Best Beach Movies: From Adventures in the Sun to Family Fun
29 September 2016
Okinawa beach image
It would be wonderful if everyone could live right by the ocean, a few steps away from golden sands and resplendent turquoise waters--but alas, most of us live in places all too far from the sea. Perhaps that explains the popularity of beach movies, which offer an escape from reality, magically transporting us to places where we can just about smell the sea salt and feel the sand between our toes. If you find yourself stuck in the city or need a break from suburbia, why not take an instant holiday in the tropics with some of the best beach movies around—including two new animated ones for the kids.


7 Beach Movies with Something for Everyone


The Red Turtle (2016)

Perhaps the most anticipated animated film release in 2016 is The Red Turtle, a collaboration between the French/Belgian company Wild Bunch and Japan’s Studio Ghibli. The film is about a man who finds himself marooned on a deserted island after a shipwreck (not unlike Tom Hanks in Cast Away) and whose attempts to escape are thwarted by a giant red turtle who seems to want to keep him where he is. When he is close to giving up, a beautiful and mysterious woman appears. Directed by Michael Dudok de Wit, who won an Academy Award for a short film in 2001, the animation is stunningly beautiful and the film as a whole is so impressive people who have seen previews claim it actually brought tears to their eyes.



Moana (2016)

So far, we’ve mostly talked about the best beach movies in terms of classics meant for adults, or at least with some heavier themes. However, if something a little more kid-friendly is what you are after, be sure to check out Disney’s new animated feature Moana. The film is about a plucky young Polynesian teenager who sets out on an epic journey with her hero, the demigod Maui, to complete her ancestors’ quest. An effects-filled masterpiece of animation, the film’s scenery is based closely on the landscapes of Fiji, Samoa and Tahiti and features music influenced by those cultures. Based on the numerous trailers available on the web, the film shows every sign of taking the box office by storm and it’s not hard to imagine a whole generation of children growing up dreaming of a life on the tropical seashore.



Soul Surfer (2011)

The real-life story of Bethany Hamilton, a professional surfer who loses her arm in a tragic shark attack but returns to the sport stronger than ever. Although the shark scene is certainly harrowing, it focuses mostly on getting Hamilton to safety. After that, this inspiring tale (starring the ever-reliable Dennis Quaid and Helen Hunt as her parents) focuses on the struggles of family, faith, recovery and of course, surfing—all with gorgeous backdrops including Hawaii and Tahiti. Apparently it was Hamilton herself rather than AnnaSophia Robb, the young actress who played her, who surfed during the post-attack scenes. While considered over-the-top by many critics, Soul Surfer was largely embraced by audiences. With its feel-good message of triumph over incredible personal tragedy, it’s not hard to see why this ranks as one of the best beach movies in recent memory.



Into the Blue (2005)

Shot on location in the Bahamas, Into the Blue follows the adventures of a group of free diving treasure hunters who stumble onto a sunken aircraft full of a local drug lord’s cocaine. While critics may have panned the wooden performances by the cast (the film earned Jessica Alba a nomination for Worst Actress at the Golden Raspberry Awards) there’s no denying the incredible underwater stunts, all performed by the actors themselves, who dove bravely unprotected amid schools of tiger sharks while the underwater crew donned chain mail suits. The film is definitely adult themed and rather full of violence, but if sandy beaches and bronzed bodies are your thing, Into the Blue is sure not to disappoint.



Blue Crush (2002)

Another classic beach movie, incidentally by the same director as Into the Blue, is Blue Crush, the story of a young female surfer determined to make a comeback after she lost her confidence following a near drowning. Set on the surfer’s paradise of Hawaii’s north shore, the film is as much of a coming-of-age story as a surfing adventure, with a steamy romantic sub-plot that tests the tight-knit friendship between the heroine and her three best friends. This time there is no sunken treasure, no drug lord and very little violence. What makes this movie rock is the heart-pounding surf action that takes place amid withering competition and the main-character’s inner struggle to overcome her fears. Critical response was a lot more favorable than Into the Blue and the film was a box-office hit, instantly earning it a place among beach movie classics.



Cast Away (2000)

The one theme that unites most beach movies is the fact that all the characters actually want to be on the beach.  In that sense, Cast Away is truly an outlier, since the lead character would rather be just about anywhere instead of the tropical atoll on which he finds himself marooned after his plane crashes into the pacific. Played masterfully by Tom Hanks, the protagonist is a schedule-obsessed Fed-Ex systems engineer who faces the challenge of surviving entirely on his own with nothing but the washed up wreckage of the downed aircraft. The film is notable for many reasons, but the one seemingly most talked about by critics is the imaginary one-way relationship that develops between the lone castaway and a salvaged volleyball on which he has drawn a human face. One of the most touching moments in the film comes when the character agonizes over the loss of his “friend” when the volleyball, which he has named Wilson after its manufacturer, falls into the water and drifts away.

In addition to being hugely entertaining, the film raises interesting questions about how thoroughly our lives are ruled by schedules and how it would feel to be freed from their tyrannical grip. The complexity and beauty on display here gives it a place as one of the best beach movies of the new century and yet another tour de force by Hanks.



Point Break (1991)

As far as surf movies go, it’s hard to think of one more famous than Point Break.  Starring Keanu Reeves long before he became known as Neo in the Matrix, the main character is Johnny Utah, an undercover FBI agent whose job is to infiltrate a band of adrenaline-junkie surfers who break into banks when not riding the breakers. Directed by Katherine Bigelow, who later won an Oscar for her work on The Hurt Locker, the film revolves as much around the complex relationship that develops between Utah and Bodhi, the philosophical leader of the gang. Though critics agree the film is masterfully shot and visually stunning, opinion is divided on exactly what it’s message is, some arguing it mindlessly valorizes “macho-mysticism” and others declaring that it makes people who don’t devote their lives to conquering physical challenges feel like second-rate human beings.  Whatever your thoughts about the film’s meaning, there’s no denying the breathtaking beauty of the stretch of Malibu coast on which the surfing scenes were shot. Whether you are an adrenaline junkie or a couch potato, it’s hard to watch the film without feeling a strong desire to pack and head for the coast, even if it’s just to enjoy a simple stroll on the sand.



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