Fresh off a week-long vacation on the Atlantic Ocean what better time to do a Phenomenal 5 based on movie beach scenes? I’ve been a bit lax with this long-running feature but here’s to getting back on track. There are a ton of beach scenes to consider and some are just too obvious to include. For instance who wouldn’t have “From Here to Eternity” on their list? I’m also shooting for a bit of variety. Therefore (as always) I wouldn’t call this a definitive list, but there is no denying that these five movie beach scenes are nothing short of phenomenal.
#5 – “Chariots of Fire”
This may have been the first movie I ever saw in the theater as a kid that truly felt outside of the blockbuster box. And while much of the film went over my 9 year-old head, I’ve always remembered that brilliant tone-setting opening. The team running along the beach to the iconic electronic theme music from Oscar-winning composer Vangelis. It’s truly magical and has remained one of cinema’s most memorable title sequences.
#4 – “The Shawshank Redemption”
Spoilers for those who haven’t seen it, but I’ve always found the final scene in “Shawshank” to contain a most beautiful emotional release. After everything Tim Robbins’ Andy and Morgan Freeman’s Red go through, to finally reconnect on a remote Mexican beach in what is a brief but pitch-perfect final shot ends the film in the best possible way. I love the narration’s buildup and I love the camera decisions. It’s a great scene.
#3 – “The 400 Blows”
“The 400 Blows” is one of my favorite films, not only from the French New Wave, but of all-time and it is one of cinema’s greatest directorial debuts. It’s a piercing, unorthodox coming-of-age story that doesn’t follow any blueprint particularly with its ending. SPOILER – In the final shot Truffaut’s semi-autobiographical lead character escapes a juvenile home. The young boy’s long run takes him to the ocean, a place he’s dreamt of seeing. As his feet hit the beach and he jogs towards the water it almost feels triumphant. But his feet meet the water, he turns around, and Truffaut ends with an audacious freeze-frame shot of the boy’s face. I’ll let you determine the meaning for yourself but it is bold filmmaking at its finest.
#2 – “Saving Private Ryan”
While this would probably qualify as an obvious choice, it’s one I simply couldn’t leave off this list. Steven Spielberg’s brutal and intense re-creation of the Allied invasion of Normandy has been heralded as the most authentic depiction of the horrors of war. So many young men died before setting a foot on the sands of Omaha beach, but the scene doesn’t stop there. With unflinching visceral detail Spielberg marches us up that bloody beach right alongside the soldiers, never allowing us to miss the horrible cost. It is incredible filmmaking and a scene you’ll never forget seeing.
#1 – “Jaws”
Apparently Steven Spielberg really knows how to do beach scenes. There are a couple that could have easily owned a spot on this list but for me there is one true standout. It’s a bright and beautiful sunny day. The Amity beach is full of vacationers and townsfolk. Sunbathers bask on the beach while children play in the ocean. No one has a care in the world except for a tense and concerned Sheriff Brody. That’s when the shark attacks and chaos ensues. Spielberg’s scene boils with tension from the nerve-racking early teases to the heart-wrenching final shot of a mother desperately looking for her child. It’s pure cinematic brilliance.
There you have five of the best movie beach scenes. There are so many others that could’ve made this list. Please share your choices in the comments section below.
I haven’t seen Chariots of Fire, but I like the other four you chose!
I always liked the beach scene in Atonement, when Briony is revealing what really happened. It’s such a nice visual to accompany the ugly crying that came with it.
It’s funny, Atonement has come up in several recent conversations I’ve had. The other was about Atonement’s amazing tracking shot on the beaches of Dunkirk. I’m really thinking I need to revisit it.
Atonement in incredible but your choices are too. The original Point Break (1991) has some striking beach scenes.
Yes it does and I almost went with two of them. The big finale and the beach football game both instantly came to mind. I’m glad someone mentioned it.
Very strong shouts. I didn’t like The Road, but the scene on the beach was pretty powerful.
Oh wow! Completely forgot about that scene! Great mention. Weren’t a fan of The Road? I haven’t seen it in a while but I remember liking it.
It’s well made and beautifully shot but just too dreary for me.
Dreary for certain.
Very exceptional list. Who can forget that zoom in Jaws?
Ooooh man, that zoom is an absolute classic. The intensity of that whole scene gets me every time regardless of home many times I’ve seen it.
Classic cinema at its apex. An unforgettable scene.
I have one that I’m sure many haven’t seen but I really loved it. It’s the ending of Time to Leave by Francois Ozon starring Melvill Poupaud as he plays a man that is dying and the last thing we see is him lying in a crowded beach. It’s beautifully shot and something anyone who is into Ozon’s work must see.
Was it Ozon that directed Swimming Pool?
Thanks for clarifying, I’ve seen a good many of his films but had forgotten that was him.
Thanks for the answer.
Very nice. I have an Ozon review written that should post in a couple of days. Not big into his work but that sounds really intriguing.
I can live with your number one.
I also thought of the scene in Body Double with the multiple changing cabanas and the cat and mouse stalking through the sand.
That Body Double scene is a good one.
You named some great ones. Some others:
Bo Derek running along the beach in 10.
The beach training scene in The Karate Kid.
Halle Berry emerging from the water in Die Another Day
The young lovebirds dancing in Moonrise Kingdom.
The finale of the original Planet of the Apes.
Oh man, this is really funny. Moonrise was #6. Hated to leave it off. The Bo Derek scene fell in the “From Here to Eternity” category. So good but obvious. The Apes finale is spectacular. Great mention.
Excellent list Keith. Admittedly I couldn’t quite get into The 400 Blows because of the ambiguity ending (though I knew it long beforehand), I feel I owe it another shot. Some of my favorite beach scenes include The Seventh Seal, 8 1/2, The Master, and The Tree of Life.
8 1/2 was soooo close to being in here. Love it. As for The 400 Blows, as I wrote I feel it’s almost a triumphant run once his feet hits the beach. But when he reaches the water it’s as if he can go no further. He turns back and than expression definitely doesn’t look triumphant. For me it was a realization that he has nowhere else to go. The excitement and anticipation is gone. The short burst of freedom is over. And so on, and so on. Of course I could be reading way too much into it. Ha!
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