This 2011 TriStar-produced biopic chronicles the life of Hawaiian pro surfer Bethany Hamilton who, in 2003, at age 13, lost her left arm during a shark attack. Soul Surfer, based on Hamilton’s best-selling 2004 autobiography of the same name, stars AnnaSophia Robb as Hamilton, with Hollywood mainstays Dennis Quaid and Helen Hunt playing her parents. Alana Blanchard, Hamilton's real-life best friend, has a bit role as herself in the film. Hamilton herself did most of the surfing in the movie, with Robb's head digitally pasted onto Hamilton's body.
Geared toward families and tweens, Soul Surfer emphasized the positive aspects of Hamilton’s recovery, with little focus on the mental and physical anguish she endured. Just a month after the attack, Hamilton returned to the water, taking the first step on a successful quest to return to her elevated position as one of the world's best female surfers. Hamilton and her family drew strength from their Christian faith, a common theme in the film; voiceovers from the real-life Hamilton thanking Jesus add to a bit of religious heavy-handedness near the film's end.
Soul Surfer opened to mixed reviews. "With a tale this strong," London's Mirror said, "what could go wrong? Pretty much everything, as it turns out, with the story buffeted into oblivion by a tidal wave of syrup." Time Out described the movie as "a succession of would-be rousing clichés," and pointed out that "with the Lord on Hamilton’s side, triumph is made to seem inevitable and hence less dramatically potent." The New York Times, however, praised the film for its “dazzling surfing sequences," and explained that it “succeeds as a portrait of a spirited, resilient athlete.”
Soul Surfer cost $18 million, and earned $47 million at the box office, worldwide. As of mid-2014, Soul Surfer had a chalked up a middling 46% on Rotten Tomatoes "Tomatometer."