Islands are one of the most interesting settings for a film, and it doesn't even matter if it's a tropical haven or deserted hellhole.
Most of the time, an island is there for characters to get trapped on, leading to all kinds of interesting scenes and developments. But whether the island setting involves a grand escape, a ghost story, or even a dinosaur rampage, we're in for it!
Here are our picks for the best island movies that take place on an isolated island spot somewhere surrounded by water.
11. Old (2021)
M. Night Shyamalan's newest movie Old takes place on a secluded beach where time runs faster than usual. When a family holiday takes a turn for the worst, a group of strangers become stranded on this beautiful private island, passing out every time they try to leave.
A year passes in just 30 minutes on this island. Childhood slips through the kids' fingertips. Old age illnesses catch up to the adults at lightning speed. It's pretty horrifying, really.
It's hard to find such a unique premise in the modern era of remakes and sequels, so that alone makes up for the slightly clunky filmmaking.
10. The Red Turtle (2016)
Knowing that The Red Turtle is a Studio Ghibli co-production should be enough to sit you down for this one. The Japanese animation studio has a wealth of features not just for kids, but adults too. Their beauty and humility touches even the most blockbuster-loving viewer.
The Red Turtle is no exception. After a man finds himself stranded on a deserted (albeit gorgeous and bountiful) island, he tries to sail away on a raft. A giant red turtle, however, continually foils his attempts.
This delightful tale reaches a depth most Hollywood films can't touch. The magical realism of Michaël Dudok de Wit's film offers a fresh perspective on the beauty of simplicity.
9. Swiss Army Man (2016)
Swiss Army Man is a one-of-a-kind comedy, starring Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe. Hank (played by Paul Dano) is on the brink of suicide after being marooned on an island, when a corpse washes ashore.
Not quite dead but certainly not alive, the corpse begins to grasp at words, forming a strange buddy-movie setup. Hank utilizes the cadaver like a Swiss Army Knife and jet skis himself off the island.
Childishly hilarious yet just as touching, Swiss Army Man is a brilliant directorial debut from Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan, who later brought us Everything Everywhere All At Once.
8. Jurassic Park (1993)
Isla Nublar is a volcanic island 120 miles west of Costa Rica, and it's home to the infamous fictional tourist attraction Jurassic Park, where real dinosaurs roam free for customer entertainment.
Of course, dinosaurs roaming free isn't exactly a recipe for success, especially on an island with no way out. In Steven Spielberg's 90s family classic, the genetically cloned reptiles escape the security system and put the whole park in danger.
This blockbuster hit revolutionized the use of CGI in cinema and launched a franchise that's still going to this day.
7. Battle Royale (2000)
This grisly tale is based on the 1999 novel by Koushun Takami and was so controversial it was banned in several countries. Battle Royale follows a group of junior high schoolers who are forced to fight to the death by a totalitarian government.
The film takes place on a remote island in the near future, where students are given three days to murder each other. Dog collars kill any unwilling participants, and weapons are handed out at random, along with survival supplies.
Despite its gruesome plot and controversial release, Battle Royale has since received critical acclaim, a large cult following, and is one of Quentin Tarantino's favorite movies.
6. Isle of Dogs (2018)
Isle of Dogs is a stunning film, even if the isle itself isn't stunning—it's literally called Trash Island. Only dogs live there now, who were banished from their domesticated lives in Japan after an outbreak of canine flu.
Voiced by an ensemble of Hollywood actors who frequently collaborate with Wes Anderson, Isle of Dogs is precisely crafted and delightfully filmed as it takes stop-motion animation to new heights.
Underpinning Wes Anderson's visual prowess is a story about a boy who hijacks his way onto Trash Island to rescue his pet dog.
Directors Akira Kurosawa and Hayao Miyazaki were the chief Japanese legends who inspired the look of Isle of Dogs, although it did receive some criticisms of cultural appropriation.
5. The Beach (2000)
Director Danny Boyle and writer John Hodge make an excellent team, evidenced by their adaptation of Alex Garland's 1996 novel. Starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Tilda Swinton, The Beach refers to a pristine island in the Gulf of Thailand.
Travelers, surfers, and cannabis farmers come together to seek this glittering secret coastline where things slowly start to unravel. It's trippy, dark, and chock full of thrills. The cinematography especially is something to marvel.
Inspiration was undoubtedly drawn from the classic 1954 novel Lord of the Flies by William Golding, if you happen to be a fan of literature.
4. The Lighthouse (2019)
The Lighthouse is our pick for those of you who are artsy and avant-garde cinephiles who prefer aspects like French New Wave and 35mm film over Hollywood blockbusters and digital film.
When Ephraim Winslow (Robert Pattinson) arrives at a rocky island off the coast of New England in 1890, he has his work cut out for him as a wickie of the stormy seas alongside Thomas Wake (Willem Dafoe).
Inspired Fritz Lang's early German cinema, director Robert Eggers similarly frames The Lighthouse in the obscure 1.19:1 aspect ratio.
As beautiful as the cinematography is—monochrome mist and satisfying symmetry—The Lighthouse also shows us the eerie, ugly side of nature, coupled with some bizarre mythical creatures.
3. Jaws (1975)
As lush as Amity Island looks, we personally won't be going there on holiday. The sandy shores and beach parties make it the perfect summer vacation spot... if you ignore the killer Great White Shark.
This blustery resort town off the coast of New England should be shut down to prevent further shark-deaths. However, when the mayor frets over the local economy, they decide to keep it open. Big mistake!
Stephen Spielberg's award-winning thriller not only launched him to fame, but it was also the first ever "blockbuster" movie. Cinema was forever changed by the arrival of this island movie.
2. Cast Away (2000)
2000 was a popular year for island movies, it seems. Robert Zemeckis' classic survival drama stars Tom Hanks as a workaholic FedEx executive whose plane crash-lands in the Pacific Ocean.
As the only survivor, Chuck must live out his days on an unchartered island, equipped with absolutely no survival skills. Foraging for food and water is hard, but the biggest challenge is his loneliness—leading him to form a companion out of a stray volleyball.
Filmed in Fiji, Cast Away was a sweeping success. Tom Hanks carries the whole film on his shoulders, superbly depicting one man's gradual decline into madness.
1. Shutter Island (2010)
Away from the tropical beaches that litter this list is Shutter Island—a prison for the criminally insane. Think Harry Potter's Azkaban, except in the 1950s.
Leonardo DiCaprio stars in this psychological thriller (directed by the great Martin Scorsese) as US Marshal Teddy Daniels. He's on assignment to investigate a missing inmate from the asylum. The more he investigates, however, the foggier things become.
Shutter Island is one of those amazing films that you have to watch twice (at least) for the full experience; the second viewing provides a better understanding and appreciation for this neo-noir masterpiece.