Trip Ideas Home
Kauai: Undercover Movie Star
Though Kauai has played itself in the movies (you may remember Nicolas Cage frantically shouting "Is it Kapaa or Kapaa-a?" into a pay phone in Honeymoon in Vegas (1992), most of its screen time has been as a stunt double for a number of tropical paradises. The island's remote valleys and waterfalls portrayed Venezuelan jungle in Kevin Costner's Dragonfly (2002) and a Costa Rican dinosaur preserve in Steven Spielberg's Jurassic Park (1993). Spielberg was no stranger to Kauai, having filmed Harrison Ford's escape via seaplane from Menehune Fishpond in Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981). The fluted cliffs and gorges of Kauai's rugged Napali Coast play the misunderstood beast's island home in King Kong (1976), and a jungle dweller of another sort, in George of the Jungle (1997), frolicked on Kauai. Harrison Ford returned to the island for 10 weeks during the filming of Six Days, Seven Nights (1998), a romantic adventure set in French Polynesia. Part-time Kauai resident Ben Stiller used the island as a stand-in for the jungles of Vietnam in Tropic Thunder (2008) and Johnny Depp came here to film some of Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011). But these are all relatively contemporary movies. What's truly remarkable is that Hollywood discovered Kauai in 1933 with the making of White Heat, which was set on a sugar plantation and—like another more memorable movie filmed on Kauai—dealt with interracial love stories. In 1950, Esther Williams and Rita Moreno arrived to film Pagan Love Song, a forgettable musical. Then, it was off to the races, as Kauai saw no fewer than a dozen movies filmed on island in the 1950s, not all of them Oscar contenders. Rita Hayworth starred in Miss Sadie Thompson (1953) and no one you'd recognize starred in the tantalizing She Gods of Shark Reef (1956).
The movie that is still immortalized on the island in the names of restaurants, real estate offices, a hotel, and even a sushi item is South Pacific (1957). (You guessed it, right?) That mythical place called Bali Hai is never far away on Kauai. There's even an Off-Off-Off-Broadway musical version performed at the Kauai Beach Resort in Lihue.
In the 1960s Elvis Presley filmed Blue Hawaii (1961) and Girls! Girls! Girls! (1962) on the island. A local movie tour likes to point out the stain on a hotel carpet where Elvis's jelly doughnut fell.
Kauai has welcomed a long list of Hollywood's A-List: John Wayne in Donovan's Reef (1963); Jack Lemmon in The Wackiest Ship in the Army (1961); Richard Chamberlain in The Thorn Birds (1983); Gene Hackman in Uncommon Valor (1983); Danny DeVito and Billy Crystal in Throw Momma from the Train (1987); and Dustin Hoffman, Morgan Freeman, Renee Russo, and Cuba Gooding Jr. in Outbreak (1995).
Yet the movie scene isn't the only screen on which Kauai has starred. A long list of TV shows, TV pilots, and made-for-TV movies make the list as well, including Gilligan's Island, Fantasy Island, Starsky & Hutch, Baywatch-Hawaii—even reality TV shows The Bachelor and The Amazing Race 3.
For the record, just because a movie did some filming here doesn't mean the entire movie was filmed on Kauai. Honeymoon in Vegas filmed just one scene here, while the murder mystery A Perfect Getaway (2009) was set on the famous Kalalau Trail and featured beautiful Kauaian backdrops but was shot mostly in Puerto Rico.