12 Best Movies About Hawaiian Culture That You Should Watching Update 07/2024

Movies About Hawaiian Culture

A wide range of people live in Hawaii. Many different nationalities and cultural experiences can be found across the 300+ miles that separate Kauai from the Big Island. In fact, according to Wallet Hub, Hawaii has the nation’s highest proportion of people who identify as multiracial. ii

This is particularly evident in the wide range of films shot in, in, and near Hawaii. Twelve of our favorites will be featured in this post, each of which provides an entirely new way of looking into the lives of the people who call Hawaii home.

1: The Descendants (2011)

The Descendants (2011)

The Descendants, based on the 2007 novel by Kaui Hart Hemmings, an American novelist born in Hawaii, is one of the more well-known films about Hawaii created in the last ten years. Taking place in Kauai, the film tells the story of attorney Matt King, whose relatives want to sell his family’s 25,000 acres of land to developers for a fortune in order to build a new resort on the island. For the Best Adapted Screenplay, the film was nominated for five Academy Awards.

Similar arguments surrounded a 2,100-acre plot of land in central Oahu owned by George Galbraith, an Irish immigrant, who left it to his 48 children. The Trust for Public Land purchased the property in 2012 for a sum of $25 million. iii

2: Kuleana (2017)

Kuleana, or “responsibility” in Hawaiian, is a concept that is unique to the islands. Kuleana’s meaning is more complex than a mere translation can convey. Among other things, it examines the concept of family, allegiance, and what it means to be Hawaiian in the film that bears its name. As he returns home after the war and confronts the secrets surrounding his family’s past, Nohea Kanekoa’s journey is chronicled in Kuleana.

Kuleana, a film directed by Brian Kohne and starring a cast of Hawaiians, was shot entirely on Maui. The film is an expression of the director’s desire to “work in a genre that doesn’t exist yet, which is Hawaiian, and make a film about a people for whom there are few” (as stated by the director). iv Original music for the film was composed and sung by legendary Maui musician Willie K. The Guam International Film Festival named Kuleana its Best Feature Film winner. Upon its mainland release, the picture was renamed “Maui,” thus you may also come across it with that title.)

3: Jurassic Park (1993) & Jurassic World (2015)

Jurassic Park (1993)

There are some intriguing views of Hawaii’s landscape in Jurassic Park flicks, even though they may not tell you much about the actual experience of living there. In fact, Manawaiopuna Falls on Kauai has earned the moniker “Jurassic Park Falls” due to its major appearance in the first Jurassic Park film.

There are several sequences in Hawaii, many of which were filmed at Kualoa Ranch on Oahu, which is also known as “Hawaii’s backlot.” All of these movies have been filmed on the property: Jurassic Park, LOST, Kong: Skull Island, and Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle. Take the Hollywood Movie Sites Tour at Kulaloa Ranch to pose for a picture in front of some of these famous filming locations. In addition to recognizing some famous landmarks, this private nature reserve and operating cattle ranch offers 4000 acres of breathtaking natural splendor.

4: Moananuiakea (2018)

Long-distance navigation using celestial bodies, ocean waves and other natural indicators such as bird observation is typically given credit for the first arrival of humans to the Hawaiian islands by Polynesian navigators. As the president of the Polynesian Voyaging Society, Nainoa Thompson, a native Hawaiian navigator, has been a leading voice in restoring and passing on this ancient tradition to the next generation of navigators.

The Hokulea, a double-hulled voyaging canoe, and its crew conducted an incredible six-year voyage around the globe, visiting more than 150 ports. It chronicles the tale of the Malama Honua Worldwide Voyage and shines a light on cultural leaders who are working to bring these old practices into the modern world.

5: North Shore (1987)

North Shore (1987)

Consider this film an example of one of those “so horrible, it’s good” movies. The story of 18-year-old Rick Kane, who travels from Arizona to Oahu’s north coast to try his luck on the legendary and brutal waves, is told in the cult classic North Shore.

The movie’s real-life surf stars, such as Gerry Lopez, Mark Occhilupo, Laird Hamilton, Mark Foo, Derek Ho, and many others, are a big part of the enjoyment. For years following the film’s debut, Hamilton, who plays the violent and dishonest Lance Burkhart, says he was accosted by North Shore fans. When asked for an autograph, these fans frequently had harsh words for him for being such a bully onscreen. Perhaps it’s a sign of how much the North Shore has a way of getting into you.

6: Lilo & Stitch (2002)

In Disney’s Lilo & Stitch, a fable about an outlaw alien that crashes on Kauai and is mistakenly adopted as a puppy, Hanapepe on Kauai’s southwest coast served as the inspiration for Lilo’s home town. With its own mural on its local movie theater, the town of Hanapepe has taken its proper position in the film. For more than just its adorable storyline, Lilo & Stitch is famous for its usage of Hawaiian-born and raised voice performers like Tia Carrere and Jason Scott Lee.

7: Blue Hawaii (1961)

Blue Hawaii (1961)

The number of visitors to Hawaii increased from 296,000 in 1960 to 1.7 million in 1970.

the American fascination with Hawaii and its exotic imaginings was probably stoked by Elvis’s preoccupation with Hawaii and the three films he filmed there (the first of which being Blue Hawaii). In 1968, Hawaii Five-0 made its television debut, further igniting American fascination with the Aloha State.

There was a time when the Hawaii portrayed in these films and series was not the real Hawaii that its citizens knew and loved, but they nonetheless offer a glimpse into the past. The song “Blue Hawaii” serves as a prelude to the American love affair with all things Hawaiiana, and for those who can’t get enough Elvis.

8: Out of State (2017)

The 2017 Hawaii International Film Festival honored Out of State with the Best Made in Hawaii Feature and Audience Choice Feature awards. Ciara Lacy, a Native Hawaiian filmmaker, presents the story of two Native Hawaiians who, despite serving time in an Arizona jail, find comfort and hope in traditional Hawaiian cultural traditions. Unexpectedly, a fellow convict leads them to learn about these customs.

It follows David and Hale, the film’s protagonists, as they reconnect with Hawaiian culture, serve their sentences, and return home. When it comes to returning “home” after being incarcerated, the men featured in Out of State encounter several difficulties, which the documentary explores in great detail.

9, 10 and 11: Surfing Movies That Rise Above the Genre

Surf movies have a wide range of quality, even among their most dedicated devotees. Many documentaries that are jam-packed with jaw-dropping footage of surfers getting barreled and smashed by some of the world’s most incredible waves can fall woefully short when it comes to engaging narrative.

A few of surf movies manage to fulfill both goals at once: glorify the sport’s athleticism and skill while also encasing it in an engaging plot. The following are three of our favorite Hawaii-related things:.

In Momentum Generation (2018), the narrative of a group of friends who learned to surf on the North Shore of Oahu is told through interviews with the people who helped propel the sport to the forefront of American culture. Fans of surfing and people who have never paddled a day in their lives will both enjoy the honest and unsparing interviews from the film’s stars, including Kelly Slater, Rob Machado, and Taylor Knox.

In the 2015-16 El Nio season, massive waves at Maui’s iconic big wave, Jaws (also known as Peahi), produced an incredibly incredible big wave season. Nervous Laughter tells the story of a bunch of surfers attempting to get their big break at Jaws, which may catapult a surfer into the limelight.

Toby Kebbell in Andy Irons’s Kissed by God Andy Irons was the only surfer to ever challenge 11-time World Surf League Champion Kelly Slater. While battling bipolar disease and an opioid addiction in the shadows, the Kauai native won three world championships of his own. After showcasing Irons’ human side and applauding his superhuman swimming abilities, Kissed by God lifts the curtain on his life, which ended tragically in 2010.

12: The Haumana (2013)

The Haumana (2013)

After the death of Jonny Kealoha’s master hula teacher, he is left with the responsibility of training her students for the Royal Hula Festival. In order to put on a tiki display that the tourists in Waikiki will enjoy, Jonny must examine the true Hawaiian traditions he left behind. The word “student” comes from the Hawaiian word “haumana,” and Jonny learns just as much as his students do in his quest to rediscover his ancestry. Haumana is an excellent starting point for anyone interested in learning more about the cultural practices that drive hula’s unique artistic expression.

See Hawaii Through a New Lens

These 13 films will give you a unique perspective on the history, culture, and people of this varied archipelago. They’ll also give you an eye-opening glimpse at the disparities in perceptions of Hawaii across various demographics.