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 awesome scenes and developments.
Whether the island setting involves a grand escape, a ghost story, or a dinosaur rampage, we’re interested! Here are our favorite picks for the best movies that take place on an island.
8. 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.
7. The Red Turtle (2016)
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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.
6. 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.
5. 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 thriller 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 ongoing to this day.
4. Battle Royale (2000)
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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.
3. 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’re into that sort of thing.
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 lush, 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.