Do the Right Thing (1989): Spike Lee famously set his breakthrough on the hottest day of the year, all the better to compliment its Bed-Stuy neighborhood’s exploding racial tensions. But the day also affords him (and particularly cinematographer Ernest Dickerson) the chance to really depict the effects of heat. The colors—especially the reds—are loud, certain shots have that wavy heat-effect and the already loose proceedings stop dead halfway through so Lee’s Mookie can rub ice all over girlfriend Rosie Perez’s naked body. (“Thank God for the right nipple. Thank God for the left nipple,” etc.)
Rear Window (1954): New York during the summer is no fun, as the characters of The Seven Year Itch and Dog Day Afternoon know too well. But none had it as bad as James Stewart. Not only is his injured photographer stuck in a wheelchair in his Manhattan apartment, he’s stuck in a wheelchair during a sweltering Manhattan heat wave. Chained to his open back window, he quickly turns voyeur, staring at the couple who put their mattress on the fire escape to sleep outside, as well as the neighbor who possibly, probably, (spoiler) definitely killed his wife.
12 Angry Men (1957): Making a play (or in this case a teleplay-turned-play) cinematic is a tricky undertaking, particularly if you’re a television director making his first film. But Sidney Lumet had a great idea: As his dozen jurors duke it out, their anger is exacerbated by the heat wave and its resulting flopsweat.
The Silence (1963): Set in an unidentified Central Europe hotel, the atmosphere in this Ingmar Bergman bugfuck becomes literally and figuratively hothouse. The heat drives one sickly character to further illness. Meanwhile, her sister—like the libidinous hotties of sweltering movies like Duel in the Sun and Body Heat —is driven to crazy, sweaty sex.
The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957): It’s hot enough in the Japanese-run prison camp, located in the jungles of Thailand, without one major character actually being locked in a “hot box.” Jesus.
Stray Dog (1949): Before they were doing samurai films and thinly-veiled Shakespeare adaptations, Akira Kurosawa and stars Toshiro Mifune and Takashi Shimura whipped out this crackerjack film noir, with two detectives hunting a gun-stealing murderer during an emphatic heat wave.
Barton Fink (1991): The decaying, underpopulated Hotel Earle becomes an uncanny reflection of the crumbling mental state of its playwright-turned-Hollywood-screenwriter antihero—a fetid cesspool overrun by flies, ineffectual fans and wallpaper that peels at inopportune moments.
Punishment Park (1971): Gus Van Sant’s Gerry watched its protagonists reduced to subhumans while lost in the desert (a combination of Death Valley and the Utah Salt Flats). Almost as bad is the castigation depicted in Peter Watkins’ brutal mockumentary. Convicted by a cartoon-evil conservative jury, a group of counterculture activists are forced to drag themselves across 60 miles of California desert, pursued by—and later made target practice for—the National Guard.
An Inconvenient Truth (2006): We’re all gonna die! Wheeeeeee!
The Wackness (2008): Ignore the “some bitch once broke my heart” whinging and soak in the hazy, pot-aided feel of New York City in 1994, when all the hip-hop that sounds extra- amazing during high heat was just coming out.