If you’ve read through A’Ziah “Zola” King’s viral 148-tweet thread from 2015, you’ll know that a “LETS GO TO FLORIDA!” text sets in motion her wild, dicey and jaw-dropping impromptu trip to the Sunshine State. And if you’ve seen other movies that take place in Florida, you’ll know that things there get wild, dicey and jaw-dropping more often than not. As Zola—the cinematic retelling of King’s tweets—arrives in theaters this week, it makes us realize that “Florida movie” might be an entire film genre unto itself. From spring breaks to strip clubs, from Disney World to drug deals gone bad, we’ve made a list of a few other movies that paint a picture of just how bonkers it can get out in the Florida sun.
In Harmony Korine’s coastal fever dream, Matthew McConaughey is Moondog, a 40-something stoner, poet and drifter. He boats and floats leisurely across the Florida Keys, until sudden legal and financial troubles threaten to kill his vibe. All on his own, Moondog (and his hijinks) would meet the Florida quirk quota. But a few more eccentric figures fill out the cast: Snoop Dogg as an R&B singer named Lingerie, Zac Efron as a pyromaniac named Flicker, and Martin Lawrence (a Florida bad boy for life) as the captain of a tour boat, who one day quite foolishly mistakes a school of great white sharks for friendly dolphins and dives in for an ill-fated swim.
The Beach Bum isn't Korine’s only contribution to quintessential Florida cinema. Seven years prior, he made Spring Breakers, an unnerving crime thriller about a hedonistic beach vacation gone wrong. A quartet of young ladies (played by Ashley Benson, Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens and Rachel Korine) head to St. Petersburg looking for trouble—and they find more of it than they’d bargained for in Alien, a grimy local drug and arms dealer (James Franco, in dreads). So begins their descent into the darkest parts of Floridian nightlife … But we never promised it was a pick-me-up.
More along those lines, slightly, is Some Kind of Heaven, a bold and colorful documentary about life inside America’s largest retirement community. Though they might not all be clad in bikinis, retirees flock to Florida for the same reasons young vacationers do: good times and good weather. That’s what is offered up at The Villages, the sprawling network of condos, shuffleboard courts and dance halls near Orlando that over 100,000 retirees call home. Some Kind of Heaven focuses on four of them—zany, lovable personalities Anne, Reggie, Barbara and Dennis—as they begin to wonder if The Villages is really as idyllic as it seems.
Also searching for paradise in central Florida is the Siegel family: Dave, in his 70s, is owner of the world’s largest timeshare company, and his wife, Jackie, in her 40s, is owner of the Mrs. Florida beauty pageant (and was also its winner back in 1993). Outside of Orlando, they’re breaking ground on what will be one of America’s largest single-family homes: a 90,000-square-foot megamansion (named after the historic French palace), complete with 30 bathrooms, 10 kitchens, 2 tennis courts and a full-size baseball field outside. But the construction takes a hit following the 2008 Great Recession, and this riches-to-rags doc follows the family as they attempt to cut expenses from their larger-than-life Floridian existence.
A few miles can make all the difference, because just 20 minutes down the road from Versailles is where you’ll find the Magic Castle Inn & Suites, the now-iconic, all-purple budget motel at the heart of Sean Baker’s The Florida Project. Best used as a palate cleanser after all the other movies’ antics, this one shows us a slice of Florida life from a refreshing point of view: through the eyes of 6-year-old Moonee (our favorite little star, Brooklynn Prince). When she and her friends romp around the motel grounds and neighboring strip malls (not far from Disney World, but you could never tell), they don’t see poverty and decay. Thanks to their unending imagination, they make the outskirts of Orlando their playground, and it looks like a hell of a lot of fun.