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The 12 Best Beach Movies of All Time

These sun-drenched films are like an instant summer vacation

spinner image Promotional art from Jaws and Elvis Presley playing a ukulele in Blue Hawaii
(Left to right) Promotional art from the film "Jaws" and Elvis Presley performing with a ukulele in "Blue Hawaii."
LMPC via Getty Images; Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images

Traditionally, summer means two things: hitting the beach (preferably with a piña colada and a salty breeze) and kicking back in an air-conditioned movie theater. But there are certain movies that allow you to do both at the same time: beach movies. These films can be swoony moonlit romances, giddy beach-blanket romps, Coppertone-kissed surfin’ safaris or even great white fright flicks (you know the one we mean). These 12 titles, from that couple rolling in the Hawaiian surf to Meryl Streep getting her Greek islands on, are the best films with an irresistible beach vibe. No sunscreen required!

spinner image Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr kiss on a beach in the film From Here to Eternity
Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr in "From Here to Eternity."
Columbia Pictures/Archive Photos/Getty Images

From Here to Eternity (1953)

Adapted from James Jones’ celebrated novel, this best picture Oscar winner can feel a bit like a WWII soap opera (in a good way). But it's also jam-packed with timeless performances from Montgomery Clift, Frank Sinatra, Ernest Borgnine, Burt Lancaster, Deborah Kerr and Donna Reed. Set in Honolulu on the eve of Pearl Harbor (which amazingly feels like a vibrant paradise despite being captured in black and white), From Here to Eternity is arguably best known for the most famous beach scene of all time, as Lancaster adulterously rolls around in the lapping surf with his commander's wife (Kerr). In the decades since, love scenes have gotten more explicit, but the sexiness of this one still smolders with swoony taboo heat.

Watch it: From Here to Eternity, on Amazon Prime, Fandango Now, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube

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Blue Hawaii (1961)

"The gateway to the South Pacific opens wide for … Elvis Presley and you!” So promises the trailer of a sing-along tropical holiday brochure, which also just happens to be one of the more enjoyable romps from the King's hit-and-miss Hollywood period. Full of chaste Technicolor flirting, cocked-eyebrow double entendres and the always-welcome sight of Presley getting down with a ukulele, Blue Hawaii now feels like a trip to a more innocent time. Plus, it features the smooth legend crooning one of his most honey-coated ballads: “Can't Help Falling in Love."

Watch it: Blue Hawaii, on Amazon Prime, Fandango Now, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube

Dr. No (1962)

Set in Jamaica, the first cinematic James Bond outing pits Sean Connery's suave 007 against a fiendish villain (Joseph Wiseman in a natty Nehru jacket) out to sabotage an American space launch. Along the way there are lethal tarantulas, shadowy assassins and one of the most iconic character introductions in Bond film history, as Ursula Andress’ beachcombing, bikini-clad Honey Ryder is snuck up on by 007 on the shoals of deadly Crab Key. Dr. No may not be the very best Connery installment (it's awfully good, but it's no Goldfinger), but still it's fun to see how surely it sets the template for the license-to-kill franchise going forward.

Watch it: Dr. No, on Amazon Prime, Fandango Now, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube

DON'T MISS THIS: Turn Your Living Room Into the Drive-In With These Classic Summer Movies

Beach Blanket Bingo (1965)

Following in the sandy footsteps of Sandra Dee's Gidget, Hollywood cranked out a string of wholesome beach movies catering to what was then a new ticket-buying demographic: the carefree American teenager. Beach Blanket Bingo remains, in its way, the best of the lot. Is it silly surfside fluff? You bet. Is bingo ever actually played? Nope. Still, the movie is a giddy snapshot of a strange era when Don Rickles and Buster Keaton could appear in the same movie as Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello. Sure, these films would become hopelessly square in just a couple of short years as the Summer of Love replaced the malt shop with the head shop. But seen today, Frankie and Annette's G-rated hijinks feel like deliriously campy transmissions from a distant, naïve Baby Boom planet.

Watch it: Beach Blanket Bingo, on Amazon Prime, iTunes, Vudu

The Endless Summer (1966)

Bruce Brown's gorgeous, liberating documentary captured the spirit of a new subculture that was putting into action what the Beach Boys had only put on vinyl. This celluloid travelogue follows two real-life California surfers — Mike Hynson and Robert August — as they crisscross the globe chasing the perfect wave. With stops in Australia, Tahiti, Africa and a passport's worth of other pristine far-flung locales, these young adventurers are not only out to prove that it's always summer somewhere, they're also pioneers of a new kind of seeking nomadic lifestyle as they follow their hang-ten bliss to the ends of the earth.

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Watch it: The Endless Summer, on Amazon Prime, Fandango Now, Google Play, iTunes,

Jaws (1975)

Based on Peter Benchley's nail-biting best seller, Steven Spielberg's proto-blockbuster remains essential viewing whenever summer rolls around. Filmed on Martha's Vineyard (renamed Amity Island in the film), Jaws is a white-knuckle horror movie about a town terrorized by a bloodthirsty great white who turns the island's more unfortunate inhabitants into chum. Roy Scheider as the police chief, Richard Dreyfuss as a twitchy marine biologist and Robert Shaw as a fearless and surly shark hunter head out to sea aboard a rickety old fishing boat to battle nature and test themselves. A lot gets written about how Spielberg's film changed Hollywood for the worse by ushering in an era of sensational event movies, but the charge is unfair, because Jaws is as much of a master class in suspense as Tinseltown would ever deliver. Scheider says it all when he says: “You're gonna need a bigger boat."

Watch it: Jaws, on Amazon Prime, Fandango Now, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube

Point Break (1991)

Director Kathryn Bigelow elevated the mindless action-movie genre with this macho cat-and-mouse thriller about a cocky undercover cop (Keanu Reeves) who infiltrates a gang of surfer-dude bank robbers led by Patrick Swayze's adrenaline junkie Bodhi. The film's action set pieces crackle with third-rail electricity, the twisty plot hums along like a runaway freight train, and the acting (especially from Swayze) is far better than it needs to be in a film like this, turning what could have easily been a disposable potboiler into a surprisingly effective SoCal morality play.

Watch it: Point Break, on Amazon Prime, Fandango Now, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube

DON'T MISS THIS: Take a Glorious Summer Vacation With These 15 Movies

How Stella Got Her Groove Back (1998)

Romantic escapism doesn't come sunnier and more sultry than this adaptation of Terry McMillan's feminist novel about a successful professional woman who's unlucky in love. As Stella, Angela Bassett hits all the right notes of romantic rejection, lonely aimlessness and finally passionate rejuvenation as she heads to Jamaica to lick her wounds and rediscover her mojo in the sun. The arrival of Taye Diggs certainly doesn't hurt her disposition either, even though he's half her age. He's exactly what Stella needs.

Watch it: How Stella Got Her Groove Back, on Amazon Prime, Fandango Now, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube

The Beach (2000)

After the unparalleled box-office success of Titanic, any movie that Leonardo DiCaprio chose to star in as his follow-up would have been dissected under a microscope and ripped to shreds. But this exotic thriller certainly deserved a better fate than it received at the time. Adapted from Alex Garland's page-turner, The Beach is a cracking mystery about an adventurous backpacking expat on the hunt for a little-known pristine beach in Thailand. He finds it. And it's a sugar-granulated slice of turquoise heaven. Unfortunately, he also discovers a Conradian Heart of Darkness that quickly turns his tropical paradise into a hellish nightmare. Looking at this untouched beach, though, it might just have been worth it.

Watch it: The Beach, on Amazon Prime, Fandango Now, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube

Y Tu Mamá También (2001)

Director Alfonso Cuarón's sensual coming-of-age import stars Gael García Bernal and Diego Luna as hormonal best pals looking for romance. They find it when they meet an unhappily married older woman (Maribel Verdú) at a ritzy Mexico City wedding. The three hop in a car and take a road trip on a quest to find a legendary perfect beach called Boca del Cielo. They all have their reasons for going, which we discover along the way. As the teenage boys both try in their fumbling ways to seduce Verdú's Luisa, it's clear throughout that she's the one calling the shots, patiently teaching them life lessons about how becoming a man means more than just hooking up. Renowned cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki captures the sun-kissed Mexican surf with a painter's eye.

Watch it: Y Tu Mamá También, on Amazon Prime, Google Play, iTunes, YouTube

Blue Crush (2002)

For decades, movies about surfing and surfers treated their female characters as little more than bikini-festooned window dressing. What makes director John Stockwell's Blue Crush worth watching is how it refreshingly moves its women from the background to the foreground. Based on the magazine article “Surf Girls of Maui” by Susan Orlean, this subtly feminist surfing adventure stars Kate Bosworth as an aspiring wave-rider in Hawaii who enters a dangerous surfing competition (alongside Michelle Rodriguez) and manages to conquer her fears. The action — not to mention the locale — is filmed so gorgeously that you might just find yourself booking a one-way flight to Maui before it's over.

Watch it: Blue Crush, on Amazon Prime, Fandango Now, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube

Mamma Mia! (2008)

What could be more alluring than the azure waters of Greece? How about the azure waters of Greece set to the glorious bubblegum pop of Abba? Mamma Mia! may have begun its life as infectiously splashy stage musical, but part of the reason it works even better on screen is the way the story opens up to take advantage of its idyllic Mediterranean setting. The whole thing looks like a screensaver. And then there's the wonderfully strange sight of America's most revered thespian, Meryl Streep, cutting loose, footloose and fancy free, belting out “Dancing Queen.” Seventies nostalgia never tasted this sweet … and the Greek isles never looked this enticing.

Watch it: Mamma Mia!, on Amazon Prime, Fandango Now, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube

Chris Nashawaty, former film critic for Entertainment Weekly, is the author of Caddyshack: The Making of a Hollywood Cinderella Story and a contributor to Esquire, Vanity Fair, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.

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