The Absolute Best Films Set in Hawaiʻi
Hawaiʻi has a cinematic identity that has long served as inspiration for filmmakers. From family-friendly animated pictures to action flicks, these diverse movies form a truthful mosaic of a destination beset with natural beauty (like “Hollywood’s backlot” Kualoa Ranch pictured above). The following films set in Hawaiʻi can justifiably be called the best.
The Descendants (2011)
Filmed on Oʻahu and Kauaʻi, The Descendants follows the story of Matt King (George Clooney) as he deals with his young daughters following a tragic accident that left his wife in a coma. The film won Best Adapted Screenplay at the 84th Academy Awards and Best Picture (Drama) and Best Actor (Drama) at the Golden Globes.
For more dramas set in Hawaiʻi, see:
- North Shore (1987), filmed across several famous North Shore surfing locales.
- Soul Surfer (2011), filmed at Tunnels Beach and Kalalau Trail in Kauaʻi, and the North Shore’s Hanalei Bay in Oʻahu.
- Aloha (2015), filmed in Honolulu at destinations like The Breakers Hotel and Hickam Air Force Base.
Punch-Drunk Love (2002)
Paul Thomas Anderson’s rom-com starring Golden Globe nominee Adam Sandler and Emily Watson revolves around the shy, emotionally complicated entrepreneur Barry Egan, as he falls in love with his sister’s co-worker. The film was shot in several locations around Oʻahu, including the iconic pink Royal Hawaiian Hotel in Waikiki.
For more of our favorite rom-coms set in Hawaiʻi, check out:
- Blue Hawaiʻi (1961), the classic Elvis Presley flick was filmed at the former Coco Palms Resort on Kauaʻi, Kaiser Hawaiian Village Hotel in Waikiki (now the Hilton Hawaiian Village), and Hanauma Bay Beach Park.
- 50 First Dates (2004), filmed at Oʻahu’s Sea Life Park, Heʻeia Kea Harbour, Makapuʻu Lighthouse, Kualoa Ranch, and the towns of Kaneohe, Kaʻaʻawa, Wahiawa, Makapuʻu, and Waimanalo.
- Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2011), filmed at Oʻahu’s Turtle Bay Resort on the North Shore.
Jurassic Park (1993)
Considered one of the best movies of all time, the Academy Award-winning dino action flick was filmed on Oʻahu at locations like Kualoa Ranch, and on Kauaʻi at Manawaiopuna Falls, Olokele Valley, Hanapepe Valley, and along the Na Pali Coast.
For more noteworthy sci-fi films shot in Hawaiʻi, see also:
- Jurassic World (2015), which has scenes at the Hawaiʻi Convention Center, Honolulu Zoo, and Hanola Beach on Oʻahu.
- Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (2017), shot at places like Kualoa Ranch and the Kualoa Mountains in Oʻahu, and Papaikou on the Big Island.
- Godzilla vs. Kong (2021), filmed on constructed sets at the Kalaeloa Airport, Naval Air Museum, and the Hawaiʻi State Capitol building in Honolulu.
Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
The first of the popular Indiana Jones franchise, Raiders of the Lost Ark became the highest-grossing movie of 1981, and one of Steven Spielberg’s most beloved films. The booby-trapped “Peruvian” temple and “Amazonian” jungle were actually filmed at Kauaʻi’s Kipu Ranch and Anahola Mountain Range.
Find more action-adventure in Hawaiʻi with films like:
- Point Break (1991), several surf scenes were filmed at Oʻahu’s Waimea Bay.
- Pearl Harbor (2001), although almost entirely filmed in California, there were some scenes filmed in Kualoa Ranch, Pearl Harbor, and more Honolulu areas.
- Tropic Thunder (2008), filmed on the island of Kauaʻi.
Lilo & Stitch (2002)
Although the Disney classic is completely animated, the small Hawaiian town that inspired the movie is actually a place you can visit. Hanapepe, located on the southern coast of Kauaʻi, serves as the inspiration for the fictional town, Kokaua, in the film. Hanapepe is home to only 2,600 residents and is known for its historic plantation-style buildings, charming shops, eateries, art galleries, and the Lilo & Stitch-inspired mural on Iona Road.
Check out more family-friendly movies set in Hawaiʻi:
- Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011), filmed on several of the islands, including Kauaʻi, Oʻahu, Maui, and Molokaʻi.
- Doogie Kamealoha M.D. (2021), we know this is a television show, but we are loving this new Disney+ series, which was filmed at some of Oʻahu’s most visited attractions, like the Queen Lili'uokalani Statue, Duke Kahanamoku Statue, and the 'Iolani Palace.
- Finding 'Ohana (2021), filmed in Honolulu and Kane'ohe.
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