Tropic Thunder

Weekend Roundtable: Tropical Movies

I’m currently buried under a couple feet of snow and the forecast calls for more next week. Right about now, the prospect of watching Lara Croft adventure through an island jungle seems pretty appealing. Let’s look at some of our other favorite movies with a tropical setting.

Shannon Nutt

When it comes to tropical locations, you’ll not see nothing like ‘The Mighty Quinn‘, a 1989 crime drama starring a young up-and-coming actor by the name of Denzel Washington. Washington stars as police chief Xavier Quinn, who’s investigating a murder where the prime suspect happens to be his childhood best friend, Maubee (Robert Townsend).

The tropical location is never mentioned in the film, but the movie was shot in Jamaica. While not Denzel’s first time on the big screen, this was his first post-‘St. Elsewhere’ appearance, one of his first starring roles, and the one of the first that showed his commanding presence as an actor. Denzel went on to bigger and better things, but ‘The Mighty Quinn’ remains one of my favorite films with him as the lead.

Brian Hoss

With major moments in movies like ‘GoldenEye’ and ‘Casino Royale’, it’s tempting to describe the bulk of the James Bond franchise as my favorite tropical location. But really, nobody, not even ‘Austin Powers’, does a journey to the tropics better than ‘Dr. No‘.

As a huge Bond fan, I’m partial to the movie in both its originating state and in the way it differs from the more formulaic sequels, but as a tropical destination, the Jamaica of the film is an enticing mix of touristy wonder and true exotic locale. There’s something about how Bond starts with the airport and car ride, the hotel, and even the government house, to then venture further and further away from the familiar British trappings and into the more natural setting, that appeals strongly to me.

Luke Hickman

When I think of cinematic tropical locations, the first to come to mind are those in ‘Jurassic Park‘. Isla Nublar, the fictional island set off the coast of Costa Rica, is brought to life via the 50th place to receive statehood in the United States – Hawaii. While the outdoor scenes in the film seem so prominent, I was surprised to learn that the on-location Hawaii shoot only lasted for three weeks. The locations are so iconic that any time they get used in other films and TV shows (’50 First Dates’, ‘Lost’, and many others), I’m distracted and brought back to ‘Jurassic Park’.

Adam Tyner (DVDTalk)

I’m on at least my fourth home video release of ‘Predator‘, dating back to my Laserdisc days. It just holds this siren song over me as few other films have. Even with a small stack of ‘Predator’ discs within arm’s reach, it’s really the only movie I own and yet will still watch when it comes on TV. Even if I were channel-surfing and ‘Predator’ was already 40 minutes in, I’d stop flipping around and would have to see it through to the end. It’s compulsively rewatchable from basically any point, and I haven’t come across another flick that can do that to me.

‘Predator’ is a perfect action movie. (I’d say the same about director John McTiernan’s follow-up, ‘Die Hard’, released barely over a year later.) Chief among its strengths are the incredible creature effects, the thermal imaging P.O.V. photography that ensures that the title alien feels that much more extraterrestrial, its perfectly paced adoption of the slasher/body count formula, a hell of a cast, and its endlessly quotable dialogue.

Perhaps its tropical setting wouldn’t top most fans’ lists, but ‘Predator’ certainly wouldn’t be the same movie without it. This Central American jungle is a punishing, unfamiliar, and practically otherworldly adversary in its own right. (And, of course, it ultimately proves to be an ally as well.) It’s never in doubt that ‘Predator’ was shot on location; that impenetrable foliage, hopeless isolation, steaming heat, and breathtaking plunge down the waterfall could never be replicated on a sound stage. Its sequel suffered from more flaws than I’d care to count, but shifting the setting from the jungle to a more familiar locale was a particularly disastrous misfire.

Josh Zyber

Brian took my my first pick of ‘Dr. No’, dammit, so I’m just going to rattle off some titles as I think of them.

‘Tomb Raider’ is of course an Indiana Jones knockoff. We’d be foolish not to mention ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark‘, which opens with such an exciting set-piece in a Central American jungle.

That also brings to mind Robert Zemeckis’ very fun Indy riff ‘Romancing the Stone‘.

Pretty much any Vietnam movie would qualify: ‘Apocalypse Now‘, ‘Platoon‘, etc.

And that must lead to ‘Tropic Thunder‘, Ben Stiller’s riotously funny satire about a film crew trying to make a Vietnam movie. I haven’t especially cared for any of the other movies Stiller has directed, but that one’s hilarious.

Your Turn

What are your favorite movies set in the tropics? Tell us in the Comments.

15 comments

  1. Csm101

    I’ll have to go with Castaway and the Pirates of the Caribbean movies.
    What a fitting topic! I myself will be cruising to tropical locations for the week starting tomorrow. The only thing that makes me sad about that is that I will be missing the first showings and reviews for Pacific Rim: Uprising.

  2. Bolo

    ‘Apocalypto’ – Mel Gibson directs a brutal action movie that gets tons of mileage out of its cultural and geographic setting. The visuals are memorable and feel quite authentic, and the action beats are very inventive. It’s a fun ride.

  3. Chris B

    The prospect of watching Alicia Vikander do pretty much ANYTHING for two hours sounds pretty appealing to me tbh.

    Skull Island gets my vote. Saw it in the theater last year and loved it, due for a re-watch…maybe this weekend.

  4. plissken99

    Predator indeed sprang immediately to mind. I’ll also agree that it and Die Hard are perfect action movies, blueprints for the genre they are.

    • Pedram

      I 100% agree with you and Aaron. Predator instantly came to mind when I read tropical setting. It and Die Hard are superb examples of how action movies should be made. They are both easily in my top 5 action movies from the 80s (and maybe even top 3).
      McTiernan hasn’t worked in a long time, but he recently made a trailer for the Ghost Recon video game that shows he still has it. I wish he’d make another movie.

  5. Ynot

    John Boorman’s The Emerald Forest has haunted me for 30 + years. Probably haven’t seen it in a decade and this topic has reminded me to search it out and watch it again.

  6. TRK2

    The Mission, a beautiful film that’s a treat visually and audibly. Also the overlooked The Mosquito Coast which has a great performance by Harrison Ford.

  7. photogdave

    Fitzcarraldo, or better yet, Burden of Dreams which documents its making.
    On the lighter side there is really only one choice…Captain Ron! Get me another brewski Swab!

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