10 Action-Packed Movies With an Island Setting

You may have dreams of exotic island paradises, white sands, and sunny weather, but that’s not something that’ll have you at the edge of your seat on movie night. Sometimes islands are full of dangerous creatures, mysterious locals, and swashbuckling pirates. 

Do you like your islands with a dose of action, love, horror, tragedy, and hilarity? We’ve made a list of what we think are the best 10 island adventure movies of all time.

Top 10 Island Adventure Movies

Here are the top 10 island adventure movies worth watching.

1. Swiss Army Man (2016)

Let’s start with what’s easily the weirdest island film on the list. Swiss Army Man follows a man who’s lost all hope. Stranded on a deserted island, he discovers and befriends a dead body (played by Daniel Radcliffe). From there, the story only gets stranger, as the body begins to talk and learn useful tricks. To top it off, the film is essentially a musical, performed in acapella. I can’t think of any other island action movie where one of the leading roles is literally a corpse. 

Rolling Stone’s Peter Travers calls Swiss Army Man “a baller of a movie.” However, with 72% at Rotten Tomatoes and 7/10 on IMDb, many critics claim the film leaves the audience wanting. Arguably, wanting more, as the film’s not only hilarious, but the musical score is uplifting, and the story is weirdly relatable.

Swiss Army Man deals with the theme of dishonesty, and we’d be lying if we said this film wouldn’t shock and disturb you. But trust us, depending on your sense of humor, this island adventure will be one you don’t quickly forget.

2. Jaws (1975)

Like many films on this list, there have been plenty of remakes, sequels, prequels, and spin-offs of the Jaws universe. You likely hear the familiar, suspenseful theme song that plays whenever the killer shark lurches for another kill. In case you’ve missed this classic, the story follows a local sheriff, a biologist, and an elderly boatman on a mission to slay an enormous shark plaguing Amity Island.

Jaws is a classic horror movie that defines suspense and inspired many films that followed. The scenery can get bloody, so leave the kids at gran’s house for this viewing.

Certainly not a feel-good island movie, Jaws will have you at the edge of your seat until the last minute. And there’s enough positive chatter to back up this pick, as the film scores a 98% on Rotten Tomatoes and an 8/10 on IMDb. 

3. The Beach (2000)

One of Leonardo DiCaprio’s best acts, The Beach delivers moments of perfect, hedonistic happiness, teenage love, and the grim reality of an island paradise. The movie starts strong, though the third act is admittedly bonkers.

The story follows a young man (DiCaprio) who follows a strange map to an island paradise in Thailand. What at first appears to be a tropical paradise eventually becomes a descent into madness and loss of humanity.

It’s a movie as confused as the characters it depicts, with many overlapping and conflicting themes that make the first watch-through entertaining, but the second perhaps more frustrating than anything. Our suggestion would be to make up your own ideas for what this movie’s about, as director Danny Boyle may not have provided one in the first place.

The film scores a low 20% on Rotten Tomatoes and a 6.7/10 on IMDb, but The Beach remains a classic in the island adventure genre despite the criticism.

4. King Kong (2005)

King Kong is the stuff of legends, and the king of apes isn’t done with Hollywood yet. With the upcoming Godzilla vs. Kong, there’s plenty of hype to go around for the foreseeable future. 

While you can’t beat the 1933 classic, the early 2000s remake by director Peter Jackson holds a steady 81/100 Metascore (via Metacritic). With big stars like Naomi Watts, Jack Black, and Adrien Brody, King Kong drew a crowd and delivered its promises.

While it’s difficult to watch this movie in one sitting (run time is three hours and seven minutes), you’ll want to watch it from start to end. The CGI in this movie was a marvel for its time, rivaling Avatar (2009) and even recent Marvel Studios films. Just wait until you see Kong battle it out with not one but two adult T-rex. Jurassic Park lovers will appreciate the action.

And the scene where all the explorers fall into a canyon full of horrendous giant worms and arachnids is absolute nightmare fuel.

The plot follows a film producer and his team to the legendary Skull Island, where they encounter cannibals, dinosaurs, giant insects, and of course, King Kong.

5. Moana (2016)

An island adventure list in 2021 wouldn’t be complete without Moana. Taking place in ancient Polynesia, a demigod named Maui (cast as Dwayne Johnson) unleashes a curse that endangers Moana’s island. She goes to the sea to find the demigod and return her island to normal.

Moana is another comedic musical classic from Disney, featuring a strong female lead (played by Auli’I Cravalho) who breaks stereotypes and rises to a position of leadership in her community. 

The film scores a 7.6/10 on IMDb and 95% on Rotten Tomatoes, while The Verge considers it Disney’s first “perfect” movie. It’s up to you to decide if that’s true, but we’re sure the whole family will get a kick out of this one. The demigod Maui will have you laughing with his tough-guy image and talking tattoos that occasionally come to life to comment on the story.

6. Life of Pi (2012)

If you haven’t read the book this film is based on, we highly recommend it. It’s a real treat. Director Ang Lee’s movie adaptation of Life of Pi does justice to the book, bringing to life the story of a young man who survives a shipwreck. Early in the story, the boy forms a delicate bond with a Bengal Tiger. 

The story begins with Pi Patel (Suraj Sharma) and a young writer who agrees to write Pi’s bizarre life story. We then follow Pi from childhood until the point of the disaster at sea, learning about Pi’s internal and external struggles. Pi’s family owns a zoo, where he learns about life through the actions of the zoo animals.

The tiger isn’t the only animal that survives the wreck, as viewers will soon find out. This film’s island scene is a spectacle that’ll surprise you, and we don’t want to give too much away. Pi will leave you wondering, “Did that actually happen, or did Pi make it all up?”

7. Kong – Skull Island (2017)

The King of Apes is already on this list once, but Kong – Skull Island deserves an entry. Between the soundtrack and stunning scenery and CGI in this film, matching the 1973 vibe, director Jordan Vogt-Roberts left a mark on the Kong franchise. 

And let’s not leave out John C. Reilly and Samual L. Jackson’s intense performances. Clocking in at one hour and 58 minutes, you can watch this iteration of King Kong in one sitting, compared to the three-hour odyssey from 2005.

It’s a monster film that’ll fill you with excitement and dread, and some moments featuring the giant ape will make you wonder, “how did they get that shot?” We’re thrown into the action within the first half-hour, as a team of scientists and Vietnam War vets head to the uncharted Skull Island in the Pacific. Their initial encounter with the terrible Kong will take you off guard in the best way.

In this movie, fight sequences are ferocious, with opponents including a giant octopus, gunships, and a hoard of ancient monsters. The island and its massive creatures will leave you convinced that a place like this may have once existed.

8. Jurassic Park (1993)

Anyone who grew up in the 90s will know the classic monster film, Jurassic Park. Today, the franchise lives through the Jurassic World films, with another (Jurassic World: Dominion) set to release June 10, 2022. 

The story follows a paleontologist (Grant, played as Sam Neill) visiting a theme park designed to contain and display cloned dinosaurs. When the monsters break loose, it’s up to Grant to protect a couple of kids as they escape the island.

The original Jurassic Park, based on writer Michael Crichton’s famous novel, and directed by Steven Spielberg, is baked into the childhood memories of millions of people today. The soundtrack is a meme with staying power. You likely hear it in your head as you read this. The film’s Academy Award-winning special effects was the stuff of nightmares in the early 90s. To this day, Jurassic Park remains a standard for filmmakers who go with low-CGI. 

Later films in the franchise have been mainly one-off CGI spectacles. However, the original movie had Michael Crichton on deck to write the screenplay, resulting in moments of shock, humor, and moral pondering.

Scoring a 91% on Rotten Tomatoes and an 8.1/10 on IMDb, Jurassic Park will likely remain a classic for some time. 

9. Pirates of The Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003)

The first few films in the Pirates of the Caribbean series are all worth being on this list. If you haven’t watched them all, it’s worth a binge. The first Pirates film, directed by Gore Verbinski, debuted the now world-famous, outlandish Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp). The character would go on to be one of Mr. Depp’s most memorable acts of his career. 

The film opens with pirate (excuse me, “Captain”) Jack Sparrow and blacksmith Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) on a mission to rescue kidnapped Elizabeth Swann (played by Keira Knightley) from captain Hector Barbossa (as Geoffrey Rush). 

If you want islands full of dangerous creatures, bad guys, oceanic gods, seafaring pirate battles, coastal town raids, and warzones, hilarious quips and slapstick humor, and an incredibly attractive lead cast, you have to watch Pirates of the Caribbean. The musical scores in these films are as iconic as Jack Sparrow himself. They capture the sound that is an adventure on the open sea.

Scoring a 79% on Rotten Tomatoes and an 8/10 on IMDb, The Curse of the Black Pearl remains a family film classic. 

10. Cast Away (2000)

Life’s a beach, as FedEx executive Chuck Noland (played as Tom Hanks), who crash-landed on a deserted island, will tell you. 

Stranded on an uninhabited island in the South Pacific, Chuck spends over four years making desperate attempts to survive and make it home. Tom Hanks earned Best Actor in a Leading Role at the 73rd Academy Awards for his performance in Cast Away. Still, the real star was Wilson the volleyball. 

As Chuck begins to lose his mind, he finds a volleyball that washed ashore. He ultimately gives the ball a name and befriends it. The film’s screenwriter, William Broyles Jr., spent a week in isolation on a beach in the Gulf of California, where a volleyball washed ashore and gave him the Wilson character’s idea.

Filmed on the island of Monuriki, an island in Fiji, the film captures a sense of hopelessness, unlike anything you may find in other island adventure films. Exploring the island, Chuck slowly creates tools, shelter, and a means to find food and holds on to hope that someone would come along to save him.

Honorable Mention

The above list will help you choose your next island adventure from the comfort of your living room couch, but there was one more film we wanted to mention.

Shutter Island (2010)

Set in 1954, a U.S. Marshal (Teddy, played by Leonardo DiCaprio) investigates a murderer on the run from an asylum on Shutter Island in Boston Harbor. It’s a highly stylized psychological thriller with a modern classical score, capturing a level of creepiness you may not find in other films on this list.

Directed by Martin Scorsese and based on Dennis Lehane’s novel of the same name, Shutter Island found favorable reviews among critics and currently has an 8.2/10 on IMDb.

(We also have an article on some of the other Best Island Adventure Movies you will ever watch)

Wrap-up

We’ve delivered a solid list of ten island adventure films, plus a bonus pick so that you can get your dose of paradise (or hell, depending on your film choice). 

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