Heat, as in the summer swelter, often functions almost as a character in motion pictures. It sets a mood, it keeps tensions tight, it alters moods, it keeps everyone uncomfortable and on edge.
Here are 10 movies that use heat brilliantly, and as we all know, the best thing about a movie set in the summer is that you can watch it in ice-cold air conditioning.
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1. "Do the Right Thing.” This occupies the top spot for a few reasons. ”Do the Right Thing” tells us immediately that it is set on the hottest day of the year, which adds to its mythic, classical-tragedy qualities. It also happens to be one of the greatest and most important American movies ever made, not to mention incredibly smart and deeply entertaining. Features plenty of commentary on the weather from the prophetic (“Well, gentlemen, the way I see it, if this hot weather continues, it's going to melt the polar caps and the whole, wide world. And all those parts that ain't water already will surely be flooded.”) to the carnal (“It ain't never too hot or never too cold for (REDACTED)”). See also the epic shower scene.
2. "Cool Hand Luke.” The sweatiest movie ever made. It says so right in the pilot for “Cheers” (which also happens to be one of the best pilots ever shot). They’re not wrong, for the tale of a man sentenced to a Florida chain gang does indeed contain shirtless Paul Newman sweating pretty much all the time. A great movie, but feel free to ignore the ham-fisted Christ allegories. They are a bit much.
Related: Check out the extremely Austin summer movie guide
3. "Body Heat.” Florida has rarely looked so sexy, nor so humid. I am not sure William Hurt has one scene in this thing in which he doesn’t look at least vaguely damp, if not downright shiny. Also: This is still Lawrence Kasdan’s best movie by a factor of 10 or so. Now that I think about it, this is peak Hurt, peak Kasdan and peak Kathleen Turner.
4. “Planet of the Apes.” This is the original we are talking about, not the misbegotten 2001 remake nor the more recent and much better reboots. In the original, the apes look totally fine; they are used to the heat. It’s Taylor (Charlton Heston, chewing every bit of scenery that isn’t nailed down) who is shirtless and suffering in the sun. Get your stinking paws off him, you damn dirty apes (because it is way too hot to be touched).
5. “Dog Day Afternoon.” It’s an insanely hot New York day, it says so right in the title of Sidney Lumet’s stone-cold '70s classic. Very few people have looked as awesome with ugly, matted hair as Al Pacino as he is attempting to rob a bank while getting the people of the city on his side. Special mention to god-tier supporting actor John Cazale for his incredibly weird look and his three-piece suit, in which he looks cool as a cucumber.
6. “Jaws.” It’s hot, hot enough for Harry to be wearing some bad hat as the people of Amity sit around on the most popular beach day of the year. The weather itself is a player in this drama, but not as much as the shark (or a very drunk-looking but nonetheless amazing Robert Shaw). That said, Roy Scheider was a very good perspirer.
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7. “A Streetcar Named Desire.” This one is here because of Marlon Brando’s shirt.
8. “Rear Window.” While this isn’t one of the sweatiest movies ever made (Hitchcock probably didn’t allow his actors to sweat on camera), this is very much a very hot, very summery movie. The window in L.B. Jefferies’ apartment is open because it is a stifling New York summer. One of the best movies ever made, it nonetheless makes zero sense because Jimmy Stewart spends most of it turning down Grace Kelly, which I think is actually against the Geneva Convention.
9. “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.” This downright visionary and incredibly influential movie is also absolutely sweltering. No, really: Tobe Hooper shot it in July 1973 in Central Texas. It was routinely between 95 and 100 degrees during a shoot that often went 16 hours a day. According to legend it was a balmy 110 degrees on July 26. The movie shot for about a month. No wonder everyone looked exhausted, miserable and terrified the entire time.
10. “Stray Dog.” Toshiro Mifune is best known in the United States for samurai pictures, primarily for his absolute tour de force in Akira Kurosawa’s masterpiece “Seven Samurai,” a performance for which he is rightly revered. But he was also a drop-dead gorgeous leading man. In this 1949 noir, also by Kurosawa, post-war Tokyo is a pretty energetic place to begin with, and sweltering temperatures do not help. A young cop named Murakami (Toshiro Mifune) has his gun stolen, a humiliation of the first rank, so of course he must find it. A good reminder to wear light clothing and always carry a handkerchief. Also, if you can possibly look like a young Toshiro Mifune, that probably helps as well.