Best Movies About Hawaii to Watch Before Your Trip
Isaac Hale Beach, Big Island, Hawai’i
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Whether you are planning a trip or dreaming of the islands, enjoy this collection of the best movies about Hawaii! The Aloha state is widely recognized as one of the most beautiful places in the world, in fact over 100 feature films have been shot here. It is also one of the most ecologically diverse areas in the world, allowing directors to utilize an extraordinary range of dramatic natural scenery. Grab your popcorn and expect a visual delight!
Our family lived in Hawaii, and we love to bring the beauty, culture, and history of the islands into our lives on the mainland, often through film. I’ve also asked travel writers to share the Hawaii movies they recommend to people planning their own trips.
We start with some fantastic films made by Hawaiians and other residents of the Hawaii. They will help you gain a deeper understanding of the culture and history of the islands, inspiring you be a more thoughtful traveler. You will also appreciate the exquisite natural beauty of the islands and find inspiration for caring for it while you visit.
You can extend the joy of your travels and understand the country much more deeply by spending the months (or years!) preceding your trip by learning about Hawaii. At Trip Scholars, we offer many resources and ideas to help you dive deep into understanding your travel destinations before you arrive.
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Table of Contents
Movies in the Hawaiian Language
2020 | NR
This evocative and memorable animated film is one you will want to watch before your trip to Hawaii. It tells the legend of the mahu deities (deities of the third gender, embodying both male and female) who came from Tahiti to Hawaii to share their healing powers. Their healing gifts remain in four Stones of Life, or Nā Pōhaku Ola, on the beach in Waikiki today.
The eight minute short has won numerous international awards and is narrated completely in Hawaiian with English subtitles. You will be captivated by the animation style and transported with the soundtrack. The story is a haunting reminder of the suppressed history of Native Hawaiians and encourages us to learn more. This same interpretation is also available as a book.
Both adults and children can enjoy this film from home and then visit the stones in Waikiki. You can find the location here to add a visit to the Stones of Life to your itinerary.
Movies About Hawaiian Culture
2013 | NR
This multi award winning film was written and produced by the Hawaiian actor, director, and hula master Keo Woolford. It is a top movie recommendation because of the realistic portrayal of local Hawaiian culture, engaging acting, and captivating hula scenes.
Haumana is Hawaiian for disciple or student, and this highly enjoyable film allows us to learn and be inspired alongside the main character, Johnny Kealoha. Kealoha hosts a highly commercialized Polynesian show for tourists in Waikiki but is asked by his Kumu Hulu (master hula teacher) to teach the high school boys hula class. As he grows as their instructor, he also expands his own understanding of hula, his culture, and ultimately himself.
The movie is filmed on Oahu and the cast has many local Hawaiians. We are given an intimate window into learning traditional hula, with a gorgeous soundtrack including contributions from top Hawaiian musicians like Robert Cazimero. The characters navigate blending ancient Hawaiian traditions with being teenagers on modern day Oahu. Add it to your queue today, you will be glad you did!
Documentaries on Hawaii: Culture
Jake Shimabukuro: Life on Four Strings
Hawaiian music is certain to be a highlight of any trip to the islands and this documentary will give you a much deeper understanding of its influence and importance. Plus, it is an absolute joy to watch and listen to Jake Shimabukuro! The virtuoso is a world famous ukulele player who has shown global audiences what an exceptionally talented and creative player can do with this beautiful instrument.
The documentary follows Shimabukuro through a season of performing, but also looks back on his childhood and forward to his future dreams. His humility, curiosity, and generous spirit are easily highlighted throughout the film. It is uplifting, not just because of his musical performances, but also because of his inspiring life story.
Start a playlist of Hawaiian music while still at home and include both Shimabukuro’s solo work and his recordings from his earlier band, Pure Heart. While you are in the Islands, be sure to find some live local music! There are often free performances in shopping centers, parks, and local events.
If you are inspired, I also recommend trying the ukulele yourself. I love to play and have two ukuleles, this is my favorite. It is very forgiving and a great choice for beginners on a stringed instrument, so you can be playing a simple tune your first afternoon. But, as you have seen in this documentary, the ukulele can play transformative music in the hands of a master.
The Endless Summer
1966 | 11+
Endless Summer is very much what the title says, a trip around the world by two surfers in search of the world’s best surfing and endless sun. Naturally, Hawaii fits them perfectly, being famous for its huge waves for surfing and sunny weather.
Although the movie is not entirely about Hawaii, the segment about it shows the surf scene in Hawaii during the 1960s, which was partially instrumental in the surge of tourism that followed afterwards. Indeed, much of the appeal of visiting Hawaii came about from the images of a relaxed beach vibe and epic waves that purveyed in the surf scene there.
The surfing culture in Hawaii is the most famous in the world due to its ancient surfing traditions among the inhabitants of the area that surfed the waves on longboards going back 1500 years, long before ‘westerners’ discovered it.
The Endless Summer is one of the best travel movies that you can watch, especially if you have an interest in surf, sun, and adventure. Great for watching before any trip to Hawaii.
Contributed by Johnny at Backpackingman
Wayfinders: A Pacific Odessey
1999 | NR
If you have always wondered how the early Polyneisians discovered Hawaii in the middle of the vast Pacific Ocean, this documentary is for you! It is a PBS special revealing the rare art of wayfinding, the art of navigating the sea using only nature as one’s guide: the stars, sun, weather, sea, and animals. Historically many anthropologists and historians did not think early Polyneisians could have intentionally navigated the massive Pacific to populate the many islands throughout the ocean. However, work by The Polynesian Voyaging Society, Maiden Voyage Productions (who created the film), and many others has proven that wayfinding was an important skill throughout ancient Polynesia.
In the film we are introduced to one of the few remaining wayfinders in the world, Mau Pialug from the island of Satawal. He teaches Nainoa Thompson, a Native Hawaiian navigator, and in turn, a whole new generation of nature based navigators. Herb Kane designed the famous Hawaian sailing vessel, Hokule’a, after a lifetime of studying ancient Hawaiian canoes. It was eventually built in a mostly traditional way, in large part by volunteers in Hawaii.
We follow along as a new generation from many islands around Polynesia learn wayfinding skills and boat building techniques, while also coming to a greater understanding of their cultural heritage. Patrick Stewart narrates the role of Captain Cook, the famous British navigator and cartographer. The nearly extinct art of wayfinding is put to the test as these modern sailors set out on a 2000 mile journey, with nature, their knowledge, and their history to guide them.
Hawaiian Islands | Filmed in 1906
1906 | NR
This unique footage is a fascinating window into life in Hawaii in 1906. The inventor Thomas Edison also had a film studio and he sent Robert Bonine in the early 1900’s to gather footage of the islands. There are over 30 clips, all of them silent. A few of them include what is thought to be the oldest film clips of surfing in the world.
This is not your typical documentary, but it is a rare and unique view of many places and cultural touchstones. The youtube description includes the titles of each clip so you can watch just the places you plan to visit– but you will likely be hooked and want to watch a lot more!
Hawaii Documentaries: Nature
Hawaii's Mauna Loa: The World's Largest Volcano
Hawaii's Kīlauea Volcano
When we are on the islands we are constantly aware that we are actually on volcanoes: active, dormant, or extinct. Each island arose from the bottom of the ocean floor as it was formed over the hotspot that is currently under the Big Island. Weather erodes them and plate tectonics carry the volcanoes northwest. These exposed peaks form the Hawaiian-Emperor Seamount Chain, the youngest of which are the inhabited Hawaiian Islands. Curious travelers can experience the vastness of geologic forces in real time by visiting an older island, like Kawaii, and comparing the island to what they see on the youngest, the Big Island.
The Big Island is a dream destination for anyone fascinated by volcanoes and geology. If you are unfamiliar with the subject, a visit to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park will likely make you a lifelong admirer. Much of the park, and over half of the island, is on the volcano Mauna Loa. The rest of HVNP includes the youngest above-water Hawaiian volcano, Kilauea.
These two documentaries bring the viewer up close to learn about the incredible power and beauty of the volcanoes and they are valuable viewing before a trip to the islands. Even if you are not planning to visit the Big Island on your next trip, understanding more about how the islands are formed will enhance your time anywhere in the state. They were both made before the most recent eruptions so that information isn’t included. The films incorporate a lot of interviews with, and footage of, scientists at work in the park. They also include a strong focus on learning from Native Hawaiians about the geologic history held in songs and legends.
Another fascinating Hawaii documentary is Sharks of Hawaii.
Hawaiian History Movies
2009 | PG
The drama-based movie Princess Kaiulani documents the events that led up to the dissolution of the Hawaiian monarchy. It’s a history lesson for some, a painful event for others. While the movie gained mixed reviews because of its original title of ‘Barbarian Princess,’ it adds excellent incite into the Hawaiian royal family.
Iolani Palace in Oahu sets the stage for the opening of the film. Electricity has arrived in Hawaii, but the upheaval from the King’s advisors has overshadowed the momentous event. With uncertainty in the homeland, Princess Kaiulani, who’s in line for the throne, travels to Scotland for an education and to avoid the tensions.
During her absence, the King’s death and Queen Liliuokalani’s imprisonment bring her back to her homeland to fight for the monarchy. ‘Princess Kaiulani’ allows the watcher to delve into the lives of the people that made Hawaii so special. While the film may be part fiction, it embodies the spirit of her Polynesian heritage. Before traveling to Hawaii, visitors will better understand the history of royal residences such as Iolani Palace and Queen Emma Summer Palace on Oahu, and Hulihe’e Palace on Hawaii.
Contributed by Karen of Forever Karen
2001 | PG-13
Pearl Harbor is a great movie because it takes a moment in American history and brings it to life with intense dramatic performances.
Directed by Michael Bay, and starring Ben Affleck and Kate Beckinsdale, Pearl Harbor is a beautiful love story set during World War II.
Pearl Harbor is a fantastic movie to watch before your first trip to Hawaii beause it humanizes an important moment in Hawaii’s history. The attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, has been immortalized by the Pearl Harbor National Memorial in Oahu. Watching this movie, in addition to visiting the famous memorial, will add a level of relatability for the real people who died and fought on that day for anyone visiting Hawaii.
Submitted by Katie from KatieCafTravel.com
Hawaiian history movies about the missionary moment to add to your queue are Hawaii and Molokai: The Story of Father Damien.
Hawaii Family Movies
2021 | PG
One of the newest kids movies filmed in Hawaii is Netflix’s Finding Ohana. It’s filmed on Oahu with a lot of the adventurous scenes at Kualoa Ranch. The story is all about a mom moving back home to Hawaii from Brooklyn with her teenage kids. The main character is a girl named Pili (played by Kea Peahu) who finds an old journal that takes her on a real-life treasure hunt.
The movie has a lot of the same vibes as the kids adventure movies from the 90s, so both parents and kids will enjoy watching it. Plus, the soundtrack is pretty fabulous.
What sets this movie apart from other kids movies filmed in Hawaii is that they focus a lot on Hawaiian culture, especially the elusive Night Marchers. This is a really cool part of Hawaiian culture that most people don’t know about before their trip. Finally, you can even do a Hawaii movie tour to see exactly where they filmed at Kualoa Ranch!
Contributed by Marcie Cheung of Hawaii Travel with Kids
1991 | PG
Peter Pan is a classic movie and often a childhood favorite. Hook is what happens after the story of Peter Pan when Peter grows up. It is fun to learn more of the Peter Pan story, and an important lesson about growing up and changing.
Hook doesn’t take place entirely in Hawaii, but the Neverland scenes were filmed in Kuaui, Hawaii. Neverland is a magical place, and of course, Hawaii is a perfect choice for imagining Neverland. We know that Neverland is close to the ocean, as that is where Captain Hook lives. Peter lives on land but visits the mermaids under the sea and flies onto Hook’s pirate ship.
Directed by Steven Speilberg, Hook is filled with well-known actors. Robin Williams played the grown-up version Peter and his sidekick Tinkerbell is played by Julia Roberts. Dustin Hoffman played the role of Peter Pan’s nemesis, Captain Hook.
Hook is a great opportunity to discover that there is always more to the story. Plus, it’s fun to learn more about the characters we know and love. Hook is a kid’s movie that adults might enjoy even more than kids.
Who doesn’t want to go to Neverland, at least for a while? If we can’t get to Neverland, at least for now, we can imagine Neverland from the beautiful Kuaui, Hawaii.
Contributed by Lanie van der Horst at Make More Adventures
Hawaii Disney Movies
Lilo & Stitch
2002 | PG
Lilo & Stitch is a funny & unique Disney animated film based in Hawaii. The story is about a young girl who picks up a “dog” at a local pound – only to find out the animal is actually a scientific experiment called 626. Follow along as the girl learns the truth about 626 (Stitch), forms a friendship with him, and works together to avoid his capture by the Galactic Federation.
The film itself is based in Hawaii. You’ll notice many iconic themes from Hawaiian tradition included in the movie like surfing, hula dancing, ukeles, and more! Writers used the town of Hanapee on the island of Kauai as inspiration. This town is often referred to as “Kauai’s Biggest Little Town” as it is truly only made up of a few streets!
You’ll recognize scenes from the animated movie that mimic the town’s vibe with charming plantation-style buildings. You can walk in and out of many stores and restaurants here in town along the main street. You’ll even find a few murals that locals have painted in honor of the adorable animated film! Missing this small town would be one of the biggest mistakes to make when visiting Hawaii as it truly transports you into the movie Lilo & Stitch!
Contributed by Lisa Shehan at wanderlustwithlisa
2016 | PG
Moana is set on a fictional island in Ancient Polynesia. The fictional story is based loosely on several stories from Polynesian mythology. The catchy music and powerful female lead in Moana make it a favorite. It comes complete with funny characters and jokes that Disney animated films are known for. In the movie, Moana is the daughter of the chief on a Polynesian island. Her people are struggling and she learns that Maui the demi-god has stolen the heart of Te Fiti. She takes off on open water to find Maui, restore the ocean, and heal her island.
Moana is a great movie to watch with kids to kick start a conversation about Polynesian culture and history before your trip. Hawai’i marks one corner of the Polynesian triangle and the story of Maui is a common one in all of the Polynesian Islands. The demi-god is known for being mischievous and for using his powers to help humans. As in Moana, Maui is known for his magic fish hook in Hawaii but in other parts of Polynesia, he is known differently. The story in the movie is fictional but with some quick research you can find the different cultures associated with each story about Maui mentioned in the song “You’re Welcome”. The Polynesian Islands share many parts of their culture but are each unique as well. Watching the fictional story in Moana can open a conversation about Polynesia. The Hawaiians make a great effort to revive, maintain, and showcase their culture; Use Moana to start the conversation before you leave.
Contributed by Jami at Celiac Travel Pack
Adventure Movies in Hawaii
Kong: Skull Island
2017 | PG:13
The movie ‘Kong: Skull Island’ is a fun action / monster movie in the newly rebooted King Kong series, starring Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, and others. In the movie, a group of soldiers and explorers has to go on an expedition to Skull Island to find the giant King Kong and other mysterious creatures.
The movie was filmed in Vietnam and Hawaii, and places where they did filming in Oahu include Kualoa Ranch, Honolulu’s Chinatown, and the Waikane Valley. A visit to Kualoa Ranch in particular is one of the best things to do in Oahu Hawaii since so many movies have been filmed there — more than 80 movies in total!
Even though the plot of Kong may not win any big awards, it’s still a great movie to watch before your trip to Hawaii. It’s loaded with nice tropical scenery and intense action sequences to pump you up for your travels, and if you’re lucky you may get to visit some of the filming locations while you’re in Oahu!
Contributed by David & Intan at The World Travel Guy
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle
2017 | PG-13
For an exciting adventure film starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Jack Black, Kevin Hart, and Karen Gillan, watch “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle.” A sequel to the 1995 film “Jumanji,” this reboot is a great comedy-action film that showcases some stunning Hawaiian scenery.
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle tells the story of four high school students getting sucked into a video game set in the jungle. To return home, they have to beat the video game by returning a magical jewel to its shrine.
This is a great family-friendly film with tons of action, humor, and character-growth. A lot of the movie scenes were shot on the island of Oahu, and in particular, the Kualoa Ranch. And while there are many incredible Oahu waterfalls, the set of falls shown in the film are located in Papaikou on the Big Island.
Needless to say, watching “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” before a trip to Hawai’i would greatly enhance your vacation! Filled with spectacular tropical landscapes, lush jungles, and soaring hills, watching the film will truly get you pumped to visit Hawai’i. It’ll also provide you with some incredible ideas on what to do in Hawai’i, from touring the Kualoa Ranch to admiring Kawainui Falls.
Contributed by Mia at Walk a While with Me
Another classic Adventure movie to include in your watchlist is Jurassic Park.
Comedy Movies About Hawaii
2011 | R
Starring George Clooney, The Descendants follows Matt King, whose life is turned upside down when his wife is left in a coma after a tragic accident. Not only is Matt struggling with the consequences of the accident, but he’s also been named the trustee of an enormous plot of untouched land in Kauai and is being pressured by his family to sell this incredibly valuable asset to developers. While grappling with these issues, Matt, a busy attorney in Honolulu, attempts to figure out how to be more present for his two daughters while they navigate their mom’s possible death.
The film is visually stunning and highlights some of Hawaii’s most beautiful landscapes, from the beaches of Oahu to the lush greenery of Kauai. But visitors should watch The Descendants for more than just its imagery- the film highlights the commoditization of Hawaiian land and the pressures locals face to exploit its natural beauty for tourism and other development. The United States’ complex- and often problematic- treatment of Hawaiian land and resources is important context for any visitor to the islands to understand and perhaps Matt’s struggles relating to his duty to protect his ancestors’ land will offer you a unique perspective before your trip.
Contributed by Jessica Schmit of Uprooted Traveler
Forgetting Sarah Marshall
2008 | R
One of the funniest comedies of the 2000s, Forgetting Sarah Marshall is a great movie to watch before a trip to Oahu, especially if your trip involves the North Shore!
The movie features Jason Segel as the forlorn, newly-dumped boyfriend of a famous TV actress, Sarah Marshall. He goes to Oahu to try to find himself and relax — but ends up finding out that she and her new boyfriend, played by Russell Brand, are staying at the same resort he is! Luckily, he unexpectedly makes friends with a bunch of workers at the resort, and they help to save his trip.
The movie is filmed mostly at Turtle Bay Resort on the North Shore of Oahu, and it has scenes from different places along the North Shore, including the famous ‘cliff jumping’ scene which takes place at Laie Point, and the surfing scenes filmed on the beaches near Haleiwa. The beautiful shots of these North Shore locales will have you adding it to your Oahu itinerary!
This funny movie is also poignant, and it’ll be especially resonant for solo travelers or people who are taking a trip in order to forget or get over a recent bad event like a breakup or loss. The movie addresses how we can feel lost and look to travel to try to save us, but ultimately, our connections with the people we meet while traveling are what impact our experience the most. For travelers feeling a bit lost, this is a really powerful message to take with you both on your travels to Hawaii and when you return home.
Contributed by Allison Green of Eternal Arrival
50 First Dates
2004 | PG13
The film, 50 First Dates takes place on the mesmerizing island of Oahu and is charming because of it’s message of true love despite the odds. The movie follows the daily interactions between the main character, Henry who is set on winning over Lucy, a joyful woman who unfortunately forgets what happens every day due to short-term memory loss.
Fifty First Dates follows the interactions and budding love Henry develops for Lucy as he continues his battle every day to win her over, while also trying to convince her close friends and family that he can make her happy. In the movie, you taste Hawaiian culture in the attire as well as the cuisine, like at Hukilau cafe, where Lucy eats every morning.
You also get to see some popular historic locations in the movie, like where Lucy and Henry kiss at the famous Makapuu lighthouse, which is a popular hiking destination in Oahu. Lucy lives on the ranch at Kualoa Ranch, a substantial 4000-acre private nature reserve. Another famous Hawaiian location, as seen in the movie, is where Henry works, the real-life Sea Life Park. This renowned park allows visitors to meet the animals up close but still works towards preserving nature and conserving wildlife. The concept of the preservation and conservation of nature is an important focus in Hawaii. All in all, 50 First Dates is not only a cute and funny movie but shows us a glimpse of Hawaii and it’s culture.
Contributed by Sierra and Yesenia, The Sisters Who Voyage
Hawaii Surfing Movies
2011 | PG
The movie Soul Surfer is set on the island of Kaui and follows the story of Bethany Hamilton, an upcoming teenage surfing star who was attacked by a shark one day on the water. The shark bit off her arm but luckily, Bethany survived the attack. The movie focuses on her journey to figure out how to cope with the loss of her arm and also how she overcame that setback in her surfing career.
It’s a heartwarming and incredibly inspiring film that is perfect for families and anyone who loves a movie about overcoming the odds. Sean McNamara was the director, and Anna Sophia Robb starred in the film.
The movie showcases the beauty of Hawaiian water and beaches and the strength of the local communities. There are also many scenes of surfing competitions and surfing practice in Hawaii, which is an aspect of a Hawaiian vacation that many visitors are interested in.
Contributed by Stephanie Rytting of The Unknown Enthusiast
Gidget Goes Hawaiian
1961 | NR
One of the cutest movies that is set in Hawaii is a 1960’s surfer chick-flick called Gidget Goes Hawaiian. The Gidget series follows the story of a small, teenage girl named Francine. Francine longs for a life that is more than just sitting at home, and finds her passion in the waves. In the first Gidget movie, Francine learns how to surf with the help of Moondoggie and his surfer bros. She receives the nickname “Gidget” from them – girl + midget. She falls in love with Moondoggie and surfing and the rest is history.
In Gidget Goes Hawaiian, Francine has the opportunity to go to Hawaii and surf some pretty big waves. Just before the adventure, she and Moondoggie break up, making her Hawaiian adventure now fueled with “post-breakup” vibes. This movie is super cute and shows off multiple Hawaiian hotels and beaches. It will make you want to go to Hawaii, learn to surf, and fall in love. From the beautiful beaches to the cute Luaus, Gidget Goes Hawaiian is the perfect movie to watch before going to Hawaii because it will inspire you to get out there and enjoy everything the Hawaiian islands have to offer.
Contributed by Shannon at Adventuring With Shannon
Other surfing movies to enjoy are the documentaries Endless Summer and Hawaii 1906 shared earlier in this article.
Films About Hawaii
Watching films from this collection is sure to give you a deeper understanding of Hawaii: it’s natural beauty, fascinating culture, and rich history. Hopefully you’ve found some great Hawaii movies to add to your queue!
What are your favorites? Did we miss anything you would recommend? Let me know in the comments, I’d love to hear from you!
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10 thoughts on “Best Movies About Hawaii to Watch Before Your Trip”
Adding all of these to my watch-list now! These movies are perfect to watch before a trip to Hawaii, or even without a trip planned I can live vicariously through them 🙂
I just visited Hawaii in March and these movies will be a great way for me to remember my time there. Thanks!
I watched Pearl Harbor and I loved it! This list will be helpful to watch some very interesting movies! I hope I can visit Hawaii soon! Such a paradise!
I’ve only seen a couple of these films, I definitely need to check out some of the others! You’ve put together a great list here.
This is such a fun post! I love so many of these movies… Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Soul Surfer, Pearl Harbor, and 50 First Dates are all great. I actually went to a luau at the aquarium where they filmed 50 First Dates, which was super fun.
This is awesome – we’re heading there in August so looking forward to viewing some of them before we go! Absolutely love Forgetting Sarah Marshall!
Great post! I’d love to visit Hawaii, and these movies sound like they’ll be great to watch before my trip!
I love the idea of planning to watch great movies about a place before you visit. And watching some of these movies about Hawaii would get me so excited to visit. Learning more about the people and culture in advance would help me to appreciate the locals better. What a great collection of movies.
I love this post! I’ll be there in September and cannot wait!
Thank you for so many recommendations, Erica.
I am gonna start with finding Ohana.