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10 Movies That Take You to Hawaii and the Pacific Islands

Book a flight (to your sofa!) for these dramas, docs and comedies that provide the vacation you crave

spinner image Gramma Tala and Moana standing on a beach in the Disney film Moana
(Left to right) Gramma Tala and Moana in "Moana."

Each May we honor Asian American and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander Heritage Month. And while Hollywood still has a way to go when it comes to including AANHPI storytellers in front of and behind the camera, it’s never a bad time to pay tribute to one of cinema’s most stunning settings: Hawaii and the South Pacific. The emerald green mountains, turquoise waters and white sand beaches in these 10 great movies will whisk you away to a gorgeous island paradise. Aloha!

Moana (2016)

Like all the best animated Disney films, Moana manages to sneak in some valuable lessons among its infectious songs and inviting eye candy. Native Hawaiian actor Auli’i Cravalho voices the young, strong-willed heroine, Moana, who ventures from her Polynesian island home to return a relic to the volcano goddess Te Fiti. She enlists the help of Maui, a cocky and slightly clueless demigod (Dwayne Johnson) who has a knack for breaking into song (the great tunes are cowritten by Lin-Manuel Miranda). This is an absolute gem.

Watch it: On Disney+, Prime Video

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The Descendants (2011)

George Clooney delivers a disarming, understated performance in Alexander Payne’s dramatic comedy about a laid-back Hawaiian landowner who must gather his family together and figure out the future after a boating accident puts his wife into a coma. Shailene Woodley is terrific as his rebellious teenage daughter who’s been keeping a secret from him for far too long. Trust me, it sounds a lot heavier than it is. Plus, the island of Kauai has never looked better on film.

Watch it: On Hulu, Prime Video

Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008)

There’s trouble in paradise. Jason Segel plays a people-pleasing pushover dumped by his TV star girlfriend (Kristen Bell) for an oversexed British rock star (Russell Brand). To get over the pain, he heads to a Hawaiian beach resort, where his ex and her handsy new boyfriend are also staying. Segel sells the sad sack act like no one else. And Mila Kunis is adorable as the woman trying to help him move on. A who’s who of comic all-stars swings by to keep spicing things up, including Paul Rudd, Jonah Hill and Bill Hader.

Watch it: On Max, Prime Video

From Here to Eternity (1953)

The winner of eight Oscars, including best picture, best supporting actor (Frank Sinatra) and best supporting actress (Donna Reed), this black-and-white classic about WWII GIs in Hawaii on the eve of the attack on Pearl Harbor is still best remembered for Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr’s steamy smooch session in the surf (shot at Halona Beach Cove on Oahu). But the rest of the drama is just as memorable. Director Fred Zinneman had to battle both the studio and the ratings board to keep the story’s taboo themes intact. Thank goodness, he won out.

Watch it: On Prime Video, YouTube

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Soul Surfer (2011)

This faith-based drama chronicling the real-life story of 13-year-old surfer Bethany Hamilton, who lost one of her arms in a shark attack, was filmed on picturesque Kauai. AnnaSophia Robb (with the help of some seamless effects) plays Bethany with inspirational resolve — she refuses to let her terrifying brush with death keep her from getting back on her surfboard. The always welcome Dennis Quaid and Helen Hunt costar as her equally determined parents.

Watch it: On Prime Video, YouTube

Princess Kaiulani (2009)

Actor Q’orianka Kilcher (who was raised in Kapa‘a) headlines this factual period drama about the Hawaiian royal family’s fight for independence in the 1800s when the United States began trying to annex it. While the movie probably leans a bit too heavily on the young princess’s romantic life, its detours into politics and scenic cinematography make it worth checking out. Interesting footnote: This was the first movie allowed to film inside Honolulu’s Iolani Palace.

Watch it: On Prime Video, YouTube

The Endless Summer (1966)

Bruce Brown’s documentary travelogue about a group of surfers who hopscotch around the world in search of the perfect wave is hands down the most influential film ever made about the sport. Brown shows that surfing isn’t just something to do, it’s a way of life and a state of mind. While Brown’s camera traveled to Tahiti, Ghana and Australia, for my money the most intoxicating chapter is when the crew hangs ten at Hawaii’s Waikiki Beach.

Watch it: On Prime Video, YouTube

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Jurassic Park (1993)

Steven Spielberg’s delirious action-adventure blockbuster about a tropical theme park populated by dinosaurs brought back to life by unwisely messing around with their DNA is set on the fictional island of Isla Nublar, said to be off the coast of Costa Rica. In reality, the lush green mountains and soaring waterfalls were filmed in Hawaii, mostly on Kauai but also Maui and Oahu. The untouched and untamed natural beauty gives you the sense of what the planet must have looked like before we got our hands on it.

Watch it: On Peacock, Prime Video

50 First Dates (2004)

Adam Sandler seems to go out of his way to shoot his big-screen comedies in exotic locations (nice work if you can get it!). For this rom-com, Sandler reunites with his costar from The Wedding Singer, Drew Barrymore, in a tale about a playboy who lives in Hawaii and finally meets the one (Barrymore), only to discover that she suffers from short-term memory loss, forcing him to woo and win her over anew every day. This romantic riff on Groundhog Day isn’t particularly deep, but the stars’ easy chemistry is undeniable.

Watch it: On Hulu, Prime Video

spinner image Kate Bosworth, Michelle Rodriguez and Sanoe Lake walking out of the water with their surfboard in the film Blue Crush
(Left to right) Kate Bosworth, Michelle Rodriguez and Sanoe Lake in "Blue Crush."

Blue Crush (2002)

Kate Bosworth and Michelle Rodriguez head up this surfing movie about an adrenaline junkie (Bosworth) who’s training for the annual Rip Masters tournament only to get sidetracked by love. Directed by John Stockwell, who really knows how to shoot the movie’s white-knuckle surf sequences and captures the laid-back beach lifestyle, Blue Crush may inspire you to book a flight to Oahu’s North Shore before you even reach the end credits.

Watch it: On Prime Video, YouTube

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