Top 10 Hawaii-Inspired Movies to Get You in the Mood for Our Film Festival

Not only is the natural glory of Hawaii the envy of other states in the US, it’s got its own acclaimed film festival too. The clapperboard of the 38th Annual Hawaii International Film Festival will snap on the 8th November, with the cinematic feast coming to a close on the 18th.

You’re still in time to pitch your Hawaii-inspired movie if you’d like to participate as a filmmaker, but the rest of us mere mortals will be treated to a smorgasbord of tropical cinema come November. A cultural gem of this kind set against an inimitable backdrop isn’t up for grabs every other day, so it’s enough reason to start preparing for the trip of a lifetime.

To whet your appetite for the spectacle, here’s our pick of films produced or set in Hawaii. Bring out the popcorn and get cosy in front of the silver screen to get your fix of Hawaiian adventure – and start taking notes for sketching your own!


1. From Here to Eternity (1953)

A classic from the golden age of cinema, From Here to Eternity is the oldest film on this list. Starring movie icons Burt Lancaster, Frank Sinatra, Montgomery Clift and Deborah Kerr and winner of 8 Oscars, this flick follows US military forces stationed in Hawaii a few weeks before the attack on Pearl Harbor. Historical drama, picaresque romance and insightful character study are interwoven into many indelible images of a picture-perfect Hawaii.

2. Godzilla (2014)

This remake of the original jaw-dropper in the giant lizard’s clasp pays homage to the genre and features a star-studded contemporary cast that will delight its audience. Godzilla is the King of the Monsters and is back in full form to challenge a Navy bomb expert and his estranged father into combating enemies to human survival. Chaos is unleashed on Honolulu when the monstrous creature descends on Hawaii – but we’re not spoiling the rest for you! Packed with exhilarating action, Godzilla also drives a boldly fable-like stream of self-reflection home.


3. Lilo and Stitch (2002)

Lilo and Stitch is light-hearted enough for kids to be entertained yet thoughtful in good measure to hold adults with its charm. Featuring an Elvis Presley-laced score and many tender, offbeat moments, Lilo and Stitch is the adventure shared by its titular characters. Lilo is the little hula girl oozing “aloha spirit” and Stitch is the loveable alien monster that she accidentally adopts, making for plenty of amiable interaction and Disney-style plot turns. 

4. Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008)

Kristen Bell, Jason Segel and Russell Brand headline this comical premise that finds a love triangle imploding in a Hawaii hotel. Segel plays the struggling musician recently dumped by the blonde belle for the ruggedly handsome and outspoken Brand. The ensuing comedy of errors is an unlikely scenario you’ll find no trouble equating with your funniest relationship foibles!

5. Punch-Drunk Love (2002)

A mature film with an artfully pensive and sensitive touch, this Paul Thomas Anderson movie gifts us with an unusually sober performance from Adam Sandler. The protagonist is a socially impaired businessman who falls for his sister’s demure, witty colleague, played by Emily Watson. Conflict arises when Sandler’s character becomes the target for identity fraud and extortion by a group of thugs. An encounter in Hawaii frames this quirkily sentimental film’s climax.


6. Pearl Harbor (2001)

This movie made the battle famous, and bar several historical inaccuracies, it remains the most popular and well-known cinematic entry with ties to Hawaii. A formidable action sequence portraying the Pearl Harbor bombing by Japanese military is wrapped into an epic love affair that overshadows the otherwise serious tone of the whole film. If you’re willing to shut one critical eye in favour of a stellar cast in standard Hollywood mode, you won’t be disappointed.

7. 50 First Dates (2004)

Adam Sandler makes yet another appearance, this time in tune with Drew Barrymore as his love interest with a short-term memory problem. He’s doomed to be forgotten each day they meet in Hawaii so their relationship starts anew daily. Goofy oddballs are destined to be drawn closer together by a series of hilarious incidents on the island. 99 minutes of very good fun for anyone who appreciates American comedy.

8. North Shore (1987)

Hawaii is a magnet for surfers from all over the world and this young surfer’s story made waves way beyond Hawaiian shores. This coming-of-age film sees a boy from Arizona pack his bags for the big blue crests of the island, only to be pushed around by the local surfing community. He befriends an ageing mentor who imparts his wisdom on life and love alongside a sharper knack for real Hawaiian surf.


9. The Descendants (2011)

Far from the stereotyped Hawaii of solders, surf and tropical postcards, this film lends the island a socially responsible, realistic lens through which to view contemporary issues from an enlightened standpoint. George Clooney is the heir to a handsome section of virgin Hawaiian land and a descendant of indigenous and colonial aristocracy on the island. He’s also a real estate lawyer with a family collapsing under the pressure of his indifference, and through his saga we’re invited to observe a Hawaii off the beaten tourist track. A raw, honest slice of Hawaiian life is the main course on the menu.

10. Tropic Thunder (2008)

Shot in Hawaii despite being set in southeast Asia, Tropic Thunder finds a gang of slapstick actors abandoned by their exasperated director in the middle of the jungle, where they now have to channel their acting skills to dodge the dangers lurking in their path. Heavily influenced by the Vietnam war film tradition, this was Hawaii’s biggest film production to date – taking place on the island of Kaua'i over a timespan of 13 weeks. Mayhem chases the troupe until they stumble upon a serendipitous ending.