight to believably portray a teenage counselor. Amy Poehler, Paul Rudd, Elizabeth Banks, Bradley Cooper, and Janeane Garofalo join him around the bonfire in this parody of camp movies. After watching Wet Hot, it isn’t uncommon to want to (a) immediately rewatch it and (b) set aside any of the career aspirations that you may have once had in favor of becoming a full-time camp counselor.

Sleepaway Camp (1983)
Camp Name: Camp Arawak

A mysterious psychopath on a killing spree terrorizes a camp full of kids. People are stabbed and killed with a curling iron, which doesn’t exactly paint summer camp in the most appealing light. But some of the kids don’t die, so that’s something, right? If you’re aren’t able to stomach the gruesome bits, fast-forward through them and enjoy the wonderful ’80s camp fashions—one muscle-bound counselor wears the most darling half-shirt-and-hot-pants ensemble that I’ve ever seen.

The Parent Trap (1961 & 1998)
Camp Name: Camp Walden

There’s no better pro-camp argument than the one put forward by both the original 1961 Parent Trap and its 1998 remake (starring an adorable 12-year-old Lindsay Lohan): if you go to camp, there’s a pretty good chance that you’ll come across your long-lost twin (if you already live with your twin, then you’ll probably meet two other girls who look like you and discover that you’re quadruplets).

Arthur, season one, episode seven: “Arthur Goes to Camp” (1996)
Camp Name: Camp Meadowcroak

At Camp Meadowcroak, Arthur and the boys and Francine and the girls play pranks on one another and just generally run amok. At one point the girls booby-trap a ditch, and the boys fall into it. The counselors don’t give a crap because at camp, third-graders are free to do whatever the hell they want.

Meatballs (1979)
Camp Name: Camp North Star

My goal in life is to have Bill Murray take me under his wing the way he does with shy camp outcast Rudy. Until that day comes, I’ll just watch Meatballs over and over again.


  • Tyknos93 July 2nd, 2012 11:07 PM

    Aww man I LOVED CAMP!!! I used to belt out Here’s Where I Stand in the shower or when I was alone. That movie was like my Rent when I was 10 years old. I lost my copy of it, but every time it’s on cable, I stop to watch it. I was in love with Michael (the gay kid) it made me so sad when they beat him up for wearing the prom dress.
    This is probably the dorkiest thing I’ve ever written, but I’m so glad this was on the list!
    Actual sleepaway camp was pretty awesome too and the LADY PINK background today is EVERYTHING.
    Okay I’m done…

  • Pocket Cow July 2nd, 2012 11:11 PM

    I love love LOVE the Sleepaway Camp movies! I’ve seen the first three. GOD they’re so amazing and campy (Ha!) and gruesome! My favorite to watch at sleepovers.

  • Abby July 2nd, 2012 11:23 PM

    OHMYGOD I love Wednesday Addams.

    Morticia: “She’s at that special time in a girl’s life where they can only think of one thing…”

    Peppy other mom, with a creepy happy voice: “BOYS???”

    Wednesday, with a completely straight face: “Homicide.”

  • Kathryn July 2nd, 2012 11:30 PM

    I think I have that Goosebumps book somewhere. Is that the one where (SPOILER) two siblings are in their trailer behind their parents truck, but it detaches and they find the camp and then it’s like a super competitive sports camp and then at the end you find out there’s like a giant blob that sweats snails and they make the campers that disappeared clean up after it?
    I have vivid memories of this.

    • Kathryn July 2nd, 2012 11:37 PM


  • katrinaexplainsitall July 2nd, 2012 11:32 PM

    I’ve never actually been to a summer camp, so I’ve always enjoyed going to one vicariously through watching The Parent Trap. And I freaking loved Bug Juice. My first dose of reality tv. And whenever a camper got a little irritated it was always sew scandalous to me ~

  • chameleon22 July 2nd, 2012 11:35 PM

    UGH the 1998 Parent Trap has got to be the absolute best movie in the world

  • Kathryn July 2nd, 2012 11:36 PM

    PS, the intro of Arthur totally brought back memories of childhood

  • poison ivy July 2nd, 2012 11:49 PM

    is there any other childrens tv show BESIDES arthur that features sarcastic, non-human third graders? if there is, i would like to know about it.

  • hellocat July 3rd, 2012 12:19 AM

    ancient art of dancing in skinny jeans. bahahahahahahaha

  • annagracie July 3rd, 2012 12:20 AM

    I love this. My friends call me a “camp person” because i’ve gone to camp for the last six years, and as a camp person, I approve of this list! My favorites are Meatballs, Parent Trap, and Addams Family Values. I find myself channeling Bill Murray and repeating his “IT JUST DOESN’T MATTER!” speech all the the time.
    P.S. As recommended by Rookie a few months back, I watched Little Darlings, and it’s also one of my favorite camp movies.

  • Muna July 3rd, 2012 12:29 AM

    «and discover that you’re quadruplets» made me laugh so hard! :)
    i am looking forward to discovering some of the stated tv shows this summer (since i am jobless, don’t have any specific plans and i am probably waaayy to old to go to camp again)!

  • SpencerBowie July 3rd, 2012 1:10 AM

    I love Addams Family Values! One of the funniest/best/disturbing scenes is Wednesday sitting straight up and her new friend from camp in the canoe, set against the fires they just caused on the stage! Highly effective! :P

  • mayacolor July 3rd, 2012 1:21 AM

    Awwrh I’d love to go to camp with Wednesday Adams or mabey not with her but with her there , Ive allways secretly wanted to be her .

  • jenaimarley July 3rd, 2012 1:24 AM


  • Maldivian July 3rd, 2012 1:29 AM

    Salute Your Shorts!

  • Kaylahh96 July 3rd, 2012 1:41 AM

    Bug Juice! Favorite show of my life <3

  • emilyelizabeth July 3rd, 2012 1:50 AM

    oh my god, Bug Juice!!! i LOVED that show! and the parent trap was one of my favorites too!

  • Pia July 3rd, 2012 1:50 AM

    You forgot HEAVY WEIGHTS!

    • Jaynie July 3rd, 2012 2:06 AM

      Whoops, comment twins! Long live Camp Hope!

  • Jaynie July 3rd, 2012 2:05 AM

    Heavyweights ( is missing!

  • mayaautumn July 3rd, 2012 2:24 AM

    in year four, my class had the whole collection of the goosebumps books and everyone was obsessed with them. i remember being scared of them though, so i just stuck with the non-horror books!
    also i love arthur
    and parent trap
    and everything

  • linz July 3rd, 2012 3:18 AM

    omg YES HEAVY WEIGHTS!!!!!!

  • bird July 3rd, 2012 3:55 AM

    Oh my god!!!!
    I watched ‘Camp Nowhere’ years ago and I forgot the name of it! I kept telling people about this awesome movie and asking around to see if anyone could remember what it was called!
    You have literally saved my brain from exploding!
    Now I can go watch it again!
    Thank you!

  • TheGreatandPowerfulRandini July 3rd, 2012 5:32 AM

    How exactly does one stab a person to death with a CURLING IRON?

  • starsinyourheart July 3rd, 2012 7:42 AM

    welcome to camp nightmare, BIGGEST goosebumps fan when i was a kid! ahah.

  • alison eee July 3rd, 2012 8:06 AM

    Camp Cucamoga is another awesome camp movie. It was made for TV and starred a lot of the tv kids stars of the time. a bunch of kids from full house, wonder years, family matters, chad allen and i’c sone some other awesome people.

  • youroldbabysitter July 3rd, 2012 9:32 AM

    Camp Cucamonga is not on this list and I watched it obsessively when I was younger. Great cast, great music. Urkel is in it, for goodness’ sake!

  • ohonestly July 3rd, 2012 9:45 AM

    i saw “bug juice” when i was 9, during its original run on disney channel, and i fell so in love with the idea of the camp experience that i convinced my parents to send me to waziyatah the following summer…and to keep sending me back, year after year, until i went to college. those were ten of the best summers of my life.

    also, to echo everyone else: you forgot “heavyweights”!

    “attention campers: lunch has been cancelled due to lack of hustle. deal with it.”

  • keezey July 3rd, 2012 9:58 AM

    Yes! I’ve been waiting for another great movie list. I’m stuck at home for the rest of the summer and I can’t drive, so thank you! Now excuse me, I NEED to see all of these movies right now. Especially The Addams Family one….

  • Aurora July 3rd, 2012 10:25 AM

    AHHHHHHHHHH man I love camp. I go to a mini-camp, like six days, every summer. I wish I could go all summer, but it’s still amazing, and I think I am gonna rally my camp buddies and watch Sleepaway Camp right before we leave.

  • runningfilm July 3rd, 2012 10:53 AM

    I never got to go to summer camp (curses!), but I’ve read so many books and seen so many TV specials and movies that sometimes I think I have.

  • wallflower152 July 3rd, 2012 11:45 AM

    Dude, Bug Juice was awesome. I watched it when I was about the same age as campers. I love how real it is. The best reality show ever right before reality shows took over. And Camp Nowhere would’ve been awesome to go to. You forgot Heavyweights, another classic. I went to camp a couple years but it was nowhere near as awesome as Wazi. My best memories include making up a game where you stand in a circle and throw basketballs at each other as hard as possible and then getting the councilors to play with us haha. Oh and staying up late with these anime kids and talking about how funny the words plug and nozzle sound.

  • barbroxursox July 3rd, 2012 1:00 PM

    That’s all I have to say. Oh, and Rookie’s pretty awesome too… ;)

  • Mila July 3rd, 2012 1:33 PM

    hey, guys,
    what about MOONRISE KINGDOM ? <3

  • phiely July 3rd, 2012 2:42 PM

    So glad to see Arthur and his friends on here. Well done, Rookies!

  • Alex S. July 3rd, 2012 7:01 PM

    Bug Juice oh my gosh!!!! Blast from the past. I always dreamed of going there and interacting in the preteen drama than just watching it on my tv.

  • saramarit July 4th, 2012 3:27 PM

    We don’t really have camp in the UK but I remember watching Bug Juice and loving it, and singing the theme song a lot too?!

    I think I would have hated camp though, I’m more of a Wednesday Addams at heart.

  • cicconeyouth July 4th, 2012 6:09 PM

    Three words: TROOP. BEVERLY. HILLS.

  • whodatgal July 5th, 2012 11:34 AM



  • kennedymay October 26th, 2012 8:30 PM

    oh my god, meatballs!! it’s one of my favourite movies, my family and i watch it every summer! so glad to see it on this list