It’s just barbecue sauce! Wet Hot American Summer opened to less than stellar reviews in 2001, but it became a cult classic anyway — and spawned a Netflix spinoff, too.
Set in 1981 at the fictional Camp Firewood, the movie follows a group of counselors as they try to squeeze in one last day of fun before returning home for the summer. The stacked ensemble cast includes Saturday Night Live stalwarts Amy Poehler and Molly Shannon as well as Paul Rudd, Janeane Garofalo, Christopher Meloni, Elizabeth Banks and Bradley Cooper.
Camp Firewood is fictional, but cowriters David Wain and Michael Showalter based their script on their own childhood experiences at summer camps in Maine and Massachusetts, respectively. “I spent most of the time that I was there, from about age 10 to 16, kind of sitting around making friends and trying to make out with girls,” Wain, who also directed the movie, told Entertainment Weekly in 2001.
According to the Wanderlust director, there wasn’t a lot of “sitting around” on the WHAS set. “It was insane,” he told EW of filming the movie. “It was a seven-nights-a-week party. The line between being at summer camp and making a movie about it was very gray. The biggest difference was that we were a little older and nobody was going to take our beer away.”
In 2015, Netflix released Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp, an eight-episode prequel series tracking the counselors’ shenanigans at the beginning of the summer. In 2017, the streaming service debuted Wet Hot American Summer: Ten Years Later, which documented the group’s reunion in 1991.
Despite the fact that some of the original movie’s stars became massively famous in the years between 2001 and 2015, Wain and Showalter said that the cast had no trouble picking up right where they left off.
“Obviously, we know that some people have become movie stars, but everybody was more confident, everybody was better with what they do and everybody was more savvy about the process,” Showalter told Collider of First Day of Camp in 2015. “That informed the project itself. Someone like Elizabeth Banks comes on set and just knows it out of the park, the first time. And that’s true of everybody. They’re pros.”
Wain agreed with his cowriter, adding: “They were all just doing it. Bradley Cooper was just playing his character, and Elizabeth Banks was just playing her character.”
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