In the end, all Martin Brody wanted was a smile.
A charging great white shark — menace in its black, doll-like eyes, an oxygen tank in its mouth — obliged him. Brody fired his rifle, hit the tank, blew up the shark and saved Amity Island.
People who know “Jaws,” the 1975 adventure film that starred Roy Scheider as Brody and Robert Shaw as prickly ocean master Quint, know the scene. They may be watching it this month; pop culture and film experts say “Jaws” can be considered a movie that plays better during the summer.
“People are not looking for an experience at home where they want to think super deeply,” said Kim Middleton, a professor of English at The College of Saint Rose in Albany. “We’re not in the mood for an Oscar runner, where we’re looking for quality and depth and something that moves us deeply in the way that we might be in January.”
Middleton said one of her preferences for August would be a sexy movie about romance and dance. “ ‘Dirty Dancing’ was a quintessential summer film that I think people watch all year round,” she said. “Everybody’s warm, it’s at a resort, it’s kind of sweaty. I think the same thing about, more recently, ‘(500) Days of Summer,’ it’s so clearly playing off this idea that the character’s name is Summer, but it happens in the summer, it’s a happy little romance.”
People who grew up during the 1950s might choose “A Summer Place,” the Troy Donahue-Sandra Dee sob story from 1959, as a summer diversion. Middleton, who is 37, said people from her generation would substitute “The Goonies,” from 1985. The early Steven Spielberg film had young children and teenagers in a romp that featured a giant pirate ship.
“Grease” would work. “So would those really classic surf movies,” Middleton said. “Those classic ‘Gidget,’ Frankie Avalon movies. Something about those always rings with summer.”
For some people, seeing a movie during the summer will forever brand it as a “summer” film.
“So much of that is about nostalgia, it really activates that feeling for people,” Middleton said. “I asked a couple of my colleagues, ‘What do you associate with summer movies?’ Especially, I think, for young men, you always get the exact same three — it’s always ‘Star Wars,’ it’s always ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark,’ and ‘Jaws.’
“When they think of a quintessential summer movie, it’s that experience of escapism they associate with being a kid in the summer. You’re out of school, you want that big experience. You saw it as a kid and you will go back to it over and over and over again and reclaim that moment of your life when you first saw it.”
“Raiders” represents the caper adventure film. And if summer fans are watching Indiana Jones on televisions, computers and other devices — the character’s four movies originally showed up in theaters during the summer — they may also be interested in Jones’ cinematic older brother. That’s James Bond, and the Bond mix of daring, style and witty lines — at least during the Sean Connery years — fits Middleton’s criteria for movies that do not require deep thought.
Mining the classics
Brother Gerry Molyneaux, a film professor at LaSalle University in Philadelphia, includes both classic and modern films on his list of summer musts. He includes “The Adventures of Robin Hood,” the color-drenched Errol Flynn movie from 1938; “The Pink Panther” from 1963 as a caper flick; a Mel Brooks double feature with the western spoof “Blazing Saddles” and monster mash-up “Young Frankenstein,” and 1942 romance adventure “Casablanca.”
A summer movie also registers — “Summer of ’42.”
“In everyone’s life, there is a summer of ’42,” Molyneaux said. “This movie recalls a vacation in Nantucket with a testosterone-driven teenager caught up in the emotional confusion wrought by his infatuation with a desirous and lonely war bride whose husband is overseas fighting in World War II. More recent and raunchy summer movies like ‘American Pie’ and ‘Superbad’ suggest why ‘Summer of ’42’s’ original ‘R’ rating got dropped to PG.”
Molyneaux said other films can be pegged to seasons. Winter holiday movies are naturally shown in December, with some making the annual viewing of the Christmas feel-good film “It’s a Wonderful Life” a family event. “There’s a Woody Allen film, ‘Hannah and Her Sisters’ that has three scenes set around Thanksgiving,” Molyneaux said.
“Stand by Me,” the coming-of-age film from 1986, is also on Molyneaux’s summer list.
“I like to start out my film course in the fall with ‘Stand by Me,’ ” he said. “For the students coming into the class it’s the end of summer, the beginning of something new.”
Sports movies also qualify as summer entertainment, especially if the sports are outdoor activities.
“ ‘Major League’ works,” Molyneaux said. “So does ‘Caddyshack.’ ”
He said “Singin’ in the Rain” has so many summer fans that Turner Classic Movies arranged for it to be shown in theaters around the country for one night only on July 12. “And how about ‘It Happened One Night,’ ” he said. “If you want something light, ‘Three Coins in the Fountain.’ ”
Part of the problem, Molyneaux believes, is figuring out which movies to choose.
“I should confess that the hardest part about teaching movies is deciding which 12 to show every semester,” he said.