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.