Amusement parks, theme parks, water parks, resort parks—they're all pretty much the same with a few variations between them. One thing's for sure: they're all packed with excitement!
When summer rolls around, what better to do than fly down water slides and loop round rollercoasters? But even if theme parks aren't your cup of tea, these fun-filled theme park movies will be!
Here are my picks for the best movies about amusement parks, which involve all kinds of themes: dinosaurs, zombies, robots, and more!
10. Scooby-Doo (2002)
Directed by Raja Gosnell
Starring Matthew Lillard, Freddie Prinze Jr., Sarah Michelle Gellar
Adventure, Comedy, Family (1h 26m)
Scooby-Doo might not hold a particularly high score on Rotten Tomatoes, but this live-action adaptation of the classic animation has a fair cult following. That's mainly thanks to its perfect cast, its Y2K style, and its humor. (How many stoner jokes can you spot?)
Scooby-Doo is a film best appreciated with a pinch of irony. Even though it's a kids movie, the innuendo-riddled, purposefully-cheesy humor is really geared towards young adults.
The comedic caricatures of the original Mystery Inc. gang come together to solve the phenomenon of cursed visitors at a tropical resort. Spooky Island has a lot of funny things in store for the gang, including a quadruple body swap—and Rowan Atkinson!
9. Waxwork (1988)
Directed by Anthony Hickox
Starring Zach Galligan, Deborah Foreman, Jennifer Bassey
Comedy, Horror (1h 35m)
Sometimes, an interesting premise alone is enough to save a movie with a script that falls flat. In Waxwork, director Anthony Hickox tracks a group of college kids who visit a wax museum of stock horror characters. Werewolves, vampires, mummies, you name it.
And, of course, they all come to life—a bit like Night at the Museum if it was a horror film. Imagine walking into the Chamber of Horrors at Madame Tussauds only to find all the murderers and demons running at you? Enough to make anyone faint.
Waxwork isn't actually terrifying; it's just gory. But it's also a great idea, based on the 1924 German silent film. Is it a full-blown theme park? Not quite, but it feels close enough to include on our list.
8. The Way, Way Back (2013)
Directed by Nat Faxon and Jim Rash
Starring Steve Carell, Toni Collette, Allison Janney
Comedy, Drama (1h 43m)
In The Way, Way Back, Duncan (Liam James) is your typical shy and nerdy 14-year-old teen. He's awkward around girls—or anyone, really—and is treated like a doormat by everyone around him.
Duncan ends up dragged to a seaside town near Cape Cod for summer vacation. So, instead of spending the days with his mean step-dad and alcoholic neighbors, he decides to visit the local water park.
Taken under the wing of a lazy, laid-back resort worker (Sam Rockwell), Duncan learns to both cheer up and stand his ground.
The water park itself isn't all that relevant to the plot in The Way, Way Back, but it does serve as a catalyst for Duncan's coming-of-age, which Nat Faxon and Jim Rash direct with wit, charm, and relatability.
7. Zombieland (2009)
Directed by Ruben Fleischer
Starring Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone, Woody Harrelson
Action, Comedy, Horror (1h 28m)
Zombieland isn't the name of a specific zombie-themed amusement park; rather, the whole world is now Zombieland ever since a mad cow disease epidemic ravaged the human race.
Now, a bunch of survivors are headed cross-country to find a safe haven from all the zombies—and that sanctuary just happens to be an amusement park in Los Angeles, somewhere near Bill Murray's house (who cameos as himself in the movie).
The gang comprises Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone, and Abigail Breslin, who are all led by Woody Harrelson as a wild Texan man. What could've just been another average zombie parody turned out to be the best one of them all, packed with action, heart, and laughs!
6. Adventureland (2009)
Directed by Greg Mottola
Starring Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Ryan Reynolds
Comedy, Drama, Romance (1h 47m)
Life is full of weird coincidences—like the fact that Jesse Eisenberg starred into two amusement park movies in the same year, with both titles ending in the world "land." Both Zombieland and Adventureland are worth watching, but try not to get them mixed up!
Adventureland is an underrated indie-style comedy film that feels a lot like Superbad. (Both were directed by Greg Mottola.) Jesse Eisenberg stars as a college graduate at a loose end for summer, so he does what most 80s kids did: he applies for a job at a resort.
Kristen Stewart, Martin Starr, Bill Hader, Kristen Wiig, and Ryan Reynolds also make appearances in this heartwarming coming-of-age film that feels like a slice of summer itself—a warmly realistic summer spent working, idling, and falling in love.
5. National Lampoon's Vacation (1983)
Directed by Harold Ramis
Starring Chevy Chase, Beverly D'Angelo, Imogene Coca
Adventure, Comedy (1h 38m)
You've likely seen the festive classic National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, but six years before that, the Griswold family went cross-country to "America's Favorite Family Fun Park" in California.
The down-on-their-luck suburban family appears across six movies, with fluctuating actors besides Chevy Chase as the infamous Clark Griswold. Clark is a clumsy family man who hilariously switches between naïve optimism and angry outbursts.
National Lampoon's Vacation is the first of its movie franchise, directed by Harold Ramis as the classic all-American family heads out on their turbulent trip to Wally World. If they ever make it, that is...
4. Free Willy (1993)
Directed by Simon Wincer
Starring Jason James Richter, Lori Petty, Michael Madsen
Adventure, Drama, Family (1h 52m)
Animal theme parks have been subject to all kinds of controversy in recent decades, mainly because they train living animals—often under stressful conditions—to perform for mere human entertainment.
Free Willy centers on an orca (also known as a killer whale) that's captured and taken from his family to his new home/prison at Northwest Adventure Park. While there, he refuses to cooperate.
Angsty foster kid Jesse (Jason James Richter) forms a bond with Willy while cleaning up graffiti. When he learns that the park plans to kill Willy for insurance money, he hatches a plan to set him free.
In Free Willy, there's no glamorization of animal theme parks. It's clear that these animals are, in fact, suffering captives. And given that animal movies have a knack for making audiences cry, you should expect no less from Free Willy. Maybe keep some tissues at hand.
3. Nope (2022)
Directed by Jordan Peele
Starring Daniel Kaluuya, Keke Palmer, Brandon Perea
Horror, Mystery, Sci-Fi (2h 10m)
You'd definitely say "Nope!" if you came across the theme park in Nope. It's a Western-themed park, which doesn't fit the owner's latest UFO attraction—but he opens it anyway, leading to some angry aliens.
Away from this theme park, horse trainer siblings Otis and Emerald (Daniel Kaluuya and and Keke Palmer) are trying to capture video evidence of mysterious UFOs on their ranch, which have been killing their horses and their profits.
The whole premise of Nope sounds kind of random, but it all links together. Jordan Peele's neo-Western sci-fi has a lot of hidden messages, most notably about using animal (or alien) spectacle for our own selfish entertainment.
2. Westworld (1973)
Directed by Michael Crichton
Starring Yul Brynner, Richard Benjamin, James Brolin
Action, Drama, Sci-Fi (1h 28m)
Not to be confused with the HBO TV series remake, Westworld takes place at an amusement park called Delos, which is split into different themed realms: Wild West, Medieval, and Roman.
These realms are populated by humanoid robots who will do pretty much anything you want them to. They're super realistic and they realistically kill each other, but they also have sensors that stop them from shooting real people instead of other robots.
Well, they're supposed to stop, anyway.
Michael Crichton's Western-infused sci-fi is one of the first times people recognized the possibility of computer "viruses." It's an idea that other characters laugh at, but it soon spreads through Delos to make uncontrollable killer androids.
1. Jurassic Park (1993)
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Starring Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum
Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi (2h 7m)
Jurassic Park shows us what happens when a billionaire (Richard Attenborough) builds a dangerous new amusement park by cloning dinosaurs using DNA extracted from prehistoric mosquitoes.
You'd think bringing dinosaurs back to life for entertainment would be an obviously bad idea. You'd think it'd be even more obvious after six movies, but it seems the owners of Jurassic Park (and Jurassic World) just refuse to learn that lesson.
Regardless of where you stand on the later Jurassic World movies, Steven Spielberg's first installment will forever be a cinematic landmark—not just because giant dinosaurs are fun to watch, but because of how it revolutionized the world of special effects.