Who is missing a trip to theme parks right now? I know I miss my happy place at the Florida theme parks but in an effort to keep the magic alive at home, I recently shared various movie marathon lists inspired by the parks. I've already constructed lists so that you can relive some of the stories seen at the Disney Parks such as Magic Kingdom and Hollywood Studios. But today, I want to celebrate another set of great theme parks in Central Florida.
I equally have fond memories and a love for Universal Orlando as I do with Disney. I'm also a big movie buff, which is why Universal Studios has a real special place in my heart. It features a great set of rides and shows inspired by iconic films such as Jaws and E.T. and even newer films like The Secret Life of Pets and The Bourne Identity. So today, I have a list of 50 Movies you can watch at home that will feel like you're touring the original Universal park here in Florida.
Admittedly, some of these titles will be hard to track down. But where I could, I've included links and details as to where you can stream these movies online. Some might require you to dig into your DVD or dare I say it, VHS collection, but none the less it will be a terrific journey in Universal Pictures history. If watching 50 movie titles is too much for you, don't worry. I've highlighted in red what I consider to be the top ten films to watch in honor of this great park. So sit back, relax and let's all go to the movies. Enjoy!
One cannot start a movie marathon list celebrating Universal's history without watching the original set of classic monster movies that solidified the studio's success in the 1920s. The film that kickstarted Universal's collection of horror films was The Phantom of the Opera; a silent film starring the iconic Lon Chaney as The Phantom in 1925. But soon after that, Bela Lugosi made his first appearance as Dracula and Boris Karloff transformed into the hideous creature in Frankenstein. Blow, I've included what Universal considers to be it's classic collection of monster movies. (You'll notice that Universal did a remake of Phantom of the Opera in 1943.) But if there is one film in this collection to watch it's Bride of Frankenstein.
It's not very often that a sequel does better than its original. The few exceptions of course include The Godfather and Star Wars. But Bride of Frankenstein is often considered great because not only did the actors deliver great performances, but the crew ranging from the cameraman to the set designer all contributed to the great film. It was praised at all levels. But it was Elsa Lanchester's performance as the Bride that was most memorable; making her the only female monster in the collection and the original queen of horror.
Now surprisingly, Universal has yet to develop an attraction inspired by this iconic group of characters. But there have been two shows at Universal Studios that paid tribute to them. The first is of course the Horror Make-Up Show located in the Hollywood section. It's the only show still running from the park's opening day and takes guests behind the scenes in creating some of the amazing special effects for Universal's popular horror films. Back in the day, the show had a more detailed scene showing how Universal creating another iconic horror film in 1981, An American Werewolf in London which later inspired a fantastic maze at Halloween Horror Nights.
But the most memorable show to feature the original set of monsters was Beetlejuice's Rock and Roll Graveyard Revue. The Phantom of the Opera sang "Great Balls of Fire", the Bride of Frankenstein performed "I Will Survive" and of course the finale at one point featured Beetlejuice wrangling everyone into the "Banana Boat Song". The show sadly closed in 2016 but the monsters will soon find a new home at Universal Orlando's third park, Epic Universe. Rumor has it we will finally get a high-tech dark ride featuring all the monsters. Who knows if Beetlejuice will reappear in this new park, but despite it not being an official Universal film, the park has been home to the ghost with the most for decades.
It's now time to celebrate the glory days of Universal Studios Florida by first taking a look at the films and tv shows that inspired long gone attractions in Production Central. If you grew up in the 90s and a fan of Universal, you know that back in the early days of the park you had to run to The Funtastic World of Hanna-Barbera first. If not, you would've waited over an hour for a very quick and somewhat underwhelming simulator attraction through some classic cartoons.
It was an attraction my family skipped a lot because we would prioritize other popular attractions first, like Back to the Future. The simulator combined various characters from four different tv shows created by William Hanna and Joseph Barbera including The Flintstones, The Yogi Bear Show and Scooby-Doo. But it really served as a publicity campaign to promote Jetsons the Movie that premiered a month after the park opened. A few years later, the nearby Boneyard where sets and props from a variety of Universal films were exhibited, included an elaborate collection of props from the 1994 live-action film based on The Flintstones among other movies. Therefore, a viewing of the best rated episodes from all these tv shows is a great way to start our Production Central portion of the marathon.
Sticking to hit tv shows from the 1950s and 60s, next we have Lucy: A Tribute. This was a walkthrough exhibit technically in the Hollywood section of the park. But it stood at the intersection of Hollywood and Production Central and it celebrated America's funniest redhead. The best episode from the hit CBS show was when Lucy takes a stab at acting as the Vitameatavegamin girl. It is a knockout episode that still holds up today and a wonderful way to start a mini-marathon with Lucille Ball. After watching some of the best episodes of the series, you'll end with Lucy and Ethel caught in the middle of a murder mystery on their way down to Florida, which leads us to a true Universal Studios gem.
From pristine a-line skirts to sharp camera angles and and a wicked sense of humor; this is Alfred Hitchcock: The Art of Making Movies. Just across Hanna-Barbera stood a fascinating show that pulled back the curtain on the master of suspense's collection of thrillers. This experience was broken down into three main segments. First was the pre-show which showcased various clips from classic Hitchcock favorites. The two most notable scenes in this pre-show was when Grace Kelly reached out for a pair of scissors to kill her attacker in Dial M for Murder and when a flock of crowds bursted through the screen like when they attacked Tippi Hedren in The Birds. From there, guests moved to the main theatre where a production crew showed the audience how the iconic shower scene in Psycho was intricately shot and edited to give the illusion of Norman's mother slashing the inoccent Janet Leigh. Finally, the post show was a walkthrough exhibit demonstrating even more unique techniques conducted by Hitchcock in films such as Strangers on a Train, Saboteur and Rear Window.
Therefore, watching the six films listed below will allow to watch some iconic Hitchcock blondes in films that travel from London to New York and San Francisco. Of course some great films such as Vertigo have been left out, but I won't tell anyone if you swap one of these out for other Hitchcock classics.
- S1 E2: "Booby Trapped/Feud for Thought/Hop, Duck and Listen"
- S1 E4: "A Bear Pari/Fraidy Cat Lion/Easter Duck"
- S1 E15: "A Bear Living/Remember Your Lions/Ha-Choo to You!"
- S1 E5: "The Coming of Astro"
- S1 E7: "The Flying Suit"
- S1 E13: "Las Venus"
- S5 E7: "A Haunted House is Not a Home"
- S5 E8: "Dr. Sinister"
- S6 E6: "Samantha"
- S1 E11: "A Gaggle of Galloping Ghosts"
- S1 E13: "Which Witch is Which?"
- S1 E16: "A Night of Fright Is No Delight"
- S1 E30: "Lucy Does a TV Commercial"
- S2 E1: "Job Switching"
- S4 E16: "Hollywood at Last"
- S5 E23: "Lucy's Italian Movie"
- S6 E6: "Off to Florida"
The New York area of Universal Studios Florida was once home to a collection of fan-favorite attractions that some are still mourning the death of. The first was the legendary Kongfrontation ride, which is often regarded as the main catalyst for Universal building the Florida theme park. Orlando's King Kong ride was an elaboration of the King Kong Encounter section of the Studio Tour in Hollywood. The backlot tour at Universal Studios Hollywood was a big hit since it began running in the 1960s. It allowed movie fans to tour real sets on the Universal backlot but 'themed-ride' segments were added at the same time big blockbuster were released to do some cross promoting and provide an extra thrill. The theme park style scenes that were most adored by guests included King Kong, Earthquake and Jaws. Which were all turned into individual attractions here in Florida, but the most famous was certainly Kong.
Both the original Hollywood version and the more complex Kongfrontation attraction in Florida were inspired by the 1976 remake of King Kong starring a very young Jeff Bridges and a debut performance by Jessica Lange. It was slightly modified from the original 1933 version in that instead of a film crew seeking out Kong on Skull Island, this version follows a greedy executive who thinks he can capitalize on the island's untapped oil deposit. (Don't worry we will get to the 2005 remake directed by Peter Jackson in my Movie Marathon inspired by Islands of Adventure.) A second modification to this remake is that when Kong is brought to New York, he climbs the then newly built World Trade Center during the climax instead of the Empire State Building. They are minor updates to fit the 1970s landscape, but the general arc is the same. The ride that once stood as the crown jewel of the Florida park took guests through the climatic scene of the film when Kong is ravishing through some overground subway tracks and the Roosevelt Island tramway.
A second film that inspired a great attraction here at Universal Studios Florida was Ghostbusters which was later replaced with Twister: Ride it Out. The comical and strange 1984 film follows Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis and Ernie Hudson on their investigation into what has possessed and taken over Sigourney Weaver's Central Park apartment. The Ghostbusters Spooktacular followed the first film's climax when the gatekeeper and key master meet and unleash Gozer over the streets of New York. Complete with an exploding Stay Puft marshmallow man that really got the kids excited. If you're a hardcore Ghostbusters fan, you can watch both the original and the sequel to enjoy a trio of giants wreaking havoc and destruction on New York; Kong, Stay Puft and the Statue of Liberty.
But before we depart the New York area and embark on our tour towards the west coast, a viewing of the 1980 cult classic The Blues Brothers is in order. This over the top comedy inspired a small stage show starring Jake and Elwood that premiered just a year after the Florida park opened and it still entertains guests to this day. Directed by John Landis, this film was a spin-off to a fan-favorite SNL skit written by Dan Aykroyd. It's part comedy, part action film, part musical and follows two brothers on their mission from God to get the band back together. The humor may go over the heads of younger audiences today, but if anything, The Blues Brothers is a fantastic lesson in the rhythm and blues.
Next to the New York area of the park lies what used to be known as the San Francisco/Amity Island area. For the sake of this marathon, I've decided to split the two into separate segments. San Francisco was once home to Earthquake: The Big One. Another attraction inspired by a successful segment of the original Hollywood Studio Tour. This attraction showed guests what it takes to pull off a complicated natural disaster scene in a film. In this case, it drew inspiration from the 1974 film starring Charlton Heston and Ava Gardner. Ironically, the film is set in Los Angeles instead of San Francisco, but some of the more memorable scenes were all incorporated into the theme park attraction. It combined the sensation of being trapped underground during a catastrophic earthquake combined with a charging oil tank, phone lines sparking electricity and a tidal wave of water filling the train station. The film's special effects may seem laughable today, but it did win two Academy Awards in 1975. A revisit to this film will remind Universal fans of the excitement of a long-running attraction that is long gone but not forgotten.
Tucked away at the very back corner of Universal Studios Florida was were the fabled Jaws attraction once stood. Similar to Kongfrontation, the Hollywood Studio Tour included a Jaws attraction sequence that debuted a year after Spielberg's massive success at the box office. Like Kong and Earthquake, Jaws experienced major technical difficulties when the park opened in 1990. But unlike the other two rides, Jaws was forced to shut down for nearly three years before it could reopen and take guests on a harrowing boat trip around Amity Island. So like the film, huge setbacks almost doomed this project but all the hard work and risk paid off, because Jaws would outlive Kongfrontation and be one of the park's best attractions.
The 1975 film starring Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfuss and Robert Shaw shot Steven Spielberg's career to the heavens. It was his second feature length film and remembered as the most grueling and over-budget film he ever made. Like the attraction, the crew had trouble getting the mechanical shark to work and look believable. However, Spielberg's genius camera techniques, articulated editing and a terrifying score brought the film to life. Jaws went on to be a huge summer hit and gave birth to the Hollywood blockbuster. The shark may still look fake today, but John Williams simple yet hair-raising score will still make you scared to go into the water.
Back to the Future (1985)
Jumping off from Spielberg's greatest hit, we arrive to Robert Zemeckis crowning achievement, Back to the Future. Often regarded as the best and most tightly written screenplay of all time, this trilogy follows Marty McFly on his adventure back in time to meet his parents in the 1950s to 2015 where he witnesses his own kids get into trouble before ending the series with a trip to the old west to save the hilarious Doc Brown. Back to the Future the Ride was another fan-favorite attraction at Universal Studios that pushed the boundaries on ride technology. Universal saw what George Lucas developed with Disney to create Star Tours and decided to up the anti by placing their ride simulator inside a giant OMNIMAX screen. The result, was an exciting trip back in time one the sleek DeLorean and was, in my opinion, Universal's best attraction.
To fully appreciate the history of this attraction, one should watch all three Back to the Future films. Simply because the ride jumped into the future to 2015 just like Marty did in the first sequel, but also ties into the events of what Biff did in the 1950s. The ride even took things further by taking riders back to the age of the dinosaurs. In reality, the ride closely resembled the events of the second film the most. But if you watch the first two films, you'll be left with a huge cliff hanger that requires a viewing of the third film to bring things to a closed. But again, if you only have time for the top titles in this marathon, watch the original film.
Before we move to the next land in the park, there is one more time-traveling comedy you should revisit first. The second ever Halloween event at Univesal Studios Florida included the debut of Bill & Ted's Excellent Halloween Adventure. A show that would go down in history and perform for two and half decades before it closed forever in 2017. The show was an over-the-top, and sometimes controversial, comedy that really took hits at popular culture and hot topics of the day. Without getting into too much detail, the jokes went too far, but the 1989 film is harmless. Its silly humor may not hold up as well today, but it is a cult classic and ties to a big part of Universal Studios history.
Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991)
We've now arrived to the Hollywood section of the park, which ironically, given the overall theme of Universal Studios, has the least number of attractions. A cornerstone feature of this land is Mel's Drive-In; a quick service burger joint inspired by George Lucas' 1973 film American Graffiti. Similar to Spielberg, Lucas saw big success in his second feature-length film about a group of teenagers cruising around Southern California in 1962 in their Thunderbirds and Chevies. Who can forget John Milner's iconic, yellow, 1932 Deuce Coupé. It was a reflection of George Lucas' childhood in Modesto, California and a nostalgic trip back in time to simpler days. A trip to the burger joint at Universal is just as sentimental and the most well themed restaurant in the park.
But the crown jewel of the Hollywood section of the park was T2-3D: Battle Across Time which was inspired by James Cameron's 1991 film, Terminator 2: Judgement Day. This indoor, part stunt part 3D show debuted at the Florida park in 1996 and it was known for being one of the most expensive movies ever made. The show was somewhat of a sequel to the second installment in the franchise and brought all the original actors back including Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton and Robert Patrick. Not only was it adored by fans because who can pass up on Schwarzenegger reprising his role as The Terminator, but it was also praised for its clever combination of live actions, 3D screens, pyrotechnics and a collection of impressive animatronics.
Now you'll notice that for the most part, this movie marathon list omits a lot of sequels because if I included all of them this list would go on forever. In most cases, I've also highlighted that viewers should watch the first installment of a franchise if opting to do a condensed version of the marathon. But this is one case were if you were to pick just one movie in the Terminator series, Judgement Day is the superior film. It was one of the few times were a sequel out-performed the original. With Terminator, the second film simply involved better action sequences and technology was further along in the early 1990s than in the mid 1980s. If you're jumping straight to the sequel, there's also not a tremendous amount of plot you have to remember from the first movie. It's all laid out for you in the opening sequence.
E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
We now finally arrive to the tail end of the marathon celebrating all the original rides in the park. E.T. Adventure is now part of the KidZone section of the park. But back in 1990 when Universal first opened here in Florida, there was no KidZone. The attraction based on the most lovable alien in the universe was technically part of World Expo where Back to the Future was located. The E.T. Adventure also had an odd placement because you could see Norman Bates' motel off in the distance as you stood in the queue. Not a family-friendly sight if you ask me. But before I talk about E.T., another attraction made it's way to this section of the park in 1992. Officially creating a kid-friendly land inside the park, Fievel's Playland. This simple waterslide and play area was inspired by the 1991 film An American Tail: Fievel Goes West. A sequel to the 1986 original where the Mousekewitz family find trouble adjusting to the hardships of the Wild West. It did not perform well at the box office, but made a killing in home video sales and still has a cult following to this day.
But I can't think of a better way to end this part of the marathon without watching E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. Spielberg's 1982 film about a boy's relationship with an alien botanist was a big departure from his intense thrillers. But to this day, E.T. remains to be one Universal's biggest hits. In fact, it still holds the title of being the highest grossing film distributed by Universal, outperforming Jaws and Jurassic Park. It won 4 Academy Awards including one for John Williams who composed one of the most memorable movie theme songs of all time. But most importantly, the E.T. Adventure is the only opening-day attraction left at Universal Studios Florida. Kong, Jaws and Doc Brown may all be gone, but E.T. lives on and if you're sticking to the top ten films in this list, E.T. is the ultimate finale.
The NEW Universal
Despicable Me (2010)
As you can see, Universal Studios Florida has changed and evolved tremendously over the years. The park is a shell of what is used to be, but still is home to some great attractions inspired by classic films. Therefore, this final section of the marathon for the dedicated viewer celebrates the NEW version of Universal Studios. Starting off with Shrek you'll remember that this film and this attraction marked a big turning point for Universal. Kong may be gone but The Mummy served as inspiration for a great new indoor coaster that sits in the New York section of the park today. For those of you who want to make a trip to Springfield to see Homer and the family, a viewing of The Simpsons Movie is here but you'll have to travel on over to Disney+ to stream it. Finally, I've rounded out this section with The Bourne Identity, the 2002 action film starring Matt Damon that has inspired Universal's newest attraction that fans are eagerly awaiting, The Bourne Stuntacular.