Going to sleepaway camp isn’t easy. Being taken away from your parents and bedroom and forced to bond with strangers is enough to give anyone anxiety. If movies have taught us anything, there are two different kinds of sleepaway camp experiences: For the lucky kids, it’s a summer of growth and self-discovery. But for the unlucky few, it’s a summer filled with serial killers and ugly pranks from hellish campers.
Here we look at the best and worst sleepaway camps in the movies. Is yours more likely to leave you with new friends, or a lifetime of emotional scarring?
Best: Camp Firewood, Wet Hot American Summer
Let's just forget the fact that most — well, every — counselor at Camp Firewood is ridiculously unfit to be a counselor, especially Paul Rudd's Andy, who has no qualms about letting campers drown. But Camp Firewood is also a place of magic, where anything can happen, where even the loser "indoor" kids manage to find friendship and meaning.
Plus, if you come to Camp Firewood hoping to fall in love, that will definitely happen — and the counselors don't even care if you sneak off to make out in someone else's bunk.
Worst: Camp Walden, The Parent Trap
Two words: Isolation. Cabin.
Who in their right mind would be comfortable sending their daughter to an expensive camp like Camp Walden, only to find out that she was locked away in an isolated shack with the same person who had been torturing her for days and nearly killed her while fencing? Sure, Hallie Parker (Lindsay Lohan) and Annie James (Lindsay Lohan) became friends while locked in the cabin, but they also could've murdered each other.
Oh well, it's not like their parents really loved them anyway, or else they wouldn't have split them apart in the first place.
Best: Camp North Star, Meatballs
When it seems as though every sleepaway camp movie presents its counselors as incompetent or cruel, it's refreshing to look at Bill Murray's Tripper, head counselor at Camp North Star. Tripper is a good-hearted, caring counselor who takes the effort to make sure that lonely camper Rudy has at least one good friend. Any child would be lucky to have him as a counselor.
For mostly all of its staff and campers, Camp North Star is a great place — that is, except for poor camp owner Morty Melnick (Harvey Atkin), the butt of every joke, including having his bed placed in a tree, in the lake and on the side of the road.
Worst: Camp Arawak, Sleepaway Camp
There's just nothing good about Camp Arawak, and that's not even taking into consideration the serial killer who's terrorizing the staff and campers. Somehow, Camp Arawak managed to round up the meanest, cruelest batch of campers and employees, particularly the comically evil Judy (Karen Fields) who makes fun of awkward Angela (Felissa Rose) like it's her job.
Death by serial killer is almost a welcome relief to the constant depravity of Camp Arawak's campers, as well as the incompetence of its camp director, who decides not to tell anyone when the camp has its first murder due to fear of bad publicity.
Best: Camp Hope, Heavyweights
The boys at Camp Hope have camaraderie. They're fat, they're terrible at sports and they're losers back home — precisely why they have such a strong sense of brotherhood when they're united each summer. This sense of camaraderie comes in handy when the manic Tony Perkis (Ben Stiller) buys the camp and tortures the boys for his own selfish gain.
Plus, each bunk at Camp Hope is secretly packed with candy, making it a dream getaway for any child, not just the fat ones.
Worst: Camp Chippewa, Addams Family Values
"Chippewa" means "orphan," according to Wednesday Addams (Christina Ricci), who certainly feels like one when her parents drop off she and her brother at Camp Chippewa for a summer of horrors that's even too grim for the Addams. A camp for "privileged" kids, Camp Chippewa contains the brattiest, most pretentious children, especially Amanda Buckman (Mercedes McNab), who takes an immediate dislike to Wednesday.
But certainly the worst part of all is when the counselors, thinking Wednesday needs to be more cheery, force on her a fate worse than death: watch hours of Disney movies.
Best: Camp Ivanhoe, Moonrise Kingdom
Poor orphaned Sam (Jared Gilman) is disliked by his fellow campers at Camp Ivanhoe and unwanted by his foster family back home. But it's at Camp Ivanhoe where he meets his soul mate, the equally awkward Suzy (Kara Hayward), and also where he learns the essential skills to survive in the wild.
Only a director like Wes Anderson could capture the little joys and wonders of sleepaway camp — from first loves to nifty camping gear to adventure books — and perfectly contrast it with the loneliness and isolation of childhood.
Worst: True Directions, But I'm A Cheerleader
True Directions doesn't have any serial killers, but it does have something worse: a program designed to force homosexual young people into being straight.
Led by Cathy Moriarty's cold and unforgiving Mary Brown, True Directions is a hellish place where girls are forced to be more feminine and boys are forced to be more masculine. At night, the campers have to shock themselves whenever they have "inappropriate" thoughts about the wrong gender.
Still, there's one big perk to True Directions: You get to have RuPaul as your counselor. A RuPaul completely devoid of her personality and femininity, but still RuPaul nonetheless.
Best: Camp Ovation, Camp
If a summer filled with children singing showtunes sounds like a nightmare, then maybe you should stick to sports camp. But for those special few — the kids who would rather sing Sondheim than throw a softball — a summer at Camp Ovation is like dying and going to Broadway Heaven.
In one bittersweet summer, the kids at Camp Ovation experience love, friendship, heartbreak and disappointment, all while singing their hearts out to an incredibly catchy soundtrack. It's like a meatier, realer Glee, years before Glee was a thing. Plus, it features a young Anna Kendrick (though sadly no performance of "Cups").
Worst: Camp Crystal Lake, Friday the 13th
The mother of all bad sleepaway camps, Camp Crystal Lake deserves every bit of its reputation. For decades and multiple franchise installments, a certain killer with the last name Voorhees has terrorized the poor souls who really need to listen when the locals tell them to leave.
To survive a Friday the 13th movie, avoid sex — or beds in general, as in the case of Jack (Kevin Bacon), who is stabbed in the throat, from behind, while lying in bed.