Get to know Florida first.
There’s a mixed lore to this large state, a land of sinkholes and retirement condos, Disney dystopias and swamp dreams, Cuban culture and spring break soirees. Throughout the following list of film and literature, you’ll find that Florida—in all its wacky wonder—is often the star of the show.
Florida by Lauren Groff
Award-winning novelist and short story writer Lauren Groff, who lives in Gainesville, depicts Florida with equal doses fascination and horror, dream world and harsh reality. The state is a recurring character throughout the stories, and the diverse settings, cast of characters, and moods give a full and complex impression of the state.
Swamplandia! by Karen Russell
The story of a young girl growing up in the Florida Everglades among her family’s bizarre gator-wrestling entertainment park, Swamplandia! earned Russell the Pulitzer Prize. It has the right amount of fantasy to illustrate the swampy, untamed Everglades.
Razor Girl by Carl Hiaasen
A con artist works with detectives to find a redneck reality TV star in Hiaasen’s most recent novel, but there’s plenty more of his Florida-centric work to choose from (Bad Monkey, Tourist Season, and Skin Tight, to name a few).
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
Hurston’s most-read novel journeys through Reconstruction-era, rural Florida. Through the lens of African American female narrator Janie Crawford, you’ll see vivid depictions of small towns, migrant worker communities, and historical events.
To Have and Have Not by Ernest Hemingway
A desperate Key West fishing captain is forced into the illegal smuggling business during the Great Depression in Hemingway’s book. It touches on the economic disparity in the Keys during that decade, and the close but complicated relationship with Cuba.
Silent City by Alex Segura
In the first installment of Segura’s murder-mystery series, a man on the edge of personal disaster lands back in his hometown of Miami and into a dark world of peril and past secrets.
A film in three chapters, Moonlight explores violence, identity, and sexuality for two young black males growing up in the Miami area. For a quiet film, it was met with loud praise—the Oscar for best picture. It was the first movie with an all-black cast (and first LGBTQ-themed movie) to win.
The Florida Project
An indie film that’s both heartbreaking and joyous, Florida Project follows a young, struggling mother and her hellion daughter through their days living in a pay-per-week motel in the shadow of Disney World.
Set on Islamorada in the Florida Keys, this Netflix show begins when a bad-seed brother returns home to stir up trouble. A small family inn serves as the epicenter for so much drama it could be a soap opera—full of family secrets, drug trafficking, and speedboat chases.
A dark, highly hyperbolized representation of the wild college trips often associated with Florida, this movie loosely follows a group of teenage girls who go to great lengths to get to St. Petersburg for spring break.
This feel-good flick stars a young Elijah Wood, who strikes up a friendship with a dolphin while spending the summer at his uncle’s marina on Florida’s Gold Coast.
A team of undercover detectives take on the shady drug world in South Florida in the 1980s. The show’s loud fashion and music, neon lights, palm trees, alligators, and yachts could get anyone into a South Beach mood.
Out of Time
Denzel Washington and Eva Mendes star in this early 2000s noir film about a detective in a small Florida Keys town who can’t seem to do right. It’s a fun, suspenseful ride, with boat chases and dockside shootouts, loosely-buttoned Hawaiian shirts and bad sunglasses.