The Rewatch

Why 'Now and Then' Is Still the Perfect Summer Movie 25 Years Later

The coming-of-age mystery, unfairly derided as a 'Stand by Me' clone upon its release, is a cult classic today.

now and then
Thora Birch, Gaby Hoffmann, Ashleigh Aston Moore, and Christina Ricci | Maitane Romagosa/Thrillist
Thora Birch, Gaby Hoffmann, Ashleigh Aston Moore, and Christina Ricci | Maitane Romagosa/Thrillist

After reflecting on a summer adventure that he took with his childhood friends decades ago, the narrator of Stand by Me famously ends the 1986 drama by saying, "I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was 12. Jesus, does anyone?" And because, well, no, not really, the movie, adapted from a Stephen King story, has gone down as one of the best coming-of-age films of all time, and is still a summertime favorite today.

Not surprisingly, Stand by Me also likely inspired the release of a handful of subsequent narratives about adolescent friendships gone by, from 1993's The Sandlot to TV series like The Wonder Years. But the Rob Reiner film still overshadows the movie that most closely resembles it, 1995's Now and Then. Set largely in the summer of 1970 and focusing on four 12-year-old girls investigating the death of a boy who died in their small Indiana town in 1945, the movie was largely panned upon its release, with many prominent critics of the day (including Roger Ebert and The New York Times' Caryn James) deeming it little more than an all-girls version of Stand by Me.

But despite the simlarities and negative reviews, Now and Then, written by I. Marlene King (who later developed the show Pretty Little Liars) and directed by Lesli Linka Glatter (who'd go on to helm episodes of Freaks and Geeks and Homeland), has rightfully achieved cult-classic status as a sacred text on female friendship. Now and Then -- which celebrates its 25th anniversary on October 20 and is available to stream on HBO Max -- is also The Perfect Summer Movie. Despite the movie's autumn release date, here's why the sugary heaping of nostalgia about four friends reuniting in adulthood to reflect on that fateful summer when they set out to build a treehouse and investigate why a boy their age had died in the past is a summertime classic.

now and then
New Line Cinema

There's a quintessential friend group

Each of the four girls very much falls into the "this is a type of 12-year-old girl" trope, but the characters act as proxies for the viewers' own middle-school selves. There's Samantha, the thoughtful one with problems at home, played by Gaby Hoffmann in the past and Demi Moore all grown up; boy-crazy Tina (Thora Birch/Melanie Griffith); Roberta, a "tomboy" (Christina Ricci/Rosie O'Donnell); and good-goody Chrissy (Ashleigh Aston Moore/Rita Wilson). Each drives the group's summertime adventures in a unique way. Like, shout out to Samantha for convincing the group to get into the occult and attempt to contact the dead to begin with, and thank you to Roberta for always being down to face off with the bullying boys next door. (And kudos to Chrissy for being naive and supplying comic relief in her many missteps.) It's a model foursome, one that you can point at and say "I'm that one!" like you're completing a quiz in Seventeen.

There's a rivalry with the neighbor boys

Since many people spent an inordinate amount of time over summer breaks engaging in shenanigans like engaging in turf wars with neighbor kids, Now and Then knows to include the girls' rivalry with the Wormer brothers who live down the street. This classic cooties tension makes for some of the movie's best sequences, like vying to be crowned king or queen of the block, stealing clothes from skinny-dippers, and waging dugout fights at pickup games of softball. It also leads to a healthy dose of sexual tension between Roberta and Scott Wormer (as well as a Casper reunion for Ricci and boy Casper himself, Devon Sawa). Ah, puberty and the fruitful opportunities for summer love!

now and then
New Line Cinema

The movie really nails suburban summertime activities

Seemingly every possible suburban summertime ritual comes up in Now and Then. The backyard-game and bike-riding representation is a major reason why this movie is the ultimate summer watch. Seriously, the movie opens with a game of Red Rover, is filled with bike-ride sing-alongs to the portable radio, and also gives us watering-hole swimming, afternoon root beer floats at the diner, and much more. The girls are saving up to build a tree house, for goodness sake! It's like peering at a photo album filled with images from your own childhood, or at least an extremely idealized version.

The supernatural is in there, too

Maybe you were too scared to touch that ouija board of that one friend of yours, but the girls in Now and Then are unafraid to get into the supernatural. What begins as a playful seance turns into a summer-long project to find out who "Dear Johnny" was and how he died, or the spirit that they believe to have contacted in the cemetery. There's a day trip to a nearby town's library and scenes rummaging through old records in Grandma's attic, and while it's a humble quest, it gives their summer purpose and means everything to them, as things tend to when you're 12.

now and then movie
New Line Cinema

It's an ode to childhood best friends

Similar to how Stand By Me ends, Now and Then opens with a line about how important the friends you have growing up are to you then, and long after. As the grown-up Sam (aka Demi Moore) drives to her hometown for the first time in years, she narrates via voiceover, "Thomas Wolfe once said, 'You can't go home again.' Well, that's great for old Tom, but he wasn't a chick who made a pact with her friends when she was 12 to get together whenever any one of them needed each other." Although the adult timeline admittedly pops up awkwardly through the movie, the scenes speak to the staying power of female friendship. It's like Now and Then envisions the sunniest version of what friendships from girlhood could look like -- supportive then and years on -- and playing their present-day camaraderie against a youthful, halcyon summer gives the depiction an even brighter feeling. Be it the girls and their relationship, or those kitschy bike-riding sequences, but Now and Then leaves you wanting to phone your own childhood companions in night games and sidewalk chalk to reminisce on your "then."

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Sadie Bell is the entertainment editorial assistant at Thrillist. She's on Twitter at @mssadiebell.