Camp Classics: Top 10 Camp Movies

Camp Classics: Top 10 Camp Movies

We review some of the best camp movies cinema has to offer, from Grease to Elvira: Mistress of the Dark.

We review some of the best camp movies cinema has to offer, from Grease to Elvira: Mistress of the Dark.

Text: Paul Madley

What is camp? The word first originated in England back in the 1800’s and it was typically associated with the behavior of gay men. The term ‘campers’ was popular during this time and it referred to the exaggerated movements/poses of gay men.

Camp is a term that’s always been linked to queer culture, but it’s also heavily associated with old Hollywood: the over-acting, dramatic close-ups and outrageous plots. In retrospect, many classic movies are now viewed as camp although not intended at the time.

In essence, camp is an aesthetic style and sensibility that admires bad taste and ironic value. Camp questions art and beauty; it’s theatrical, effeminate, witty and knowing. It’s a smile, a nudge and a wink. It borders satire but it’s about being in on the joke. It’s a postmodern viewpoint.

The notions of camp have transferred onto objects and decoration. Shocking excess is viewed as camp, as is anything over the top. Camp, as an aesthetic, has been popular since the 1960s.

The term became mainstream with the arrival of the acclaimed essay Notes on Camp. As its author (Susan Sontag) wrote, ‘My adoration of camp is not something that I have learned, but something that I have refined. It is a means of fetishizing the delivery of a line, or emulating a staunch performance by an actress. I consume these moments in films, and engrain them into my own pop culture’.

Scroll down to see 10 camp classics.

Showgirls (1995)

This 90’s psycho-sexual noir was the follow-up film to Paul Verhoeven’s Basic Instinct. It was expected to be another huge hit but failed to impress at the box office and severely damaged the lead’s (Elizabeth Berkley) career. Berkley was dropped by her agent and struggled to find work. The movie gained a cult following (partly because of its camp nature) and went on to generate over $100 million from video rentals.

Romy and Michele's High School Reunion (1997) 

Romy and Michele is one of the defining teen movies of the 1990’s. Bff’s Romy and Michele invent new personas to impress old classmates at their high school reunion. The movie is filled with great looks and endless quotes.

Death Becomes Her (1992)

This camp classic is about lifelong frenemies Helen and Madison who want to be young and beautiful forever regardless of the cost. It features Meryl Streep, Goldie Hawn and Isabella Rossellini.

Hairspray (1988)

The original 1988 Hairspray movie stars Debbie Harry, Sonny Bono and drag legend Divine. It’s a love letter to writer/director and producer John Waters' youth. This film spawned the Hairspray musical and the 2007 remake that starred Zac Efron and Michelle Pfeiffer.

Supergirl (1984)

This 1984 movie focuses on Clark Kent's cousin (Supergirl) as she vacays on earth. Supergirls nemesis is Selena, a power hunger witch played by Faye Dunaway who's also jealous of her beauty.

Barbarella (1968)

This camp masterpiece stars Jane Fonda, is set in space and is based on a comic book. It launched Jane’s image as a sex symbol of the 1960s.

Grease (1978)

This movie musical stars Olivia Newton-John as Sandy, the original Good Girl Gone Bad. John Travolta plays Danny, John’s love interest and the film is set in the 1950s. It features great vintage fashion.

To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar (1995)

Someone thought it would be a good idea to put three of Hollywood's butchest men in drag… and they were right! The queens travel across country to compete in a drag pageant and along the way make new friends and change lives. It features cameos from drag royalty RuPaul and Julie Newmar, aka Catwoman (“Miss Julie, you are statuesque and you were the only Catwoman").

Elvira: Mistress of the Dark (1988)

Cable TV horror show host Elvira travels to a small town to hear the reading of her great-aunt Morgana’s will, but gets more than she bargains for when she discovers her true identity. Elvira overcomes obstacles and the movie ends with her dream come true, a headline act in Las Vegas.

Spice World (1997)

This campy movie see the Spice Girls poke fun of themselves as they navigate friends, fame, bootcamp, and headline shows at London’s Royal Albert Hall. Spice World is packed with cameos from Elton John, Richard O'Brien (Rocky Horror Picture Show creator), and Alan Cumming, to name just a few.

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