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Top 5 beach movies of all time

By Ben Grove, Staff writer
Published On: Jun 15 2011 09:43:59 AM CDT
Updated On: Jun 11 2014 09:09:33 AM CDT
Chairs on beach with umbrella, vacation

Like so many winter-weary tourists trekking to the shore this summer, Hollywood is drawn to the beach.

And why not? It has been the setting of some of the movie industry's most memorable scenes ever -- where Frankie Avalon crooned, big-name stars were marooned, and a young Brooke Shields frolicked in a blue lagoon.

The beach is where bullies beat up the "Karate Kid," where John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John fell in love in "Grease" and where Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr made out in the surf in one of the hottest kisses in film history.

Over the decades, beaches have been a favorite Hollywood setting for everything from coming-of-age flicks to stunning documentaries and summer romances -- from innocent Annette Funicello films to the far, far steamier.

If you can't get to a sandy shore this summer, let the movies take you there.

Here are five of the best beach movies ever.

Tom Hanks in Cast Away

No. 5: "Cast Away" (2000)

This is arguably the purest beach movie ever made -- a film in which the beach itself is a major character -- the chief antagonist to Tom Hanks' character Chuck Noland.

After a shockingly bone-jarring plane crash, the movie plunges into scenes devoid of dialogue as Noland struggles with the beach for survival. He desperately tries to open a coconut, spells out HELP in huge letters in the sand and ultimately learns to spear fish.

Gradually, Noland fades into the scenery as he transforms from a tubby time-obsessed FedEx analyst to a gaunt but savvy denizen of the beach -- a natural part of the sandy landscape.

An obvious honorable mention for another movie in which the beach itself played a starring role would be "The Blue Lagoon" (1980), with a lush setting so beautiful it was upstaged only by Brooke Shields and earned an Academy Award nomination for cinematography.

Elvis Presley in Blue Hawaii

No. 4: "Blue Hawaii" (1961)

Elvis Presley is remembered for dreamy love songs and establishment-rattling rock-and-roll. But he was also a Hollywood beach stud, appearing in the likes of "Girls Girls Girls" (1962), "Paradise Hawaiian Style" (1966) and "Clambake" (1967).

"Blue Hawaii" was the first of his beach-bod-bearing roles and was perhaps the biggest commercial success of his film career. Sure, the story is kind of lame -- Presley's Chad returns from the Army and rebels against his father, refusing to go to work at dad's [eye roll here] ... pineapple business.

But the musical comedy is a time capsule of a simpler era, brilliantly lit by sunny nostalgia, and it amounts to a cheesy but fun bit of film.

It also has some beautiful beach scenery for its time and includes 14 songs that helped make the soundtrack a Billboard chart topper, including "Can't Help Falling In Love." Angela Lansbury co-stars in an over-the-top role as Elvis' mother.

Gidget movie image

No. 3: "Gidget" (1959)

"Gidget" pioneered the summer beach flick and in many minds is synonymous with the genre.

Audiences fell in love with the spunky character played by Sandra Dee, who falls for surfer Moondoggie, played by James Darren. A young Cliff Robertson stars as The Kahuna.

The movie is often credited with bringing a surfing subculture to the mainstream. Gidget was followed by two sequels and launched a TV show starring Sally Field. It pioneered a long string of beach party and romance movies, including Frankie Avalon/Annette Funicello romps "Beach Party," "Bikini Beach" and "Beach Blanket Bingo."

Ultimately, Gidget helped pave the way for the likes of more modern girl-power beach movies, including the surfer-chick film "Blue Crush" (2002), which suffered from a trite plot but helped make a star of actress Kate Bosworth with spectacular surf scenes.

Endless Summer movie poster

No. 2: "Endless Summer" (1966)

The beach has served as a backdrop for a long string of surfing documentaries. More recent notables include "Riding Giants" (2004), a vivid history of big-wave riders, and "Step Into Liquid" (2003), which features unforgettable surfing footage and gets inside the heads of wave riders as it follows them to their favorite beaches.

But the pioneer of the genre is still one of the best.

"Endless Summer" is also a fun historical snapshot of the sunny side of the 1960s. The movie follows two American surfers as they travel the world in search of the perfect wave, an adventure that takes them to Africa, Australia, New Zealand and Hawaii.

Filmmaker Bruce Brown narrates the film with humor and a sincere fondness for the surf and the planet's beaches.

Y Tu Mama Tambien movie image

No. 1: "Y Tu Mama Tambien" (2001)

The coming-of-age plotline is a staple of the beach movie. It's been done well by Jan-Michael Vincent and Gary Busey in surfer-favorite "Big Wednesday" (1978), by Matt Dillon in "The Flamingo Kid" (1984), and to a certain degree, by Keanu Reeves in "Point Break" (1991).

But "Y Tu Mama Tambien" (2001), explores the coming-of-age theme in raw, powerful new ways. It follows two teens in Mexico on the cusp of adulthood played by Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna, on an impulsive road trip with an older woman in search of a mysterious secluded beach.

The movie was released unrated in the U.S. due to its stark sexuality -- this is no "Gidget." But it artfully reveals a number of broader social issues as well as a timeless tale of young men on a journey from lusty teens to manhood.

Critics almost unanimously praised the movie: "originality writ large" (Washington Post) and "fast, funny, unafraid of sexuality and finally devastating" (The New York Times).