Hawaii has been used as a literal green screen for many action movies and comedy flicks over the decades. But the explosive blockbuster Tropic Thunder brought a mixture of both to the island of Kauai. So while the “Garden Isle” is one of the most serene islands you’ll find in Hawaii, the following Tropic Thunder filming locations were anything but during the time of filming.
The film stars Ben Stiller (who also directs), Robert Downey Jr., Steve Coogan and Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle’s Jack Black, as well as hilarious and unrecognizable in the role Tom Cruise. It centers on the shooting of a war movie whose actors are dropped in a real jungle to make for a more believable film. But the group soon ends up in the middle of a real-life warzone where they’re forced to rely on their prima donna acting skills to survive.
Tropic Thunder filming locations range from one extreme to the other, but perhaps this is usually the case when filming on an island like Kauai. Many scenes were shot on private land and most of the film’s jungle scenes were filmed in more remote locations, such as the dense backwoods of the Wailua Falls area. Whether it’s private or not, each location serves up visually ravishing slices of the Kauai landscape.
Kauai Ranch Location
Kauai Ranch is located near Lihue Airport on the eastern shore and is used primarily for filming locations. The private ranch occupies a jaw-dropping 4,300 acres of varied landscape, and offers both oceanic and mountainous views. Sadly, though, it isn’t open to tourists as it caters exclusively for film crews.
Kipu Ranch Location
Kipu Ranch was also used for the film, and unlike Kauai Ranch it is open to the public. Fans of the George Clooney film The Descendants will recognize parts of this ranch as Matt King’s privately-owned piece of land on screen. But if you’re a fan of Tropic Thunder, too, this might just be the perfect Tropic Thunder filming location for you, because you can become part of the action with activities that include ATV tours.
Hanalei Bay Resort Location
If you did like The Descendants then you’ll no doubt be familiar with the North Shore’s Hanalei Bay Resort as well, which to no surprise hosted Tropic Thunder. This lavish and luxurious resort also served Soul Surfer and Forgetting Sarah Marshall, making it no stranger to Hollywood. It’s one of the most relaxing places you’ll find along the North Shore where you can uncover some truly incredible oceanfront views.
Keahua Arboretum Location
Keahua Arboretum is a part of Kauai that’s truly immersive – but not in the way that the film’s characters are immersed into deep and dangerous jungles, so don’t worry. It’s located on the eastern side of Wailua where you can enjoy picnic sites, horseback riding and hiking and mountain biking trails. The incredibly lush Kuilau Ridge Trail (that turns into the Moalepe Trail) even offers views of one of Kauai’s majestic centerpieces, Mount Wai’ale’ale.
Tropic Thunder was the largest production Kauai had ever seen at the time. This is impressive considering the island had already catered for several Hollywood blockbusters, from 1976’s King Kong through to Jurassic Park in 1993. In fact, it’s widely believed that the film helped put Kauai back on Hollywood’s radar, as it has since hosted the likes of the two box office juggernauts Jurassic World and Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom and a long line of comedies, dramas, rom-coms and thrillers.
While on the subject of movies filmed in Hawaii but not actually set there, you’ve probably guessed by now that Tropic Thunder isn’t set in Hawaii – it actually takes place in Vietnam. However, Kauai’s dramatic weather and turbulent terrain proved challenging for the film crew during production. This is somewhat ironic given that these were the two reasons the island was likened to the Vietnam jungles in the first place.
The film’s director and star Ben Stiller spent almost two months exploring every corner of the island by foot, car, boat and plane, long before shooting began. You don’t need to be a famous actor to do the same, though – you can just couple this article with our very own Kauai Travel Guide. So it’s fair to say that these show-stealing Tropic Thunder filming locations will put a pretty big smile on your face, even if the film doesn’t make you laugh all that much.
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.