The Emerald Coast and surrounding area of Northwest Florida has been used for nearly a century as a filming location for Hollywood movies. With its military history, beautiful beach landscapes, picturesque towns and mild weather, it’s no wonder this area has been chosen as the background for everything from Academy-Award-winning WWII dramas to 70’s eco-horror films. If you are thinking of visiting Destin for a relaxing vacation on the water, why not take the opportunity to learn a little history of the area and check out one of our five favorite films shot on the Emerald Coast.
Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo (1944)
This WWII aviation film was based on a memoir of the same name by Ted W. Lawson. Lawson was a US Army Air Force officer who participated in the 1942 Doolittle Raid on Tokyo, and the book documents his account of the event. The MGM film adaptation was directed by Mervyn Leroy, perhaps most known at the time for his 1931 American gangster film, Little Caesar, as well as for his role as producer on The Wizard of Oz (1939). Major Hollywood star, Spencer Tracy, was featured in the film.
Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo was received well and considered one of the top ten films of the year. It ended up winning an Academy Award in the Special Effects category and was also nominated for its Cinematography.
The film was shot in sequence, starting with the training scenes, which were recorded at the Eglin Air Force Base in Okaloosa County, Florida, just 25 minutes north of Crab Island. They supposedly enlisted current Air Force pilots at the base for many of the flying scenes, however it’s not confirmed that any shots of the pilots made it into the final film.
Twelve O’Clock High (1949)
Another WWII aviation film based on the real experiences of US Army Air Force veterans is the 1949 film Twelve O’Clock High, starring Gregory Peck. The film was directed by Henry King and documents the Air Force’s daylight bombing missions on Nazi-occupied Germany and France. The film went on to win two Academy Awards, Best Supporting Actor was awarded to Dean Jagger for his portrayal of Lieutenant Colonel Harvey Stovall and Sound Engineer, Thomas T Moulton, won for Best Sound Recording.
The exterior base scenes in the movie were shot at Eglin Air Force Base. For military history and film fans, a trip to Eglin Air Force Base is definitely worth a visit. See where they shot these films and then check out the Air Force Armament Museum next door, which is the only educational institution in the country dedicated to Air Force weapons and equipment. You can read more about the museum in our blog on Museums in Fort Walton for a Rainy Day.
Though this 1972 eco-horror film is set in the Everglades of southern Florida, it was in fact shot in Walton County, on the Emerald Coast. Much of the film takes place around Wesley House, a 19th century mansion in Eden Gardens State Park, located in Santa Rosa Beach.
The film centers around Sam Elliott as Pickett Smith, a photojournalist documenting the local wildlife and effects of pollution on an island estate in the Florida Everglades. In the beginning of the film, Smith meets the Crockett family, the wealthy owners of the island and pesticide enthusiasts who complain about the number of croaking frogs in the area interrupting their sleep. Mystery and horror ensue as various animals begin to get their revenge and attack people on the island.
The movie was not received or rated particularly well and was criticized for the misleading title and poster, as none of the animals who sought violent revenge in the plot were actually frogs. Nonetheless, fans of the genre will enjoy this hilarious horror film.
For those cult horror film buffs out there, next time you find yourself on the Emerald Coast, after enjoying the clear waters and Florida sunshine on one of our pontoon boats, you can swing by Eden Gardens State Park(opens in a new tab) and take a tour of the historic mansion featured in this film. Ironically for a film that seems to be warning of the dangers of messing with nature, many of the hundreds of non-native frog and toad species brought to the set ended up escaping during production, so you may just encounter a descendant of one of the original stars of Frogs when visiting the Emerald Coast.
Jaws 2 (1978)
In June of 1975, Jaws was released to unprecedented success, becoming the nation’s first summer blockbuster. There were lines around the block to see the film that summer and it has maintained its popularity over the decades after grossing 260 million dollars the year it was released. The classic horror-thriller catapulted young Steven Spielberg to fame and won three Academy Awards – Best Music, Best Sound Mixing and Best Film Editing.
Unsurprisingly, the studio was eager to capitalize on the success of the first film and make a sequel, creatively titled Jaws 2. Rather than shoot in Martha’s Vineyard, where the original was filmed, they wanted to portray the fictional New York town of Amity in a different time and opted to take it down to Destin, Florida. They filmed mostly on Navarre Beach and Okaloosa Island.
Unfortunately many roadblocks and issues occurred during production. For one, Spielberg was not interested in making a sequel, so they enlisted another director, John D Hancock, who was fired one month into filming and replaced by French director, Jeannot Szwarc. Roy Scheider, one of the lead actors from the original film was quite unhappy about being contractually obligated to work on the sequel and this resulted in many fights with Szwarc. Beyond the interpersonal drama, there were technical issues, like the robotic sharks not functioning properly and multiple hurricanes causing delays.
Jaws 2 may not compare to the original Jaws, but it’s still a fun summer thriller that had a significant impact on the area. Many Destin natives were cast as extras or took part in the production of the film and regard the film as a time capsule of the area when Destin was a much smaller town.
“It’s a reflection of the area 40 years ago,” according to local Ben Anderson who snagged a speaking role as a diving instructor in the film and recalled the filming of Jaws 2 with nostalgia.
The Truman Show (1998):
Just 40 minutes to the east of Destin, in Seaside, Florida, The Truman Show was filmed. This sci-fi dramedy was directed by Peter Weir and stars Jim Carrey in his first dramatic role. Supposedly, Carrey took a significant pay cut for the opportunity to demonstrate a different side of his acting. This was just a few years after he had shot to fame for a string of comedic performances in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, The Mask, and Dumb and Dumber, all released in 1994.
The Truman Show takes place in an alternate reality where the charming titular character, Truman Burbank, lives with no awareness that since birth his life has been filmed and broadcast for entertainment and every person he knows is a paid actor, including his own wife.
The film was released to critical and commercial success and was nominated for three academy awards – Best Director, Best Supporting Actor, and Best Screenplay. Jim Carrey and Ed Harris both won Golden Globe Awards for their performances in the film.
The movie was originally intended to be much darker and set in New York City. Weir, wanting to lighten the tone and incorporate more humor into the story, ended up choosing the planned community of Seaside, Florida as the shooting location at the suggestion of his wife, Wendy Stites. Today Seaside is not far off from the perfectly-manicured, picturesque town Truman thought he was living in in the film. Apparently the locals are friendly as well, so if you’re a fan of this ominously prophetic film, consider a visit to the real-life set on the Emerald Coast.
Destin may be best known for its clear green waters, excellent fishing and diverse ecosystem, but the area has also played a role in the history of Hollywood as well. Whether you are thinking of visiting the Emerald Coast for the first time or it’s a regular vacation spot for you, why not go back in time and watch one of these fun films shot in Destin, Florida.