Theme Park History: 10 top movies or TV shows filmed in theme parks
Written by Derek Potter
Theme parks have been in the movies ever since their inception. Imagery, action, people, the utopian/dystopian setting… all are great storytelling devices that lend themselves well to the screen, and theme parks have them all. New movies such as "Escape from Tomorrow" and the upcoming "Saving Mr. Banks" were filmed at Disney theme parks, but over the years, many other parks have made appearances in films and TV shows. Some have provided a side scene for a few minutes, while others have served as center stage for the entire movie. Here's a list of 10 theme park movies and TV shows to watch.Tweet
Strike Me Pink (1936)
The Pike at Long Beach was the setting for many films and TV shows over the years before its eventual demise. One of the first was this musical about a weakling who becomes an amusement park manager and is forced to confront a mob of racketeers. Eddie Pink eventually finds some courage along the way and takes them on, setting the scene for a memorable chase through the park and onboard the legendary Cyclone Racer. Pretty neat stuff, considering this was the 1930s and CGI/special effects just didn't exist.
Little Fugitive (1953)
This tale of a little boy who thought he killed his brother and ran away to Coney Island gathered acclaim for its stylized camera work and the use of non-actors in lead roles. Little Fugitive was nominated for two Academy Awards and selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in 1997. Viewers get a good look at 1950's Coney, past its prime by then but still bringing the crowds. The decline would begin just a few years later.
The Brady Bunch-The Cincinnati Kids (1973)
The Brady Bunch was produced by Paramount Studios, who was a major shareholder in Taft Broadcasting. Perhaps in an effort to give Taft a little boost, they produced "The Cincinnati Kids." This episode aired in season five and showcased Taft's shiny new park Kings Island to a national audience. It's essentially a commercial for the park, as early every inch of it is covered in 30 minutes as the Brady family searches for an elusive set of dad's lost blueprints. This was the second TV show filmed at the new park in only a year of existence. The Partridge Family was there in similar fashion six months before.
Disaster movies were all the rage in the 1970s. After the success of films like Earthquake and The Towering Inferno, Universal released Rollercoaster in the summer of 1977. The film did well, considering it was up against Star Wars. This yarn about a ride inspector trying to stop a mad amusement park bomber is a bit farfetched with a little extra 70s cheese, but still a lot of fun. The movie has its share of star power, including George Segal, Henry Fonda, Timothy Bottoms, and a very young Helen Hunt. For park fans though, the stars of the show also seem to be the rides and the parks themselves. Kings Dominion, Magic Mountain, and the defunct Ocean View Park in Norfolk Virginia were all featured extensively. Part of the neat factor in watching this movie now is seeing Kings Dominion and Magic Mountain up close in their infancy, and getting a ride on the Rebel Yell and the brand new Revolution before the effects of time and trim brakes.
Kiss Meets The Phantom Of The Park (1978)
The painted rockers are at Magic Mountain for a few concerts, and find themselves in a battle with a mad scientist bent on destroying the park that fired him. Along the way they use their superpowers to fight baddie robots, help a damsel in distress, and save the park from a riot incited by their evil clones. This pile of cheese, made-for-TV movie turned cult classic was an attempt to capitalize on the band's fame in the late 70's. Someone apparently forgot to mention in the preproduction meetings that these guys weren't actors. Some years later bassist Gene Simmons said in an interview, "It was a classic movie…a classic movie if you're on drugs." In the end the band hated it, the fans didn't like it, and Magic Mountain got plenty of free advertisement for a national TV audience.
The critically acclaimed blockbuster that earned two Academy Award nominations and launched Tom Hanks' already blossoming career into the stratosphere was filmed in New York. Ironically enough, Josh makes his wish to be big after he's turned away for not meeting the ride height requirements. The now 86 year old Rye Playland (known in the movie as Sea Point Park) was the setting for Josh's big date with Susan and again at the end when he locates the elusive Zoltar machine. The coaster featured in the movie is the 1929 Dragon Coaster.
Beverly Hills Cop III (1994)
Great America in Santa Clara, California was the scene for Axel Foley's battle against a gang of bad guys posing as a theme park security force. Also making an appearance in the final act is Universal Studio's Earthquake ride (with Cylons from the old Battlestar Galactica show). Filmmaker John Landis hired the Sherman Brothers of "It's a Small World" fame to spoof their own classic and create another annoying theme park anthem…which they accomplished in splendid fashion I might add. Watch for the George Lucas sighting.
3 Ninjas-High Noon At Mega Mountain (1998)
Nobody ever said that all movies were instant cinema classics…and this one certainly proves it. Starring a wig wearing Hulk Hogan, Jim Varney (otherwise known as Ernest), Loni Anderson, and three kids who know karate, this pile of crap follows the adventures of Hulk and the ninjas as they try to thwart Medusa the criminal mastermind from sabotaging the park's rides and stealing 10 million dollars. The newly opened Elitch Gardens in downtown Denver got a makeover for this one. This one is good for a laugh, but for all the wrong reasons. Perhaps it might serve as some device for a drinking game.
Backed by a strong, youthful cast and a killer soundtrack, this comedy looks at the wacky world of working at the amusement park. Those who have had this experience undoubtedly have a chuckle at the barrage of absurdities, clichés, and characters that seem strangely familiar. Filmed at Kennywood in Pittsburgh, and co-starring a pre-"Twilight" Kristen Stewart, this one is a full on workplace comedy with all the youthful angst trimmings… kind of like "The Office" and "Dazed And Confused" had a kid during their summer fling while working together at the ring toss.
And the king of all theme park movies…
National Lampoon's Vacation (1983)
No list of theme park cinema would be complete without this all-time classic. The Griswold's bumbling cross-country trek to Wally World (Magic Mountain) was the stuff of legend. There are many memorable images in this one…getting lost in the ghetto, being stuck with crazy then dead Aunt Edna, wandering through the Grand Canyon, John Candy trying not to throw up on Colossus, and the image of the busted ass Wagon Queen Family Truckster limping down the highway and finally pulling up to an empty parking lot. This one wasn't just about the park, it was about getting there, and this film will forever be in the minds of those who brave long family road trips.
There are plenty of other films to choose from. Feel free to share your favorites in the comments.
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