For my generation, summer evenings were often spent at the local drive-in watching whatever blockbuster or B-movie that happened to be on the marquis.
If we were lucky, we might have caught a masterpiece like Godfather II (as I did in 1975 while my family was passing through New Mexico) or Jaws, the best summer beach movie of all time.
More than likely however the fare were B-movies and cult favorites such as Women in Cages, Malibu Beach, Foxy Brown, and Macon County Line.
For surfers of course nothing was better than catching a beach flick that was so bad it was good—a flick like Muscle Beach Party—that made surfers look like the idiots everyone thinks we are.
Starting with the release of Gidget, starring Sandra Dee and La Jolla’s Cliff Robertson in 1959, the summer beach movie has been a Hollywood B-movie staple. Here are the best worst summer beach movies of all time.
5. Point Break (1991)
This 1991 surf action flick should have been the best surfing movie ever made. Directed by up-and-coming action director Kathryn Bigelow (who went on to win an Academy Award for The Hurt Locker), and with Patrick Swayze as Bodhi and Keanu Reeves as Johnny Utah, with stand-in surfing by Dino Andino, it was the film that made us all embarrassed to be surfers.
With a story set in Huntington Beach that echoes some of the scenes in Kem Nunn’s novel Tapping the Source, Swayze plays an undercover cop whose boss Gary Busey (before he was sideswiped by his motorcycle and suffered permanent foggy brain), figures out that a string of bank robberies must be perpetuated by surfers since the robbers have tan lines!!
Although the action set pieces are truly spectacular (Bigelow is an action genius), the dialogue is wooden and everyone is a drug dealer, machine-gun salesmen and or bikini model-philosopher. Oh and the surf always seems to be blown out and everyone mostly surfs only at night. Point Break manages to make Bell’s Beach, arguably one of the world’s most visually stunning surf spots, look ugly.
4. The Van (1977)
This low-budget lackluster B-movie could have been one of the great time teen exploitation films of all time (along with Fast Times at Ridgemont High), but the forgettable cast (except for the inclusion of Danny Devito in a role replay of his Taxi casting), killed its chances. The plot goes something like this: a bro named Bobby graduatess from high school, spends the summer cruising for chicks, working at a car wash (apparently this was the last time in history that car washes weren’t staffed by ex-cons), and finally buying and driving his killer custom van (think 70’s dream machine–waterbed and shag carpeting).
Unfortunately Bobby can’t get the stuck-up valedictorian to like him, but after scoring with beach babes, he and the smart chick hit it off while cruising a custom van gathering at an L.A. County beach parking lot where they meet all kinds of groovy 70s van people–including the obligatory black guys in fedora hats– and fall in love. You couldn’t make this stuff up, so sit through The Van because you’ll laugh for all the right reasons.
3. Beach Blanket Bingo and all the Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello movies:
This is what you’d get if a retro version of Jersey Shores were reimagined as Laguna Hills but with dancing and dumber stars. That pretty much sums up all the Beach Party movies of the mid-60s. All are terrible enough to qualify as essential cult favorites. The only problem is that you have to be really drunk to enjoy watching them.
2. In God’s Hands (1998)
Arguably one of the worst movies ever made and definitely the worst surfing movie ever made (and that’s saying a lot given the plethora of awful surf movies out there). I’m not even sure what the plot is supposed to be about and more than likely the screenplay consisted of endless pages of undecipherable scribbles. Ironically sexploitation director Zalman King made this straight so Matt George and Shane Dorian spend the movie mumbling incoherently as they traipse around the tropics. Apparently the movie is supposed to be about something meaningful but only in a faux Euro-serious way. Even the surfing sucks.
1. Roller Boogie (1979)
Hands down Roller Boogie is the best worst beach picture of all time. Who could have imagined that at the same time Tony Alva and his gang were in the midst of the gritty skateboard explosion in Venice Beach or Dogtown, legions of gay roller skaters were cruising the boardwalk in spandex short shorts and rainbow suspenders.
Dude, this is the funniest, campiest teen exploitation film ever! Linda Blair is so bad, the plot so preposterous, that Roller Boogie actually works as contemporary Will Ferrell-style 70s exploitation film remake.
The hero dreams of becoming an Olympic gold medalist in roller dancing! He is championed by Linda Blair (who can’t act) and at some point the plot goes Andy Hardy but with a skate competition instead of a dance. A crooked developer and his goons are thrown in towards the end to give the film some social redemption.
There is even a chubby beach beat cop who channels the Village People’s Victor Willis in short-shorts and a tight white t-shirt. The best part is the chase scene on roller skates in which the good guys (the skaters) pelt the bad buys with fruit (wink-wink) and then skate through a skateboard park that is only inhabited by the already mentioned spandex wearing roller skaters. The best part of the Roller Boogie experience was watching it along with my 13-year old son who laughed in amazement right along with me. So parents feel free to boost your core score by watching Roller Boogie with your teens. And since this disaster is filled with buxom Farrah-hair roller boogie hotties in French-cut bikinis, my son asked, “Dad were all the girls like that in the 70s?”
Next week I’ll look at the best summer beach and surfing movies of all time and look forward to hearing about your favorites as well.