The 15 Best Movies Featuring an Island Setting

best movies on an island

“Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale,
A tale of a fateful trip
That started from this tropic port
Aboard this tiny ship.”

“Gilligan’s Island” is probably not considered at TV classic, but it was part of the escapist 1960s charm which also brought us Bewitched and I Dream of Jeannie. It’s hard to believe the show ran only three seasons. Seems like it would have been a lot more. Rumors have persisted over the years of a big-screen adaptation of the series, but has not materialized as of yet.

Who would you cast if you were making the movie today? One of my favorite things to do is pick “dream casts” for projects like this, so here goes:

Eddie Redmayne as Gilligan
John Goodman as The Skipper
Michael Keaton as The Professor
Michael Caine as Thurston Howell III
Helen Mirren as “Lovey” Howell
Lady Gaga as Ginger Grant
Emma Stone as Mary Ann Summers

Island settings can serve multiple purposes in film. It can isolate characters from the world either voluntarily or through some sort of disaster, be a vacation destination, or show humanity in its most desperate state when trying to survive.

Typical tropical locales also serve as beautiful backdrops for cinematographers and directors and also opportunity to showcase beautiful people wearing hardly any clothing.

Funny in looking through this list, many of the films have been made and remade multiple times, further illustrating the point exotic locales make for compelling stories.

(Movies in no particular order)


1. Jurassic Park


One could argue 1993 was the best year of Steven Spielberg’s career. He obviously had much success with his earlier films; however, it was not until 1993 did he direct both the #1 box office grossing film of the year at over $357 million, but he also directed the year’s Best Picture winner, “Schindler’s List”. He actually oversaw post-production of “Jurassic” while in Poland filming “Schindler’s list”.

Harrison Ford was actually offered the Sam Neill role in the film, but declined feeling it was not right for him. Richard Attenborough had not acted in a film for more than 14 years before appearing as park founder John Hammond. Interestingly enough, there are only about 15 minutes of dinosaur footage in the film split between CGI and animatronics created by the great Stan Winston who won an Academy Award for the film. Our fascination with dinosaurs has never been higher.


2. Escape From Alcatraz


Veteran director Don Siegel had worked with Clint Eastwood eight years earlier when he helmed Eastwood’s breakout cop role “Dirty Harry” in 1971 before he teamed up again to tell this daring true story of three inmates who plan their escape from the most secure prison at the time. Their plans were detailed thoroughly down to the last detail. There were many prior attempts which had either failed, the inmates were recaptured or shot trying to escape.

There were multiple reasons why the prison was ultimately closed in 1963, but it was mainly the cost. Alcatraz had cost over triple the amount per prison per day of the average prison of the time.


3. Papillon


The Academy Award-winning director of “Patton” and the original “Planet of the Apes”, Franklin J. Shaffner, helms this extremely moving true story of Henri “Papillon” Charierre and Louis Dega (Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman) and the friendship they develop while spending their sentences at a prison in French Guyana.

The desperation Papillon experiences under deplorable conditions are heartfelt His repeated escape attempts result in years of his life spent in solitary confinement. How could someone endure all this suffering? The real Henri Charierre was on the set while filming, but, unfortunately died before the film was released. The government of French Guyana has stated much of the book the film was based on was embellished and some of it did not actually happen.


4. Letters from Iwo Jima & Flags of Our Fathers

Letters from Iwo Jima (2006)

Similar to Steven Spielberg in 1993, 2006 was an amazing year for Clint Eastwood. It is hard to believe he directed 2 films that year when he himself was 76 years old.

They both told essentially similar stories about the battle of Iwo Jima during World War II; one from the Japanese side and one from the American side. “Iwo Jima” is definitely the better film of the two showing the chain of command within the Japanese army commanding this important island in the Pacific and the lengths the Japanese were prepared to go to defend it.

The film was nominated for Best Picture which was extremely unusual for a foreign-language film. Since it was an American production, it was ineligible for Best Foreign Language Film.


5. Castaway

Cast Away (2000)

In one of the ultimate tests of human survival films, Tom Hanks plays a Federal Express employee who becomes stranded on a deserted island and he will to persevere through physical, mental and emotional hardship to survive. He “makes friends” with “Wilson” the volleyball so he can have someone to talk to try help him pass the time and remain sane.

There was actually a year in between filming of the first and second parts of the film which gave Hanks time to lose weight and grow his beard for authenticity. Director Robert Zemeckis used the time to film the thriller “What Lies Beneath” with essentially the same cast. The film was a huge hit in 2000 grossing over $233 million in the U.S. alone.


6. Mutiny on the Bounty

Mutiny on the Bounty

This story has been filmed at least three times all with great talent involved. The first (and the best) was in 1935 and won Best Picture for that year and starred Charles Laughton and Clark Gable as Captain Bligh and Fletch Christian. The 2nd version was made in 1962 with Trevor Howard and Marlon Brando in the leads. The 3rd version, “The Bounty” was released in 1984 and starred Anthony Hopkins and Mel Gibson.

The ruthless Captain Bligh commands the Bounty on its voyage to Tahiti only to find a revolt on his hands with Christian leading the charge. The acting in all three versions is top notch, the tension gradually building aboard ship until the ultimate mutiny. The island locales provide enough breathtaking scenery and native girls for everyone.

The 1984 version is supposedly the most accurate depiction of events. The real Fletcher Christian is rumored to have not ended up on Pitcairn Island but in England and lived his remaining days in hiding.


7. King Kong

King Kong

The story of the big ape has also had multiple versions, beginning with the most famous in 1933, then in 1976 and finally the most recent “Lord of the Rings” director Peter Jackson version in 2005. There is even an origin story in the works as we speak called “Kong: Skull Island” starring Samuel L. Jackson being released in 2017 which is building to an eventual “Kong vs. Godzilla” film on the horizon at some point.

Kong is discovered on Skull Island when a film crew arrives for a remote filming location. He is captured and brought back to the U.S. to thrill audiences. There was also a less popular film released in 1933 called “The Son of Kong” in which we return to Skull Island only to find Kong’s son which also starred Robert Armstrong as filmmaker Carl Denham.

Unfortunately, the second “Kong film from 1933 had a much smaller budget and was rushed into theatres off a quick shooting schedule. The film was still successful, but now forgotten in time.