The Caribbean looks good enough in the flesh, but on screen it can appear breathtaking. How many times do we see a beach framing the closing credits and imagine blessing it with our own footprints? As a result, a handful of movies have provided a vital impetus in persuading enchanted moviegoers to head down to the islands in search of their own dream. Just as the US Navy saw a spike in young men enlisting after Top Gun in 1986, so hundreds of beach bars must have changed hands shortly after Tom Cruise made bartending look idyllic in the 1988 movie Cocktail.
Increasingly, island tourist companies are tapping into visitors’ interest in exploring film locations, particularly after the Pirates of the Caribbean series, and this time the evidence is all on record. I’ve been to three islands in different parts of the Caribbean and witnessed a local guide point to a nearby islet and claim it as the inspiration for Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe. Movies, on the other hand, leave tracks and memories. The cost of filming the scene of a cruise ship crashing into the marina in St Martin paid for a lot of local speedboats that are still on the water today!
Islanders might bristle at hearing that the Pirates of the Caribbean put the region on the map, but in movie terms no other series has highlighted the lush mountain landscapes so beautifully. The Pirates franchise hit St Vincent and the Grenadines like a tropical storm in 2002 as stars and crew descended on the previously tranquil Wallilabou Bay in St Vincent, masquerading as the lost Jamaican base at Port Royal. In 2005, producers added Dominica to their shooting schedule, exploiting (among others) the dramatic, rugged hilltops of High Meadow and the black sands of Hampstead Bay for some classic scenes. Finally, the island of St Lucia hosts The Black Pearl, actually a tall ship called the Brig Unicorn, which organizes day sails in a pirate fashion.
Mexico’s loss was St Croix’s gain for the final scene of The Shawshank Redemption. The shot of Morgan Freeman approaching Tim Robbins perched atop a boat on the pristine sands of a ‘Mexican’ hideaway was filmed at Sandy Point. In real life, this Nature Reserve beach is equally hard to reach and is in fact closed during the turtle nesting season.
Another famous ending, albeit to a less uplifting film, rounds out The Silence of the Lambs. The sunbathed final scene was shot at Chalk’s seaplane ramp in Bimini, Bahamas, capturing in just seconds the laid-back tropical elegance of the Caribbean, and its reputation as a ‘sunny place for shady people!’
Finally, the Pirates of the Caribbean series was not the first franchise to focus on the Caribbean. Ian Fleming, creator of the James Bond series, was a longtime Jamaica resident. Arguably the most famous Bond scene, in which Ursula Andress emerges from the surf to meet Bond in Dr. No, was filmed at Laughing Waters beach on the north coast (Dragon Port Bay down the coast was the setting for Cocktail). More recently, Daniel Craig sauntered and seduced his way through the One & Only Ocean Club on Paradise Island in the Bahamas.
From Bond to Pirates, the Caribbean has provided a sumptuous backdrop for some of the best-loved movies.