happy campers

Pitch a tent with these 9 queer summer sleepaway camp movies

Screenshot: Eating Out: Drama Camp, Ariztical Entertainment

The gays sure do have a love-hate relationship with camp. And, for once, we’re not talking about the kind you look right in the eye—we’re talking about good old-fashioned summer camp.

Whether you’re an outdoorsy queer or not, camp holds a special place in our memories. A break from the norm, these summer retreats allowed us to explore and experiment away from the judging eyes of parents. Sure, sometimes they were their own kind of hell, but camps offered many baby gays their first taste of freedom and helped us meet new friends. Even if it was just for the summer, it was a space to find some of our earliest chosen families.

Related: Strangers By The Lake: 10 sexy, queer lakeside stories perfect for a summer watch

Perhaps that’s why camp, in all its forms, is a setting frequently revisited in LGBTQ-focused films, for better and for worse. With summer in full swing and a frightening new addition to the camp canon on its way (more on that in a second), we decided to assemble a list of nine notable queer and queer-adjacent stories set at campgrounds worth packing an overnight bag for.

And, because queer camp films come in many forms—comedy, horror, musical—we went ahead and labeled them according to which type of camper they’ll most appeal to. So, take a look below, and happy camping!

The Newbie: They/Them (2022)

Remember when we said camp could be hell? That’s made literal in this fresh fright fest from filmmaker John Logan, which takes us to a sinister conversion camp where a diverse group of young queer and trans campers has to band together to contend with both a sadistic counselor (Kevin Bacon) and a mysterious masked murderer. This summer, They/Them aims to put the “slash” in slasher flicks.

Streams on Peacock beginning August 5.

The Wildcard: Holy Camp! (2017)

From Veneno creators and Drag Race Espana judges Javier Calvo and Javier Ambrossi, this Spanish-language musical tells the appropriately “campy” tale of two rebellious girls at a Catholic summer camp who are moved by music. While it only briefly touches on a lesbian coming-out subplot, Holy Camp! has plenty of queer appeal, like its flashy, rhinestoned version of God who visits the girls in dreams to sing them Whitney Houston songs. Yes, really!

Streams on Netflix.

The Prankster: The Final Girls (2015)

A delightfully meta love letter to the slashers of yore, The Final Girls transports a group of modern teens into their favorite cult classic gore-fest, Camp Bloodbath. As the gang hilariously tries to stop the movie characters from having sex—a surefire death knell in old-school horrors—the body count rises, upending trope after trope. Created by partners and filmmakers M.A. Fortin and Joshua John Miller, it’s the kind winking thrill ride that only a pair of movie-obsessed queers could dream up.

Available for rental on Amazon Prime Video, Vudu, YouTube, and iTunes.

The Horn Dog: Eating Out: Drama Camp (2011)

While this is technically the fourth installment in the raunchy, gay sex comedy series, Eating Out, we guarantee you aren’t watching these movies for the plot. Drama Camp takes the action to a summertime theater retreat, where camp owner Dick Dickey (Drew Droege) orders a strict no-sex mandate—of course, that’s not going to stop this libidinous group of campers from ditching their close and exploring each other’s bodies. That’s what Eating Out is all about!

Streams on Tubi. Available for rental on Amazon Prime Video, YouTube, and iTunes.

The Sensitive One: Camp Out (2006)

On the complete opposite end of the queer camp spectrum is the sweet documentary, Camp Out, in which filmmakers Larry Grimaldi and Kirk Marcolina follow the lives of 10 campers at the first-ever gay Christian bible camp in rural Minnesota. Told through from-the-campground footage and a series of charming confessional interviews, Camp Out is a thoughtful and patient examination of the intersection between sexuality and faith.

Streams on YouTube.

The Theater Kid: Camp (2003)

An all-too-rare original movie musical, Camp is religion to an entire generation of theater gays. Inspired by writer-director Todd Graff’s experiences at New York’s famous Stagedoor Manor performing arts center, the movie centers on a lovable but oh-so-dramatic group of teens with big dreams in the lead-up to their climactic benefit performance. Among its stars is a young Anna Kendrick, Robin de Jesús, and you just might recognize Stephen Sondheim in a cameo for the ages.

Steams on AMC+ via Amazon Prime Video. Available for rental on iTunes.

The Camp Clown: Wet Hot American Summer (2001)

Wet Hot American Summer assembles a cast of comedy all-stars (Janeane Garofolo, Paul Rudd, and Amy Poehler among them) for one of the funniest, most quotable movies ever made. Though Netflix would return to Camp Firewood years later for a prequel and a sequel series, they can’t match the brilliance of the original, a smartly stupid send-up of summer camp nostalgia. And who could forget Bradley Cooper (in his film debut) committing himself to that passionate gay sex scene in the tool shed?

Available for rental on Amazon Prime Video, Vudu, YouTube, and iTunes.

The Outsider: Happy Campers (2001)

The directorial debut of Heathers writer Daniel Waters, Happy Campers doesn’t have the same bite or style as his late ’80s classic, but it’s a fascinating time capsule of turn-of-the-millennium indie comedy. Keram Malicki-Sánchez plays the lone gay among a group of randy college freshman who are in way over their heads as counselors at Camp Bleeding Dove, where they’re much more focused on losing their virginities than keeping the young campers from hurting themselves.

Available for rental on Amazon Prime Video, Vudu, YouTube, and iTunes.

The Cool Counselor: But I’m A Cheerleader (2000)

One of the ultimate queer cult comedies, Jamie Babbit’s But I’m A Cheerleader is the elder statesmen of the camp subgenre, but that doesn’t make it any less cool. Natasha Lyonne stars as “suspected lesbian” Megan Bloomfield, sent by her family to a conversion therapy camp—a plan that backfires when she meets a colorful group of gays intent on rebelling against the system. With a strong ensemble that boasts Clea DuVall, RuPaul, and Mink Stole, the movie plays like a gay fantasia that only gets better with age.

Streams on Peacock, Hoopla, Vudu, and Kanopy. Available for rental on Amazon Prime Video, YouTube, and iTunes.