Wet Hot American Summer has all the tropes of a classic from the Golden Age of cinema: short shorts, sex in the utility shed, a talking can of vegetables, barbecue sauce. These ingredients, with a dash of David Hyde Pierce’s mustache and the ever-present pall of hormones due to the total nymphos in Bunk 10, were more than enough to cement David Wain’s absurdist satire as a beloved midnight-movie classic.
Now, 14 years after it entered and exited theaters with a speed roughly equivalent to Usain Bolt jogging in front of a flaming supersonic comet, Netflix is bringing the entire original Wet Hot ensemble back together for a steamily anticipated, one-off miniseries. This is no small feat: the film, which by itself definitely launched the careers of stars such as Bradley Cooper, Amy Poehler, Paul Rudd and America’s sweetheart, A.D. Miles, boasts a marquee of A-list celebs and cult favorites alike.
To celebrate their reunion at Camp Firewood, we’ve compiled the best films (not TV shows, because that would be a drastically different list) of the Wet Hot cast in the years since that fateful summer. Some have been nominated for Oscars, some were in Osmosis Jones; some of these films prove that the best summer of their lives is long gone. Ah well: some people taste like a burger, and some don’t.
10. Beverly Hills Chihuahua
Director: Raja Gosnell
Marguerite Moreau (“Katie”)
In the pantheon of films about dogs living rich, complex lives that our stupid human brains can’t fully comprehend, a titanic figure towers over his rivals, a thin strand of drool dripping from his contented tongue: Air Bud. No one else, mutt and purebred alike, is worthy of his Timberwolves jersey, not even after his glory years, when he started shilling for Hanes Dog Briefs, which have a comfortable hole in the back for your tail. Beethoven comes next. Neither of these dudes talk—they are old school dogs who value stoicism and classic masculinity. Chloe (Drew Barrymore), from Beverly Hills Chihuahua, is not in the pantheon. Marguerite Moreau, in the film, plays the friend of the niece of the owner of Chloe. She likely received a sum of money for speaking her lines. Nice!
9. Osmosis Jones
Directors: Tom Sito, Piet Kroon, Robert Farrelly, Peter Farrelly
David Hyde Pierce (“Henry”)
Here is a line from Wikipedia’s very thorough entry for the box office failure: “Chris Rock [stars] as Osmosis ‘Ozzy’ Jones, a funky, urban, over-zealous blue and white blood cell (specifically a natural killer cell) with little respect for authority.” A natural killer cell! Little respect for authority! Urban! Somewhere, a hungry young screenwriter is pitching a gritty, non-animated reboot. In it, Jones—played by Idris Elba—roams the lawless capillaries of an immune system ravaged by Oxycontin addiction and gonorrhea. His partner, David Hyde Pierce’s Drix, is a capsule of pseudoephedrine who tries to keep Jones honest in a world where one good leukocyte just doing his job might be the only thing holding this plasma together. In the actual Osmosis Jones, David Hyde Pierce has a big scene where his character pops a zit from the inside out.
8. The Place Beyond the Pines
Director: Derek Cianfrance
Bradley Cooper (“Ben”)
Did you think we’d pick American Sniper? Bradley Cooper was good in American Sniper, an Academy Award nominated piece of Soviet-grade agitprop, but his involvement raises questions in some circles regarding whether or not he should be tried at The Hague. A film about Bradley Cooper being tried at The Hague for propagating war criminals’ lies, starring Bradley Cooper as himself, would be a very good film that I would watch, and he would undoubtedly give a stellar performance as Bradley Cooper. He is also stellar in The Place Beyond the Pines, an underrated character drama too long by about an hour but full of understated performances, pretty cinematography and Ryan Gosling looking extremely cool on a motorcycle. Wet Hot American Summer is Bradley Cooper’s first credited film role. In a stirring, emotional scene, this role is what will save him from being convicted at The Hague.
7. The Baxter
Director: Michael Showalter
Michael Showalter (“Coop”)
Michael Showalter, who co-wrote Wet Hot with David Wain, plays Coop with the perfect blend of slapstick intuition, goofball innocence, and a tinge of actual pathos. The Baxter, his feature debut as a writer-director and his follow-up to Wet Hot, was poised to announce Showalter as a serious comedic film talent (not to mention re-affirm his penchant for ensembling, bringing on Wet Hot co-stars Elizabeth Banks, Paul Rudd, Zak Orth and Michael Ian Black). Instead, it’s a strange film, its tone a jumble of romantic comedy tropes, typical Showalter-Wain irony and real sad-sack dejection. That uneasy mixture may be why the film grossed a mere $180,000 and change, or in industry jargon, approximately .0129 the gross of Osmosis Jones. Too bad—The Baxter holds up as a unique, sometimes discomfiting experience about how things rarely work out the way they do in the movies.
6. Marie Antoinette
Director: Sofia Coppola
Molly Shannon (“Gail”)
Sofia Coppola, having seen Molly Shannon’s tortured Wet Hot performance as a woman torn between her ex-husband and the new man in her life (a literal child who gives great back rubs), took the logical next step: she cast Shannon as the aunt of the Dauphin in her biopic about the life and death of Marie Antoinette. The original Superstar!, Marie Antoinette is almost pointless for the sake of it—surprisingly of a similar breath with Wet Hot—but it is a garishly beautiful piece of entertainment, as bereft of restraint as its protagonist’s teenage ego, and helped introduce a new generation to New Order’s “Age of Consent.” Also, wigs.
5. Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle
Director: Danny Leiner
Christopher Meloni (“Gene”)
In Wet Hot American Summer, Christopher Meloni plays a heroic Vietnam veteran who overcomes PTSD to inspire a camp full of children to smear mud on their asses. I also have heard he is on a popular television program in a direly serious role as a police officer or something, but I am extremely not here for that; I only want Christopher Meloni to fondle his sweaters and hump the fridge. In Harold & Kumar, he fixes the titular stoners’ (John Cho and Kal Penn) flat tire and invites them to do a weird sex thing. That last part is fine, because it reminds me of the character who (eventually) proudly owned a bottle of dick cream, but Harold and Kumar aren’t into it. That’s why their movie has been lost to time. You don’t say no to Christopher Meloni when he wants to stick around and teach you “a new way.”
4. Catch Me If You Can
Director: Stephen Spielberg
Elizabeth Banks (“Lindsay”)
Catch Me If You Can is thought of as “minor Spielberg,” which apparently means Spielberg that’s rollicking and peppy and not loaded down with more saccharine sweetness than a gallon of Dunkin’ Donuts iced coffee. Elizabeth Banks is barely in this movie, and if you want to swap it out for The Lego Movie (2014) or Zack and Miri Make a Porno (2008) or one of those flicks about starving warrior children (and I heard she’s pretty compelling in Little Accidents ), that is totally acceptable—mostly because you are an autonomous adult human. But Catch Me If You Can has that part where Leonardo DiCaprio passes the bar, and they can never figure out how he did it without going to law school, which is so perfect because you can just talk about that scene to all your friends in law school while they talk about the only thing they know how to talk about, which is being in law school. Good movie!
Director: Brad Bird
Janeane Garofalo (“Beth”)
Ratatouille is Pixar’s forgotten gem. It’s obviously not actually forgotten, it made literally more than half a billion dollars, but when you think about it, it’s strange that it even exists in the first place. It’s about a talking rat who also cooks, which, gross—and he’s French, which, yuck! But it is so sweet, so kind, so acerbic without being bitter, and beautiful to watch—in other words, it is a Pixar movie that’s not Cars. Janeane Garofalo voices Remy the rat’s (Patton Oswalt) chef boss, an apt role for a comedian who could still teach a thing or two to these kids today.
2. Forgetting Sarah Marshall
Director: Nicholas Stoller
Paul Rudd (“Andy”)
Paul Rudd is a national treasure. In the grand scheme of things, he ranks somewhere above Andrew Jackson and below the guy who figured out the exact temperature of vegetable oil you need to make McDonald’s fries so crispy and yet so fluffy at the same time. Andy is the best character in Wet Hot (“My butt itches.”), which holds true to the maxim that Paul Rudd is the best thing about any movie he’s in, including Forgetting Sarah Marshall, the best romantic comedy of its decade. (Okay, Jason Segal’s puppet musical number and his surprise penis are the best things about Forgetting Sarah Marshall—but Paul Rudd is hysterical.) Bests upon bests: Who else can manage to be so good looking, such a talented comic and dramatic actor and still remain utterly un-hateable? In fact, Forgetting Sarah Marshall would be perfect if Jason Segal and Mila Kunis didn’t end up together in the end, and the film was actually about how you can love yourself and be content without romance if you work at it—but that doesn’t happen, so it’s actually about a regular dude finding love with a woman so beautiful she is almost definitely an alien. Still, we should all watch it again. Right now.
1. Mean Girls
Director: Mark Waters
Amy Poehler (“Susie”)
Amy Poehler has finally, with Parks and Recreation, become the A-level celebrity she deserves to be. Genuinely odd—that Upright Citizens Brigade background—she’s snappy and piercing and agile and brilliant and empathetic and…man, Amy Poehler. She steals all scenes in Wet Hot, just as she does as Regina George’s (Rachel McAdams) mother in Mean Girls. I don’t need to tell you anything about Mean Girls. You’re probably watching it while you read this. Good taste, reader. We’re done here.
Corey Beasley writes for Cokemachineglow, The Village Voice, and elsewhere. You can follow him on Twitter. He lives in Brooklyn, and is the one with the beard and glasses.