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Movies Filmed at the Boardwalk

As one of the most historic and well-known attractions in California, the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk represents the easygoing nature and beach town spirit of Santa Cruz like no other. For many West Coasters the bright red and white wooden tracks of the Giant Dipper are instantly recognizable, bringing back fond memories with friends and family. As a result of its recognizability, symbolism, and charm, the Boardwalk has starred in over 24 movies, from box office hits to campy cult classics. Here we remember the most well-known movies filmed at the Boardwalk.

Harold and Maude (1971)

Ferris Wheel and Trabant
Trabant ride on the far right next to the Ferris wheel, as seen from Harold and Maude.

Cult-classic dark romance Harold and Maude made use of the Boardwalk’s bright lights and cheerful atmosphere to build up to the movie’s romantic peak. Fans may recall characters Harold and Maude spinning on the Trabant, a real Boardwalk ride that sat in the park’s main plaza where the Pirate Ship now lives. In the film Harold and Maude bundle up as they walk down the Boardwalk’s Colonnade and enter what we know as the Casino Arcade. Once inside, they take a turn at the long gone but not forgotten coin-operated model train before Harold stops at a metal typer machine and spells out “Harold loves Maude” on a souvenir token. Maude throws that same token into the ocean while overlooking a colorful nighttime silhouette of the Boardwalk. 
Dirty Harry: Sudden Impact (1983)

Clint Eastwood and crew filming on Main Beach in front of the Boardwalk
Clint Eastwood, on location at the Boardwalk filming Sudden Impact in 1983.

Filmed all across Santa Cruz, the fourth film in the Dirty Harry series was sure to feature the Boardwalk as a centerpiece of the iconic movie. Actress Sondra Locke’s character Jennifer Spencer is commissioned to renovate a carousel, which of course was filmed at the historic Looff Carousel. During the film’s climax Harry Callahan, played by Clint Eastwood, appears underneath a glowing Giant Dipper sign before Spencer is dragged to the top of the rollercoaster by the movie’s antagonist, where the final fight ensues. 

Mac Davis and Karl Madden on the Giant Dipper
Actors Mac Davis and Karl Malden (seated, left to right) discuss a big deal while on the Giant Dipper during a scene in The Sting II.

The Sting II (1983)

Despite initial plans to be filmed during the summer, the sequel to the popular caper film, The Sting, faced unexpected filming delays and production had to take place between downpours in January rainstorms. The Boardwalk was made over by The Sting II production crew to appear as Coney Island, with the Giant Dipper masquerading as the Cyclone rollercoaster. Actors Mac Davis and Karl Madden can be seen in the film discussing a big deal on the Giant Dipper. 
The Lost Boys (1987)

Then and now photo of the motorcycle scenes from Lost Boys
A now and then picture of The Lost Boys motorcycle scene on Main Beach, with the Boardwalk in the background.

Perhaps the film most synonymous with the Boardwalk, everyone’s favorite vampire movie, The Lost Boys, takes places in the fictional town of “Santa Carla,” home to a vibrant boardwalk. The Looff Carousel can be spotted in one of the movie’s first scenes, where actor Kiefer Sutherland’s gang of vampires first appear. The Giant Dipper also appears in several aerial shots throughout the movie to set the location of park scenes. The iconic motorcycle race scene begins on the Boardwalk’s Colonnade in front of a restaurant now known as Boardwalk Grille, continuing onto Main Beach where Boardwalk rides can be seen sparkling in the background. Every year the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk hosts free movie screenings of The Lost Boys on the same beach the scene was shot. 

Killer Klowns from Outer Space (1988)

Killer Klown masks in Fright Walk
The Boardwalk’s Fright Walk pays homage to Killer Klowns using masks as décor in the attraction.

Believe it or not, the Crazy House in this sci-fi horror comedy was a façade, filmed where Marini’s at the Beach candy shop sits, next to the Sea Swings ride. Characters Mike Tobacco and Debbie Stone can be seen running out of the Crazy House, passing by the Giant Dipper and Hot Dog on a Stick. Throughout the movie a clown car and ice cream truck are seen driving on the Boardwalk, passing an ice cream stand called Super Sundae which is now Crazy Churro. 
Dangerous Minds (1995)

Filming scene for Dangerous Minds
Dangerous Minds crew filming a scene at the former Boardwalk game, Knock Out.

Look closely the next time you watch the nineties drama Dangerous Minds, the Boardwalk appears briefly as a local amusement park. Michelle Pfeiffer stars in the film as LouAnne, a former marine who applies for and accepts a job as a high school teacher, rewarding students with special incentives including a trip to an amusement park. In the scene LouAnne and students are seen riding down the Giant Dipper’s drop.

Filming scene for Chasing Mavericks
Chasing Mavericks crew shooting a night scene at the Giant Dipper. This scene was cut from the final film.

Chasing Mavericks (2012)

In an inspiring biopic telling the true story of Santa Cruz surfing legend Jay Moriarty, Chasing Mavericks uses aerial shots of the Boardwalk to set the movie’s landscape. A scene featuring main characters Jay and Kim was filmed at the Boardwalk over the course of one day, however it unfortunately didn’t make the final cut. 
Bumblebee (2018)

Film set for Bumblebee
Notice anything off about this picture? Film crew covered every use of the name “Santa Cruz Boardwalk” so that the park would appear as “Brighton Falls.”

Travel back in time to 1987 when Charlie, played by actress Hailee Steinfeld, discovers that her Volkswagen Beetle can transform into a half car half robot “autobot.” In the film Charlie works at Hot Dog on a Stick, filmed at the real Hot Dog on a Stick owned by Boardwalk concessionaires, Twisselman Enterprises. During the two day filming, Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk was transformed into “Brighton Falls Boardwalk,” and real Boardwalk employees were even hired as background extras. 

Jordan Peele on the Giant Dipper
Academy Award winning director and comedian Jordan Peele riding the Giant Dipper with crew while scouting locations for Us.

Us (2019)

The star-studded psychological horror film Us, directed by Academy Award winning director Jordan Peele, hit the silver screen as the most recent movie featuring the Boardwalk. The Boardwalk stars as an idyllic vacation destination for the lead cast, which includes Academy Award-winning actress, Lupita Nyong’o as Adelaide. Several locations on the Boardwalk appear throughout the movie, including street side of the Haunted Castle and in the background of scenes shot on Main Beach.
What’s your favorite movie or TV show that was filmed at the Boardwalk? Let us know in the comments below!

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