The message driving all pool-centric movies is: “Swim at your own risk.” Here are 13 of the best—and least clothed.
Bask in some poolside ennui by watching The Swimmer, the Waspy, gin-fueled flick from 1968 based on a John Cheever story. Things spiral rapidly downward when Burt Lancaster decides to hop from one neighbor’s pool to another in a quixotic attempt to “swim home.” “Pool by pool, they form a river,” Lancaster says. “I’ll call it the Lucinda River, after my wife. This is the day Ned Merrill swims across the county.” Maybe ease up on the G&Ts, Neddy!
If you’re a tan, manic record executive played by Ralph Fiennes, you can get away with almost anything. Especially if your host is a gracious rock star (Tilda Swinton). But if there’s one salient takeaway from the visually sumptuous A Bigger Splash, it’s that there’s always a moment to respectfully bid farewell before you overstay your welcome. Maybe right before you strip down in front of your hosts and jump in their pool.
The Sexiest (Kinda)
Boogie Nights’ three-minute tracking shot of bikinied women, “party favors,” and jackknife diving (and that’s just the part that’s above water) has all the outward appearances of a rager, but as the camera listens in on various trippy (and kinda sad) conversations, the pool party’s mundane underbelly is revealed.
Meeting your significant other's parents for the first time is always a nerve-wracking experience, especially when bae's father is as potentially homicidal as Robert de Niro in Meet the Parents. Add in a swimming pool, a competitive volleyball match, and poor hand-eye-coordination, and you've got Ben Stiller trying to impress his future in-laws and accidentally spiking the ball into his fiancée's sister's face instead. Major pool game faux pas.
The Burgeoning Midlife Crisis
In Rushmore, Bill Murray shows us that, contrary to popular opinion, a kid's pool party is the best spot to let your midlife crisis out in full swing. First he listlessly throws golf balls into the pool during a children's birthday party, then cannonballs into the weirdly green water while children swim around him, his cigarette still hanging flaccidly from his lips. Maybe put your cigarette out before you try this one. Or don't. It's your midlife crisis, after all.
The Most Ennui-Filled
Dustin Hoffman lazily floats around in a pool as he contemplates his post-graduate existence and his disdain for this bourgeois life in The Graduate. His days are filled with a torrid affair with an older woman and the offer of a secure corporate job, but that's so boring. He'd rather just float around in a pool and slowly turn lobster-red while Simon and Garfunkel plays in the background. If you're going to bask in your "so-over-it" attitude, you better have a good soundtrack on hand.
The Ruined Kids' Party
In an attempt to cling to his youthful glory days, Will Ferrell embodies the ultimate man-child in Old School. This includes starting an off-campus fraternity with his other man-child buddies, eschewing basic responsibilities, and accidentally shooting himself in the neck with a high-power tranquilizer during a kid's pool party and subsequently acting like a doped-up Godzilla. Bonus points for The Graduate homage at the end, when Ferrell sinks into the pool to the sound of "The Sound of Silence." Lesson: Be a responsible drug user, especially at the pool!
The Sexual Awakening
Caddyshack is mostly about golf, but there's one scene in particular that sends a very important pool etiquette lesson. An innocuous candy bar that's carelessly thrown away lands in the water and suggests something much more sinister, causing mass hysteria. Do everyone a favor and just keep the pool free of any foreign objects, edible or not.
The Shakespearean Seduction
Pop culture looooves a pool meet-cute as the perfect location to get the sparks flying. In Romeo + Juliet's case, angsty Leo and Claire Danes let their hormones get the better of them as Shakespeare's eponymous star-crossed lovers. Just make sure your pool date doesn't result in such a high body count.
The Close-But-Not-Quite Seduction
Remember Ryan Phillippe? Yeah, we barely do either, but back in the days of Cruel Intentions the man was credible enough as a ladies' man to try to pull of a pool seduction scene of his own (see above). But alas, Phillippe was no Romeo/DiCaprio, and Reese Witherspoon stops him in his (floating) tracks. She puts a break on the pool shenanigans and gets the upper hand in their sexual cat-and-mouse game. Still a good pool scene, though.
The Ultimate Party
The Great Gatsby was all about a tortured, lonely man trying to gain love through the accumulation of material possessions, and while that's quite sad, it did make for some great parties. Bootleg champagne, dancers, big brass bands, and a self-destructive attitude make for a great pool party. But all parties must eventually end—as Gatsby's does when he's found dead and floating in his pool.
Synchronized swimming and young lesbian lusting: Water Lilies couldn't be more French unless it brought a baguette and some brie to the pool party. Ambition, teenage insecurity, plenty of time spent in pools and changing rooms, and young love coalesce into a film that'll make you think twice before dismissing synchronized swimming as a silly sport.
This article was originally written by Luisa Rollenhagen and appeared here.