Movie Night

Our editors give two thumbs up for 10 great beach films.

Sandpale Popcorn

Beach Themed Movie Night

If the weather outside is frightful, stay in for family film night this season. We asked the movie-philes on our staff to review their favorite coastal films. Whether they're set at the beach or near the water, these flicks will have you dreaming of the sand.

Fifty First Dates (2004)

Fifty First Dates (2004)

Henry Roth (Adam Sandler) meets Lucy Whitmore (Drew Barrymore) while having breakfast at a local eatery on an island in Hawaii. Henry feels a connection with her and returns to the café the next day, but Lucy doesn't recall ever meeting him. It seems Lucy suffered a head injury in a car accident on her father's birthday. Short-term memory loss prevents her from remembering anything from that day forward. Henry's tender devotion leads to his creating a short film that gently explains her missing memories. Lucy awakes every morning to find a videotape marked "Good Morning Lucy." Favorite scene: the final one when you see Lucy watching the latest video. Camera pulls back for an aerial view of a big ship sailing in iceberg-dotted waters as "Over the Rainbow" plays in the background. Dreams really do come true. ―Vicki J. Weathers

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Gidget (1959)

Gidget (1959)

The quintessential fun-in-the-sun beach movie, Gidget lacks only a spontaneous choreographed dance moment à la Frankie and Annette. Of course, if it weren't for the pioneering of Sandra Dee's sweet-as-pie Gidget, we never would've shaken and shimmied at the Beach Blanket Bingo all those years ago. This coming-of-age tale teaches us that tomboys can be hot chicks, too, and tough guys aren't always what they seem. Follow little Frances Lawrence as she surfs the waves of life and love―and the ocean―with the help of surprisingly upstanding surf bum/hunks Moondoggie and The Big Kahuna. In the words of Gidget, "Honest to goodness, it's the absolute ultimate!" ―Abigail Millwood


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A Star is Born (1954)

A Star is Born (1954)

Any fan of Judy Garland's movies will tell you that A Star is Born ranks as one of her best. Rent this classic (the restored version is widely available) for her performances of "Swanee" and "The Man that Got Away," and for the fabulous '50s style that permeates the film. Don't think it's a beach flick? Wait 'til you see the beachside home that Garland shares with her husband, Norman Maine, played by James Mason: The oceanfront terrace alone will knock your socks off! And of course, that sandy stretch of beach below the house plays a central role in this tearjerker. (No hints―you'll have to watch to find out why.) With direction by the famed George Cukor and music by the incomparable Harold Arlen, this is one Hollywood tale you can't afford to pass up. ―James Schwartz

 
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Bikini Beach (1964)

Bikini Beach (1964)

For cheesy fun, you can't go wrong with any of the 1960s Frankie Avalon-Annette Funicello beach movies. If I had to pick just one, I'd go with Bikini Beach, third in the series. Frankie plays two roles: his usual Annette-chasing surfer (imaginatively named "Frankie") and a British pop star called Potato Bug. As the Bug, Frankie has a lot of fun spoofing the Beatles in a couple of musical numbers. (Potato Bug, Beatles―get it? Mike Myers' Austin Powers character owes more than a bit to the Bug as well.) Beach-movie regulars Harvey Lembeck (lunkhead motorcycle-gang leader Eric Von Zipper) and Don Rickles (as Big Drag, owner of a bar and a drag strip) contribute their usual silliness. And then you've got a drag-racing chimpanzee, appearances by a young Meredith MacRae and an even younger Stevie Wonder, a cameo by horror-film legend Boris Karloff, and an entertainingly idiotic car chase that leads to a climactic bar fight/abstract art critique. What about the plot? Oh, come on; these movies never had plots. ―Steve Millburg 

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Jaws (1975)

Jaws (1975)
 

This movie kept thousands of ticket buyers out of the water the summer it hit the box office. The opening scene took the word "thriller" to a new level. A great white shark terrorizes a small New England coastal town during the height of tourist season. A battle of wills ensues between the police chief and the mayor on closing the beaches: Mayor Vaughn (Murray Hamilton) wants to downplay the attacks, and Chief Brody (Roy Scheider) fears more deaths. Brody enlists the help of oceanographer Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) and charter boat fisherman Quint (Robert Shaw) to find and kill the shark. Brilliant timing lures the audience from one terrifying shark encounter to the next, but it's the underlying comedy that prevents viewers from holding their breath too long. Favorite scene: When Brody sees the full length of the shark for the first time and tells Quint, "You're going to need a bigger boat." ―Vicki J. Weathers 

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South Pacific (1958)

South Pacific (1958)

The Rodgers and Hammerstein musical set on a tropical beach in World War II seems dated enough these days to be classified as high camp. Still, while I smile at the burst-into-song moments and cringe at the corny script, I remember what it felt like to be a young girl viewing this big-screen extravaganza. Filmed on the island of Kauai, South Pacific was an introduction to the intoxicating beauty of Hawaii, and it nourished the seeds of wanderlust sprouting in my small-Virginia-town heart. I swooned over Lt. Joe Cable (played by John Kerr) and hoped he would stay with Liat (France Nuyen), a Polynesian girl living on a shimmering isle called Bali Ha'i. I longed to look like blonde nurse/ensign Nellie Forbush (Mitzi Gaynor) and thought she was crazy to run from Frenchman Emile de Becque (Rossano Brazzi) because of his Eurasian children. Those two love stories gave a courageous nod to the idiocy of racism about the time the Civil Rights movement had the entire country taking sides in a battle for common sense. Having seen the film seven times during its early years, to this day I can sing the lyrics to every song―from "There Is Nothing Like a Dame" to "I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair." Whenever I pop in the remastered DVD, intermission music and all, I know I'll have "Some Enchanted Evening"―and so will you. ―Susan Haynes

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The Flamingo Kid (1984)

The Flamingo Kid (1984)

The Flamingo Kid could easily have descended into cornball clichés. A working-class Brooklyn high-school grad (Matt Dillon) spends the summer of 1963 working at a swanky Long Island beach club, gets dazzled by its ostentatiously moneyed patrons, and eventually must choose between a promised future of easy (though sleazy) money and his father's old-fashioned values. Cue the violins, right? Somehow, though, the movie conveys real, honest emotion without slipping into sentimentality. The terrific cast helps, notably Dillon, Richard Crenna as a slick car dealer, Jessica Walter as his acid-tongued wife, Janet Jones as a not-so-dumb California blonde, and Hector Elizondo as the kid's dignified father. Director/co-writer Garry Marshall blends in generous amounts of tart humor to balance the story's basic sweetness. The pre-British Invasion soundtrack adds some nice nostalgic touches. ―Steve Millburg

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Something's Gotta Give (2003)

Something's Gotta Give (2003)

Think ocean breezes and long walks on the beach, and you'll have the setting for this romantic comedy. Uptight yet likable Erica (Diane Keaton) has given up on romantic relationships. But when she finds a half-dressed Harry (Jack Nicholson) in her kitchen, things change. Harry, the chauvinistic womanizer (who dates only 20-year-olds) is visiting Erica's Hamptons retreat for a weekend romp with her 20-something daughter. Harry explains during dinner, "Some say I'm an expert on the younger woman ... since I've been dating them for 40 years." While attempting to impress the young daughter with his prowess, Harry has a heart attack. Erica begrudgingly comes to his aid, and the slow chemistry begins: Do opposites really attract? Powerfully moving performances and tons of one-liners make you laugh out loud and ponder fate and relationships. ―Mamie Walling

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Joe Versus the Volcano

Joe Versus the Volcano (1990)

This modern fairy tale follows the standard formula with wit, humor, and a great soundtrack. When we first meet Joe Banks (Tom Hanks), his existence is gray and lifeless as part of an industrial machine that saps his soul of strength and vitality. Hypochondriac Joe is diagnosed with a "brain cloud" and only a few months to live by a convincing but dubiously connected doctor (Robert Stack). When he is offered an adventure that will end in the sacrifice of his life to satisfy "The Woo," a volcanic god on a small Pacific island inhabited by islanders who love orange soda so much that none of them will volunteer for the job, Joe agrees to live the rest of his life to the fullest and go out with a flourish. One favorite scene is when Joe and his newfound love, Patricia (Meg Ryan), are about to jump into the volcano. She wants to get married by the local chief and Joe balks. "You are afraid of commitment. You're going to have to love and honor me for about 30 seconds. You can't handle that?" she says. They take the leap, into both a relationship and the volcano, and the story ends as every fairy tale should. This film starts out as an indictment of the sterile, conformist big corporate environment and ends up as a celebration of life "away from the things of man." There are great observations about living without fear, taking chances, and finding our place in the universe. ―Gayle K. Christopher 

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Road to Bali (1953)

Road to Bali (1953)

Still funny after all these years, Road to Bali follows Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, and Dorothy Lamour to tropical Pacific islands populated by mysterious natives, a treasure-guarding squid, and an amorous gorilla. Hope, Crosby, and Lamour made seven Road movies from 1940 to 1962. Bali, sixth in the series, is the only one in color. As usual, the boys play second-rate entertainers wisecracking their way through exotic adventures while competing for the affection of the sultry, sarong-clad Lamour. Their easy camaraderie still feels fresh, even if most of the topical jokes will baffle today's audiences. The musical interludes range from pleasant to downright weird (especially the Scottish bagpipes-and-kilts number). ―Steve Millburg   

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Other Suggestions:

From Here to Eternity (1953)
Failure to Launch (2006)
Some Like It Hot (1959)
Beaches (1988)
A Summer Place (1959)

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