Catch a wave
It’s officially beach season! From love scenes amid the surf to slapstick on the sand, the beach has played host to some of our favorite sequences in movies and TV. Ring in the summertime with these great seaside screen moments.
From Here to Eternity (1953)
The most famous, most essential beach scene in film history has to be Deborah Kerr and Burt Lancaster’s forbidden embrace in Fred Zinnemans’ From Here to Eternity. The iconic scene, in which the adulterous lovers kiss like there’s no tomorrow (maybe because there kind of isn’t), was originally written with them standing up; it was reportedly Lancaster’s idea to shoot it lying down, with water washing over them.
There are beach scenes, and then there are beach series. That’s Baywatch. The legendary TV show lasted for 11 seasons, inspired a film adaptation earlier this year, and made a red one-piece the most iconic piece of swimwear on the planet.
The 400 Blows (1959)
François Truffaut’s seminal French New Wave classic ends with the troubled young hero Antoine Doinel (Jean-Pierre Léaud), who has never seen the ocean, running away to the beach. He slows down to take a few steps in the water, walks back toward the shore, and then looks directly into the camera for one of the most iconic freeze-frames in film history.
Top Gun (1986)
Sure, Maverick (Tom Cruise) and his fellow badass fighter-pilots-in-training have the need for speed, or whatever, but thankfully director Tony Scott never forgot that we, the audience, have the need for sweaty homoerotic beach volleyball.
The Notebook (2004)
One of the sweetest, swooniest scenes in the dreamy romance of Noah (Ryan Gosling) and Allie (Rachel McAdams) in this Nicholas Sparks weepie takes place at a beach (and features some seriously perfect 1940s swimwear). Now say it: If you’re a bird, I’m a bird.
Die Another Day (2002)
Fresh off her Oscar win for 2001’s Monster’s Ball, Halle Berry’s next step was to join the James Bond franchise in 2002’s Die Another Day as NSA operative Jinx. In the grand tradition of Bond girls — most notably Ursula Andress as Honey Ryder in 1962’s Dr. No — Berry rocked a bikini to make a showstopping entrance on the beach.
Saving Private Ryan (1999)
Not all beach scenes have to do with vacations. With Saving Private Ryan, Steven Spielberg set out to make the most realistic war movie he possibly could. The film’s invasion of Normandy sequence, in which our heroes are among the American soldiers storming Omaha beach, is one of the most brutal battle scenes ever caught on film.
The Karate Kid (1984)
“Wax on, wax off” gets a lot of attention, but The Karate Kid’s beachside training scene, in which Daniel (Ralph Macchio) works on his balance while developing his “crane technique” is a thrilling step in his evolution.
“The Doorway,” Mad Men (2013)
No book or song or weekday matinee movie was ever just a throwaway period detail on Mad Men, so naturally, when Don Draper (Jon Hamm) appears in the season six opener “The Doorway” on a Hawaiian vacation with his beautiful young wife Megan (Jessica Paré), he’s reading Dante’s Inferno — which is a much better indication of his state of mind than the heavenly beach setting might suggest.
Steven Spielberg’s classic shark movie is the greatest summer blockbuster of all time for a reason. The suspenseful scene in which Chief Brody (Roy Scheider) watches a crowd of beachgoers first playing in the water, then turning and running from the terror beneath the surface, is a classic of great white proportions.
Planet of the Apes (1968)
It’s one of the great twists in cinematic history: Set centuries into the future, a group of astronauts (led by Charlton Heston), who had been in hibernation while traveling at light-speed, lands on a strange planet where apes rule over humans. Our heroes manage to escape the simian overlords and reach freedom, in the film’s final moments, on a beach — where they find the remains of the Statue of Liberty, revealing that the foreign planet was their own all along.
Moonrise Kingdom (2012)
One of the most memorable, most Wes Anderson-y sequences in the filmmaker’s delightful coming-of-age comedy is when 12-year-old runaways Sam (Jared Gilman) and Suzy (Kara Hayward) dance and kiss on the beach. Setting the mood is Suzy’s favorite yé-yé record, Françoise Hardy’s “Le Temps de l’Amour,” the lyrics of which translate roughly to, “It is the time for love, the time for friends, and for adventures…”
South Pacific (1958)
Joshua Logan’s film adaptation of the beloved Rodgers and Hammerstein WWII-set musical gets its best beach moment in nurse Nellie Forbush (Mitzi Gaynor)’s song “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair.” Of course, though Nellie lathers and rinses admirably, it’s a task much easier sung than done, and pretty soon she’s belting “I’m in Love with a Wonderful Guy” as if she had never shampooed him away at all.
In the throes of a midlife crisis, George (Dudley Moore) becomes infatuated with his dentist’s daughter Jenny (Bo Derek) and follows her to Mexico on her honeymoon. His interest becomes a full-blown obsession when he spots her running on the beach, wearing a nude swimsuit with her hair in cornrows. If we were grading these scenes on a scale, this iconic beach moment would earn a perfect 10.
The Seventh Seal (1957)
Ingmar Bergman’s classic, based on his own play, opens and closes with a famous pair of scenes by the sea. Because what better destination for a chess game for your life — that is, playing against Death — than a beach?
“Hollywood (Part 3),” Happy Days (1977)
This might not be one of the best beach scenes ever, but it is, in its way, one of the most significant. This season 5 episode of Happy Days sees Fonzie (Henry Winkler) jump over a shark on water skis (while still wearing his leather jacket, naturally). The ridiculous and out-of-character episode was widely derided — but never forgotten, as it inspired the phrase “jumping the shark.”
Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle (2003)
After the success of McG’s 2000 Charlie’s Angels movie, all three Angels (Drew Barrymore, Cameron Diaz, and Lucy Liu) returned for a 2003 sequel — and were joined by Demi Moore as fallen former angel. Moore makes a memorable entrance, meeting Diaz on the beach while the Beach Boys’ “Little Surfer Girl” plays.
The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
For Andy Dufresne, the man who was wrongly imprisoned and then “crawled through a river of s— and came out clean on the other side,” freedom means a beautiful Mexican beach. At the end of the movie, when his friend Red (Morgan Freeman) finally convinces the authorities he’s been “rehabilitated,” he meets Andy there for a joyful reunion.
Terms of Endearment (1983)
When uptight Aurora (Shirley MacLaine) goes on a lunch date with retired astronaut Garrett (Jack Nicholson), he convinces her to drink with him, and then somehow, they end up driving his convertible on the beach, her foot on the pedal and his on the wheel. “I’m not enjoying this!” she cries, braking and accidentally throwing him into the water.
“The One with the Jellyfish,” Friends (1997)
You know the best way to ease the pain of a jellyfish sting? Joey (Matt LeBlanc) does, but can’t bring himself to do it when Monica gets stung on the Friends’ trip to the beach. Chandler steps up to the plate and gets the job done, to the detriment of his campaign to get Monica to date him. “I think you’re sweet, and you’re smart, and I love you,” she tells him at the end of the episode. “But you will always be the guy who peed on me.”
The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999)
Who can blame Tom Ripley (Matt Damon) for becoming obsessed with Dickie Greenleaf (Jude Law) and the charmed life he leads, considering this irresistible beach moment where he meets Dickie and his fiancée Marge Sherwood (Gwyneth Paltrow) on the Mediterranean shore? The sight of those two insanely beautiful blond people lounging under the Italian sun would be enough to turn anyone into a psychopath, right?
Some Like It Hot (1959)
While Joe (Tony Curtis) has a close relationship with the girl he loves, Sugar (Marilyn Monroe), there’s just one problem: Sugar thinks he’s “Josephine,” the female saxophonist in their all-girl band. To win Sugar’s heart in return, Joe poses as a snobby millionaire on the beach, pointedly appealing to just about every one of her weaknesses with his performance. Telling “Junior” about her band, Sugar says their music is “real hot.” “Well, I guess some like it hot,” he replies, unimpressed. “I personally prefer classical music.” She’s a goner.
“Beach Games,” The Office (2007)
Beach Blanket Bingo (1965)
There are movies with beach scenes, and there are ’60s teen beach party movies. One of the most quintessential of the subgenre is William Asher’s Beach Blanket Bingo, starring Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello. There’s not much to say about the thin plot, but who cares? There are teens. At a beach. Partying.