Get ready to laugh out loud as “Tropic Thunder” takes you on a wild ride through the stunning landscapes of Kauai, blending Hollywood satire with breathtaking beauty.
With reports of a possible Tropic Thunder sequel being teased online, we thought we would revisit the hysterical 2008 satirical comedy action film that was mainly filmed on Kauai.
Starring Ben Stiller, Robert Downey Jr. and Jack Black, with memorable cameo appearances by Tom Cruise and Matthew McConaughey, Tropic Thunder followed a group of prima donna actors making a Vietnam War movie only to find themselves in a real-life situation with a heroin drug lord deep in the jungle.
The movie was highly successful, making close to $200 million on a $93 million budget. The movie was also somewhat controversial, with detractors calling into question Robert Downey Jr. playing an African American and Ben Stiller portraying a mentally challenged young man. In today’s highly sensitive social and political environment, the movie might seem to be an odd choice for a sequel. Or it might be just what the public needs, a comedic satire that subtly pokes fun at some of the ridiculousness of our times. (In our opinion, the movie wasn’t making fun of a mentally challenged man for example, but was instead making fun of Hollywood actors playing mentally challenged men for fame and profit.)
Tropic Thunder was also a big boost for the island and people of Kauai. Filmed over a long period in 2007, the movie hired approximately 352 crew members locally, out of a total of 778 crew members. The production crew used 285 local vendors, either from Kauai or other islands in the chain, reported Katherine Nichols writing for the Star Bulletin.
This framed magazine article is on the wall at the Bubba Burgers in Kapaa. The article states Downey “survived the arduous shoot by chain-smoking camels, sipping from frozen Gatorade, and eating Bubba’s Burgers every night.”
More money was spent on several large sets, including a village and a bridge used in the film’s climactic scene. Adding to the cash infusion, the movie’s major stars rented houses during the shoot and some of the crew stayed at Islander on the Beach in Wailua. More money was spent at after-hour hangouts including the Tradewinds Bar and Bubba Burgers. The Hanalei Bubba Burgers, now closed, had several photos of Tropic Thunder actors on the wall.
Stiller, who owns a house at Moloaa Bay on Kauai, spent weeks scouting filming locations on Kauai, and it really paid off. The effort paid off, with various locations throughout Kauai that were used to realistically portray a Southeast Asian jungle setting. Mexico and California were also considered for primary filming locations, but the movie wouldn’t have been near the same without Kauai’s lush tropical attributes. Hawaii’s 20 percent tax rebate for production work was an added incentive for shooting the film on Kauai.
Though the movie did bring many opportunities to Kauai, it’s worth mentioning that some local residents voiced concerns during production about the environmental impact the filming would have on the island. Notably, citizens were concerned about gasoline, toxic explosives and heavy metals (used for several large explosions during filming) polluting the island’s streams. One massive explosion occurred near the source of important headwaters at the base of Mount Waialeale. Citizens, including Koa Kahili (owner of Garden Island Chocolate), wrote that it could take decades for the residue to reach the ocean and also affect the drinking water of Kauai’s major population areas.
Tropic Thunder Filming Locations
Tropic Thunder filming locations included Grove Farm land, the Waiahi Powerhouse area, Hanalei, Kapaa, Kilauea and Lumahai Valley.
Kauai’s lush and jagged mountainous interior really set the stage for the movie’s exotic location.
The Hale ‘Ae Kai house at Kilauea, featured in the first part of the movie, was sold in 2018 for $46.1 million dollars, making it the most expensive house ever sold in all of Hawaii. The famous property has views of the Kilauea Lighthouse and sits above Secret Beach. The house can be rented with a 7-night minimum booking at rates from $15,000 to $21,000 per night. Google Maps
Kauai’s Mount Waialeale is featured in this scene from Tropic Thunder. A very similar view can be found near where the Kuilau Ridge Trail and Moalepe Trail meet (recent photo below).
The drug lord’s village movie set is seen from above in this photo courtesy of Wikipedia. This location (Google Maps) appears to be at the Waiahi Stream Upper Powerhouse deep in the heart of Kauai. An anecdote from the movie states that Ben Stiller and crew were scouting for locations when they went over a ridge and found the perfect setting at a power plant.
Featuring an array of gorgeous tropical backdrops, the island of Kauai was a major star of the Tropic Thunder movie. With unique and unmatched beauty, Kauai would again be the natural choice for a Tropic Thunder sequel.