This weekend’s Moana joins a long line of colorful and escapist movies set in and around the tropical islands of the South Pacific. Many movies have been shot in such exotic island locales as Hawaii, Fiji and Tahiti featuring tribal cultures, beautiful settings and, of course, a good chance of adventure. Here are just a few we like to revisit – if not literally, at least on the big screen.
One of the earliest films set in the South Pacific shares a name with Disney’s new animated feature but its lead character is a real-life Samoan male named Moana, which means “deep water.” Documentary filmmaker Robert J. Flaherty (Nanook of the North, 1922) spent a year living in a village on the Polynesian island of Samoa – located halfway between Hawaii and New Zealand — photographing the life of its villagers. In a time before commercial airlines, Moana was the closest most moviegoers would get to experiencing life in the exotic South Seas.
The Blue Lagoon (1980)
Brooke Shields and Christopher Atkins star as two teenagers marooned on a tropical island who get to spend their days fishing, diving for pearls and falling in love – with no adult supervision! The adult in charge of this romantic survival adventure, director Randal Kleiser, shot the film on Turtle Island and Nanuya Levu Island in Fiji.
Blue Hawaii (1961)
Legendary singer Elvis Presley made three Hawaii-set movies, including Blue Hawaii (1961), Girls! Girls! Girls! (1962) and Paradise, Hawaiian Style (1965). In the first, Presley stars as a native Hawaiian who returns home from a stint in the Army to resume a tropical life filled with surf, fun and romance. Presley was allegedly so pale when he arrived in Hawaii to shoot the movie that producer Hal Wallis urged him to sit under a tanning lamp to get that special Hawaiian glow.
South Pacific (1958)
Rodgers and Hammerstein’s beloved stage musical, based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning book Tales of the South Pacific, gets the big-screen treatment in this spectacular, song-filled tale of romance between a naive Navy nurse (Mitzi Gaynor) and a French plantation owner (Rossano Brazzi) on a U.S.-occupied South Seas island. The movie includes such classic songs as "Some Enchanted Evening," "There Is Nothin' Like a Dame" and "Younger Than Springtime,” plus Technicolor-ful island-footage shot at Hanalei Bay in Kauai, Hawaii.
Mutiny on the Bounty (1962)
Unlike the original 1932 Mutiny on the Bounty, this second adaptation of Nordhoff and Hall’s rousing tale of adventure in the South Pacific was actually shot in color and on location in Tahiti. While starring in the film, Marlon Brando met and married a local 19-year-old Polynesian boatman's daughter named Tarita Teriipaia and became so enamored with the filming location itself he bought a 12-islet Tahitian hideaway there.
The Descendants (2011)
In this Alexander Payne-directed drama, George Clooney plays Matt King, a lawyer whose family has owned acreage on Kauai for generations. Now the trust is up, his wife is in a coma due to an accident, and his daughters hate him. Other than down a mai tai, what’s a guy to do? The film was gorgeously shot on location in Kauai.
James Michener's best-selling book Hawaii became this seven-time Academy Award-nominated historical drama. Max von Sydow and Julie Andrews star as a religious missionary and his wife who travel to Hawaii in the early 1800s to bring Christianity to the natives, including Malama, a fictional character based on the real-life Queen Ka'ahumanu. She’s played in the film by Jocelyn LaGarde, a native Tahitian who was nominated for an Academy Award for her work, despite never acting before — or since.
The Thin Red Line (1998)
The same year Steven Spielberg captured the horrors of World War II on the Atlantic coastline in Saving Private Ryan, director Terrence Malick focused his lens on the Pacific Theater of World War II. Although the majority of the film’s production took place in Australia, Malick also shot for 24 days on the Solomon Islands, site of the actual Guadalcanal Campaign. Ostensibly a film about the horrors of war, The Thin Red Line also serves as a stunning visual tour of the natural flora and fauna and wildlife of the South Pacific.
Cast Away (2000)
Tom Hanks stars in this epic survival adventure as a FedEx worker stranded on an uninhabited island in the South Pacific after his plane crashes. Shot in Monuriki, one of the Mamanuca Islands in Fiji, the film’s stunning South Seas setting has since become a top tourist destination for people looking to experience for themselves the film’s stunning environs — if not its protagonist’s desperate plight.
50 First Dates (2004)
If you had to endure life as a permanent amnesiac, Hawaii wouldn’t be a bad place to do it, especially if you got to wake up each day and experience, like new, the lush beauty of the island setting captured in this charming romantic comedy starring Adam Sandler as a veterinarian at an Oahu aquarium who falls in love with a young woman (Drew Barrymore) suffering from the above affliction.
A Perfect Getaway (2009)
In this decidedly less romantic but thrilling action-thriller set in Hawaii, Milla Jovovich and Steve Zahn play a young married couple who celebrate their honeymoon by hiking across the island in search of a remote beach. They soon discover that psychopaths are stalking and murdering tourists on the island. Are they next? Or are they less innocent than they appear? That’s the goosebump-inducing twist that gave this Hawaii-set thriller an unexpected bump at the box office during its theatrical release.
The 1937 romantic adventure The Hurricane (starring Dorothy Lamour) was remade over 40 years later as simply Hurricane with Mia Farrow and Hawaiian-born actor Dayton Ka'ne as young lovers separated by fate and reunited during another special effects-driven natural disaster. Unlike its predecessor, which was shot on set and featured background shots of American Samoa, this Hurricane was shot entirely on location in Bora Bora.
Blue Crush (2002)
In celebration of Moana’s release, we end our movie tour on another tale of girl power set against the backdrop of a South Pacific island. Based on Susan Orlean's Outside magazine article "Life's Swell,” this female-driven surf tale stars Kate Bosworth, Michelle Rodriguez, Sanoe Lake and Mika Boorem as three friends who share a dream of surfing Hawaii's famed North Shore. The movie’s breathtaking surf sequences were shot in Hawaii on the North Shore, Makaha and Waikiki.
Did we leave out your favorite cinematic tale of the South Pacific? Tell us about it in the comments section below!