Florida's long and varied cinematic history ranges from '80s audience favorites to two Best Picture Oscar winners, with several other Sunshine State films winning or being nominated for additional Academy Awards. And although Georgia has become the hub for film production in the South in recent years, there are still movies being made in Florida today; for instance, renowned indie film studio A24 has released several Sunshine State-set and shot movies in the last decade.
Here's our updated guide to our favorite Florida films, presented in alphabetical order. Note: this list excludes such classics as “Citizen Kane,” “The Godfather Part II” and “Goodfellas” that have scenes in the Sunshine State but primarily take place elsewhere. We also omitted movies such as “Some Like it Hot,” “Key Largo” and “The Longest Yard” that are set in Florida but were entirely, or almost entirely, filmed in other states.
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‘Apollo 13’ (1995)
Filmed on location, at least partially, at Kennedy Space Center, “Apollo 13” is Ron Howard’s gripping retelling of the near-disastrous 1970 attempt by NASA to return to the moon. Tom Hanks, Kevin Bacon, Bill Paxton, Gary Sinise, Ed Harris and Kathleen Quinlan all turn in memorable performances, with Harris and Quinlan earning Oscar nominations.
‘The Birdcage’ (1996)
South Beach serves as the setting for director Mike Nichols’ and screenwriter Elaine May’s blockbuster remake of the Franco-Italian comedy “La Cage aux Folles.” The inspired casting finds Robin Williams and Nathan Lane playing a gay couple trying to pass themselves off as straight for the benefit of their son. One of the funniest films of the ’90s, “The Birdcage” was nominated for a GLAAD Media Award.
‘Body Heat’ (1981)
Largely shot in Palm Beach County and set during a fierce Florida heatwave, “Body Heat” is a “Double Indemnity”-inspired serving of neo-noir mastery starring Kathleen Turner as the femme fatale who wants her husband murdered by her lover (William Hurt.) The film marks the directorial debut of Lawrence Kasdan, who was born in Miami Beach.
One of the most hilarious and quotable movies ever made, Harold Ramis’ slobs-versus-snobs classic “Caddyshack” – featuring killer comedic performances by Chevy Chase, Rodney Dangerfield, Ted Knight and Bill Murray – filmed its golf scenes at Rolling Hills Golf Club (now the Grande Oaks Golf Club) in Broward County, with the dinner scene shot at the Boca Raton Resort & Club.
While St. Petersburg’s reputation as “God’s waiting room” didn’t get any help from this movie, filmed there with a largely senior citizen cast, Ron Howard’s “Cocoon” remains a heartwarming sci-fi fantasy, with an Oscar-winning performance by Don Ameche. The film spawned the 1988 sequel “Cocoon: The Return," with filming in Miami.
‘Cool Hand Luke’ (1967)
Set and, at least partially, shot in the Sunshine State – it’s based on a book by safecracker Donn Pearce, who did a couple of years in the Florida Dept. of Corrections chain gangs after being arrested in 1949 – “Cool Hand Luke” stands out in the prison movie genre thanks to a tour-de-force performance by Paul Newman, whose endearingly boyish smirk and disarming blue eyes are perfect for bringing to life the vision of inmate Lucas “Luke” Jackson.
Filmed in Brooksville, this horror movie provides a potent take on both the classic tale “The Monkey’s Paw” and the then-ongoing Vietnam War, following a soldier killed in combat who answers his mother’s pleas that he come back home – which he does, but as something not quite human. The film was directed by onetime Floridian Bob Clark, whose fascinating career also includes the original “Black Christmas," the very different holiday classic “A Christmas Story,” and fellow Florida feature “Porky’s.”
‘Dolphin Tale’ (2011)
One of the most endearing family films of the past decade, “Dolphin Tale” stars Harry Connick Jr., Ashley Judd and the bottlenose dolphin Winter, with a screenplay based on her real-life story: Winter lost her tail after becoming entangled in a crab trap line and the team at Clearwater Marine Aquarium worked with Hanger Clinic to develop a prosthetic tail. Spoiler alert: Winter made a full recovery, and her pal Hope starred in the 2014 sequel. Sadly, Winter died last year at 16 due to a gastrointestinal abnormality.
‘Edward Scissorhands’ (1990)
Pasco County served as the pastel-colored backdrop for this Tim Burton film about a scissor-handed outcast clad in black (Johnny Depp) who suddenly finds himself in the suburbs. If not quite Burton’s best film, “Edward Scissorhands” may offer his definitive misfit toy protagonist. It also marks the final onscreen film appearance of Burton’s idol, Vincent Price.
‘The Florida Project’ (2017)
Sean Baker’s film follows an impoverished community living in a motel on the outskirts of Walt Disney World, chronicling their struggles honestly but sympathetically. Along with some excellent child performances, it features a wonderfully warm turn by Willem Dafoe as the motel manager, earning a well-deserved Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination.
‘The Greatest Show on Earth’ (1952)
Cecil B. DeMille’s 150-minute circus epic, largely filmed in Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey's winter quarters of Sarasota, is often considered one of the lesser Best Picture Oscar winners. Yet that’s largely because it beat out classics like “High Noon” and “The Quiet Man.” On its own merits, it’s frequently dazzling with an engaging cast, if occasionally overstuffed and overwhelming – not unlike the circus itself.
‘The Heartbreak Kid’ (1972)
This Elaine May-directed, Neil Simon-scripted comedy stars Charles Grodin as a newlywed who has second thoughts about his wife (an Oscar-nominated Jeannie Berlin) when he meets another woman (Cybill Shepherd) on his Miami Beach honeymoon. Funny and existentially bleak in equal measure, the film makes a fine companion piece with “The Graduate,” by May’s former comedy team partner Mike Nichols. Its 2007 remake, directed by the Farrelly Brothers and starring Ben Stiller, was not set in Florida.
‘Magic Mike’ (2012)
Based on Channing Tatum’s time as a male stripper while living in Tampa, “Magic Mike” proves to be more than just beefcake eye candy (though there’s plenty of that, too.) That’s thanks to the assured direction of Steven Soderbergh and a cast that also includes Matthew McConaughey in what may be the best performance of his 2010s “McConaissance” era. The 2015 sequel "Magic Mike XXL" was similarly strong, though it left Florida for Georgia and South Carolina, with a third film currently in the works.
‘Miami Blues’ (1990)
George Armitage’s adaptation of South Florida writer Charles Willeford’s novel stars Alec Baldwin in one of his earliest (and best) roles as a charismatic but sociopathic criminal who resolves to start a new life in Miami, but doesn’t get as far as the airport before causing trouble, attracting the attention of cop Hoke Moseley (Fred Ward.) A pitch-black comedy with a sunny setting, “Miami Blues” offers a Floridian addition to the slew of great crime films released in 1990, also including “Goodfellas,” “Miller’s Crossing” and “The Grifters.”
Barry Jenkins’ drama following a Black man from the Liberty City neighborhood in Miami (Jenkins' own hometown) during three stages of his life took home the Best Picture Oscar in a historic surprise win and was later named the best film of the 2010s by IndieWire. It’s a deserving choice in both categories, combining life’s harsh realities with an aching romantic lushness, especially in its third act.
‘Night Moves’ (1975)
Gene Hackman followed “The Conversation” with another neo-noir, this one about a private eye who travels to the Florida Keys to find a missing teenage girl and uncovers a much greater conspiracy. Don’t let the sunny setting fool you – “Night Moves” is as paranoid and despairing as any great ’70s thriller, with a particularly haunting final image.
‘Out of Sight’ (1998)
Based on author Elmore Leonard’s novel of the same name, “Out of Sight” stars George Clooney as a bank robber who busts out of a Sunshine State prison and falls in love with a U.S. Marshal played by Jennifer Lopez. Directed by Steven Soderbergh, it’s one of the wittiest, sexiest, and often funniest crime movies of recent decades.
‘Out of Time’ (2003)
Denzel Washington reunited with “Devil in a Blue Dress” director Carl Franklin for this thriller starring the actor as the chief of police in the fictional Florida town of Banyan Key, who finds himself set up for a double homicide he didn’t commit. “Out of Time” offers a sunny Floridian take on a wrong-man noir, with the film shooting in locations including Boca Grande and the Manatee County fishing village of Cortez.
Miami has never looked quite so eerily exotic or vicious as it does in Brian De Palma’s ultra-violent gangster epic, scripted by Oliver Stone, about a Cuban immigrant (Al Pacino) determined to realize the American dream by any means necessary. In addition to Pacino’s awesomely over-the-top portrayal of Tony Montana, there also are strong, star-making performances by Michelle Pfeiffer and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio.
‘Spring Breakers’ (2013)
Indie film provocateur Harmony Korine got his biggest budget and stars (including Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens) to date for this St. Petersburg and Sarasota-shot crime drama, and the results were surprisingly invigorating: a surrealistic collage of bright-colored bikinis, beer, bongs and bullets. Florida has proven to be a muse for Korine, with his following film, 2019’s Matthew McConaughey stoner comedy “The Beach Bum,” set in the Sunshine State as well.
‘Summer Rental’ (1985)
This beloved comedy finds John Candy giving a winning performance as Jack Chester, just a regular fellow taking his family on vacation to the fictional Gulf Coast resort town Citrus Cove, which is played by various coastal Pinellas County communities. These include St. Pete Beach, Treasure Island and Tierra Verde, where you can still dine at Billy’s Stone Crab, which serves in the film as Scully’s, the ramshackle waterfront restaurant owned by Rip Torn’s character.
‘Sunshine State’ (2002)
Featuring an all-star cast led by the St. Pete-raised Angela Bassett and Edie Falco, “Sunshine State” is set in the fictional coastal northern Florida town of Delrona Beach and was largely filmed on Amelia Island. The drama about family issues, race relations and encroaching real estate development earned numerous honors, with Bassett receiving the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Actress. The Florida Film Critics Circle gave writer/director John Sayles its Golden Orange Award for his “witty satire that insightfully examines Florida’s historic past, expanding present and uncertain future.”
‘The Truman Show’ (1998)
In “The Truman Show,” the Florida Panhandle master-planned community of Seaside plays the part of the town where Truman (Jim Carrey) has unknowingly been on a television show set his whole life. The film is as philosophical as that premise would suggest, while remaining a breezy and enjoyable comedy in a manner reminiscent of “Groundhog Day.”
‘Ulee’s Gold’ (1997)
Victor Nuñez is arguably Florida’s finest resident filmmaker, having directed such standout Sunshine State movies as the Sarasota-Manatee-shot John D. MacDonald adaptation “A Flash of Green” and Ashley Judd’s breakthrough film “Ruby in Paradise.” Yet his best-known work remains this drama starring Peter Fonda as a beekeeper living in Gulf County, with the film set and shot there as well as Orlando. The role earned Fonda a Golden Globe Award, along with his only Best Actor Oscar nomination.
'Wild Things' (1998)
Set and largely shot in South Florida and considered one of the most notorious movies of the ‘90s, “Wild Things” still stands up nearly 25 years later thanks to its by turns salacious and smart approach to the erotic thriller genre. Starring Matt Dillon, Neve Campbell and Denise Richards (who famously appear in a three-way sex scene together), “Wild Things” also offers juicy performances by Kevin Bacon (as a detective) and Bill Murray (as an ambulance-chasing attorney) with the film’s finest attribute probably being the script, which buzzes with a near-constant barrage of surprises.
'The Yearling' (1946)
With Florida filming locations including Ocala, “The Yearling” – based on the novel by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings – is an emotive family drama about a young boy on a farm who adopts a young deer, which, alas, has a penchant for the crops. Starring Gregory Peck, it was nominated for Best Picture and won two Oscars at the 19th Academy Awards. Rawlings was later the subject of the 1983 biopic “Cross Creek” (based in part on her 1942 memoir by the same name), which was also shot in Florida and earned four Oscar nominations.
The latest addition to A24's roster of Florida-set and shot films, "Zola" adapts a viral 148-tweet Twitter thread and resulting Rolling Stone article about a part-time stripper (Taylour Paige) who agrees to accompany a woman she just met (Riley Keough) on a Tampa road trip, which quickly goes downhill. The frenetic crime comedy premiered at Sundance Film Festival and earned seven Independent Spirit Award nominations, winning for Paige's performance and Best Editing.
Wade Tatangelo is the Herald-Tribune’s dining and entertainment editor overseeing the weekly Ticket publication. He's also author of the Best Things to Eat and Top Things to Do columns and co-leader of USA Today Network's Uniquely Florida team creating statewide content. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. He may be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Email entertainment reporter Jimmy Geurts at email@example.com. Support local journalism by subscribing.
This article originally appeared on Sarasota Herald-Tribune: Best Florida movies with Tampa Bay, Miami, Orlando filming locations