The 5 Best Films Set at Amusement Parks
Inspired by this week’s Hell Fest and my love of theme parks in general, I’m running down the five best movies set at amusement parks!
Check out this cool retro trailer:
1. Jurassic Park (dir. Steven Spielberg, 1993) /Jurassic World (dir. Colin Trevorrow, 2015)
We’ve written a lot here recently about Jurassic Park, but suffice it to say that this is not only one of the great theme park movies, but one of the best films of all time.
So I am also tossing Jurassic World in the mix as well. I completely understand the criticisms against this film, but most of them don’t bother me when I’m watching the film. Regardless, it earns its way onto this list by showing a functional theme park with dinosaurs. I applaud the choice to make the only major science fiction element be the dinosaurs themselves. The rides, branding (of course there is a Margaritaville at Jurassic World), and guest reactions all feel right for an established theme park existing today, which may not be as inspiring, but fitting for a tale of corporate hubris.
2. Westworld (dir. Michael Crichton, 1973)
That’s right, there are three ‘Crichton Park’ movies onto this list. Westworld is a really fun movie that was Crichton first crack at telling a story set at a theme park where advanced technology goes bad and humans pay the price. They even say that they “spared no expense” at one point!
One thing I didn’t from Westworld was how much of the Roman and Medieval worlds we got to see as well, and the parallel action happening across all three worlds and the control room makes this feel like a bigger story than it actually is. There’s a bit of Westworld in the DNA of Cabin in the Woods for sure, with many of the lab coat wearing engineers providing not only exposition, but comic relief. This was also the first film to deal with the concept of a computer virus, so it has all kinds of classic Crichton elements.
As a director, Crichton manages to both replicate a classic Hollywood feel in the staging of the scenes in the various themed worlds and dystopian tension in the the later parts of the film. I find it quite effective throughout this 88-minute roller coaster. Yul Brynner gives a great silent performance as the Gunslinger as well, minimalistic in a terrifying way (his heat vision especially makes him feel like he’s the Predator as a cowboy).
3. Adventureland (dir. Greg Mottola, 2009)
Adventureland is definitely one of the best movies about working a summer job. Of the many things I love about this film is how well it utilizes its setting. While it may seem fun for someone who has never worked in a job interacting with the public, there is no glamorization here. The amusement park is just like any other crappy summer job, and it is the the relationships that make the time spent there ultimately worthwhile.
4. Zombieland (Ruben Fleischer, 2009)
Weird that Jesse Eisenberg starred in two films in the same year that heavily feature theme parks. In this film it is just the finale, but having Eisenberg, Emma Stone, Abigail Breslin, and Woody Harrelson run around an amusement park under siege by a horde of the undead is an absolute blast. Remembering how fun this film is gives me a sliver of hope from Fleischer’s upcoming Venom. A small glimmer.
5. National Lampoon’s Vacation (dir. Harold Ramis, 1983)
This film also only has the finale set at a theme park, but there may not be a better catharsis better than seeing the Griswold family riding the rides at Wally World in the company of the local SWAT force. In that way, this captures the idea of what amusement best represent to American families: a shared escape from the seemingly relentless march forward of life.