The film was released in a limited release on May 31, 2013, by CBS Films.
Joe Toy (Nick Robinson), on the verge of adulthood, finds himself increasingly frustrated by the attempts of his single father, Frank (Nick Offerman), to manage his life. After a family game night that ends with Joe calling the cops on Frank for false reasons, Joe declares freedom once and for all, and escapes to a clearing he found in the woods with his best friend, Patrick (Gabriel Basso), who was also sick of his life at home with his annoying and seemingly lame parents, and a strange kid named Biaggio (Moisés Arias) who just happened to tag along. He announces that they are going to build a house there, free from responsibility and parents. Once their makeshift abode is finished, the three young men find themselves masters of their own destiny, alone in the woods. Joe claims himself and Biaggio to be the hunters, while Patrick goes off to harvest. Several weeks pass and Patrick and Joe are reported missing and appear on multiple news channels. Frank finds a Monopoly piece from the game night in Joe's bookbag that was left on a bus and believes that Joe is taunting him.
Conflict arises between Patrick and Joe when Joe invites his crush Kelly (Erin Moriarty) to come see the house they built. After a while, Kelly takes a liking to Patrick and the two begin a relationship. Joe passively confronts Patrick in a Monopoly game by teaming up with Biaggio to trade land and buy hotels in the orange Monopoly in front of Patrick's piece, leading him to lose the game on the very next turn. The two get into a scuffle. Joe calls Kelly a "cancer" and a "bitch" who ruined the peace and harmony the three of them were having and eventually makes her walk out of the house in despair. Joe, realizing that Patrick feels bad for Kelly, taunts him to go after her and stomps on his previously broken foot. Patrick leaves the house and goes after Kelly, comforting her with a kiss. Biaggio, who has become good friends with Joe, is told to leave as well, leaving Joe to live by himself.
About a month later, Joe is still living alone in the woods. Short on money, he sets out to hunt his own food, eventually leading him to kill and eat a rabbit. Joe, not disposing of the body properly, attracts a snake into the house. Meanwhile, Kelly goes to a concerned Frank and says she can take him to Joe. When they arrive, they find Joe cornered by the presumably venomous snake that appeared the night before. Biaggio asks his father, who is shaving, if you go to Hell for leaving your friend, to which his father replies "Of course." Biaggio comes barging in the makeshift house and attempts to kill the snake with his machete, but is bitten by the snake on the ankle instead and collapses, becoming violently ill. Frank, Kelly and a mildly feral Joe rush Biaggio to the hospital. Joe and Frank reconcile. Biaggio survives and tells Joe that he saw heaven and if he had to do it all over again, he would do the same thing, but then changes his mind.
Joe and Patrick's parents each drive them home. As they view each other from their respective cars, they flip each other off jokingly and part ways. The film ends showing shots of the house Joe, Patrick, and Biaggio built.
After the credits, Biaggio is seen still residing in the house in the woods.
The film was director Vogt-Roberts' first feature film and was screenwriter Galletta's first produced script. Filming took place in the summer of 2012 in various locations across Ohio, including Cleveland, Chagrin Falls, Lyndhurst and South Pointe Hospital in Warrensville.
The soundtrack consists of music created by Ryan Miller. Other songs in the movie are MGMT's The Youth, Youth Lagoon's 17 and other indie/alternative songs.
The film had its world premiere on January 19, 2013, during the 2013 Sundance Film Festival as Toy's House. Shortly after, it was announced CBS Films had acquired distribution rights to the film. The title of the film was later changed to The Kings of Summer. It was shown at the Cleveland International Film Festival on April 3, 2013. The film was originally scheduled for a June 14, 2013 release date, however, it was moved up to May 31. It received a limited release, and expanded to more theaters over the next few weeks.
The film received positive reviews and currently holds a 76% on Rotten Tomatoes, with the consensus stating: "Thanks to charming performances and endearingly off-kilter spirit, The Kings of Summer proves to be a slight, sweet entry in the crowded coming-of-age genre."
Sheila O'Malley of the Chicago Tribune wrote, "despite some beautiful sequences and solid acting, the script by first-timer Chris Galletta pulls its punches, over-explains the emotional meaning of its moments, and tries to lighten the mood in sometimes awkward sit-com-style ways, betraying the movie's more honest spirit. The Kings of Summer flirts with profundity, seeming to yearn for it and fear the honest expression of it at the same time. There is much here to admire, but the overall impression is of a film that does not have the courage of its convictions."
Upon the film's August 2013 UK release, Mike McCahill of The Guardian said "If David Gordon Green had made Son of Rambow, it might have looked something like this: a sunny and reasonably funny coming-of-ager"; he concluded "The director's background in online shorts manifests itself in an occasional, montage-heavy scattiness, and the broadly conventional closing act can't quite maintain the laugh rate, but there's a lot of warm-hearted and commendably daft business along the way."
The film made it onto Complex's Best Summer movies of 2013 list at number 17.