Sun screenings: Famous film locations in the Caribbean


This article by Steve Bliunt appeared inUSA Today. Follow the link below for a photo gallery.

A decade before filmmakers migrated to Hollywood, they’d already figured out that the Caribbean was a nice place to get away from the dreary winter and gray skies that afflicted their studios in New York and New Jersey.

Thomas Edison patented and popularized the motion picture camera in 1891, though, as with the light bulb, he didn’t actually invent it. His company did produce what may be the first motion picture set in the Caribbean, “West Indian Girls in Native Dance,” filmed on St. Thomas in the winter of 1903. It features a bevy of West Indian beauties doing the shay-shay in a garden in Charlotte Amalie. That same year the company issued another epic filmed in the Bahamas titled “Native Woman Washing a Negro Baby in Nassau, B.I.”. The Caribbean had been “discovered” all over again, and they’ve been making movies here ever since.

The following highlights are far from inclusive and ignore the many direct-to-video and television productions shot in the region, which range from the influential “Sea Hunt” series to “Survival of the Nude Reality Girls.”


1962 | Sean Connery, Ursula Andress

The first James Bond film finds Ian Fleming’s hero on a mission to Jamaica to investigate the mysterious death of a British intelligence agent. Along the way he meets CIA agent Felix Leiter (Jack Lord) and the glamorous Honey Rider (Andress). It was the Swedish bombshell’s entrance — she appears from the ocean at Laughing Waters Beach in front of Dunns River Falls wearing a white bikini — that set the standard for all of the “Bond Girls” who followed. Andress reportedly auction off the bikini for more than $60,000.


1965 | John, Paul, George and Ringo

The beach scenes for the follow-up to the Beatles’ first film, “A Hard Day’s Night,” were filmed on Paradise Island off of Nassau. The movie was under-appreciated for years, even by the Beatles themselves, who attributed their manic performances to “smoking a lot of marijuana” during the production. Nonetheless, “Help!” did feature some of their best early tracks including “Ticket To Ride,” “Another Girl” and, of course, “Help!”


1994 | Tim Robbins, Morgan Freeman

The grim prison movie adapted from horrormeister Stephen King’s novel ends on an up note, when ex-cons Andy (Robbins) and Red (Freeman) are reunited on a paradise-worthy beach in Zihuatanejo, Mexico — or not. The scene was actually shot at Sandy Point on the southwest end of St. Croix, USVI.


1967 | Rex Harrison, Samantha Eggar, Richard Attenborough

If your familiarity with the Dr. Doolittle story is confined to the 1998 Eddie Murphy remake, pull up your Netflix account and take a look at the original. Predictably, it’s more naive but also much more charming. The scene where the good doctor (Rex Harrison) talks to the giant pink snail was filmed in Marigot Bay, St. Lucia.


1983 | Eddie Murphy, Dan Aykroyd, Don Ameche, Ralph Bellamy

In Murphy’s Doolittle remake, he never made it any farther from Hollywood than San Bernardino and San Francisco. However, he definitely made up for it he and Dan Aykroyd filmed “Trading Places.” The final scenes that show the two enjoying their new-found wealth — fleeced from “brothers” Don Ameche and Ralph Bellamy — were filmed in St. Croix.


1988 | Tom Cruise, Elisabeth Shue, Gina Gershon

Cruise spread his pre-Scientology charm all over Jamaica’s North Shore while filming Cocktail, featuring locations such as Dunn’s River Falls, the Jamaica Inn and Sandals Royal Plantation in Ocho Rios. Despite its gorgeous scenery, critics ranging from Roger Ebert to Vincent Canby of the New York Times hated the movie, bestowing adjectives such as “vapid,””utterly brainless” and “empty and fabricated.” The scenery and a young Tom Cruise must have worth something, though, since the film reportedly grossed more than $170 million.


2008 | Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett

As much as the critics hated “Cocktail,” they loved “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.” Based on a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald, it follows the life of the odd Mr. Button (Pitt) who ages backwards — being born an old man and dying an infant. While much of the movie was filmed in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, the scenes about the hurricane itself were filmed at Honeymoon Beach on Water Island in Charlotte Amalie Harbor, St. Thomas, USVI.


1991 | Jodie Foster, Anthony Hopkins

The Caribbean makes a brief cameo in this horror/detective classic. The scene showing Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Hopkins) in his tropical “retirement”were filmed on South Bimini, Bahamas. The Hitchcock-esque film made “Hannibal the Cannibal” a household name and featured appearances by cult film legends George “Night of the Living Dead” Romero and Roger “King of the Bs” Corman.


2011 | Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson

Given the prevalence of sunshine, the Caribbean seems an unlikely place for a vampire honeymoon, but in “Breaking Dawn Part 1” we find Edward (Pattinson) and Bella (Stewart) on Magen’s Bay Beach, St. Thomas celebrating their recent nuptials. It’s beautiful by moonlight, you know.


1990 | Robert Redford, Lena Olin, Raúl Juliá

Set against the backdrop of the Cuban revolution, this was an attempt by mega-director Sydney Pollack (“Out of Africa,” “Tootsie”) to combine a vehicle for the aging Redford with political history. Despite being loaded with Oscar-winning talent, it bombed. Pollack had wanted to make the film in Cuba, but the chill of Ronald Reagan’s escalation of the Cold War had relations with the socialist island in the deep freeze when production began in 1988. Pollack decided to make the movie at an abandoned air force base in the Dominican Republic, where a quarter-mile strip of facades was built to simulate Havana’s Prado district along Paseo de Marti. The city scenes were filmed in the historic center of Santo Domingo.


1973 | Steve McQueen, Dustin Hoffman

One of screen legend Steve McQueen’s last great roles and one that cemented the growing reputation of future legend Dustin Hoffman, the two find themselves confined to the infamous French penal colony Devil’s Island off the coast of French Guiana. The younger Dega (Hoffman) hires tough-guy Papillion (McQueen) to protect him, but the two become fast friends, eventually plotting a failed escape from the island. Returned to the prison, McQueen fashions water wings and jumps from a cliff into the ocean to reach freedom. A few scenes for the movie were filmed in Falmouth, Jamaica while many others were shot at the caves below the Xtabi Hotel along the cliffs in Negril.


1973 | Tom Hanks, Daryl Hannah

“Andy Griffith Show” and “Happy Days” alum Ron Howard has made two movies in the Bahamas; the first was the very popular (and profitable)”Splash” starring Tom Hanks as a lovestruck nerd from New York and the fetching Daryl Hannah as a mermaid who eventually entices him to join her in a life underwater. The beach where the two first encounter each other is on Gorda Cay, near Great Abaco. Gorda is better know as Castaway Cay, the private island used by Disney Cruise Line as a tropical pit stop for its guests. Fittingly, two “submarines” from the long-closed 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea ride from Disney World in Orlando are now resting in the snorkel area just off the beach.


1985 | Don Ameche, Wilford Brimley, Tahnee Welch, Steve Guttenberg

Ron Howard returned to the Bahamas to film underwater scenes for “Cocoon,” another underwater fantasy film. In this one, a team of aliens come to earth to retrieve some of their comrades left behind when they evacuated the doomed city of Atlantis. The comrades are in suspended animation inside cocoons that have to be retrieved from the ocean. They’re put in a swimming pool charged with life force energy that’s then discovered by the elderly residents of a nursing home, who begin swimming in the pool to reverse the effects of aging. Boat captain Steve Guttenberg falls in love with alien Kitty (played by Raquel Welch’s daughter, Tahnee), and the whole ensemble eventually boards a spaceship to leave the planet. While the pool and exteriors were filmed in St. Petersburg, FL, the underwater scenes were filmed at South Ocean just east of Nassau.


1997 | Sandra Bullock, Willem Dafoe

This was the dog of a sequel to “Speed,” which launched the careers of Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves. Reeves wisely bowed out of chapter two, but Bullock signed on in exchange for financing for a film project of her own (well, that and a reported $11 million payday). The plot features a villain (Dafoe) whose evil plan is to crash a cruise ship into an oil tanker. The plan goes awry (of course) and the ship crashes into a town instead. Director Jan de Bont picked St. Martin for the land shots because it rarely gets hurricanes. For the crash scene, the crew extended the town of Marigot into the harbor, creating a whole new waterfront. Ironically, during construction, Marigot was hit by a hurricane that destroyed much of the set. Underwater shots were filmed in the Tongue of the Ocean south of Nassau, Bahamas, but the water was too clear for the director’s liking, so he had divers sprinkling sediment in front of the camera lens to make it grittier.


1965 & 1983 | Sean Connery

Two of the best Bond films, both starring the original Bond, are separated by almost two decades but both play out in Nassau, Bahamas. Thunderball is famous for its underwater fight scenes and for a nuclear-armed Vulcan bomber hidden on the floor of the ocean. The “bomber” was made of PVC pipe and canvas, so much of it has disintegrated over the years, but local operators still dive the site regularly. The cave used for the underwater fight scene is on Staniel Cay, in the Exuma chain just south of Nassau. Other scenes were filmed on Love Beach and at the Clifton Pier near Lyford Cay. Much of the rest of the film is set in Nassau itself. Connery’s last Bond film,”Never Say Never Again” revisits many of the same locations used for “Thunderball” and adds a few more. These include the Tears of Allah wreck and Villa 1085 at the One and Only Ocean Club on Paradise Island, which you can book if you’re in the mood for a Bond-themed holiday.


1958 | Spencer Tracy

This is the screen version of Ernest Hemingway’s classic novella about an elderly fisherman’s fight to catch a huge marlin. Although critics panned the movie — it was the first to use blue screen (now called green screen) technology — Hemingway loved it and it’s gotten better reviews as the years go by. This is one of the last American movies to be filmed in Cuba. A year after it’s release Castro had taken power, and just three years later the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Bay of Pigs invasion happened. It’s worth seeing, if only for its views of pre-Revolution Cuban fishing villages.


1974 | Al Pacino, Robert Duvall, Diane Keaton, Robert De Niro

Part of the fascination of the Godfather series is its blending of real events into the fictional lives of the Corleones. In Part II of the series, Michael (Pacino) visits Cuba to see an old family associate Hyman Roth, played by Lee Strasberg and loosely based on mobster Meyer Lansky. The movie scene occurs as the Batista regime is crumbling and Castro about to take power. In real life, Lansky left Cuba before Castro arrived in Havana because, having been born in Russia he said “I know a communist revolution when I see one.” The movie couldn’t be made in Havana because of the American embargo against Cuba, so the island scenes were filmed in the Dominican Republic. Some were set at Caso de Campo, the resort owned by Paramount Pictures parent company Gulf & Western near La Romana. The New Year’s Eve party thrown by Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista was staged in the Palacio Nacional in Santo Domingo.


1985 | Natasha Henstridge, Michael Madsen, Marg Helgenberger

Although ultimately forgettable, “Species” and “Species II” were very successful at the box office. The plot involves extraterrestrials who beam instructions about their DNA to earth, where it’s received and decoded by a team at the giant radio telescope in Arecibo, Puerto Rico. The DNA is then spliced into human DNA and a hybrid alien/human woman develops. When she turns out to be a homicidal biological weapon designed by the aliens, the team has to track and kill her. The radio telescope at Arecibo also appeared in the Jodie Foster film “Contact,” written by astronomer Carl Sagan and in the Pierce Brosnan-era Bond film “Goldeneye.”


2003 – 2011 | Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightley, Penelope Cruz

The phenomenally successful “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise has used locations throughout the region for its backdrops. Wallilabou Bay, St. Vincent is the film’s setting for Port Royal, which was actually located near Kingston, Jamaica. Petit Tabac in the Grenadines is the deserted island where Depp and Knightley are marooned in the first movie. Much of film two (“Dead Man’s Chest”) was filmed in Dominica: the cannibal village is High Meadow, the beach featured in Depp’s chase scene is Hampstead and the location of the voodoo lady is along the Indian River. Palominito Island near the El Conquistador Resort in Fajardo, Puerto Rico is where Depp maroons Penelope Cruz in film four (“On Stranger Tides”). The Cadiz fort in film four is Castillo San Cristóbal in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico.


1993 | Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Richard Attenborough, Samuel L. Jackson, Jeff Goldblum

Although writer Michael Crichton set his novel on a small island off Costa Rica, director Steven Spielberg decided to do the principal photography on the island of Kauai in Hawaii because he’d filmed there before. During production, the island was hit by Hurricane Iniki and some additional scenes were then filmed in Costa Rica and along the Chavon River near La Romana in the eastern Dominican Republic. Chavon was also the setting for some scenes from “Apocalypse Now,” the 1979 epic by Francis Ford Coppola that blended Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness” with the Vietnam War.

For the original report go to

One thought on “Sun screenings: Famous film locations in the Caribbean

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s