Film makers have long used metaphors of sun and summer excess to tell stories of extremes. Sweltering heat and sleepless nights mimic tensions rising on the ground – then turn the screw.
These aren’t just films set during summer, but those whose stories rely on phenomena we associate with the season: oppressive heat, endless days and slow-rising pressure.
1. Twelve Angry Men (1957)
A jury in a locked room must decide the life-or-death fate of a working-class boy. Most of them presume he’s guilty of murder – people ‘like that’ usually are. When one man challenges their prejudices, anger lurking below the surface boils into explosive conflict. The sweltering weather and a mounting storm outside keeps pace with the rage building inside the room.
>> Prejudice in the dock: 12 Angry Men explained
2. Sunshine (2007)
The Sun is burning out and what life remains on a frozen Earth is on the verge of disappearing forever. Humanity’s last hope is for spaceship Icarus II to detonate a nuclear bomb inside the Sun, reigniting its fire. But the closer the crew get, the more gravitational distortion threatens their success and survival. So does their creeping obsession with the star at the heart of our solar system.
>> Decoding Sunshine (with spoilers)
3. Knowing (2009)
A grieving astrophysicist stumbles across a code that predicts mass disasters. But having unlocked the code’s secret, no one will believe him about what lies in store next. The film plays out its sci-fi message against a backdrop of sweltering summer heat and morbid terrors.
>> Knowing: sci-fi, sin and damnation
4. Heat (1995)
A gang of ex-cons pull off a series of slick heists, tracked every step of the way by dogged detective Al Pacino. The heat is palpable, both in the city setting and the tough guys on both sides of the law. Cops and robbers tail other across L.A., building up to an inevitable clash of titans.
>> Heat: talking about love without saying it
5. Insomnia (2002)
Two big-city detectives rock up in Nightmute, Alaska to investigate the death of a teenage girl. Distracted by the terrain and thick fog, the senior detective (Al Pacino, again) accidentally kills his colleague – then covers it up. The investigation falls during Alaska’s period of eternal daylight, when the sun doesn’t set for months. As disorientation peaks, guilt and insomnia spill over into madness and manipulation.
6. Rear Window (1954)
A photographer breaks his leg and is confined to a wheelchair one long, hot summer. With nothing else to do he spies on the neighbours who share his courtyard – and comes to suspect one of them of murder. Hitchcock’s thriller is memorable for many things, but particularly the way it captures the sultry sounds of summer and pressure-cooker heat.
>> Housebound detectives in all their glory
7. Sholay (1975)
After bandits kill his family the chief of police in a remote village will do anything for revenge. That includes hiring two ex-cons to bring the villain to heel. The story mixes Bollywood exuberance with Spaghetti Western stylings, and plays out under merciless temperatures and violent altercation. The title translates as “Flames of the Sun”. This one’s a classic of Indian cinema.
8. Falling Down (1993)
A traffic jam on a sweltering day is the straw that breaks an uptight office worker. He says he’s just trying to get home for his little girl’s birthday, but his journey across L.A. becomes a vehicle for rage, prejudice and shocking violence.
>> Falling Down: the terminal velocity of hardship
9. The Mosquito Coast (1986)
A genius inventor drags his family into the scorching jungles of Central America. He claims he’s building a better, more equal society … but rules his family with an iron fist. Ultimately his schemes to manufacture ice in the rain forest reveal the contradictions, colonialism and delusions that come to haunt them all.
>> The Mosquito Coast explained
10. Flight of the Phoenix (1965)
When a cargo plane crashes in the desert the survivors must battle heat, drought and dwindling supplies. Then one passenger reveals he’s an airplane designer, and says they can rebuild the wreckage and fly home. But as tensions flare between them a greater oversight threatens to ground the men for good.
Picture credit: Martin Sanchez