I got the notion about seven years ago that if we had more movies made in Myrtle Beach that more people would want to come here. Back then, I was aware of tourists flocking to little coastal communities in North Carolina in the wake of a couple of Nicholas Sparks films using those hamlets as backdrops in order for the bestselling Sparks novels to be brought to the big screen. But how would I go about my campaign to bring that film fever to Myrtle Beach? Well, we had had a number of movies already made here. In fact, as I was pondering this, Warner Bros. was in post-production for their second movie shot along the Grand Strand. So that is what inspired me to compile the book, Myrtle Beach Movies. I figured that if potential filmmakers knew that movies had been made here in the past that they would be motivated to make more in the future. Here are the eight movies featured in the book and two that came about after it was published.
This is the only movie by a major motion picture studio to hold its world premiere in Myrtle Beach, and, despite popular belief, it wasn’t made here. The premiere was the highlight of the annual Sun Festival in 1967. It starred Tony Curtis, but the movie’s stars who came here for the festivities were the stunning Sharon Tate and the reigning Mr. Universe-turned-actor, Dave Draper. It was not the first movie Sharon made, but it was the first to be released, making the event her first premiere. The Myrtle Beach Movies book features never-before-published photos of Sharon taken by my favorite local photographer, Jack Thompson. I had to get special permission to publish her image from her sister, Debra Tate, who is very protective of her late sister’s memory. In fact, Debra sent word to me through the attorneys for Sharon’s estate that she was “excited to work with [me]” on this project. When I reached out to Dave Draper, he and his wife were enthusiastic about allowing me to reprint a piece he had written about Sharon. You don’t immediately think that a big, muscular guy like Dave would have a sensitive side, but what he wrote about the friend whom he had lost is so tender and sweet, that I still get choked up when I read it.
Earl Owensby, founder of the Shelby, NC, movie studio named for him, looked to Myrtle Beach in 1983, to build a world class motion picture studio that would become an international sensation with an adjoining amusement park and shopping complex, all of which never came to be. Once the groundbreaking ceremony had taken place on the Hwy. 17 Bypass, just south of Hwy. 544, he began construction on a prison camp set for what would be Myrtle Beach’s first movie…in 3-D. In June of 1984, everyone gathered in a multiplex that is no longer here, wearing our cardboard glasses, and not knowing what to expect. And boy howdy, we got it all. There was nudity, language, violence, and all in 3-D!
This is the most beloved film made in Myrtle Beach and is named for The Shag that became our state dance in 1984. The year before, two comedy writers for Saturday Night Live, Lanier Laney and Terry Sweeney, pitched the idea for the movie to an MGM executive in Hollywood. He told the screenwriters that he had never heard of the dance and really didn’t know what they were talking about, but the two of them were funny so he would greenlight the project. Laney said it was a miracle that SHAG ever got made to start with. 30 years after its release, I held a series of sold-out events at The Market Common in 2019, celebrating the movie’s milestone. We couldn’t believe the outpouring of love that was expressed when we posted about the events on Facebook. Fans were telling us how much they love this movie and would share their favorite quotes. The most surprising comment was posted by a lady who said that she had named her daughter, Carson, after Phoebe Cates’ character.
In the fall of 1990, Disney transformed the Myrtle Beach Pavilion into the Atlantic City Steel Pier of the 1930s. The movies’ stars were just starting and ending their careers, respectively. Do you remember the scene from Scent of a Woman when Al Pacino does the tango with the lovely young lady? That was Gabrielle Anwar who hadn’t done that movie yet when she starred in the Disney movie here. Her leading man, Michael Schoeffling, earned heartthrob status in 1984’s Sixteen Candles where he portrayed Jake Ryan, a character who has gone down in the annals of pop culture as being synonymous with being the perfect boyfriend. After a string of movies ending with Wild Hearts, where he was typecast as the romantic lead, he gave it all up and retired from acting to return to his native Pennsylvania to handcraft furniture and raise his family…much to the chagrin of his legions of adoring fans.
This was the last feature film to be directed by famed actor/director, Dennis Hopper, and his only comedy. He made his directorial debut in 1969, with the movie, Easy Rider, in which he starred. He only had a cameo in his Grand Strand debut.
This little gem did well on the independent film festival circuit in 2000, when the film was first released, but was not distributed to theaters until two years later. It wasn’t so much a delay as it was a seized opportunity that they hadn’t expected. A talented, young, red-haired teenager, Lauren Ambrose, was cast as the lead. What no one could foresee at that time was that she would later star in a popular HBO series, Six Feet Under. With her newfound success, the movie’s production company rode the wave of her popularity and screened the indie in an impressive number of markets for weeks on end.
A nationally syndicated movie critic said of this film when he was recapping the 2009 year in movies that, aside from the summer’s sci-fi blockbuster and a Brad Pitt war movie, that going to see this picture would likely be the most fun that you’d have in a theater all year. And, of the filmmaker, Matthew William Jordan, who just happened to be on the Myrtle Beach High School newspaper staff with me in the early 80s, he said more first-timers should be that good.
8. Magic Mike XXL (2015, Warner Bros.)
Locals ignored the autumnal chill in November of 2014, when they donned their most festive 4th of July garb and lined up along North Ocean Boulevard to play extras in this Warner Bros. sequel loosely based on the early career of the film’s star, Channing Tatum. The movie is a road trip film that follows Channing and his buddies to a convention in Myrtle Beach. While the last scenes of the movie are filmed here, they actually used the convention center in Savannah for the interior shots. After the last scene was captured on the Myrtle Beach boardwalk with the guys watching fireworks out over the ocean, the cast and crew walked a couple of blocks down the boardwalk to 8th Ave. Tiki Bar and Grill for the movie’s wrap party.
Wheel of Fortune star and North Myrtle Beach native, Vanna White, has a brother who heads a production company in Charlotte, NC, that submitted a short work to the Myrtle Beach International Film Festival in 2017…and won, beating out exceptional feature films from around the world. Supporting cast members included Grant Goodeve, remembered fondly as the hunky eldest brother on the classic TV series, Eight is Enough, and an up-and-coming actress from this area. Sophia Miller later went on to portray “Young Karen” Strode in the 2018 box office hit, Halloween, and got to spend some time on set with the perennial star of the franchise, Jamie Lee Curtis.
One of the most incredible stories to come out of the movie industry during the pandemic was about an independent film made by the production company behind the Myrtle Beach International Film Festival. Their holiday feature that was shot primarily in Myrtle Beach and nearby Loris and Conway, was screened in multiple theaters in a whopping 14 states across the country from South Carolina to Utah and from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico. This feat was accomplished when most cinemas around the world were shut down, and without any names in the cast that you would recognize. Well, you’d recognize one name. (Take a look at the byline, above.) I played Julie who works for the Paradise, SC, City Hall. Paradise is a fictional coastal town that looks like Myrtle Beach. It’s a sweet film that puts a new twist on the classic holiday romance.