There’s something about heat waves that puts everyone on edge. The whole energy of a city changes as temperatures rise. As the climate continues to change globally, we’re seeing more and more heatwaves in unlikely places. If you like to turn to art to make sense of the world, there’s a long history of heat wave movies depicting the (excuse the pun) heated temperaments and short fuses that tend to emerge.
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So, read on for a list of some of the best heat wave movies you can stream on services like HBO Max, Hulu, and more, including free sites like Tubi. We’ve compiled a few examples of movies set during heatwaves or in especially hot temperatures.
The best heat wave movies
A Time to Kill (1996)
Based on the John Grisham best-seller, A Time to Kill is a tense legal drama set in the sweltering heat of the American south as racial tensions rise following a rape and a double homicide. A Black father takes the law into his own hands and kills the two men who raped his young daughter when he fears that the justice system won’t hold the racist white men accountable. He brings on a young lawyer to defend him, knowing the odds are stacked against him in the controversial trial.
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Do the Right Thing (1989)
A quintessential heat wave movie, and possibly Spike Lee’s masterpiece, Do the Right Thing is a stunning and powerful film about a day in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn during a heat wave that has tensions running high between the mostly Black community and the Italian-American pizzeria owner who sees himself as a leader in the neighborhood but refuses to honor Black celebrities on his wall of fame. Eventually, the conflict comes to a head as folks take a stand.
Body Heat (1981)
The aptly named Body Heat is a neo-noir erotic thriller inspired by Double Indemnity from director Lawrence Kasdan. Starring William Hurt and Kathleen Turner, it sees a lawyer enter into a torrid love affair with the wife of a wealthy businessman. He hatches a plan to kill her husband so they can run away together with his money, but things get complicated fast as no one knows who to trust anymore.
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Rear Window (1954)
Jimmy Stewart plays a photographer stuck in his apartment with a broken leg during a heat wave in Alfred Hitchcock’s classic mystery thriller. L.B. Jeffries thinks he may have witnessed a murder in an apartment behind his own. He grows increasingly obsessed with his neighbor, convincing himself that he’s the only person who sees the truth as he grows more and more paranoid while stuck in one place in the summer heat. Rear Window is one of the greatest films of all time and certainly among the best heat wave movies.
Southland Tales (2006)
A bizarre sci-fi cult classic from the director of Donnie Darko, Southland Tales sees a diverse group of characters converge in a dystopian Los Angeles in the near future. An actor with amnesia, a pornstar, Republican Party officials, Marxist revolutionaries and more collide and have to try to prevent the end of the world. Southland Tales is a polarizing heat wave movie starring Dwayne “The Roick” Johnson, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Sean William Scott, Justin Timberlake, and Mandy Moore.
Al Pacino stars in this classic crime drama from director Sidney Lumet. Based on a true story, the film chronicles a bank robbery and hostage situation. It’s a hot and sweaty day in LA, and Sonny needs cash to run away and live happily ever after. He may be in over his head as his negotiations with the FBI hit a wall and he grows increasingly desparate.
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The Seven Year Itch (1955)
Starring Marilyn Monroe in the role that featured her iconic white dress blown up by a gust of wind, The Seven Year Itch is a Hollywood classic and one of the best heat wave movies. While his wife and son are away on vacation during a heat wave in New York, Richard Sherman becomes infatuated with his new neighbor upstairs, a gorgeous model whose charms lead him to contemplate infidelity.
In the Heat of the Night (1967)
When a Black cop from Philedelphia travels to Mississippi, he’s almost immediately arrested on suspicion of murder. After clearing his name, he sticks around to help the racist local cops with their investigation, and he quickly finds himself making enemies at other levels of government too. A stirring portrait of American racism, In the Heat of the Night is a terrific mystery film and one of the best American films in history.
A classic mediation on white male rage, Joel Schumacker’s Falling Down uses its status as a heat wave movie beautifully to illustrate the tipping point into entitlement and violence. When his car breaks down, William Foster has to walk home in the LA heat to his daughter’s birthday. Along the way, he reacts to conflict and inconvenience with increasing levels of hostility.
Another Spike Lee joint set during a heat wave, Summer of Sam is set during the shocking Son of Sam murders in 1970s New York. It’s a brilliant crime film with some clear influences on David Fincher’s equally brilliant Zodiac. The film sees the serial murders as experienced by a group friends in the city during the summer of 1977, with some standout performances by John Leguizamo, Mira Sorvino, and Adrian Brody.
Predator 2 (1990)
Predator 2 is a far cry from its predecessor, but it’s a solid sequel, and one that makes terrific use of its Los Angeles heat wave setting. Danny Glover takes over the franchise for Arnold Schwarzenneger. He’s a cop dealing with gang wars in the near future. When a string of suspicious murders puts him in the crosshairs of a fierce alien predator, the hunt is on.
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Those are our top picks of the best heat wave movies. What are some of your favorites? Let us know in the comments.