Total Recall

10 Movie Amusement Parks to Inspire Your Summer Vacations

Whether you're into theme parks or wild animal sanctuaries, let the movies guide you to your dream (or nightmare) destination.

by | May 30, 2018 | Comments

Nobody takes a big-screen beating like Johnny Knoxville, and this weekend, he’s suffering for his art all over again with Action Point, a high-impact comedy inspired by the real-life New Jersey amusement park whose rickety rides and low-rent aesthetic gave it the unfortunate nickname “Traction Park.” In honor of Knoxville’s latest (literally) gut-busting antics, we decided to round up some of the best and least-loved movie theme parks in Hollywood history in order to help you map out some stops on your summer cinematic travels. Fasten your seat belts and turn up the Lindsey Buckingham, because it’s time for Total Recall!


Walley World – National Lampoon's Vacation (1983) 93%

Southern California has no shortage of amusement parks, but there’s only one Walley World — and climbing on board trademark attractions like the Revolution and the Screaming Mimi can only be sweeter after you’ve schlepped halfway across the country in a state-of-the-art lemon of a station wagon, chasing a mysterious blonde and putting up with various pain-in-the-neck family members along the way. Be sure to pack heat just in case you need to strongarm your way in during the park’s off hours — and please keep your hands, feet, and Aunt Edna’s dog inside the car at all times.


Jurassic Park – Jurassic Park (1993) 91%

(Photo by Universal Pictures courtesy Everett Collection)

If you’ve got a rainforest vacation in mind — and can afford to fly the family out Costa Rica way — then there’s really only one vacation destination for the discerning film fan: Isla Nublar, where InGen CEO John Hammond decides to set up shop after figuring out how to bring dinosaurs back from extinction. Jurassic Park’s got it all: gorgeous views, guided tours, and a gift shop with all the official swag your kids will want after seeing real live prehistoric creatures up close and personal. Sure, the security systems have a way of failing at inopportune times, but what’s a vacation without a little life-threatening terror?


Pacific Playland – Zombieland (2009) 89%

(Photo by Glen Wilson/Columbia Pictures courtesy Everett Collection)

For parents, the experience of spending a day at an amusement park can feel like trudging through a zombie wasteland. It sounds like a great idea going in, but after hours of moving slowly through lines, brains baked into mush from standing in the sun, and bellies bloated with concession stand churros, the experience takes on a ghastly pallor almost as frightening as the one suffered by Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg), Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), Wichita (Emma Stone), and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) after they finally reach the allegedly zombie-free Pacific Playland in Los Angeles, only to find it utterly overrun by the undead. On the bright side, they do have Twinkies, and you just might get smooched by the love interest of your dreams.


Beijing World Park – The World (2005) 72%

(Photo by Zeitgeist Films courtesy Everett Collection)

For travelers who are interested in spending time in China while checking out smaller-scale versions of landmarks from other parts of the world, there’s only one choice: Beijing World Park, glimpsed in writer-director Jia Zhangke’s 2004 release The World. Just imagine: the Egyptian pyramids, the Eiffel Tower, the Taj Mahal, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and more — all conveniently reduced in size and collected in one theme park. Best of all, unlike a lot of the destinations covered here, it’s actually real.


Northwest Adventure – Free Willy (1993) 68%

(Photo by Warner Bros. courtesy Everett Collection)

Spending your vacation time in the Seattle area this summer? Be sure to take the family to Northwest Adventure, which not only boasts some of the more exciting ocean-based attractions in the area, but has incredibly clean grounds thanks to a local probation program that puts young vandals to work cleaning up their own handiwork. The park’s orca has a tendency to disappear at inopportune moments, but a growing number of guests don’t want to see those big guys held captive anyway — and if you look to the horizon at just the right moment as the sun is going down, you might see one of them jumping over the seawall.


Walt Disney World – Escape From Tomorrow (2013) 57%

(Photo by Producers Distribution Agency)

The Happiest Place on Earth? Maybe for the sugar-drunk kids running screaming from ride to ride, but for the moms and dads who actually have to pay the increasingly exorbitant cost of actually getting into Disneyworld — not to mention all the extra stuff you end up buying once you’re inside the park — it can feel like a harrowing descent into dystopian insanity. This isn’t to say 2013’s Escape from Tomorrow, which was filmed guerrilla style on the actual grounds by writer-director Randy Moore, is the ultimate Disney movie for disenchanted grown-ups — its depiction of one dad’s nightmarish visit doesn’t quite turn its creepy atmosphere into a consistently compelling story. On the other hand, watching it after taking your kids to the Magic Kingdom could prove as discomfitingly familiar as it is cathartic.


Magic Mountain – Rollercoaster (1977) 57%

While you’re in southern California visiting Walley World and Pacific Playland, go ahead and schedule a visit to Magic Mountain. Not only has it been a popular real-life recreation destination for decades, it’ll also give you an up close and personal look at the attractions used to fuel the action in the final act of 1977’s Rollercoaster, starring George Segal as a safety inspector in a race against time to stop a terrorist (Timothy Bottoms) whose bombing spree ends at the park’s brand new American Revolution ride. Enjoy your stay, but if you happen to spot a young Segal running like hell toward the Revolution, it might be time to cut your visit short.

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Moron Mountain – Space Jam (1996) 43%

(Photo by Warner Bros.)

If you’re traveling to space for your summer vacation this year, your amusement park options are unfortunately limited. But take a left a couple light years past Albuquerque, and you might just end up at Moron Mountain, the planet-wide attraction run by the unfortunately named Mr. Swackhammer in Space Jam. Faced with declining attendance, Swackhammer does pretty much what anyone would do: send a delegation of underlings to Earth so they can steal the basketball talents of the best pro players in the U.S., leaving Michael Jordan to team up with Bugs Bunny and his pals and take to the court to try and save them. And if your summer plans don’t include an intergalactic excursion, you can take a Jam-themed trip to the movie’s website, untouched since 1996. Why mess with perfection?


SeaWorld Orlando – Jaws 3 (1983) 12%

(Photo by Universal Pictures courtesy Everett Collection)

As seen in Free Willy, Seattle’s Northwest Adventure park has a problem with killer whales escaping — but that’s nothing compared to the SeaWorld Orlando depicted in Jaws 3-D, which can’t seem to keep angry sharks out. Fortunately, the park’s payroll includes Kay and Michael Brody (Bess Armstrong and Dennis Quaid), who know a thing or two about great white management thanks to their late father, who vanquished a couple of the toothsome predators in the first two Jaws movies. That won’t make it any less terrifying if you happen to be in one of the fancy underwater tunnels when a ticked-off shark makes its move, but look at the bright side — it’s still better than watching Jaws: The Revenge.


Wonder World – Beverly Hills Cop III (1994) 9%

(Photo by Paramount Pictures courtesy Everett Collection)

One of several cinematic amusement parks in the Los Angeles area, Wonder World promises fun in the sun in Beverly Hills — but as Axel Foley (Eddie Murphy) discovers in Beverly Hills Cop III, all those thrill rides are really just a front for a counterfeiting ring being run under the nose of the owner (Mister Ed vet Alan Young). All that nefarious activity (not to mention the movie’s brutal Tomatometer) might be enough to scare you away from a visit to Wonder World, but you can presumably expect to have more fun at the park’s real-life counterpart, California’s Great America, located in the Bay Area city of Santa Clara, CA.

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