All of the rides and shows and, especially, the roller coasters.
On August 3, 1946, the first themed amusement park opened in Santa Claus, Indiana.
It was called, strangely enough, Santa Claus Land. Now it's called Holiday Land, but the theme is basically the same. They've just added Halloween, Thanksgiving and the 4th Of July to the mix.
Here are the five best movies about amusement parks.
NATIONAL LAMPOON'S VACATION (1983)
Directed by Harold Ramis
Written by John Hughes and based on his short story
We have to start with the grandaddy of 'em all. Clark W Griswold (Chevy Chase in what will always be his defining role) just wants to show his family a good time. He's the "last real family man." So he buys a brand new Family Truckster ("You think you hate it now? Wait'll you drive it!") and takes them on a cross country road trip to Wally World.
Of course, everything gets in their way including viscous dogs, old aunts (Imogene Coca), Old West towns, hot ladies (Christie Brinkley) security guards (John Candy) and, most of all, Cousin Eddie (Randy Quaid). No one has ever had a vacation like the Griswolds, and yet everyone has.
Funny from first frame to last, Vacation is not just the best amusement park movie, but one of the funniest films of the 80s.
Written and Directed by Greg Mottola
Like everyone else, amusement parks have a cheaper, not so smart cousin.
Sometimes these are called "fun parks." There's no roller coasters or big rides like that. Instead, it's just little thrill rides and rigged games. Adventureland shows us that these fun parks have just as much of a story as their bigger cousins…sometimes more. James Brennan (Jesse Eisenberg) just graduated from high school and finds that he has to get a job at the local fun park instead of going to Europe with his buddy. Instead of a dreary summer, he makes some friends, falls in love, gets his heart broken and, basically, has more fun than he ever thought he would.
With great performances (even from Kristen Stewart) and sharp writing, Adventureland is a coming of age story that is full of heart and, of course, Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig being amazing.
JURASSIC PARK (1993)
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Written by Michael Crichton/David Koepp
Based on book by Michael Crichton
By now, everyone knows what Jurassic Park is about.
Michael Crichton visited the theme park before with Westworld and Futureworld, but Jurassic Park wins out over those two pretty good films. Everyone who came of age in the mid-90s remembers the first time they saw the Brachiosaurus through Dr. Alan Grant's eyes (Sam Neill). We also remember when the Tyrannosaurus Rex chased after us in that little green humvee. Phil Tippett and his effects crew brought digital effects to a whole new level when Spielberg decided that it was time to make the dinos out of pixels instead of plastic. (The puppeteer's initial reaction to Spielberg's decision: "We're extinct.")
Luckily, the story holds up against the ground-breaking visuals. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) will always be quotable, but it's the creator of the park, John Hammond (Sir Richard Attenborough), who is the true tragic hero here. He sees his own hubris bring death and destruction to the world that he built.
THE FUNHOUSE (1981)
Directed by Tobe Hooper
Written by Lawrence Block
Mistakenly put on the Video Nasties list by the British government, The Funhouse is really more unsettling than it is gory. It's the story of a group of kids who go to a creepy old fun park so they can spend the night in a funhouse that is supposedly haunted. Of course, they find out that it's worse than haunted: it's run by a bunch of inbred freaks. One of those freaks kills a woman in full view of the kids, sending them running for their lives.
Not the greatest film ever made, but the sense of dread and creepiness built up by Hooper (Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Poltergeist) through the setting is pretty amazing. This movie couldn't have taken place anywhere else but a ramshackle old fun park.
THE WARRIORS (1979)
Directed by Walter Hill
Written by Walter Hill/David Shaber
Based on book by Sol Yurick
No list of amusement park movies would be complete without at least one of them taking place in Coney Island. And what better Coney Island movie than The Warriors?
Set in a gang-filled future, the Warriors are framed for the murder of a gang leader who tried to unite the gangs against the cops. Now everyone is after them. The only place they can be safe is Coney Island. Filled with great (and enduring) Halloween costumes and chase sequences that are still thrilling, The Warriors shows us a fantastical New York City…but a New York City that wasn't too far from the truth at the time.
And Coney Island was definitely pretty close to what was shown: a dark, dank place that was once a good time for the whole family. The city is always trying to bring Coney Island back to its former glories and, in a way, I hope that they can. But there really is something to be said for Coney the way it is: kinda creepy and a little dreary. Or, as some people like to call it, Tetanus, The Amusement Park.
THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI (1947)
Directed by Orson Welles
Written by Orson Welles (William Castle, Charles Lederer and Fletcher Markle all uncredited)
Based on book by Sherwood King
This film has a place in Hollywood history, but its import has been trumped up a bit. Really, it's a pretty standard and forgettable suspense story that Welles only made because he was trying to save his marriage to Rita Hayworth.
What is truly indelible is the climax, which takes place in a house of mirrors. It is one of the iconic scenes of film noir and has been aped many times in many other films. ("Which one is the real me? You can't shoot all of us!") The best of these homages was Woody Allen's Manhattan Murder Mysteries.
This one scene shows that Welles still had the chops to make a great film. His head was just in the wrong place for this one.