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UK heatwave: 21 tremendously sweaty films that feel your pain

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The sticky heat of summer has long been a compelling backdrop, and metaphor, for intense relationships and predicaments in storytelling. As the temperature creeps up, so does the tension.

With some parts of the UK expected to reach 40 degrees next week, many of us might be avoiding any drama and instead sticking our heads in the fridge.

But if you can refrain from that, and are looking for some roasting relatability on screen, here are 21 movies that’ll really make you feel the heat…

Holes (2003)

“You take a bad boy, make him dig holes all day in the hot sun, it turns him into a good boy. That’s our philosophy here at Camp Green Lake.” So says Mr Sir, the chief officer at a prison camp in the Texas-set scorcher, Holes. Shia LaBeouf stars – and sweats profusely – as Stanley Yelnats IV, a kid wrongfully convicted of stealing a pair of sneakers. EH

Call Me By Your Name (2017)

Luca Guadagnino’s steamy coming-of-age romantic drama is set in northern Italy in the summer of 1983. It stars Timothée Chalamet as Elio Perlman, a teenager who falls in love with Oliver (Armie Hammer), a 24-year-old graduate student who comes to stay with his family over summer. This one might have you reaching for a refreshing piece of fruit – a peach, perhaps – to cool down. EH

Armie Hammer (left) and Timothee Chalamet (right) in 'Call Me By Your Name' (Sony)
Armie Hammer (left) and Timothee Chalamet (right) in 'Call Me By Your Name' (Sony)

A Bigger Splash (2015)

Yes, Ralph Fiennes does a big naked dance in this movie. No, it is certainly not the hottest thing about it. The psychological drama – another Luca Guadagnino triumph – is set in an isolated villa on the scorching Italian island of Pantelleria and it features Fiennes, Tilda Swinton, Matthias Schoenaerts and Dakota Johnson luxuriating around the pool like lizards… if lizards experienced sexual tension. EH

Atonement (2007)

“I love England in a heat wave,” declares Leon Tallis in Ian McEwan’s Atonement. “It’s a different country. All the rules change.” In Joe Wright’s adaptation of the brilliant novel, the hot weather is integral to the erotic tension between Cecilia and Robbie (Keira Knightley and James McAvoy) – even though they might be feeling more like grey skies and torrential rain after Cecilia’s younger sister Briony (Saoirse Ronan) tears them apart. EH

Labor Day (2013)

In Stockholm-syndrome romance Labor Day, Kate Winslet plays an agoraphobic single mother of a teenage boy. During one humid bank holiday weekend in 1987, an escaped murderer, played by Josh Brolin, walks into their lives… and he sticks around for more than just their air-conditioning. EH

Boiling Point (2022)

This is one of the sweatiest films on the list and it doesn’t feature a single ray of sunlight. Philip Barantini’s one-shot masterpiece stars Stephen Graham as a chef in a very hot and stressful kitchen one busy night in Dalston. There are flames, there are burns, there are red-hot rages. And it will leave you sizzling. EH

Mud (2012)

Set in the blazing Arkansas heat, this coming-of-age film follows two 14-year-old boys, Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and Neckbone (Jacob Lofland), who set off on an adventure down river to find an old boat, stranded high up in a tree on a deserted island. They end up meeting a mysterious fugitive called Mud (Matthew McConaughey), and together, they fix the vessel. It all looks like pretty hard work – I would much rather sunbathe. EH

Tye Sheridan, Matthew McConaughey and Jacob Lofland in ‘Mud' (Jim Bridges)
Tye Sheridan, Matthew McConaughey and Jacob Lofland in ‘Mud' (Jim Bridges)

Dog Day Afternoon (1975)

In this heist film that’s based on a true story, Al Pacino and John Cazale play a couple of crooks who choose an awfully hot day in August 197 to rob a bank. Get ready for terrifically tight hiding spots, terrifying temperatures and a truckload of tension. EH

Do the Right Thing (1989)

In Spike Lee’s magnum opus, New Yorker Radio Raheem meets a chillingly similar fate to that of George Floyd in 2020. The film uses the extreme heat of a summer’s day as a metaphor for the simmering racial tension in the Brooklyn neighbourhood where it’s set. EH

Y tu mamá también (2001)

The heat of the sun seems to radiate through the screen in this Mexican road film by Alfonso Cuarón, which follows two teenage boys who go on a sun-kissed adventure with a beautiful, troubled older woman. Its heady combination of politics, sex and drugs will leave you reaching for a cold glass of water. EH

Gael Garcia Bernal and Maribel Verdu in ‘Y tu mamá también’ (Moviestore/Shutterstock)
Gael Garcia Bernal and Maribel Verdu in ‘Y tu mamá también’ (Moviestore/Shutterstock)

The Hurt Locker (2008)

Is there a sweatier film than The Hurt Locker? Not only must Jeremy Renner diffuse bombs in the heat of battle, he must do so in a 40kg bomb suit under the beating Iraq sun. “We all tried not to keep it [the suit] on me for very long,” Renner said of filming. “I tried to keep it on for no longer than 20 minutes or a half hour because then you start to want to pass out. It was 125 degrees [51 degrees Celsius] there.” TM

A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)

Temperature plays a central part in A Streetcar Named Desire, set in the heat and humidity of New Orleans. The heat in the room rises with the heat between the characters as Blanche takes her epic baths in order to stave off the sweat, wearing Stanley’s nerves ever thinner. Marlon Brando can only alternate between a vest, a tight t-shirt with deep sweat patches or, indeed, no top at all. It’s a reminder that nothing does more to raise background tensions in a character drama than a very hot, very cramped apartment. TM

Marlon Brando and Vivien Leigh in 'A Streetcar Named Desire' (Rex)
Marlon Brando and Vivien Leigh in 'A Streetcar Named Desire' (Rex)

Body Heat (1981)

Frequently touted as one of the “sexiest films of all time”, this neo-noir thriller sees lawyer Ned Racine (William Hurt) begin a passionate affair with Matty Walker (Kathleen Turner). In one of the most memorable scenes in the film, Matty rubs ice over her chest to cool down and asks Ned if he’d like to lick it off. TM

Chinatown (1974)

LA appears to rot in the sun in this classic about the California water wars starring Jack Nicholson. Nicholson plays private detective Jake “JJ” Gittes, hired to expose an adulterer in 1930s Los Angeles. Of course, the case soon becomes much more than it first appeared. Touted by some as the best screenplay ever written, Chinatown was nominated for 11 Oscars. TM

In the Heat of the Night (1967)

Norman Jewison’s Sixties race thriller set in the sweltering South stars a graceful Sidney Poitier as Virgil Tibbs, a Philadelphia homicide detective who finds himself wrongly and racistly accused of murder. After proving his innocence, Tibs is enlisted to find the real killer. TM

Wake in Fright (1971)

“Have a drink, mate? Have a fight, mate? Have a taste of dust and sweat, mate? There’s nothing else out here.” So reads the poster for Wake in Fright, the Seventies psychological thriller directed by Ted Kotcheff. Gary Bond plays a schoolteacher from Sydney who becomes stranded in an outback town and subsequently descends into moral degradation. TM

In the Heights (2021)

Heat is a big factor in this Lin-Manuel Miranda musical. The dizzying temperature and humidity of New York City in summer causes a power outage, sending the neighbourhood into chaos. TM

’In the Heights’ (© 2019 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All Rights Reserved.)
’In the Heights’ (© 2019 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All Rights Reserved.)

Rear Window (1954)

In a heatwave similar to what the UK is experiencing right now, wheelchair-bound Jeff (James Stewart) watches his neighbours through their open windows. Through doing so, he becomes convinced that one of them has murdered their wife. This is widely considered to be one of Alfred Hitchcock’s best films.

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

Gasoline and water are scarce commodities in this post-apocalyptic thriller reboot of the original Mad Maxtrilogy. This film will leave you feeling parched but exhilerated all the same as you watch Charlize Theron and Tom Hardy try to outrun a ruthless warlord.

Tom Hardy in ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’ (Warner Bros)
Tom Hardy in ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’ (Warner Bros)

A Time to Kill (1996)

The heat in A Time to Kill adds layer after layer of sweaty tension. Samuel L Jackson plays a heartbroken father who avenges his daughter’s rape by shooting the bigoted men responsible for the crime as they are on their way to trial.

12 Angry Men (1957)

A group of 12 jurors must deliberate the conviction or acquittal of an 18-year-old defendant charged with murder. The heat represents the pressure put on the jurors who must decide the young man’s fate. In these conditions, they are quick to argue and lose their tempers with each other.

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