March has arrived, and with it, the migration of the nation’s college students to warm coastal destinations for the weeklong bacchanal known as spring break. That’s an awfully cerebral description of two words that are meant to be shouted while topless and drunk—“SPPPPPRRRRIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIINNNNNG BREEEEEAKKKKKKKKKK!”—or so say a lot of movies made about the phenomenon. Because Hollywood helped establish and ritualize spring break, The A.V. Club’s periodic I Learned It At The Movies feature looks to it for lessons to help our readers enjoy their spring break properly.
Spring Break (1983)
Plot: A pair of loutish nerds check into a Fort Lauderdale motel for spring break and are billeted with a pair of loutish players, who tutor them in the art of attracting and using women for hedonistic pleasure. Meanwhile, grown-up meanies—an inspector who wants to shut down the hotel and the stepfather of one of the nerds, who is worried about publicity that might adversely affect his political career—do their limited best to stop all the fun.
Spring breaking: Wet T-shirt contests, belly-flopping contests, Teeny Weeny Bikini Contests, banana-eating contests, non-competitive beer-drinking and Coca-Cola drinking. Though negligible as a movie, Spring Break was the film that defined “spring break” as a ritualized, ready-for-television institution, so it’s a lot like watching MTV coverage of spring break in the ’80s, except with frequent cuts to Richard B. Shull instead of Downtown Julie Brown.
Practical, universal lessons: Stay hydrated. In one scene, a guy makes it to the hotel room of a willing girl before realizing he’s thirsty, and needs to break to find one of the many Coca-Cola machines prominently displayed in the film.
Narrow, film-specific reasons: If you’re trying to get laid in a movie made when conglomerates were just starting to discover the joys of product-placing “synergy,” pray you’re not at the mercy of a movie studio that’s a subsidiary of Coca-Cola.
Spring Breakers (2012)
Plot: Three bad girls (Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson, and Rachel Korine) rope an easily corruptible good girl (Selena Gomez) into going down to Florida for spring break. They raise the funds by committing armed robbery and get into more trouble once they reach that sun-baked Gomorrah.
Spring breaking: Much like Kids, Harmony Korine’s Day-Glo Girls Gone Wild video seems like a celebration of teenage debauchery, but is actually a Reefer Madness-style warning to parents that young people sin like crazy when unsupervised.
Practical, universal lessons: Don’t rob a restaurant to raise money for spring break. Don’t trust the rapping gangster (James Franco) who bailed you out of jail on drug charges. Don’t join in on an armed assault against rival drug dealers. Just don’t, okay?
Narrow, film-specific lessons: Gangsters of Franco’s stature must have many accessories, including various weapons of war (machine guns, a mace, nunchuks), a white piano by the pool, and stacks and stacks of available cash. But just as important for the stylin’ thug: “shorts of every color.”
Spring Breakdown (2009)
Plot: Senator Jane Lynch sends thirtysomething Parker Posey to South Padre Island to spy on Lynch’s daughter, Amber Tamblyn, lest she do something crazy during spring break to ruin the senator’s chance at being the next vice president. Posey takes her two nerdy best friends (Amy Poehler and Rachel Dratch) on the trip with her, ostensibly for some relaxation (and to get Dratch’s mind off her failed marriage to a closeted gay man), though they ultimately find that being in your late 30s at spring break isn’t all that fun or relaxing.
Spring breaking: Poehler and Dratch spend most of the movie getting wasted and bonding with young people, and Poehler befriends the Sevens, the most popular girls in Tamblyn’s sorority. There’s also a foam party.
Practical, universal lessons: Sometimes fitting in isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. People who are nerds in college might grow up to be perfectly normal, functioning adults—or they might still be nerds, but that’s okay too. It’s nice to have good friends.
Narrow, film-specific lessons: If you’re going to get in a fight at a foam party, wear shoes with good traction. If you’re straight, don’t marry someone who’s gay, even if you think you could have a perfectly lovely platonic life together.
Fraternity Vacation (1985)
Plot: Nerdy fraternity pledge Stephen Geoffreys gets access to a Palm Springs, Florida condo via his rich father, so Geoffreys and his would-be Theta Pi Gamma brothers (Tim Robbins and Cameron Dye) head there for sexy shenanigans, including a wager against rival frat guys over a fetching blonde.
Spring breaking: The Theta Pi Gamma studs land a couple of bikini babes right away, but after undressing for a wild foursome in their queen-size bed—the ladies are unduly impressed by the bed size—the guys overhear them talking about herpes medication. Time for a quick getaway!
Practical, universal lessons: Stay the course, nerd. While you may suffer some embarrassment along the way—like an entire swimming pool full of non-nerds scattering to avoid swimming with a nerd—if you just be yourself, the most coveted woman in all of Palm Springs will inexplicably claim your virginity.
Narrow, film-specific lessons: If you’re a nerdy white kid with a fake ID identifying you as “Mr. Nakamura,” clubs won’t serve you alcohol, but it will earn you a glass of milk. Also, if you want to make a big splash with the ladies, consider parachuting into the swimming pool.
Where The Boys Are (1960)
Plot: Four inexperienced college girls flee their snowbound Midwestern campus for fun in the sun at Fort Lauderdale, which proves to be a learning experience for all of them.
Spring breaking: All the heroines’ adventures center on meeting dudes. Progressive-minded bookworm Dolores Hart, who scandalizes her teachers by citing Dr. Kinsey on the healthy importance of premarital sex, hooks up with rich hunk George Hamilton. Inspired by her friend’s sermonizing, good-girl Yvette Mimieux becomes more sexually accessible, thinking it’s the path to true love. (Instead, she gets date-raped.) Paula Prentiss, whose height certifies her as the group comic, develops an instant rapport with motor-mouthed goofball Jim Hutton. And Connie Francis, who sings the theme song, sets her cap for Frank Gorshin, a cross-eyed, bass-plucking purveyor of “dialectic jazz.”
Practical, universal lessons: Women of the ’60s clearly didn’t understood the world or their own sexual natures, and needed all the learning experiences they could get. For one thing, avoid scheduling a date with a horny newfound acquaintance at an out-of-the-way motel room, unless you’re packing pepper spray.
Narrow, film-specific lessons: Share expenses with your friends by splitting meals and suntan lotion, at least until one of you lands a rich guy, at which point she can spread the wealth around a little. Keep your radio handy at all times, and monitor the police reports.
Girl Happy (1965)
Plot: Elvis Presley throws caution to the wind and risks typecasting by playing a nightclub singer who convinces Chicago club owner and probable mobster Harold J. Stone to let Presley and his bandmates chaperone Stone’s daughter on a trip to Fort Lauderdale.
Spring breaking: Presley and the boys battle through countless bikini-clad beachgoers as they endeavor to keep Stone’s daughter from falling victim to the swarthy charms of a lustful Italian exchange student, while songwriters Sid Tepper and Roy C. Bennett earn spring-break-movie immortality by penning a short, sweet, surprisingly tender ballad titled “Fort Lauderdale Chamber Of Commerce.”
Practical, universal lessons: Deals made between musicians and unscrupulous club owners rarely work out well. The libidos of Italian exchange students are considerably more crazed than those of American students. The surest way to break someone out of prison is to dig a tunnel.
Narrow, film-specific lessons: Dancing provocatively to a song called “Do The Clam” can be reasonably construed as a come-on in most cultures. Attempting to look cool while waterskiing in long sleeves is inadvisable for anyone other than Elvis Presley.
From Justin To Kelly (2003)
Plot: American Idol runner-up Justin Guarini plays the self-styled “King Of Spring Break,” a hard-partying lothario who travels to Miami Beach with his buddies, who refer to themselves as the “Pennsylvania Posse.” But dude has to slow his roll if he wants to land a Texas waitress (American Idol winner Kelly Clarkson) for a little PG-rated fun in the sun.
Spring breaking: The Pennsylvania Posse is always looking to get the party started with events like “a whipped-cream bikini contest” and “Margarita Madness.” Only with no boobs. Or drinking. Or any lascivious activity that wouldn’t meet the standards of the Hays Code.
Practical, universal lessons: As with so many spring-break movies, the leads get all kinds of advice from their friends, but in the prim, Branson, Missouri-esque world of From Justin To Kelly’s Miami Beach, the best advice for a player like Guarini is to be a gentleman if he wants to take a good girl like Clarkson to the ice-cream social.
Narrow, film-specific lessons: All women’s bathrooms have an escape route in the form of a window just large enough to accommodate Guarini’s hair, so if you’re ever running from a bunch of prospective whipped-cream-bikini contestants, that’s the place to be. The men’s bathroom has only unventilated farts.
The Real Cancun (2003)
Plot: The producers behind The Real World attempt to expand the idea of reality television to the movies by following many, many college kids—it’s actually 16, but over the course of 90 minutes, it feels like several thousand—over the world’s most stereotypical spring break.
Spring breaking: Desperate for an “arc” to build the movie around, the producers zero in on quiet, bookish Alan Taylor, who’s never had a drop of alcohol and just wants to see some boobs, but eventually morphs into the “king of spring break.” As Anne Hathaway taught us, dreams do come true!
Practical, universal lessons: It’s good to shed your skin and try things you’ve never tried before. If someone offers you the chance to be in a reality-show movie, it probably won’t be a huge boost to your acting career.
Narrow, film-specific lessons: If you’re being followed around by cameras, those cameras are also going to film you having sex, even if it’s under the sheets, and then you’ll probably mostly be known as someone from “that movie where all the college kids had sex on camera.”
Plot: Two years after the original Scooby Gang dissolves due to in-fighting, the mysterious Rowan Atkinson lures the scattered mystery-solvers individually for a job on Spooky Island.
Spring breaking: Atkinson pitches Spooky Island as “the frightfully popular spring-break spot for college students,” but even though the plane ride to the island features a full tiki bar and free-for-all seating, Scooby-Doo remains a family film. Initially, it was supposed to be a darker, tongue-in-cheek version of the classic television show, à la The Brady Bunch Movie, but years of development hell neutered it into a kids’ movie. The only touches of the original tone remaining are Shaggy’s love interest Mary Jane (Isla Fisher), and other sly references to marijuana. And as if the film didn’t already need to feel more permanently stuck in the post-millennial cultural quicksand, Sugar Ray has a cameo, playing a poolside concert that looks like a watered-down MTV broadcast.
Practical, universal lessons: A team of diversely skilled individuals can accomplish more when working together, especially when they set aside petty egos.
Narrow, film-specific lessons: Horror-based theme parks are not viable alternative spring-break vacation locales, as they are susceptible to soul-sucking revenge plots by jealous, egotistical maniac dogs with glandular problems. Spring break is a magical place where Mark McGrath is capable of successfully flirting with Buffy Summers during a poolside concert.
She’s All That (1999)
Plot: A very loose adaptation of Pygmalion and My Fair Lady, She’s All That stars Freddie Prinze Jr. as the BMOC of his Southern California high school who gets dumped by his popular girlfriend, Jodi Lyn O’Keefe. He brushes it off by saying he can replace O’Keefe with any girl, betting fellow jock Paul Walker he can turn stereotypical arty dork Rachael Leigh Cook into the prom queen.
Spring breaking: O’Keefe flippantly breaks up with Prinze and gives him all the details of her spring-break trip to Daytona Beach, where she danced solo at MTV’s Spring Break Beach House and serendipitously met washed-up Real World cast member Matthew Lillard.
Practical, universal lessons: Don’t let your girlfriend go on spring break without you.
Narrow, film-specific lessons: Seriously, don’t sit through your girlfriend’s extended monologue detailing exactly how she cheated on you with the dyslexic volleyball-playing cast member from The Real World. Also, Freddie Prinze Jr. and Matthew Lillard had a penchant for showing up in films tangentially related to spring break.
Piranha 3D (2010)
Plot: Joe Dante’s 1978 horror movie Piranha was something of a cheapie riff on the blockbuster Jaws; accordingly, this gleefully gory sort-of remake apes Jaws more than Piranha. When an earthquake releases a school of primeval monster piranha from a sealed underwater cavern, they start devouring everyone they can reach, which is a problem in a small lakeside town that relies so much on spring breakers for tourist income.
Spring breaking: In Piranha 3D, spring break for amateurs is an occasion to don minimal bathing suits and stand around on small boats, wiggling vaguely to loud dance music and cheering or “Wooooo!”-ing at all times. It’s extremely important to not let the “Wooooo!” volume drop below a certain level, lest it look like someone isn’t having enough fun. The real spring-break pros, on the other hand, know that spring break is an excellent time to rope local girls into shooting porn movies.
Practical, universal lessons: It’s important to stay calm and collected in an emergency. If prehistoric, hyper-aggressive piranha are devouring all your scantily clad, drunk, “Wooooo!”-ing friends, getting out of the water and helping others to safety is a more sensible response than screaming and flailing. It’s also important to not get eaten alive while on spring break.
Narrow, film-specific lessons: If monster fish sever your penis, then devour it in an over-the-top comic gross-out moment, it’s possible that you’ve been specifically earmarked for ironic punishment due to your habits of sexually and financially exploiting those around you. Assuming you want to go on living at all, it might be time to rethink your career choices.
Revenge Of The Nerds II: Nerds In Paradise (1987)
Plot: The cast from the 1984 original—minus Anthony Edwards, who only makes a cameo—heads to a fraternity convention in Ft. Lauderdale, only to face the same Alpha Beta-led discrimination it overcame back at Adams College. Hijinks ensue, though this time without all the rape!
Spring breaking: One of the main gags of the film entails the nerds modifying the neon sign outside their Hotel Coral Essex to read Hot Oral Sex, in order to attract a crowd to hear their message of unity. Somehow there isn’t rioting when the sign’s promise doesn’t pan out.
Practical, universal lessons: People who are weird, different, or otherwise awkward don’t deserve scorn for being that way. A person’s value doesn’t come from his looks. It’s good to be smart—chicks dig it.
Narrow, film-specific lessons: It’s helpful to have a knowledge of history in order to find a cache of military equipment hidden on a deserted island. A good speech and a musical number—this time, rap!—is all it takes to win people’s hearts and minds.
The Hitcher (2007)
Plot: Plucky college kids Sophia Bush and Zachary Knighton are driving cross-country for some spring-break excitement. They make the mistake of giving mysterious hitchhiker Sean Bean a ride—things go downhill from there.
Spring breaking: Unfortunately, Bean’s increasingly elaborate murder spree throws a monkey wrench into any serious festivities, though Sophia Bush does change her clothes in the car, which is pretty crazy.
Practical, universal lessons: Don’t pick up hitchhikers. Small-town police might not always be trusting of outsiders, no matter how blandly attractive. Switchblades are dangerous.
Narrow, film-specific lessons: Sean Bean is not to be trusted, and if you're given the opportunity to kill him early in the film, you’re better off just getting it over with—otherwise, your boyfriend might split.
Girls Gone Dead (2012), Spring Break Massacre (2008), Banshee!!! (2008), 2001 Maniacs (2005), Nightmare Beach (1988), etc.
Plot: The tones and details range in these horror-comedies and straight-up horror films, but they each deal with a group of spring-break partiers being stalked by something: vengeful Southern ghosts, a shape-changing monster, a crazed killer wielding a warhammer (“a medieval weapon used for purification reasons”), a biker with an electric chair built into his motorcycle.
Spring breaking: In typical fashion, spring break is celebrated via wet T-shirt contests, sleeping with strangers, women baring their breasts in front of shrieking crowds, and everyone howling with delight at all times. It’s also apparently celebrated by repeatedly pranking other spring breakers, by swimming at a crowded beach while wearing a shark costume, or donning fake wounds and floating in a pool, surrounded by fake blood. Oh, and dying messily.
Practical, universal lessons: Attractive young ladies should not enter wet T-shirt contests, sleep with strangers, or bare their breasts for shrieking crowds. They’re just being exploited, and America’s Puritan hypocrisy will delight in seeing them punished for it. Also, that howling-with-delight-at-all-times thing gets annoying fast.
Narrow, film-specific lessons: All these films provide one great lesson for purification-obsessed serial killers, mythical monsters, and the angry undead: Spring break is a target-rich environment packed with gullible, easy, suspiciously attractive, promiscuous prey. Beats the hell out of trying to find bikini-clad, giggly-drunk victims around Thanksgiving or Arbor Day.