The 10 Worst Films and Television Shows Shot in Hawai‘i
From Marvel’s “Inhumans” to “Magnum, P.I.,” we rank the biggest movies and series ever filmed in the Islands.
Photo: Courtesy of Darren Michaels – © 2003 Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc.
From Waikīkī Beach to downtown Honolulu to the Nā Pali Coast, Hawai‘i has served as a backdrop for hundreds of feature films and television shows over the decades. Sometimes the Islands are playing themselves, sometimes they’re a stand-in for the jungles of Nigeria (Tears of the Sun), wartime Vietnam (Tropic Thunder), Jurassic Park’s Isla Nublar or an arena for The Hunger Games.
Here’s a roundup of our 10 favorite and least favorite movies and shows filmed in Hawai‘i, based on production quality, cultural impact, effect on the state and respect for the Islands. We’ve excluded television specials (like Elvis Presley’s 1973 Aloha from Hawai‘i via Satellite), Hawai‘i-themed episodes of TV shows (everything from The Brady Bunch to Mad Men) and programs that take place in Hawai‘i but weren’t actually filmed here (even 2002’s animated Lilo & Stitch was primary illustrated in Florida, and 2012’s Cloud Atlas featured a futuristic Kona that was actually filmed on a Mediterranean island). Let us know your thoughts in the comments, and pick up a copy of HONOLULU’s October issue to read more about the local film industry, including an interview with Moana screenwriters Aaron and Jordan Kandell.
10. Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates (2016)
To find dates for their sister’s upcoming wedding in Hawai‘i, frat boy liquor salesmen Mike (Adam Devine) and Dave (Zac Efron) post an ad on Craigslist and attract party girls Alice (Anna Kendrick) and Tatiana (Aubrey Plaza) who are looking for a free vacation. This mindless sex comedy doesn’t do much in the way of making clever use of Hawai‘i’s surroundings. Most of the movie shows the characters hanging around Turtle Bay, where the actors actually stayed while filming, and driving ATVs through Kualoa Ranch.
Most Iconic Hawai‘i Scene: When Tatiana throws herself in front of a car to attract the brothers’ attention outside O’Toole’s Irish Pub in downtown Honolulu, then the foursome all go inside for a beer. Sounds like your typical night at O’Toole’s.
9. Battleship (2012)
Inspired by the Milton Bradley board game, the film adaptation of Battleship swaps dueling Navy fleets for alien invaders that crash in the Pacific during RIMPAC and trap the Hawaiian Islands under a domed force field. We love the fact that the “battleship” of the film’s title turns out to be the USS Missouri, and the scene where Greatest Generation sailors, played by actual Korean War and World War II veterans, restore the Mighty Mo and take it out for one last naval engagement. But one epic sequence isn’t enough to save this formulaic and brainless movie that ultimately tanked.
Most Iconic Hawai‘i Scene: The USS Missouri casting off from Pearl Harbor; the ship was actually towed out to shoot the scene. Hooyah!
8. Waterworld (1995)
Like Battlefield Earth and Gigli, Waterworld is sometimes listed among the worst films of all time. It’s not great, starring Kevin Costner as “The Mariner,” a mutant drifter with gills and webbed feet who goes searching for dry land in a future where sea levels have risen 25,000 feet. (Think Mad Max set on the Pacific Ocean instead of in the Australian Outback.) Despite the bad press from being the most expensive film ever made at the time, with a $170 million-plus budget, Waterworld does get credit for becoming profitable from release on video and post-cinema sales. And the film’s production, shot primarily in the waters around Hawai‘i, brought an estimated $35 million to the state’s economy.
Most Iconic Hawai‘i Scene: The characters ultimately finding dry land at the top of a lush Mount Everest (filmed in Waipi‘o Valley on Hawai‘i Island).
7. Roseanne’s Nuts (2011)
This short-lived Lifetime reality show followed Roseanne Barr, who purchased a 46-acre macadamia nut farm on Hawai‘i Island’s Hāmākua Coast in 2007 and moved there in 2010 with her partner, Johnny Argent. Most episodes, Barr picked nuts from her 2,000 trees, bemoaned Hollywood and hollered at the goats (which were hers) and the wild pigs (which were not) that roamed the farm. “Mostly it’s just Roseanne being Roseanne on a macadamia nut farm,” wrote Salt Lake Tribune critic Scott Pierce in his review of the show. After a single 16-episode season, Lifetime pulled the plug on the series.
Most Iconic Hawai‘i Scene: Barr singing the national anthem at a Hilo softball game. It’s more respectable than her infamous 1990 attempt, but still pretty terrible.
6. Snatched (2017)
Goldie Hawn and Amy Schumer star as a mother and daughter trying to reconnect on vacation when they get kidnapped for ransom in Snatched. Hawai‘i doubles as multiple South American countries in the movie; at one point, the title card says “Ecuador,” then we cut to The Kāhala Hotel. While it’s nice to see some local faces amongst the cast—2014 Miss Hawai‘i USA Moani Hara as “Hot Woman” and 24 and Last Resort actor Daniel Bess as the front desk clerk—it’s a little depressing that Wai‘anae has a starring role as the violent ghettos of Colombia. And at the end of the film, the big showdown is weirdly set in the loading zone of Love’s Bakery.
Most Iconic Hawai‘i Scene: Amy Schumer’s Emily sharing a drink with handsome stranger James (Tom Bateman) at the bar at Mina’s Fish House.
5. Dog the Bounty Hunter (2004–2012)
After Duane “Dog” Chapman first made headlines in 2003 for capturing serial rapist Andrew Luster in Puerto Vallarta (and subsequently getting arrested and enduring a lengthy extradition trial because bounty hunting is a crime in Mexico), he created his own television show on A&E. From Da Kine Bail Bonds, the mulleted bail bondsman, wife Beth and other family members attempted to recapture escaped fugitives all over Hawai‘i and Colorado, offering platitudes like “go with Christ” and “where mercy is shown, mercy is given.” Dog mostly meant well, but his show largely painted the Islands as a place filled with bail jumpers and drug addicts. It’s true that meth use in Hawai‘i was four times that of the national average (according to a 2010 survey) and in 2017, there were nearly 251 violent crimes per 100,000 people in Hawai‘i. But did we really need eight seasons of Dog grabbing people and hauling them to jail?
Most Iconic Hawai‘i Scene: Take your pick from courthouses, police stations and people’s homes.
4. 50 First Dates (2004)
Set on O‘ahu’s North Shore, 50 First Dates follows a Sea Life Park veterinarian (played by Adam Sandler) who falls in love with a woman afflicted with anterograde amnesia, which makes her believe every day is the same Sunday. Although this romantic comedy showed health care providers a new way to help treat amnesia and dementia patients (by having them watch comforting videos from family members each morning), 50 First Dates is still a troubling movie. It ends with Lucy (Drew Barrymore) waking up and finding she’s married to a man she doesn’t know and has a kid with, and they’re on a boat bound for Alaska.
Then there’s the cringeworthy character of Ula (Rob Schneider), the “Hawaiian” best friend of Adam Sandler’s character, who dances a meaningless hula and bemoans his marriage to an overweight wife. We take serious issue with portraying a caricature of a Native Hawaiian as a slovenly bumpkin.
Most Iconic Hawai‘i Scene: Adam Sandler’s character getting repeatedly rejected at the fictional Hukilau Café, much to the amusement of the chef (played by Kamehameha Schools grad Pomaika‘i Brown) and a restaurant regular played by Joe Nakashima (who, in real life, was detained in an internment camp after the attack on Pearl Harbor, later joined the military and served in Europe during WWII).
3. Pearl Harbor (2001)
Director Michael Bay originally intended for Pearl Harbor to graphically simulate the horrors of warfare and accurately portray the harrowing events on the morning of Dec. 7, 1941. Unfortunately, what could’ve been a powerful period war drama turned into just another bombastic action flick. Pearl Harbor was a financial success when it debuted in 2001 but the film was appropriately criticized for taking liberties (like pinning the exploits of real soldiers onto fictionalized characters) and jarring factual misrepresentations, at one point depicting Japanese aircraft as deliberately targeting the U.S. naval hospital’s medical staff.
Tying a romantic subplot to a horrific historical event may have worked for Titanic but at least in that film, director James Cameron also heavily researched his subject matter, employing historians to analyze his screenplay for accuracy and paying meticulous attention to detail through the production process. Compare that to Pearl Harbor, where Army Air Forces 2nd Lt. Kenneth Taylor (who supposedly inspired Ben Affleck’s character in the film but was not consulted during the production) reportedly called the movie “a piece of trash.” Ouch.
Most Iconic Hawai‘i Scene: If you can find one, let us know.
2. Inhumans (2017)
Ugh, where to begin? This Marvel television series, about a royal family of superhumans forced from their secret city on the moon into exile in Hawai‘i, was unimaginative, colorless and bland. Inhumans was an attempt to ride a wave of similar programs in Marvel’s shared “cinematic universe” (think shows such as Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Daredevil and Jessica Jones) but despite an otherworldly premise, the show never got off the ground. True, Inhumans was dealt a rough hand to begin with: The main characters include a king whose voice is so powerful he’s forced to remain silent at all times, a queen with magic hair and a giant teleporting bulldog. Bad acting and an overreliance on cheesy CGI, from the lunar city to the truck-sized pooch, didn’t help. Inhumans was mercifully pulled after just one season.
Most Iconic Hawai‘i Scene: King “Black Bolt” shoplifting a suit at a men’s clothing store (filmed at Leather Soul downtown), getting approached by cops driving the wrong way up Bishop Street, then approached by more cops driving the wrong way down Merchant Street before getting beat up and groaning loud enough to flip a cop car with his sonic voice.
1. Aloha (2015)
Intended to be a “love letter” to Hawai‘i, Cameron Crowe’s romantic comedy—about a military contractor who reconnects with a former flame while in Hawai‘i to negotiate a deal with Native Hawaiians and help launch a private satellite—received a huge backlash when it debuted in 2015 due to the casting of Emma Stone as a character of one-quarter Hawaiian and one-quarter Chinese descent. But even without the whitewashing controversy, Aloha is still just really terrible. The plot is basically a rehash of Crowe’s earlier film Elizabethtown, where a guy at rock bottom meets a quirky girl whose sole purpose in the movie is to help him learn to “feel” again. A stellar cast that includes Bradley Cooper, Rachel McAdams, Bill Murray, Alec Baldwin and Stone (as Allison Ng) can’t save this movie, with its nonexistent character development, forced poignancy and jumbled narrative structure. To add insult to injury, the 2014 Sony hack revealed Aloha’s previous working titles, which included Deep Tiki, Payload in Paradise, Spirit of Hawai‘i and Volcano Romance. Yuck.
What places Aloha at the top (worst) spot on this list isn’t just the fact that it’s a bad movie or that it badly represents Hawai‘i. The problem is that Aloha pretends it’s from here and that it understands local culture. At a time when the global film industry is making a bigger push than ever to include greater diversity, indigenous storytellers and filmmakers are at the forefront, and knowledge about Hawaiian history and culture has never been more accessible, a movie calling itself Aloha should’ve done better by the Islands it claims to celebrate. Instead, the film was rejected by critics and audiences alike. Stone sums it up best with a line of dialogue in the film: “You sold your soul so many times, nobody’s buying anymore.”
Most Iconic Hawai‘i Scene: Beats me. I think Aloha’s best scene, not surprisingly, has nothing to do with Hawai‘i. It’s just Bill Murray, dancing with Stone. Because Bill Murray dancing is awesome.