When it comes to film, there might be no place in the world that’s quite as versatile as Hawaii. Whether it’s the deeply rich landscape of the Na Pali Coast on Kauai’s North Shore, or the timeless wonder that is Ka’a’awa Valley in Kualoa Ranch, Hawaii simply knows no bounds, and can adapt to almost anything. In fact, the islands’ landscape is as versatile as the kind of movies that are filmed in Hawaii – in other words, there is no particular “type”.
Since 1993 it has served pictures about dinosaurs, but going even further back to 1976 it has hosted giant apes, too. Romantic comedies and adventure movies are perhaps among the most dominant, though, but Hawaii is also no stranger to some of the most popular television shows, such as Magnum, P.I., TV Series Lost and Hawaii 5-0. So, from real life to science fiction, here’s a collection of handpicked memorable movies and TV shows that were filmed in Hawaii.
1. Jurassic Park (1993)
Back in 1993, sci-fi masterpiece Jurassic Park broke new ground with its impressive animatronic and computer effects. The film masterfully interweaves wonder and horror, all the while leaving you awe-struck with its startlingly-lifelike animals. Now, 25 years on and the film truly stands the test of time, both in its storytelling and its visuals. Following its success, the cinematic landscape quickly evolved, but what hasn’t changed are the Hawaiian locations where it was filmed.
For starters, there are several Jurassic Park spots throughout Kauai. One in particular will see you standing at the foot of the majestic Manawaiopuna Falls – “Jurassic Falls” – in Hanapepe Valley, with Island Helicopters offering an exclusive touchdown. Oahu is no less popular, either, as Kualoa Ranch runs the Premier Movie Site Tour on which you can enjoy other iconic locations from the film including Ka’a’awa Valley – known also as “Jurassic Valley”.
2. Kong Skull Island (2017)
Caught between two Jurassic sequels, 2017 seemed like the right year for prehistoric beasts of another nature to take over Hawaii. As both a Kong reboot and follow-up to Godzilla (2014), Kong: Skull Island differs greatly to the story you might be familiar with, even if it does, in part at least, re-tread the basic premise of a team of humans searching for the legendary ape. But its deviation from formula is refreshing, and, much like Kong himself, stands tall on its own two feet.
If you want to walk in Kong’s (giant) footsteps, Hawaii is the place to do it. Kualoa Ranch’s Premier Movie Site Tour includes the prehistoric boneyard from the film, home to (artificial) remnants of dinosaurs and giant apes – where you’ll agree that there’s no way the beauty of Hawaii killed these beasts. As for many of the film’s epic rainforest, valley and mountain scenes, they were filmed at Waikane Valley’s Ohulehule Forest Conservancy on Oahu.
3. TV Series Lost (2004 – 2010)
There’s a clear pattern when it comes to filming locations in Hawaii. After all, it seems to be a hot spot for films and TV shows whose concepts involve remote, ancient or lost islands. In the many years since TV Series Lost ended – the show about a group of marooned survivors who must face the terrifying secrets of a mysterious island – it has earned a huge cult following, which owes thanks to its brain-bending plot twists, shocking revelations and colorful roster of characters.
Despite many unanswered questions – which you can at least now take delight in filling with your own theories – one thing that’s no mystery is that the show was filmed in Hawaii. Oahu’s Papailoa Beach (now known also as “Lost Survivors Beach Camp”) and YMCA Camp Erdman (“The Others Village”) are just two of many locations used throughout Oahu. So if TV Series Lost’s filming locations evoke as much intrigue for you as the show, then get “lost” in Hawaii.
4. Jurassic World (2015)
Jurassic World is the long-awaited sequel in which the park is finally open to the public (doomed to fail, of course). Not only was it a return to form for the franchise, it’s just what fans needed – a fun, action-fuelled, nostalgia-powered blockbuster. But dig a little deeper and you’ll find that the plot to reinvigorate guest interest in the park ingeniously mirrors real-world “franchise fatigue”. If you’d like to draw more visual parallels, though, the ‘real’ Jurassic World that is Hawaii awaits.
Jurassic World is the fourth film in the franchise, but it’s the first to return to the original setting of the fictional Isla Nublar. Paying homage to the 1993 original, the film includes shots of the Na Pali Coast on Kauai’s North Shore as well as Hanapepe Valley’s Jurassic Falls. However, most scenes were shot on Oahu, which included Honolulu Zoo, Manoa Falls, Pearl Harbor’s Pacific Aviation Museum and, to no surprise, franchise-favorite Kualoa Ranch.
5. Soul Surfer (2011)
The story of Kauai surfer Bethany Hamilton is one that will likely never be forgotten, now thanks to the film Soul Surfer. And fortunately, it’s not one that’s remembered for its tragedy, but rather a girl’s sheer determination to surf again after losing her left arm in a shark attack. Based on Bethany’s autobiographical book, Soul Surfer is a truly uplifting picture about embracing life in the face of overwhelming odds and appreciating the beauty in everything.
Given the story’s setting, it won’t surprise you to learn that it was filmed in Hawaii. To mirror the real-life events, most scenes were filmed along Kauai’s stunning North Shore, such as Tunnels Beach, Kalalau Trail and Hanalei Bay. Turtle Bay Resort on Oahu’s North Shore also features in the film, as do a few fleeting shots of the Na Pali Coast. These pockets of paradise are simply begging to be explored, and their brilliant blue waters, too, if you’re an experienced surfer.
6. Predators (2010)
To say that Predators had big boots to fill is an understatement, but then they did belong to Arnold Schwarzenegger. Not only that, but Predator (1987) is a true classic – the perfect blend of action, tension, horror and science fiction. And while the third instalment takes place on a jungle game preserve on an alien planet, its bold shift in setting and much-needed expansion of the mythology are admirable, and render it one of the most underrated sequels there is.
Dense rainforests, striking coasts and thundering waterfalls? Yes – Predators was filmed in Hawaii. The filmmakers set out to search for places throughout Hawaii that offered an “alien” and “otherworldly” look, so consequently they settled for the deep and unforgiving rainforests of Hilo, and other locations such as Kolekole Beach Park and Hamakua Coast, on the Big Island of Hawaii. That said, shooting on location was never really an option…
7. Molokai: The Story of Father Damien (1999)
Molokai: The Story of Father Damien is a biographical snapshot of a Belgian priest’s time with the leper colony in Kalaupapa on Molokai. Here he devoted his life to bring to them a better quality of life in their darkest days, and where he would ultimately meet his demise after contracting the disease himself. Paul Cox’s adaptation of Hilde Eyrikel’s novel is easily one of the most important pictures to have been filmed in Hawaii, and one of the most moving, too.
Most of the film’s scenes were shot at the breathtaking sights of Kalaupapa Peninsula, where these circumstances actually took place in the later decades of the 19th century. Now part of the Kalaupapa National Historical Park, tours from hikes to mule rides are available. These excursions offer the opportunity for visitors to soak in the gorgeous sights of the island’s north shore, as well as to reflect on the hardships of both the lepers and those who devoted their lives to helping them.
8. Hawaii Five-0 (TV Series 2010)
It might come as no surprise that popular CBS show Hawaii Five-0 – revolving around an elite task force that faces crime of all shapes and sizes in Honolulu – is filmed in Hawaii. But while the show is grounded in “reality”, so to speak, there’s no shame – even for the most hard-core fans – in admitting that it’s as wacky as they come. After all, if you’re a Hawaiian resident, you’ll agree that Oahu is hardly plagued with bank robberies, serial killers, gang warfare and explosive helicopter pursuits (unless of course the real Hawaii 5-0 is that good).
What might surprise you, though, is that Hawaii Five-0 filming locations are mostly on Oahu, despite frequent off-island action. One of the most common culprits is Kualoa Ranch, which is called upon for jungle scenes. But for the most part, the action takes place in Honolulu, from beautiful Waikiki Bay to the historic Ali’iolani Hale in downtown (Hawaii 5-0’s HQ). With all that said, there’s no denying that, while this show is pretty farfetched, and putting all the homicides and explosions aside, it’s a wonderful celebration of Hawaii’s remarkable scenery.
9. The Descendants (2011)
Honolulu attorney Matt King’s seemingly-perfect life is turned upside down when his wife is put in a life-threatening condition after a boating accident. Meanwhile, he’s also under pressure to sell untouched Kauai land to real estate developers; a sale that would likely be detrimental to Kauai culture. Naturally, The Descendants was filmed in Hawaii, and not only that, but unlike other Hawaii-based films/shows like Hawaii Five-0, most of The Descendants filming locations were shot at the exact spots.
The film is almost split between Oahu and Kauai. During its time on the more populated of the two islands, locations include offshore Waikiki and Old Pali Road in Nu’uanu Punchbowl. On Kauai, however, you can expect montage after montage of the Garden Isle’s signature lush green landscapes, which include Hanalei Bay, Princeville and Kipu Ranch. Comparatively, The Descendants is a rather “small” film, but it certainly boasts some larger-than-life scenery. But more importantly, its message is bigger than any blockbuster.
10. Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (2017)
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is an explosive and hilarious action comedy that was filmed in Hawaii. Sequel to 1995’s Jumanji, which starred the late, great and legendary Robin Williams, the film sees Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson take the lead, while the more mystical side of Hawaii plays the titular jungle (luckily Johnson’s mountainous biceps don’t get in the way of the scenery too much). But while the film boasts an A-list cast, its remarkable filming locations are, arguably, the real stars of the show.
Hollywood regular Kualoa Ranch and its hugely-versatile Jurassic Valley take up most the screen time, while some of the area’s jungles also serve as… well, jungles. Other deep-forest shoots included North Shore’s Waimea Valley, Nu’uanu Valley’s Judd Trail and beyond. The cast and crew also ventured off-island to the Big Island for one of the film’s signature action sequences at Kawainui Falls, near Hilo. This film might “welcome you to Jumanji”, but these locations welcome you to Hawaii.
11. Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008)
Forgetting Sarah Marshall is perhaps one of the most popular and beloved romantic comedies that was filmed in Hawaii. It sees the devastated Peter Bretter (Jason Siegel) head to Oahu’s Turtle Bay Resort to get over his ex, where instead he bumps into her where she’s vacationing with her secret lover. But not all hope is lost for Peter when he also crosses paths with a beautiful receptionist. That, and of course he’s in Hawaii of all places.
Along with the Turtle Bay Resort, other notable locations include such North Shore wonders as Laie Point and Waialua Bay. In fact, unlike many other movies that are filmed in Hawaii, Forgetting Sarah Marshall spent most of its time on Oahu’s North Shore (with the exception of scenes that were shot in Los Angeles). But much like the film’s acting talents, the island’s northern coastline deserves this much screen time.
12. Tropic Thunder (2008)
Tropic Thunder is an action comedy that stars Ben Stiller and a huge line-up of A-list actors, all of whom play fictional A-list actors on screen. But when they’re thrust deep into the Vietnam jungles to shoot a film, it’s not all glitz and glamour. The “filming location” turns out to be a real warzone, and the actors are forced to survive using nothing but their talents (or, arguably, lack thereof). But don’t worry – Tropic Thunder was actually filmed in Hawaii.
Kauai became the film’s playground in 2007, and shoots were mainly focused towards the eastern side of the island at Kauai Ranch, Kipu Ranch, Keahua Arboretum and deep in the dense rainforests in the Wailua Falls area. The island was chosen to stand in for the Vietnam jungles because of similarities between the often tropical landscape and thunderous weather. While these two factors proved problematic for the filmmakers and cast, perhaps it’s how they came up with the name of the movie.
13. Jurassic Park III (2001)
Just like the two films in the series that precede it and the two that follow, Jurassic Park III was filmed in Hawaii. It stars Sam Neill, William H Macy and Tea Leoni, and sees the franchise return to the island where there were never any fences to start with, Isla Sorna. When their plane crash lands in the jungle, our characters’ operation goes from rescue to escape, and with several new species standing in their way it’s not going to be a walk in the park!
The franchise also returns to the aptly-named Jurassic Kahili Ranch on Kauai, but shooting was also extended to Oahu and this time Molokai. A wider Hawaiian shoot was the result of the film director’s decision to give the dinosaur-ridden Isla Sorna jungle a darker and denser look, and the open landscapes more mystical and fantastical. Visiting Isla Sorna probably wouldn’t be such a good idea in real life, but its real-life counterparts are far more welcoming.
14. Jurassic World Fallen Kingdom (2018)
Jurassic World Fallen Kingdom is easily one of the scariest entries since the original 1993 classic, but it actually serves as a direct sequel to Jurassic World. Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) and Owen Grady (Christ Pratt) must rescue as many dinosaurs as they can from Isla Nublar’s red-hot volcano, and also survive a deadly genetic hybrid back on the mainland. The fifth installment in the blockbuster franchise was filmed in Hawaii, just like its four predecessors.
This time locations included Papailoa Beach where a large set was built, He’eia State Park for all the jungle scenes and of course the infamous Kualoa Ranch for a particularly complex action sequence. It’s believed that this is the last time Hawaii will feature in a Jurassic movie, which makes sense given the island’s demise. But perhaps it may one day return for something in the way of a cameo, much like Jeff Goldblum’s role in Jurassic World Fallen Kingdom.
15. Lilo & Stitch (2002)
Lilo & Stitch is perhaps one of the few Hawaii-set films whose plot is as Hawaii-centric as its setting. Sure, it wasn’t exactly filmed in Hawaii, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t require just as much research as any other such film. The filmmakers took to Hawaii all the same, absorbing the scenery, the climate and, of course, the culture.
The film certainly ranks in the upper echelon of Disney’s classics, which is why there’s no surprise that its own live-action adaptation is on the horizon. Details on the project are slim, but looking at how little Disney’s live-action adaptations deviate from their animated counterparts in terms of setting and storytelling, it’s highly likely the Lilo & Stitch reboot will be filmed in Hawaii.
16. Magnum P.I. (2018)
The Magnum P.I. reboot stars Jay Hernandez as the title character, although you might remember the original 80s show starred Tom Selleck in the lead role. It isn’t the first Hawaii-based show to undergo the revival treatment – Hawaii Five-0 and MacGyver are other such reincarnations that are also filmed in Hawaii.
Magnum P.I. is a little more action-packed, though – no surprise considering it’s helmed by Justin Lin, of Fast & Furious fame. If you’ve seen the later films in that franchise, you’ll know that the director loves setting action sequences in stunning locations. And Magnum P.I. is no exception. You’ll visit Kualoa Ranch, Kaneohe Bay, Heeia Kea Jungle and an even a beautiful interstate.
Filmed in Hawaii – to be continued…
These are just a handful of the films and TV shows that have been filmed in Hawaii over the years. It’s becoming increasingly likely that you can’t step foot here without being on, or at least somewhere near, a filming location of some kind – which, of course, isn’t a bad thing. And if you’re a fan of film and television, nothing beats walking in the footsteps of some of your favorite characters or re-enacting iconic scenes – especially in Hawaii.
The Legend of the Hallowaiian is a 2018 animated movie that was produced by food company King’s Hawaiian. It may not have been filmed in Hawaii (naturally) – which is why it didn’t make it onto our list – but this fun and uplifting adventure is set on The Big Island.
Dan is a freelance writer from the UK who works for a number of online publications. He’s also working on a science fiction novel, and believes the impression Jurassic Park made on him as a child – both the Spielberg film and the book by Michael Crichton – to be the source of his passion to write. He previously critiqued theatrical releases for his local radio station, while his blog ‘Curious Rookie’ remains his platform for sharing film, travel and book reviews. Dan has also visited some of the most iconic film locations around the world, and his favorite destination is the island of Kauai in Hawaii.