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Ten Best Hollywood Beach Movies

Beach movies are legion in Hollywood. Beach Blanket Bingo, Gidget, Where the Boys Are, Ride the Wild Surf, Girl Happy, Beach Party, Beach Ball, Wild on the Beach, The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini and Surf Party are the best films.

The venerable beach movie – sun, surf, sand, girls, music, romance – has been around since the 1950s. Here are ten beach movies that no film fan should ever miss – unless of course you have a note from your parents.

Beach Blanket Bingo (American International, 1965)

Often considered the big kahuna in the genre, Beach Blanket Bingo stars that dynamic duo of Frankie Avalon (Frankie) and Annette Funicello (Dee Dee) in one of Hollywood's all-time sun and surf romps. It's all here – beach parties, a surf rock band (the Hondells), the Malibu Rat Pack motorcycle gang headed by Eric Von Zipper (Harvey Lembeck) and a comely Linda Evans in the role of girl singer Sugar Kane. Frankie and Annette sing "Beach Blanket Bingo" and "I Think You Think" while the Hondells perform "Cycle Set" and Donna Loren croons "It Only Hurts When I Cry." Deborah Walley, John Ashley, Jody McCrea, Marta Kristen, Timothy Carey, Paul Lynde, Buster Keaton and even "Mr. Insult" himself Don Rickles as Big Drop are also on hand. "You know something? A kiss is worth more than a thousand words," Frankie says. "Then why don't you stop talking?," Annette replies. Oh, keen!

Director: William Asher

Review: "The classic beach movie of the 1960s, with Don Rickles and Buster Keaton adding their shtick to all the nonsense. Lots of great rock-and-roll." The Motion Picture Guide (1985)

On DVD: Beach Blanket Bingo (MGM/UA, 2001)

Gidget (Columbia, 1959)

Sandra Dee has the title role as Francie Lawrence a.k.a. Gidget, a 17-year-old girl who finds romance on the beach during one unforgettable summer. With Moondoggie (James Darren) as her love interest/surfing instructor, Gidget also learns the art of "shooting the curl" in the big southern California waves. Cliff Robertson, Arthur O'Connell, Sue George, Tom Laughlin, Yvonne Craig and the Four Preps are also in the mix. Based on the 1957 novel of the same name by Frederick Kohner, Gidget spawned two feature-length sequels, Gidget Goes Hawaiian (1961) and Gidget Goes to Rome (1963), along with the popular Gidget TV series (1965-66) starring Sally Field. "Honest to goodness it's the absolute ultimate!" Sandra Dee's Gidget gushes. Well, can't argue with that.

Director: Paul Wendkos

Review: "Sandra Dee is the 'gidget' of the title, being a young woman, so slight in stature she is tagged with a nickname which is a contraction of girl and midget. Dee is in that crucial period of growing up where she doesn't like boys very much but is beginning to realize they are going to play a big part in her life." - Variety (1959)

On DVD: The Complete Gidget Collection (Columbia, 2004)

Australian daybill movie poster: Cliff Robertson, Sandra Dee, James Darren in Gidget (1959)

Where the Boys Are (MGM, 1960)

Dolores Hart, George Hamilton, Yvette Mimieux, Jim Hutton, Paula Prentiss and Connie Francis all journey south to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, for spring break in this beach movie classic based on the novel by Glendon Swarthout. There's plenty of action, romance and college student hijinks in this one, including a scene where Jim Hutton as a drunken TV Thompson dives into a water tank and pursues one of the comely "mermaids" inside. Frank Gorshin scores a good role as a groovy jazz musician, Chill Wills plays a police captain who readies his troops for the annual collegiate invasion and Miss Connie Francis sings the title song. Dolores Hart, who plays the outspoken Merritt Andrews and gal pal of George Hamilton's suave Ivy Leaguer Ryder Smith, later became a nun and is now known as Reverend Mother Dolores Hart. A popular porn movie later appropriated this MGM title with a bit of a twist, calling itself Where the Boys Ain't.

Director: Henry Levin

Review: "Where the Boys Are is one of those pictures every intelligent moviegoer will loathe himself for liking – a corny, phony, raucous outburst of fraternity humor, sorority sex talk and house-mother homilies that nevertheless warms two hours of winter with a travel-poster tanorama of fresh young faces, firm young bodies and good old Florida sunshine..." - Time (1/20/61)

On DVD: Where the Boys Are (Warner, 2004)

Ride the Wild Surf (Columbia, 1964)

Fabian, Shelley Fabares, Peter Brown, Barbara Eden, Tab Hunter, Susan Hart and James Mitchum all soak up the rays and surf in this beach entry set on the Hawaiian island of Oahu. "Hang ten" is the principal theme, as cool Jody Wallis (Fabian), Steamer Lane (Hunter), Chase Colton (Brown) and badass Eskimo (Mitchum) prepare to do battle in the big surfing contest. There's the usual romance of course, along with Jan and Dean performing the movie's title song and the Marketts singing "Surfer's Stomp."  Mickey "Da Cat" Dora, Greg Noll and Dick Ziker performed many of the surfing scenes at legendary Waimea Bay.

Director: Don Taylor

Review: "Where Ride the Wild Surf really delivers is in its picturesque use of Hawaiian locations and its admirable efforts to capture the surfing culture there, much like the first (and somewhat underrated) Gidget." - Stuart Galbraith IV, DVD Talk (2004)

On DVD: Ride the Wild Surf (Sony, 2005)

Title lobby card: Ride the Wild Surf (1964)

Girl Happy (MGM, 1965)

Elvis Presley stars as Rusty Wells, a singer at a Chicago nightclub who is hired by the mobster owner (Harold J. Stone) to look after his daughter Valerie (Shelley Fabares) while on spring break in Florida. A lean, handsome, raven-haired  Elvis is joined in the cast by Gary Crosby, Joby Baker, Jimmy Hawkins, Nita Talbot and Mary Ann Mobley, the latter of whom reigned as Miss America of 1959. "The King" of course sings throughout the picture, delivering such spirited tunes as "Do the Clam," "Spring Fever," "Wolf Call" and "Puppet on a String."

Director: Boris Sagal

Review: "Even with a large throng of clean-cut youngsters and some fetching Fort Lauderdale backgrounds woven in for travel-poster picturesqueness, the picture meanders familiarly. The saving grace is the steady stream of tunes, as rhythmical as they are unoriginal, belted out by the star and the other youngsters. That's one thing—for those who care—you can always count on in Presley frolic." - Howard Thompson, The New York Times (5/27/65)

On DVD: Girl Happy (Warner, 2007)

Beach Party (American International, 1963)

This is the first installment in AIP's beach movie series, with Bob Cummings starring as Robert Orwell Sutwell, an anthropology professor who with his assistant Marianne (Dorothy Malone) embark on a study of teenage sex habits. Their quest leads them to the beach where Frankie Avalon (Frankie), Annette Funicello (Dolores) and other young people hang out and hang ten. Harvey Lembeck, John Ashley, Eva Six, Jody McCrea, Morey Amsterdam and Dick Dale and the Del-Tones also appear, with the latter performing "Swingin' and a-Surfin" and "Secret Surfin' Spot." Like, far out, babe...

Director: William Asher

Review: "Doom-daddle, doom-daddle, doom-daddle. That's the swingin' beat, the dialogue flavor and just about the sum and substance of 'Beach Party.' American International floated it in yesterday at the Palace and the Fabian Fox in Brooklyn. Aboard are a group of teen-age singing idols, headed by Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello. Hanging on for dear life are two old fogeys named Bob Cummings and Dorothy Malone. Landlubbers, look out!" - The New York Times (9/26/63)

On DVD: Beach Party (MGM, 2000)

Beach Ball (Paramount, 1965)

Edd "Kookie" Byrnes of TV's 77 Sunset Strip heads the cast as Dick Martin in this lively beach romp, with lovely, blond Chris Noel, Robert Logan, Aron Kincaid, Mikki Jamison, Don Edmonds and Brenda Benet also on hand. The story centers on three aspiring musicians and their plan to make some bread so they can get their instruments out of hock and compete in the big talent show. Sand, sun, surf, chicks, fast cars and the musical talents of the Supremes, the Hondells, the Four Seasons, the Nashville Teens, the Righteous Brothers and the Walker Brothers conspire for some good, clean fun. "Those surf ridin', skin divin', sky jumpin', drag racin', beach bashin' boys and their bikini beauties... in a blast of a beach brawl!" promised the film's promotional material. Is it too late to sign up?

Director: Lennie Weinrib

Review: "Good, nonsensical 1960s rock and roll/surf movie." The Motion Picture Guide (1985)

On DVD: Not commercially available

One sheet movie poster: Chris Noel in Beach Ball (1965)

Wild on the Beach (Twentieth Century-Fox, 1965)

Frankie Randall and Sherry Jackson play college kids who mistakenly rent the same beach house. Their friends show up, resulting in a wild party punctuated by a lot of loud, groovy rock 'n' roll music. Sonny & Cher, the Astronauts, Jackie & Gayle, Cindy Malone, Russ Bender, Frankie Randall and Sandy Nelson provide the tunes.

Director: Maury Dexter

Review: "Notable only for an appearance by Sonny and Cher." - The Motion Picture Guide (1985)

On DVD: Not commercially available

The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini (American International, 1966)

Boris Karloff – a long way from Frankenstein (1931) – plays a corpse who must perform a good deed within 24 hours in order to gain admittance to the pearly gates. He finds his opening when Basil Rathbone's evil lawyer character Reginald Ripper plans to kill off the young beneficiaries to Uncle Boris' estate. Tommy Kirk, Deborah Walley, Aron Kincaid, Quinn O'Hara, Jesse White, Harvey Lembeck, Nancy Sinatra and Susan Hart are also on hand in this bizarre beach tale filmed in Pasadena, California. The Bobby Fuller Four perform "Swing a-Ma Thing" and "Make the Music Pretty."

Director: Don Weis

Review: "The climax is a less-funny reworking of the final sequence in Beach Blanket Bingo, with the heroine (Walley) strapped to the longest buzzsaw plank in film history." - Hal Erickson, All Movie Guide

On DVD: The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini/Ghost of Dragstrip Hollow Midnite Movies Double Feature (MGM, 2005)

Surf Party (Twentieth Century-Fox, 1964)

Patricia Morrow, Jackie De Shannon and Kenny Miller play Arizona teens who head to Malibu, California, for sun, surf and romance. Pop singer Bobby Vinton plays Len Marshal, the owner of a surf shop. Look for the Routers and the Astronauts, two early surf groups, who perform several tunes. "When Beach Boys Meet Surf Sweeties – it's a Real Swingin' Splash of FUN, FUN, FUN!" heralded the film's promo material. Talk about name dropping, but the Beach Boys and their 1964 hit single "Fun, Fun, Fun" are nowhere to be found.

Director: Maury Dexter

Review: "...Lots of romance (including naughty fun by 1964 standards), big waves and the Polish Prince (Vinton) running a surf shop. Inane stuff that was pretty hot in its time but now plays as entertaining camp." - The Motion Picture Guide (1985)

On DVD: Not commercially available

One sheet movie poster: Surf Party (1964)

Ten More Beach Movie Favorites

  • How to Stuff a Wild Bikini (1965)
  • It's a Bikini World (1967)
  • Gidget Goes Hawaiian (1961)
  • Bikini Beach (1964)
  • Back to the Beach (1987)
  • Palm Springs Weekend (1963)
  • Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine (1965)
  • The Beach Girls and the Monster (1965)
  • Ski Party (1965)
  • Pajama Party (1964)

Lobby card: How to Stuff a Wild Bikini (1965)

Images Credit

  • All images courtesy Heritage Auction Galleries, Dallas, Texas
  • Top image: Lobby card: Beach Blanket Bingo (1965)

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Comments (5)

Awesome review as always.

Hey, another perfect hang ten! Thanks! Surf's UP!!

Wow, you did a really good job!

Good information!

Never seen these movies. But seems like fun :) Tweeted :)

Some sexy movies of yesterday.

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