Best Theme Parks in Movies and TV, From Spooky Island to Jurassic Park
Feb 14, 2023
Theme parks are a lot of things for a lot of people, from money pits to money machines. From a child’s heaven to maybe even a parent’s nightmare! This makes theme parks an effective setting for many films for a multitude of reasons. Although sometimes the theme park itself becomes the main opposing force in certain movies (usually in stories based on the works of Michael Crichton), this list breaks down the most impressive fictional theme parks in movies, ignoring their lowest or most dangerous episodes:
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Wonder World in ‘Beverly Hills Cop III’
Image Via Paramount Pictures
The third installment in the Beverly Hills Cop franchise sees Eddie Murphy’s Axel Foley follow a killer’s trail to Wonder World, a Beverly Hills-set theme park owned by “Uncle Dave” Thornton (Alan Young). The real park used for filming was in fact Paramount’s Great America which is set to permanently close sometime in the next eleven years. Axel’s investigation showcases the park’s underground behind-the-scenes facilities as well as above-ground attractions including the “Spider” Ferris wheel which, during the movie, jams, placing two children’s lives in danger before Axel rescues them. It’s revealed that Wonder World was being used as a front for a counterfeiting ring. At the film’s end, however, Uncle Dave honors Axel by creating a new Wonder World character called Axel Fox. As one would expect from a movie distributed by Paramount Pictures themselves, the theme park maintains its positive appeal at the film’s end, when Axel and Janice (Theresa Randle) enjoy the “Tunnel of Love.”
Adventureland in ‘Adventureland’
Image Via Miramax Films
In this 80s-set 2009 comedy, James (Jesse Eisenberg) gets a summer job working the carnival games at his hometown’s amusement park in Pittsburgh. Although Adventureland is run-down to the point that James almost gets stabbed soon after he starts working there, the movie and its eclectic group of characters make for an almost romantic outlook on the setting. James experiences love thanks to Kristen Stewart’s Em, heartbreak through Ryan Reynolds’ Mike, and sheer comic confusion due to Bill Hader, Kristen Wiig, and Martin Starr who round out the cast. Adventureland is certainly not somewhere one would like to visit as a paying customer, but it seems like the perfect combination of fun and fixer-upper to make for a beautiful coming-of-age comedy as a summer employee.
Walley World in ‘National Lampoon’s Vacation’
How many theme parks can you name that are worth having your car tagged by vandals, holding hostages at gunpoint, or even killing a dog over? In this movie written by screenwriting legend John Hughes and directed by Harold Ramis (Groundhog Day, Caddyshack), the McGuffin is Walley World. Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) makes it his mission to drive his family cross-country to “America’s Favorite Family Fun Park” and with the carousel, the rollercoaster, and a swinging pirate ship, it’s no wonder why. As a result of the film’s success, the franchise has produced five follow-ups which potentially would not have happened without the success of the original’s depiction of a theme park worth committing crimes over.
Happy World Land in ‘Tiny Toon Adventures: How I Spent My Summer Vacation’
Image Via Warner Home Video
Unlike many theme park movies, Tiny Toon Adventures: How I Spent My Summer Vacation takes the time to detail every attraction in the park, as narrated by Plucky Duck (Joe Alaskey) from his view aboard the park’s dental-themed monorail, “The Tooth Ferry.” These attractions include Happy Go Pukey, Happy Feet, The Gargle, The Happy Crasher, The Happy Centrifuge, and Slap Happy Fun. In case you haven’t worked it out, the theme of Happy World Land theme park is indeed “happy,” making it hard to argue that this park might even top the real-life “happiest place on earth”. As an added bonus for saints and sinners, the park also includes the Stairway to Heaven and the Bullet Train to Heck!
Pacific Playland in ‘Zombieland’
Image Via Sony Pictures Releasing
Yet another 2009 movie named after a theme park and starring Jesse Eisenberg, Zombieland is able to set itself apart, however, with the added novelty of being set during a worldwide zombie apocalypse. Eisenberg’s Columbus teams up with Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson) to save sisters Wichita (Emma Stone) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) who unwittingly lure countless zombies to the theme park when they turn on the park’s lights and amusements. Much like Walley World, Pacific Playland is the girls’ desired destination based on fond memories with their family during a simpler time, and a rumor that the area is completely zombie-free. Pacific Playland was once a paradise by all accounts, and if fear and thrills were what you were after from a rollercoaster park, maybe zombies would be a bonus!
Leatherface’s Abandoned Amusement Park ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2′
Tobe Hooper, director of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, always hated that the ironic humor of his 1974 movie wasn’t appreciated as much as he had intended, so when making his 1986 sequel, he was determined to feature his sense of humor prominently. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 follows Dennis Hopper as Lieutenant Boude “Lefty” Enright, the uncle of the siblings in the first film, facing off against Leatherface and his psychotic family in their abandoned amusement park. This setting makes for a fun production-design paradise in which the killer chases his victims through intricate labyrinths before they meet their demise. Although this isn’t an experience we’d like to partake in ourselves, the thrilling environment makes for a scream-worthy attraction that would get your blood pumping more than any rollercoaster. It’s why this made for the perfect theme at Universal Studios’ Halloween Horror Nights in 2021.
Troublemaker in ‘Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams’
Image Via Dimension Films
In yet another sequence involving kids in danger on a rogue theme park ride, this park features in Robert Rodriguez’s Spy Kids: The Island of Lost Dreams. The park, named after the franchise’s production company, is a Troublemaker logo-themed carnival featuring, among others, The Juggler ride. The ride is an enormous Troublemaker-shaped structure with multiple limbs that throw the rider-filled capsules into the air before catching them again. For all its craziness and imaginative creatures, it’s the fact that this ride passes any sort of health and safety standard that makes the world of Spy Kids an escapist paradise. Despite the sequence’s inevitable danger, this ride looks tough to beat in terms of fear factor, and if it ends with a rescue by Carmen (Alexa PenaVega) and Juni (Daryl Sabara), all the better!
Spooky Island in ‘Scooby-Doo’
Image Via Warner Bros
Who wouldn’t love a sunny exotic island filled with theme park rides, tiki bars, and jungle hikes? Well, maybe the victims of Scrappy’s plans to extract protoplasmic souls and have Demons possess your bodies. But, besides that, Spooky Island is a vacation paradise, with a sprinkling of macabre themes here and there. Set on and around Mount Spooky, the island is an amusement park run by Emile Mondavarious (Rowan Atkinson) and plays host to countless college students plus the iconic members of Mystery Incorporated. This movie was filmed at Tangalooma Island Resort in Australia, where 400+ cast and crew resided for over six weeks when the island became an exclusive set. What better vacation spot could there be than a resort with scary rides, beautiful scenery, and sandy beaches? Jinkies!
Jurassic Park in ‘Jurassic Park’
Image Via Universal
As impressive theme parks in movies go, it’s hard to deny the magnitude and impressive scope of Jurassic Park and its eventual development into Jurassic World. Based on the book by Michael Crichton, the park was founded by John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) after dinosaur DNA was retrieved from a mosquito trapped in amber. Scientists managed to clone these prehistoric creatures and create the largest, most ambitious zoo imaginable. It doesn’t get much better than that! Until, of course, the dinosaurs are let loose. But this list doesn’t hold these parks’ lowest moments against them. With dino rides, dino-themed snacks, and, of course, dinosaurs themselves – It’s hard to imagine a better theme park from the movies or television. Except for one…
Westworld in ‘Westworld’
Much like Jurassic Park, Westworld is yet another Michael Crichton sci-fi novel based on a scientific advancement created for the purposes of theme park attractions that eventually turns against the people in the park. The main difference is that in Westworld, the attractions are life-like robot recreations of humans, dressed like characters from the old west. The world of the story also includes several other theme parks like Warworld and Shōgunworld which are explored in the HBO series adaptation. How, then, would recreated humans trump recreated dinosaurs? Well, the idea in Westworld is that these are fully interactive robots, and unlike Jurassic Park which is, in essence, a museum or zoo, Westworld encourages paying customers to immerse themselves in the fantasy of the wild west, by shooting, killing, robbing and even engaging in sexual activities with the “hosts.” How much more could a park do within the brief of a “theme park” than give their customers the chance to live life within the idea of the theme itself? As the story would have it, this freedom of choice for the park guests results in exposing the inner workings of the real people more than the inner workings of the intricately built robots. So, when the artificial intelligence inevitably becomes too powerful and decides to reap vengeance on the guests, would they come after you?
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