Top 5 Beach Movies We Hate to Love

Here's the best beach flicks to help overcome the mid-winter blues and why Baywatch is the best filmed beach entertainment of all time that we hate to love.

Now that daytime temps are more consistently dropping below 60 (the equivalent of  sub-zero for wimpy San Diegans), we're dreaming of balmy summer beach days.

One cure for the Southern California mid-winter blues (besides facing the fact that winter is the best time to hit the beach) is to make some popcorn, curl up on the couch and check out one of these ultra fun beach movies.

1. Fast Times at Ridgemont High

Face it, Sean Penn as Jeff Spicoli, a semi-savant, airhead, lamebrain is the best film portrayal of a surfer ever (with the exception of Jay Adams as himself in Dogtown.) Directed by Amy Heckerling (who went on to even better stuff in Clueless) and penned by San Diego’s own Cameron Crowe, Fast Times nails late '70s early '80s SoCal teen culture, before John Hughes moved the nexus of teen lollapalooza to the Midwest with movies like The Breakfast Club and Ferris Bueller's Day Off.

The best thing about Fast Times is its crazy good cast including Judge Reinhold, Phoebe Cates (so babalicious!), Forest Whitaker, Eric Stolz (who Quentin Tarantino would later allow to update his role as a drug dealer in Pulp Fiction), Anthony Edwards, Nicolas Cage, rocker goddess Nancy Wilson (who Crowe later married), and Ray Walston as Mr. Hand, the high school teacher we all remember hating. With lots of nudity, sex, drinking and drugs, you probably don’t want your teens to watch this, but more than likely they already have. 

2. Valley Girl

Nicolas Cage wins over valley-beach princess Julie played by Deborah Freedman in this underrated '80s teen flick. With lots of screen time for LA power pop indie gods The Plimsouls, in Valley Girl, like in all great teen pics, the key romancing takes place at the beach. Cage updates the stereotypical “greaser” role into that of a a Hollywood punker and woos his dream girl on the sands of Santa Monica.

Valley Girl was helmed by Martha Coolidge, who went on to discover and direct Val Kilmer in the 80s classic Real Genius. Valley Girl is a companion piece to Moon Zappa’s horrible and ultra-ironic Valley Girl, arguably the best-worst white girl rap song ever.

3. Malibu Beach/Van Nuys Boulevard

The best thing about this absolutely lame but lovable twofer from the exploitation kings at Crown International Pictures was the appearance of James Daughton as Bobby in Malibu Beach. Daughton later went on to fame as fascist frat boy Greg Marmalard in Animal House (the best college movie ever). These no-plot teen flicks were drive-in staples during the late '70s (although I caught them at the now defunct Palm Theater in Imperial Beach) and feature characters such as Dugie (a Speedo wearing greased up bodybuilder) and Chooch (a porn-mustached hot rod racer) who channels Harrison Ford’s Bob Falfa from American Graffiti while ripping off Henry Winkler's Fonz.

Malibu Beach features an endless parade of airhead bimbo and mimbos driving the oak-lined streets of Malibu while drunk or stoned on their way to the beach to have sex. The likewise plotless Van Nuys Boulevard, a sub-grade rip-off of George Lucas’s American Graffiti, features even dumber teens who cruise around in custom vans while drunk or stoned on their way to have sex at the drive-up burger shack (which is like totally awesome). The best thing about these films is that Richard Linklater used them as templates for his super cool  Dazed and Confused, which is the best teen film of all time. For some reason, both Malibu Beach and Van Nuys Boulevard appeared recently on Netflix streaming and then disappeared. Hopefully you can catch them again very, very soon.

4. The Sure Thing

The film that introduced us to the awkward John Cusack that we came to know and love in Say Anything, Grosse Pointe Blank and High Fidelity among others, this romantic flick directed by Rob Reiner is a gem. Cusack teamed up with Daphne Zuniga (Melrose Place) and super dude Anthony Edwards on this road trip to Malibu, CA, along with The Sure Thing, played by ultra hottie Nicolette Sheridan. This is a homage to Frank Capra’s Oscar winning, It Happened One Night (sort of), although with no redeeming social value, except for the fact that it is still really, really charming.

5. Weekend at Bernie’s

An annoying but fun teen exploitation flick starring Jonathan Silverman and Andrew McCarthy a few years after he wooed Molly Ringwald in Pretty in Pink and decades before he morphed into a perceptive travel writer. Weekend takes place at an East Coast beach mansion which explains why all the bad guys are all neon-suit wearing mobsters with bad haircuts. Ted Kiser plays Bernie, the dead guy, who at one point is taken water-skiing by McCarthy and Silverman while he's dead. This is one of the those films that doesn’t stand the test of time, but with characters named Paulie, Vito, Tina, and Tawny, how can you resist? Plus your kids will love it.


Unfortunately Baywatch was a television series so I couldn't include it my top five list, although nothing else even comes close to being the single best beach filmed entertainment of all time that we hate to love. I mean with David "German God" Hasselhoff, Pamela Anderson, Parker Stevenson (the totally cool star of my favorite '70s TV series The Hardy Boys) and Kelly Slater (!!!!!), Baywatch is like a graduate seminar in Southern California beach culture. And the people of the world, to their credit, ate it up.

Other honorable mentions include the lovable Lifeguard (Sam Elliot as cool as ever), Blue Hawaii and Mama Mia because, Elvis+Abba=Nirvana. I didn't include The Beach because it isn't that fun and Cast Away is long and kind of a drag. Some Like it Hot didn't make my list because this classic and brilliant Billy Wilder comedy (as in one of the best comedies ever) starring Tony Curtis and Marilyn Monroe that was filmed on the beach in Coronado, will forever be a beach picture that we love to love.

So what are your choices for the beach films you hate to love?

Serge Dedina is executive director of WiLDCOAST, an international conservation team that conserves coastal and marine ecosystems and wildlife. He is the author of Wild Sea and Saving the Gray Whale.

Ed Sorrels January 16, 2013 at 10:52 PM
As many bad ones as there were, There were ones like " BIG WEDNESDAY " that were pretty good, it is one of my favorites about the ocean.
kimasdad January 17, 2013 at 11:16 PM
I loved "BAYWATCH", and not only because San Diego's own "San Diego Social Diary's" and "La Jolla Patch's" society editor was an actor on the TV series!
Smiley ShakeANDwink January 18, 2013 at 05:10 PM
What about Saturday Morning kids shows like Sigmund and The Sea Monsters? Jabberjaw, Speed Buggy and of course Flipper comes to mind as well. I know the Elvis films are pretty dated but Clambake was a real hoot! Frankie and Annette as well, but I'm pretty certain the old Bruce Brown films are a guilty pleasure to more than a few around here. It's ok, you don't need to hide your continued indulgence in the innocent perfection which they were, even though you can't help but get head swirling pride when reveling at the new school epics like Step Into Liquid, Riding Giants and Highwater. ;)
Smiley ShakeANDwink January 18, 2013 at 05:36 PM
Even though it was filmed in France, here's a snippet from summers long past, enjoy: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z3E2OCvmM50
Pop Quiz April 10, 2013 at 02:12 AM
The best surf Movie? "5 summer stories" is my favorite. The Chuck Dent rant is timeless in that movie. Throw in some psychedelic animation and Jerry Lopez. It is the best! Also contains great early 70's skaters and equipment. All Bruce Browns films are great! including on any Sunday! Bruce knew it is all about having fun. The movie "Longer" shows why Joel Tudor is the greatest/smoothest longboarder alive. Would like to see this shown at Pier Plaza some warm summer night. And honorable mention "The Gathering". 2002 movie about the Margaritaville/ Longboard magazine contest in IB and Oceanside. Oh Yea Joel is in that too.


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