If “beach movie” can actually be considered a genre, it’s one that’s always been laden with throwaways. From 1964’s Muscle Beach Party to 2017’s Rip Tide, it seems that every decade has seen it’s share of wash ups. That said, sometimes there’s simply no cure for the cold weather blues better than a good beach movie. They DO exist, and I’ve spent a lot of time watching all the bad ones so you don’t have to! Scroll below for my top ten, and be sure to heed the “guilty pleasure” warnings that come with a few. (Hey, these are beach movies after all.)
Riding Giants, 2004.
If you’re going to watch just one surf doc, let it be this. Stacy Peralta has spent his life making significant contributions to surf and skate culture, first as a pro skater (and founding member of the influential Zephyr Skate Team in the 70s), and later as a documentary filmmaker. In Riding Giants, he turns his lens from the pavement to big waves in this authentic history of surfing. You’ll love the vintage shots of cute 60s surfer boys, and the mesmerizing footage of modern surfers riding 30 foot waves. Radical is the only word.
The Blue Lagoon, 1980.
This is the mother of all beach movies, and also the vehicle that launched a young Brooke Shields to superstardom. When two young children are stranded alone on a tropical island, they learn to survive and create an idyllic life together. Enter puberty! Brooke was only 14 at the time of filming, so the steamy scenes with her 18 year old co-star were highly controversial. I love this film for it’s innocent look at sexuality and for Brooke’s shipwrecked-chic style. Sigh.
This film is a gorgeous travel doc, soulful parable, and intimate family portrait all in one. The mesmerizing footage captured by director Jess Bianchi is something like seeing Kinfolk magazine come to life. Follow the beautiful and bohemian Goodwin family as they travel the world in search of a big fish, and hear it all recounted by their six year old son.
Swept Away (Travolti da un insolito destino nell’azzurro mare d’agosto), 1974.
It’s really unfair that the Guy Ritchie/Madonna 2002 remake of this film was SO TERRIBLE that it probably turned a lot of people off of ever watching the original. But Lina Wertmüller’s 1974 film, Swept Away, is absolutely worth seeing. See what happens when an arrogant socialite becomes stranded on a deserted island with one of her boat’s crew members. The tables turn quickly as she becomes dependent on his fishing and survival abilities. This film is shocking, sexy, and unexpectedly funny. It’s a fascinating look at how class, sex, and gender all play into who has the power in a relationship. (Oh, and it’s written and directed by a woman, too!)
The Beach, 2000.
Okay, okay, it’s not anywhere near DiCaprio’s best. And maybe I’m just being sentimental about the gorgeous scenery reveal set to Moby’s Porcelain. But this film deserves more than 20% on Rotten Tomatoes, which is what it has at the time this story was written. (Just for reference, that’s 4 points lower than Captain Ron.) Young shirtless Leo seeks and finds a secret beach with a thriving community of alternative travelers. What first seems like paradise slowly unravels to reveal a darker sort of hedonism, where players must ask themselves what price they’re willing to pay to keep the party going. Go into this one expecting gorgeous scenery and a good soundtrack and you won’t be disappointed.
A Perfect Getaway, 2009.
Okay, this is one you can definitely watch with a guy. It’s a psychological thriller, with more than one good twist. And it all takes place in beautiful Hawaii! Follow two pairs of honeymooning hikers as they make their way through waterfalls, jungle, and gorgeous beaches, all with a serial killer lurking somewhere near…
There are two main reasons to watch this offbeat indie drama starring Robin Wright and Naomi Watts. 1) Because it’s plot is utterly scandalous. 2) Because the interior design/scenery is basically lifestyle porn. (Think understated beachy modern houses in Seal Rock, New South Wales.) That said, this movie is pure trash. The good kind. And thanks to the internet, you can actually stay in one of the houses from the movie. Now, securing scandalous love affair with local surfer who’s half your age… that’s on you.
The Talented Mr. Ripley, 1999.
With it’s sun-drenched Italian seaside setting, incredible 1950’s styling, and a tanned young Jude Law at it’s center, this is hands down one of the most stylish films of all time in my book. A thrilling psychological storyline unfolds in this gorgeous setting, and makes for an absolutely mesmerizing contrast.
La Tortue Rouge, 2016.
If you think you don’t like animated films, then consider watching this one a personal assignment from me. La Tortue Rouge (The Red Turtle) is a beautiful beachside story told through stunning Japanese animation. There are no annoying voices, because the film has no dialogue. This sophisticated film is a piece of art, and will leave you thinking about the story of your own life.
Shag! The Movie, 1989.
In the summer of ’63, four Southern girls head to Myrtle Beach for one last wild weekend together before parting ways in life for college, marriage, and adventure. We love this movie for it’s nostalgic soundtrack, awesome 60s style, and over the top party scenes. And young Robert Rusler as “Buzz” isn’t hurting anything either.
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