When you hear “Hawaii,” what comes to mind? Probably something along the lines of soft sand beaches, the sound of waves and palm trees I’m willing to guess. You’re probably picturing some version of the elusive “paradise.” You’re not alone, though. The lush, tropical volcanic islands of Hawaii represent a form of “paradise” for many people. It’s no wonder, then, that a lot of film and TV directors choose the islands as the backdrop for their productions. Oftentimes you’re not aware it’s Hawaii on screen.
From Jurassic Park to the TV show LOST, Hawaii has acted as a stand-in for all sorts of fantastical locations. In this scenic landscape dotted with mountains, volcanoes and lush vegetation, its easy to to picture a dinosaur sneaking behind a bush or a smoke monster appearing out of the blue. Let your imagination run wild with these movies that will make you want to visit Hawaii more than ever.
I know, I know. It’s not exactly award-winning cinema. But I’ll admit it – Blue Crush is one of my favorite Hawaii-based movies. Based on an Outside Magazine article called “Life’s Swell” by Susan Orlean (a great read about a real-life surfer chick), Blue Crush reflects the surfing culture on Oahu’s North Shore. If you want to watch some surfers catch big waves for yourself while you’re on Oahu, one of the best beaches to check out is Sunset Beach on the North Shore and the best place to stay for that surfer vibe is the Backpackers Vacation Inn and Plantation Village.
Forgetting Sarah Marshall
Filmed almost entirely in Hawaii, this comedy tells the story of a devastated dude who books a Hawaiian vacation in order to deal with a recent break-up – and of course runs into said ex (and her new boyfriend) at the very resort he’s staying at. If you want to check out the resort for yourself, it’s exactly as it appears in the film: Turtle Bay Resort on Oahu’s North Shore. You can also stop at La’ie Point on the Windward Coast, where Peter (Jason Segel) and Rachel (Mila Kunis) leap off a cliff into the ocean after talking about their painful breakups – feel free to jump in yourself if you dare.
The Endless Summer
Even though this 1966 surf film isn’t entirely set in Hawaii, it still showcases some of the beaches (and waves) that Hawaii is so well known for. The documentary-style film follows two surfers as they chase big waves all around the world, from Africa to New Zealand and many places in between. It has a catchy soundtrack and manages to be quite funny, making it a documentary that I never tire of watching. Beware, though, as lasting effects of the movie include a burning desire to learn to surf.
Lilo and Stitch
Forget the fact that this is an animated Disney movie; it nevertheless highlights Hawaii in a way that made me want to visit as a kid (and as an adult). Set on the island of Kaua’i, many locals have said that the story of Lilo and her adopted alien pet Stitch reflect the meaning of “’ohana” – the Hawaiian concept of family – better than any other film set in Hawaii. Lilo’s hometown was based on the real Hawaiian town of Hanapepe, and you can also spot landmarks like the bridge to Hanalei, the Na Pali Coast, and even shaved ice (which Hawaii is well-known for) in the film. To capture your own feeling of ohana, be sure to stay at the St Regis Princeville Resort.
From Here to Eternity
This 1953 drama tells the story of three soldiers (including one played by Frank Sinatra) stationed on the Hawaiian island of Oahu in the months leading up to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. It has one of the most famous beach scenes in film history when characters played by Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr are shown kissing in the crashing surf at Halona Cove (now nicknamed “Eternity Bay”). This scene makes me want to break out my vintage-inspired beachwear and find a handsome man to canoodle with in the waves.
50 First Dates
Lastly, how could I not mention this Adam Sandler/Drew Barrymore modern romance classic? Set on the island of Oahu, this romantic comedy about a memory-impaired woman and the man trying to win her heart is one of the only Adam Sandler movies of this millennium that I actually really like. Yes, it’s silly at times, but the story is cute and the Hawaii backdrop is easy on the eyes. If you visit Kualoa Ranch on Oahu (also used in many other Hollywood flicks), you can spy a few filming locations, including the one where Sandler’s character tries day after day to stage terrible things on the side of the road to get Lucy to stop her car.
Do any of these films make YOU want to go to Hawaii?