The Caribbean hosted nearly 25 million tourists in 2013. The Dominican Republic was the most visited Caribbean island, followed by Cuba and Jamaica. However, it’s not just tourists who descend on the islands in search of sun, sand and stunning scenery, but Hollywood film crews, too. In 1891, Thomas Edison patented and popularized the motion-picture camera, and according to USA Today Edison’s production company is credited with producing the first film set in the Caribbean: West Indian Girls in Native Dance was shot on St. Thomas in 1903. While that film probably flew under your Netflix radar, here are 7 famous film locations in the Caribbean.
7 South Bimini, Bahamas: Silence of the Lambs
Many of us dream of one day retiring to a beachfront bungalow in the Caribbean, but few of us actually get to do it. In the 1991 horror classic Silence of the Lambs, which won five Academy Awards and grossed over $272 million, the Caribbean makes a brief appearance as the retirement retreat of cannibalistic serial killer, Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins). Hannibal the Cannibal had a proclivity for the good life –“ I ate his liver with fava beans and a nice chianti” –and his destination of choice for retirement underscores his devotion to style. The American Film Institute named Hannibal Lecter the “Number One Film Villain of All Time.”
6 Costa Rica/Dominican Republic: Jurassic Park
5 St. Croix, USVI: The Shawshank Redemption
Adapted from a novella by Stephen King, The Shawshank Redemption tells the story of Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins), a banker who spends 19 years in prison for the murder of his wife and her lover despite his claims of innocence, and his fellow inmate and friend, Ellis Boyd “Red” Redding (Morgan Freeman). The film is grim and best described as a sort of “art house" prison drama (perhaps that’s why it received a lukewarm box office reception despite excellent reviews), but it ends on a reaffirming high note. The ex-cons, one having escaped Shawshank prison, the other having been paroled after 40 years, reunite on a beach in Zihuatanejo, Mexico. However, the film's closing scene was actually filmed on Sandy Point, a two-mile crescent on the southwestern tip of St. Croix. Sandy Point is part of a national wildlife refuge and a major turtle hatching ground.
While film critics suggested The Shawshank Redemption “provides a great illustration of how characters can be free, even in prison, or unfree, even in freedom,” is there anything “freer” than meeting up with an old friend on a beach in the U.S. Virgin Islands?
4 Castaway Cay, Bahamas: Splash
On a family vacation in Cape Cod, eight-year old Tom Hanks sees something beneath the water and jumps off a ferry despite not knowing how to swim. He comes face to face with a young mermaid girl, and it's love at first sight…until he's rescued and pulled out of the water. Splash, Ron Howard’s 1984 romantic comedy, takes the classic themes of a chick flick –fate, destiny, and the one that almost got away -and filters them through a lovestruck fantasy.
Years later, Tom Hanks and the mermaid meet again, and this time she’s played by the beautiful Daryl Hannah. The two meet on a beach on Gorda Cay in the Bahamas. While Gorda Cay was once used as a stop for drug runners, today the private island is better known as Castaway Cay, an exclusive port for the Disney Cruise Line. Walt Disney Productions produced Splash, but the film’s brief nudity was considered inappropriate for a Disney film; this led Disney to create Touchstone Productions, a company designed to target more adult audiences.
3 Jamaica: Cocktail
Working his charm and boyish grin, a young, cocky, pre-Scientology Tom Cruise cruises down to Jamaica to take up bartending in order to make ends meet. That’s the plot of Cocktail, a 1988 concoction that won two Golden Raspberry Awards but still grossed $171.5 million worldwide. Cocktail was shot all over Jamaica’s North Shore and features the Jamaica Inn, Dunn River Falls, Dragon Bay Beach, and Sandals Royal Plantation in Ocho Rios. Film critics had no love for the film. Roger Ebert had this to say, “the more you think about what really happens in Cocktail, the more you realize how empty and fabricated it really is.” Of course, Roger, the idea is that you’re not really supposed to think about Cocktail. You’re just supposed to sit back and enjoy the scenery.
2 St. Vincent to Puerto Rico: The Pirates of the Caribbean Franchise
After four films, Captain Jack Sparrow and his band of swashbucklers have made serious headway through the warm waters of the Caribbean, island hopping from St. Vincent and the Grenadines to Old San Juan, Puerto Rico. The films are a glossy, big budget travel brochure of the region.
In The Curse of the Black Pearl, Wallilabou Bay, St. Vincent, is the setting for Point Royal. Although somewhat worse for wear, much of the Point Royal set is still there. Petit Tabac, in the Grenadines, is the deserted island where Johnny Depp and Kiera Knightley get marooned in the first film. Most of the second installment, Dead Man’s Chest, is filmed on the small island of Dominica. Old San Juan and the Castillo San Cristobal fort are featured in On Stranger Tides. The fifth installment in the series, Dead Men Tell No Tales, will be released in 2016.
1 Jamaica: Dr. No
Ian Fleming, who is best known for his James Bond series of spy novels, owned a cliff-side estate named “Goldeneye” on the northern coast of Jamaica. It’s no surprise, then, that the English author, journalist, and naval intelligence officer used the tropical island as a setting for many of his stories.
Dr. No, the first James Bond film (1962), finds Bond on a mission to Jamaica to investigate the death of a British intelligence agent. Halfway through the film, Bond meets Honey Rider. Played by the Swedish bombshell Ursula Andress, Honey Rider set the standard for all the “Bond Girls” who followed. Honey first appears in Dr. No in a stunning white bikini, emerging out of the ocean at Laughing Waters Beach in front of Dunn River Falls. It’s an iconic Bond Girl moment. Halle Berry recreated the famous scene in a glistening orange bikini in the 20th James Bond film, Die Another Day.
James Bond had a penchant for the Caribbean. Thunderball (1965) and Never Say Never Again (1983), arguably two of the best films in the long-running franchise, both have scenes that take place in the Bahamas. Thunderball is famous for its underwater fight sequence, which took place in Staniel Cay. Never Say Never Again features the Tears of Allah wreck and the One and Only Ocean Club on Paradise Island.