One major thing that movies and theme parks have in common is the sense of escapism and fun. Both exist to temporarily transport you to a different time, place, and even a different world altogether, and the best ones employ a sense of whimsy and imagination. Like in a good movie, at a theme park, you’re immersed in a story and a journey — so it makes sense that filmmakers would use them as part of a movie set. Some of these are obvious, such as Saving Mr. Banks, which showed Walt Disney himself enjoying the rides at Disneyland, but did you know that Jurassic World was also filmed at an abandoned amusement park!? Here are the coolest movies that have been filmed at theme parks.
1. National Lampoon’s Vacation – Six Flags Magic Mountain
Did you know the infamous Walley World was actually Six Flags Magic Mountain in Valencia, CA? Due to its proximity to Los Angeles, the amusement park has been host to many film production crews, but the most famous comes undoubtedly from the Griswold family’s attempt to bond on vacation, and the many mishaps they hit along the way.
2. Rollercoaster – Six Flags Magic Mountain
Magic Mountain became the fictional Walley World when the Griswolds showed up after a long car trip, but in 1977’s Rollercoaster, it became the site of a complete disaster when a psychopath placed a bomb in one of the park’s roller coasters, killing numerous riders on board. The film didn’t perform well due to its theatrical release in the summer of 1977 alongside a huge blockbuster (maybe you’ve heard of it… it’s called Star Wars), but it’s known now as the first film role for two huge stars: Helen Hunt and Steve Guttenberg!
3. Adventureland – Kennywood
One of the most obvious films set in a theme park, this one follows a recent college grad as he takes a job at a run-down amusement park post-graduation due to financial woes, forcing him to deal with the local theme park lifers and bratty kids and their parents on summer vacation. The historical theme park was heavily altered to look run-down, and it is based on a real amusement park named Adventureland in Farmingdale, New York where the film’s director once worked. Though set in the summer, most filming took place in the winter, and the crew often had to hide snow from the shots.
4. Saving Mr. Banks – Disneyland
While it’s rare that movies are shot within a Disney park due to the protective measures that the Walt Disney Company takes over its intellectual property, the 2013 film about the development of Mary Poppins stars Tom Hanks as Walt Disney himself, and many scenes were shot in Disneyland to portray Walt’s time in the park prior to his death in 1966. The park was transformed to reflect its 1961 appearance, and many actual cast members appeared in the film as extras.
5. Jurassic World – Six Flags New Orleans
The devastation of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 damaged most of this New Orleans amusement park, and it has remained abandoned since then. In the ten years after the park’s abandonment, it has been used as the filming location for many movies, including Jurassic World. Other films shot at the park include Percy Jackson: Sea Of Monsters, Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes, Stolen, and Killer Joe.
6. Big – Rye Playland
This Westchester, NY amusement park plays almost as important of a role in Big as the famous keyboard in FAO Schwarz, and it has gone down as an iconic piece of film history. Other scenes shot at the park include The Muppets Take Manhattan, Fatal Attraction, and the Woody Allen film Sweet and Lowdown.
7. Bring It On: In it to Win It – Universal Studios Florida
The largely forgettable (save for Pretty Little Liars‘ Ashley Benson!) third sequel follows a slew of cheerleading teams as they head to the Universal Orlando resort for a national cheer competition. Theme park aficionados will recognize many of the park’s famous spots throughout the film, including CityWalk and The Hard Rock Hotel.
8. House on Haunted Hill – Islands of Adventure
The “Terror Incognita” rollercoaster at Price’s amusement park featured in the beginning of the film is actually the totally terrifying The Incredible Hulk roller coaster at Universal Studios Florida’s Islands of Adventure. Spoiler alert: this day at the park doesn’t end well for the riders on this coaster. Yikes!
9. Beverly Hills Cop III – California’s Great America
The Santa Clara, California theme park served as the fictional “Wonder World” amusement park in the Eddie Murphy classic, and it even featured a cameo by George Lucas! Much of the park was altered for the movie, and there are no underground tunnels as suggested in the story. California’s Great Adventure has also appeared in the Macaulay Culkin movie Getting Even with Dad.
10. Final Destination 3 – Playland
While different from the Playland park where Big was shot, this park in Vancouver was featured in the third installment of the Final Destination franchise, and in a much more gruesome way. The horror franchise famous for scaring us in ways we didn’t know possible shows that the inherent fear of roller coasters can be all too real, and it will probably make you rethink your next ride on one. They didn’t name this one “Devil’s Flight” for nothing! Eep.
11. Jaws 3-D – SeaWorld Orlando
The second sequel to Steven Spielberg’s iconic “stay-out-of-the-water” terror tale heavily featured SeaWorld Orlando, as the great white shark follows a team of water skiers into the park, and park employees attempt to capture it to profit off the attention and notoriety the presence of the shark would bring. Park goers looking to see Shamu shouldn’t fear a real-life Jaws reenactment, however, because the park is actually landlocked. Whew!
12. Zombieland – Wild Adventures/Scream Fest Theme Park
The 2009 movie starring Jesse Eisenberg (sound familiar?!) actually shot scenes at two different parks, including Scream Fest Theme Park in Hollywood, CA and Wild Adventures in Valdosta, GA. Fans of Wild Adventures will recognize rides like Pharaoh’s Fury; the Double Shot (redubbed “Blast Off”); the Rattler; the Aviator; and the Bug Out in the zombie comedy movie.