Drought, sweat and hellish heat: 20 great movies with searing temperatures

As the thermometer continues to soar, here is a review of the best films about dirt-dry conditions and sweltering heat waves, from ‘Mad Max’ to ‘Do the Right Thing’

Javier Bardem (l) and Timothée Chalamet (r) in a scene from 'Dune'.
Javier Bardem (l) and Timothée Chalamet (r) in a scene from 'Dune'.
Gregorio Belinchón

As the summer heat intensifies, we look at 20 famous movies, where drought, sweat and sweltering conditions play leading roles.

Mad Max. An epic saga about a post-apocalyptic and water-scarce world. In each Mad Max movie, water takes on more and more importance. In Mad Max: Fury Road (2015), George Miller turns water — or rather the lack of water — into another character. A spinoff of Mad Max called Furiosa is now in post-production. It follows a younger version of Charlize Theron’s character, with Anya Taylor-Joy in the lead role. Available on HBO Max.

The Hunt (1966). In this drama, Spanish director Carlos Saura combines the dryness of the landscape with the dryness of the characters’ souls. There is only a small flash of water: a tiny reservoir created for entertainment by Emilio Gutiérrez Caba’s character. The movie is a portrait of Francoism and its moral decay. Available on FlixOlé.

Do the Right Thing (1989). Summer in New York. It’s hot and humid. As the temperature rises, Spike Lee explores racial conflicts until the situation reaches boiling point. Lee likes movies that take place in the summer, such as Crooklyn and Summer of Sam, because he understands that heat unnerves even the most indolent spirit. Available at Peacock Premium.

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind (2019). This movie is the directorial debut of Chiwetel Ejiofor, who expertly produces the remarkable true story. It follows the struggle of a Malawian boy as he tries to find a solution to overcome the drought that is devastating his village and pushing his family to emigrate. Available on Netflix.

The Book of Eli (2010). Mad Max + Denzel Washington + biblical messianism = The Book of Eli. A lonely guy crosses a devastated United States, carrying precious cargo: a book that could save humanity. Whoever tries to get in the way, pays for it deeply. Available on Netflix.

Dune (2021-2023). A science fiction classic of worlds without water, of wastelands where every drop is a treasure. A difficult novel to adapt. Denis Villeneuve delivered the first part in 2021 and the sequel will arrive in November. Available on HBO Max.

Barton Fink (1991). A New York playwright moves to Hollywood to pursue a career in film... and discovers the worst side of the industry, while dealing with a horrifying heat wave. A fast-moving movie directed by the Coen brothers. Available at Amazon Video.

Law of Desire (1987). “Hose me down. Come on, don’t stop. Hose me! Oh that’s hot.” A movie with a phrase like that had to be included in the list. Carmen Maura asks a street sweeper to wet her with his hose in the middle of a heat wave in Madrid, during a summer of heartbreak and passion. And, like Barton Fink, it also has a critical look at the cinema industry, at least at its creative process. Available on Netflix.

The Wages of Fear (1953). A classic from French director Henri-Geroges Clouzot. In deep South America, four men transport a shipment of nitroglycerin by road. Every pore of this film oozes sweat and fear. The film was going to be shot in Spain, but its protagonist, Yves Montand, refused in protest of the Franco dictatorship. The Camargue region in France was used instead to present the rugged landscapes of South America. Available on Prime Video and Filmin.

Falling Down (1993). In the late 1980s, many industries closed in California. That is the breeding ground of Falling Down, or how someone overcomes the threshold of endurance in a big city. Its protagonist, Michael Douglas, is splendid. And it is, incidentally, one of the favorite movies of white supremacists. Available on Apple TV.

In the Heat of the Night (1967). In the American South, the heat never seems to let up. Racism and high temperatures combine to form a concoction that sticks to the skin of its inhabitants. So much so that this thriller about the investigation of an African-American police officer in a southern city was shot in Illinois because Sidney Poitier refused to travel south, where he had been attacked by the Ku Klux Klan. Fact and fiction went hand in hand. Available at Amazon Video.

Chinatown (1974). This movie looks at the water business on the outskirts of California. What begins as an adultery investigation ends as a tour of the most corrupt face of the 1930s. A classic of detective film where the investigator is trampled by life. Available on Amazon Video.

God Forgive Us (2016). It was the summer of 2011, and Pope Benedict XVI was visiting Madrid. As the temperature rises, in this film, two policemen search against time for a serial killer through the center of Madrid, a city at boiling point due to the economic crisis. Available on Netflix, Prime Video, HBO Max and Movistar+.

Rango (2011). Animated movies also address water scarcity. This is the case for Rango, which follows a chameleon that has been named sheriff of the town of Dirt. Johnny Depp does a great job voicing the lead. Available on SkyShowtime.

The Seven Year Itch (1955). Summer, heat, seven-year-long marriages. And a character played by Marilyn Monroe as a neighbor. Director Billy Wilder makes the most of the set-up, but the restrictive Hays code (Hollywood’s self-censorship system) stopped him from going all the way. The movie contains the iconic image of Monroe standing on a subway grate as her dress is blown up. For rent on Amazon.

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958). Richard Brooks directs this adaptation of Tennessee Williams’ play of the same name. Starring Elizabeth Taylor and Paul Newman, the southern drama explores themes of sexual and family tension, issues Williams often returned to. Available on Apple TV.

Walkabout (1971). Director Nicolas Roeg had a fascinating career, focused on edgy movies. In this one, two brothers from the city end up in the middle of the Australian desert and manage to survive with the help of an Aboriginal kid. Available on Amazon Video.

Body Heat (1981). A film about sweat and sex. The movie takes place amid a searing heat wave in Florida, and follows a torrid story of lust, adultery and murder. It was Kathleen Turner’s debut as an actress, and also stars William Hurt. Available for rent on Apple TV and Amazon Video.

A Streetcar Named Desire (1951). A classic about desire amid the unbearable heat. It contains the famous scene of Marlon Brando screaming “Stella” mad with despair. The movie takes place in New Orleans and is based on a play by Tennessee Williams. Available for rent on Amazon Video and Apple TV.

12 Angry Men (1957). It’s very hot in the courtroom, where a jury is about to sentence a guy to death. Eleven jurors are convinced, but one wants to talk a little more, to reflect on what they are going to do. A masterpiece about suffocation and manipulation, about half-truths and about the tendency of human beings to disdain their fellow men. Available on Fubo TV.

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