Friday, January 27, 2023

10 Signature Florida Movies

Earlier this week, we shared the feature “Where Have All the Movies Gone?” from the April 2021 issue of Boca magazine. In this extra from that story, we celebrate ten of the Sunshine State’s most essential films, presented here in chronological order.

Creature From the Black Lagoon

The campy 3D creature feature took place largely on the “Amazon,” home to the title monster. California stood in for the South American river, but we can lay claim to the underwater photography, which captured the beast cavorting in the depths of Wakulla Springs.

Where the Boys Are

Fort Lauderdale’s status as grand central for Spring Break debauchery gained global purchase with this 1960 comedy about teenagers, including Connie Francis and Paula Prentiss, blossoming into womanhood while carnally frolicking on Broward County beaches. You’re welcome, America.


Harold Ramis’ cult film has long been associated with South Florida, but it’s a bit of a cheat: Ramis selected Davie’s Rolling Hills Golf Club because it didn’t have palm trees and could stand in for the movie’s Midwest setting. Nevertheless, parts were shot at the Boca Raton Resort & Club, and the producers endured filming delays due to a hurricane, which is so Florida.

Body Heat

Steamy in more ways than one, Lawrence Kasdan’s neo-noir was set during an intense Florida heat wave, which is, for us locals, an average summer fortnight. If you have the willpower to pay attention to the surroundings and not the bodies, you may notice familiar sights of Manalapan and Lake Worth Beach.


It doesn’t get more definitively Miamian than Brian De Palma’s fatalistic bloodbath, which has provided generations of Cuban-Americans with an antihero to either lionize or scold. Ironically enough, most of “Scarface” was shot in Los Angeles; the Miami Tourist Board believed the film’s dark themes would deter tourists.

Ace Ventura: Pet Detective

The movie that elevated Jim Carrey’s film career doubled as a feature-length advertisement for sunny Miami, whose police department allowed its name and likeness in the movie, and whose football team—Dan Marino even cameoed—factored highly in the comedic shenanigans.

River of Grass

The most underrated film in this list, 1994’s “River of Grass” is the debut feature of indie-film dynamo Kelly Reichardt, whose “First Cow” would become one of 2020’s most critically acclaimed movies. The low-budget lovers-on-the-run narrative was shot around Broward and Dade, with locals playing themselves.

Dolphin Tale

This sweet-natured family film about an injured dolphin may be a minor entry in film history, but it worked wonders for Clearwater Marine Aquarium, where parts of the movie were shot. According to John Lux’s data, the movie caused attendance there to spike by 500,000.


Local filmmaker Barry Jenkins’ sophomore feature, from a script by local MacArthur-winning playwright Terrell McCraney, is as homegrown as it gets, and its sensitive and emotionally wrenching story of growing up gay and Black in Miami won the Academy Award for Best Picture in 2017.

The Florida Project

Set in a sweltering Kissimmee summer, in a Disney-adjacent cluster of dead-end, extended-stay fleabags, director Sean Baker’s acclaimed slice-of-life isn’t the most touristy Florida advertisement, but the state plays an inextricable role in the story’s atmosphere.  

This extra is from our feature “Where Have All the Movies Gone?” which was published in the April 2021 issue of Boca magazine. For more content like this, subscribe to the magazine.

John Thomason
John Thomason
As the A&E editor of, I offer reviews, previews, interviews, news reports and musings on all things arty and entertainment-y in Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties.

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