These Gorgeous States Were the Backdrop of Iconic Films
14th September, 2021
A24 | Camera Film
Plot settings are what build a film’s authenticity; how strange would it seem to have The Godfather shot in Tokyo or the Lord of The Rings shot in NYC? Choosing an accurate plot setting can have a massive impact on the film’s narrative. While some movies are book adaptations and try to shoot at the exact places stated, others require a set director to scout for months for the perfect locale. As a discerning moviegoer, have you realized the states these popular movies are set in and the difference it has made? However, keep in mind that some directors have taken (many) creative liberties and not everything is as it seems!
What about Bob? – New Hampshire
The 1991 comedy What about Bob? stars Richard Dreyfuss as Dr. Leo Marvin, a psychiatrist who's interrupted by a patient while on vacation. Bill Murray takes on the role of Bob Wiley, a recluse who needs constant reassurance from his therapists. One of the most remembered places from the film is Marvin's vacation house set on Lake Winnipesaukee, New Hampshire. But get this. The lakehouse was nowhere close to New Hampshire IRL. The filming was done at Smith Mountain Lake in Virginia, which is a 40-mile man-made lake created after the damming of the Roanoke River.So everything you see in the movie, from the lake house and the bus station to the asylum, and, of course, the lake, is miles away from New Hampshire. Most scenes in the movie were filmed around Moneta, Virginia. And remember that scene where Bob accidentally blows up the house? Well, the detonation scene involved a three-quarter-size model of the actual home and was shot on a nearby plot. Happy to hear they didn’t bring down the gorgeous lake house to ashes!
Clerks – New Jersey
Kevin Smith went all in when writing and directing this 1994 comedy. He directed Clerks on a small budget, and the funds came from maxing out his credit cards and insurance money awarded for a car that he lost in flood. He also borrowed $3,000 from his parents and sold his comic book collection to raise $27,000 for the film. The film stars Brian O'Halloran as Dante Hicks, a clerk at a convenience store in Leonardo, New Jersey.But it's the behind-the-scenes of this set that makes us go "Wow!." Turns out Smith worked in that exact store at the time of filming. He'd clock in at 6 a.m and finish work at 11 p.m, after which filming went on till 4 a.m. He did this for 21 straight nights. Clerks launched Smith’s career, and with dedication like that, we think the micro-budget movie is rightly considered a landmark in independent filmmaking. Definitely worth a watch!
O Brother, Where Art Thou? – Mississippi
O Brother, Where Art Thou? is a crime comedy-drama directed by the Coen brothers that brings together an amazing star cast, including George Clooney, John Goodman, and Holly Hunter. The film is set in the 1930s in Mississippi and follows three escaped convicts who try to recover a buried fortune from a bank heist. The three are in a race against time as a Tennessee Valley Authority dam project is set to flood the region, threatening to bury their treasure forever.The trio meet a series of people who add fun and color to the story, keeping the viewers engaged. The smash-hit movie received positive reviews from critics and was nominated for two Academy Awards, including Best Cinematography, and won several other awards. And the soundtrack won a Grammy for Album of the Year. The film was set as well as shot majorly in Mississippi. One of the filming spots you can head out to is Strong River, where you can enjoy a walk on the stones at D'Lo Water Park.
Arrival – Montana
If there's anything we've learned from the 2016 sci-fi drama Arrival, it's that extraterrestrials won't mind docking their mothership on the mountains of Montana. Well, they didn’t exactly land in the movie, but if they ever do, it may not necessarily be to invade the planet and destroy humanity. Producer Aaron Ryder rightly said, “Any good science fiction has to reflect upon the society it’s being told to, and I think this movie very much does that.”The 2016 masterpiece, featuring Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner in the lead roles, was nominated in eight categories at the Academy Awards and won an Oscar for Best Sound Editing. But here's something you may not have known about the movie—it wasn't filmed in Montana. Production was based in Montreal, and the studio scenes were shot at Mels Studios. The rural locations in Quebec served as a significant double for its fictional Montana set. Well, that and eleven other locations where mystery spacecrafts arrive around the world.
Election – Nebraska
The mid-western state played a pivotal role in the filming of the 1999 black comedy Election. The movie, which has actors like Matthew Broderick and Reese Witherspoon bringing the characters to life on screen, follows a high school teacher who convinces a jock to run for high school Class President against an otherwise-unopposed candidate. There are quite a few interesting things about the film. First, the rom-com was filmed entirely in the director's hometown of Omaha.The crew filmed at Papillion-La Vista High School, where they worked a 6-day week to wrap up the shooting indoors. This gave them complete access to the premises when the students were away on weekends and made way for cooperative filming during classes. Fun fact: Witherspoon even attended school and spent 2 weeks pretending to be a transfer student. She was escorted by a girl similar to her character in the film, which, Witherspoon says, helped her "get back in the mind-set of teenagers and empathize with their problems." Her efforts sure paid off when she received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress.
Ocean’s Eleven – Nevada
If you liked Money Heist, you're going to love Ocean's Eleven. The film signed some of the best Hollywood actors and outperformed expectations in every way. While its filming locations included places like Chicago, Los Angeles, Florida, New Jersey, and Burbank, a major portion of the heist comedy was filmed at Bellagio, a luxurious resort on the South Las Vegas Boulevard in Paradise, Nevada. Producer Jerry Weintraub was good friends with the late Kirk Kerkorian, the then-owner of the resort, which meant accommodations for the cast and crew and 24-hour access to the property.Ocean's Eleven became one of the highest-grossing films of the year and was well received by audiences. Showrunners gave the go-ahead for two sequels—Ocean's Twelve (2004) and Ocean's Thirteen (2007)—after the 2001 film’s commercial and critical success. And Ocean's 8, a spin-off with an all-female cast, was released in 2018 and went on to become a box-office hit.
Good Will Hunting – Massachusetts
Good Will Hunting stars Matt Damon as Will Hunting, a janitor at MIT who lives in a shabby apartment in South Boston. The story revolves around him as he finally meets his soulmate and finds success with help from Dr. Sean Maguire, played by Robin Williams, and his friend Chuckie, played by Ben Affleck. While the movie is set around South Boston and Harvard Square, the budget required most of the scenes to be filmed in Toronto. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, was a real-life location.The film became a huge box-office success and received the Academy Awards for Best Supporting Actor for Williams and Best Original Screenplay for Affleck and Damon. That wasn’t all the success it saw. The psychological drama’s release brought Boston new-found glory, with filmmakers visualizing it as a city where complex and dynamic stories could be set. And the box-office hit put Damon and Affleck on their path to Hollywood fame.
Robocop – Michigan
The 1987 sci-fi Robocop perfectly portrays what Old Detroit would look like in a dystopian-alternate universe run by corrupt corporations. The film pits Alex Murphy—a street cop played by Peter Weller—against Omni Consumer Products, an evil corporation that utilizes Murphy's body to test their RoboCop prototype. Although the action-crime story boasts a ton of futuristic equipment, we can't help but reveal a goof-up with the suit.Revisit the scenes where RoboCop had to get into or out of a car and you’ll see that he is only shown stepping out or preparing to enter the vehicle. That's because the suit was too bulky to fit into the police car. As for the scenes with him inside the car, Weller wore just half the costume and sat in his underwear. And thanks to the suit being hot, Weller was losing 3 pounds a day just by sweating as they filmed in +100°F temperatures. Fast-forward to the 21st century and it looks like Iron Man has solved the “fitting” issues at least.
The Mighty Ducks – Minnesota
Minnesota is the State of Hockey, so one can only guess how excited fans of the sport were when Disney released The Mighty Ducks in 1992. Many scenes were filmed in various locations throughout the state, including the IDS Center, Peavey Field Park, Parade Ice Garden, and the Augsburg Ice Arena. The storyline pits Emilio Estevez, cast as Gordon Bombay, a Minnesota lawyer, sentenced to community service for coaching a youth hockey team that’s performing the worst in the league.His childhood memories of failing to strike the winning goal in a shootout, which led him to quit the game, don’t make the task any better. Eventually, of course, Bombay and the team come around to working together. The movie was successful enough for showrunners to make two sequels: D2: The Mighty Ducks in 1994 and D3: The Mighty Ducks in 1996. Disney+ also released The Mighty Ducks: Game Changers, a follow-up sports comedy-drama TV series to the 1992 film, this year.
The Shawshank Redemption – Maine
If you haven't watched The Shawshank Redemption yet, you’ve probably been living under a rock. Sure, it didn't fare too well at the box office when it was released over 20 years ago, but it has become one of the most loved movies of all time. The drama film, set in 1947, tops IMDb’s Top 250 cinema-favorites list. It features Tim Robbins as banker Andy Dufresne, who is convicted of murdering his wife and her lover, and Morgan Freeman as Ellis Boyd Redding, an inmate at Shawshank State Penitentiary. The two prisoners befriend each other and work toward finding redemption.While a major chunk of the film's events transpired at Shawshank State Penitentiary—a functional prison somewhere in the state of Maine—the reality of things was quite different. The central location for filming was the Mansfield Reformatory in Ohio. While it was far from being a commercial success at the time, The Shawshank Redemption was nominated for seven Academy Awards, and the lead actors garnered critical acclaim for their powerful performances.
The Silence of the Lambs – Maryland
Maryland is home to the Chesapeake Bay and has long been famous for its blue crabs and the historic trading port of Baltimore. Then, late-director Jonathan Demme came along and threw The Silence of the Lambs into the mix. Now it's nearly impossible for us to ignore Anthony Hopkins, who plays the infamous Hannibal Lecter—a psychiatrist turned serial killer—locked up behind stone walls without windows and thick glass panels at Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane.The movie features Jodie Foster as Clarice Starling, who interviews the cannibalistic prisoner in an attempt to catch “Buffalo Bill,” another serial killer, played by Ted Levine. As the movie nears the end, however, Lecter has escaped to the Bahamas and is last seen following his former jailer, Dr. Chilton, with the intention of “having an old friend for dinner." With an ending like that, we can't help but wonder if Lecter lived out the rest of his days in the Bahamas, or if he traveled back to Maryland, in which case, yikes!
The Insider – Kentucky
The Insider is a drama film directed by Michael Mann based on real events of the mid-1990s. It follows 60 Minutes producer Lowell Bergman, played by Al Pacino, as he approaches Jeffrey Wigand, played by Russell Crowe, for an interview after the latter is booted from his job at Brown & Williamson in Louisville, Kentucky. The 1999 drama sheds light on some of the most wicked tactics practiced by Big Tobacco and how they would do anything to hide research about the addictive effects of smoking.The accuracy had to be on point to avoid any surprise lawsuits as it was based on real incidents. That’s why, according to Michael Mann, “Every line of description in the script was subject to the most rigorous kind of fact-checking." And his efforts sure paid off! The movie received rave reviews from critics and was nominated for seven Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Cinematography, Best Sound, Best Actor, Best Film Editing, and Best Adapted Screenplay.
Interview with the Vampire – Louisiana
Way before Twilight made headlines, the 1994 horror drama Interview with the Vampire had audiences hooked from start to finish. And we’re all for it too! The movie is the story of Louis de Pointe du Lac, played by Brad Pitt, who recounts his experience of being transformed into a vampire by Lestat de Lioncourt, played by Tom Cruise, and his life since. While Louis narrates his story in modern-day San Francisco, the events he recalls date back to 1791, when he was a young plantation owner living on his estate in Louisiana.The estate and several other filming locations were pretty real. The Oak Alley Plantation in Vacherie, Louisiana, was used as Louis's home at the beginning of the movie. It’s open to the public for tours, stays, and meals, so if you ever visit, you can check out the plantation’s guest book, which the lead actors signed during their stay.
The Wizard of Oz – Kansas
Kansas, home to one of the country’s most affordable cities, is the one place Dorothy Gale and her dog, Toto, long to return to in The Wizard of Oz. The plot follows the duo as they are mysteriously swept away to the magical Land of Oz. Their only goal? To follow a yellow brick road and meet a wizard who can help them get home. As for the movie, it won Academy Awards for Best Music, Original Song for "Over the Rainbow” and Original Score in 1940.The 1939 musical fantasy was also one of the first 25 movies to secure a place on the National Film Registry, a prestigious spot reserved for culturally or historically significant films. That’s not all. The city of Liberal hauled in a small, old farmhouse that resembled the one on screen and christened it "Dorothy's House" in 1981. The spot has since become home to a real-life rendition of the land of Oz, complete with life-sized versions of the Scarecrow and Tin Man, and is a famous tourist attraction. We asked Toto how he felt about all this, and he said it was pretty cool. Nah, he just barked.
Napoleon Dynamite – Preston, Idaho
Napoleon Dynamite follows the story of an awkward 16-year old boy who lives with his grandma and older brother. The plot takes place in Preston, Idaho, and the film was mostly shot at real-life locations that are present in the town. In fact, fans of the movie often flock to the town to take in and admire these places. In the past, the town also hosted a Napoleon Dynamite festival. In 2005, a year after the release of the film, almost 6000 fans flocked to the area!The teen drama that was shot for merely $400,000 made massive box office earnings and grossed approximately $44 million. Over the years, the 2004 indie film has acquired cult status and is definitely one of the best coming-of-age teen flicks. In 2012, Fox also contracted an animated spinoff of the film. Unfortunately, that aired for only six episodes before it was canceled.
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off – Chicago
Speaking of teen comedy-drama films, let’s not miss out on Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. The plot of this iconic film revolves around Ferris Bueller who’s hell-bent on taking a day off school. In fact, to do so, the charming (and rather annoying and cocky) protagonist has mapped out a sophisticated plan that he intends to fulfill with the help of his friends. The kicker here is that he doesn’t anticipate the principal’s eyes on him throughout the contrived shenanigans!All this leads us to one hour and forty-three minutes of teenage silliness throughout the city of Chicago. Or so you think. Not all the scenes that you see in the movie were shot in Chicago. Some of them, including Bueller’s “Chicago” home, were actually in Los Angeles. The 1986 film had a massive budget of $5 million and was a commercial success with $70.7 million in box office earnings.
A Christmas Story – Hammond, Indiana
Based on the Jean Shepherd book “In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash,” A Christmas Story showcases the tenacity of nine-year-old Ralphie who tries his best to convince everyone that the Red Ryder Range 200 Shot BB gun is the perfect Christmas gift. The film was set in Hammond, Indiana, which was the hometown of Shepherd. In fact, Shepherd even attended the school and lived in the locality that was mentioned in the book.Although these were real-life places, the production of the film actually took place at different locations. Most of the film was shot in Cleveland, Ohio, and Toronto, Ontario. But, this was not their first choice. Director Bob Clark had sent out a scout to find the perfect location that would perfectly showcase the 1940s Indiana vibe. They eventually settled on the filming locations mentioned above. The movie had a budget of almost $3.3 million and went on to make almost $20.6 million at the box office.
The Music Man – River City, Iowa
The Music Man follows the story of conman Harold Hill as he arrives in River City, Iowa. To make a quick buck, Hill convinces the local people to start a band and purchase musical instruments from him. Being the con artist that he is, he plans to flee as soon as he gets the cash but inconvenient feelings soon make things difficult for him.The film is set in the fictional town of River City, Iowa that was based on Mason Town, the hometown of playwright Meredith Wilson. But, despite being set in the Midwest, almost all of the film was shot at the Warner Bros Studio in Burbank, California. Nearly all of the sets were constructed on large soundstages, and the town scenes were filmed on the Midwest Street backlot. The movie was remade-for-television in 2003 and this version starred Matthew Broderick and Kristin Chenoweth.
Empire Records – Delaware
While we’re on the topic of famous movies, let’s talk about the 1995 dramedy musical film Empire Records. Featuring a heavyweight starcast, the film showcases 24-hours in the lives of young people who are employed at Empire Records. Although it did not make massive earnings at the box office, it has remained one of the most memorable and nostalgic films of the 90s.Its cast consisted of Liv Tyler, Robin Tunner, Renee Zellweger, and even Anthony LaPaglia. The film was set in a small and sleepy town somewhere in Delaware. But, much like other movies, it was not filmed there. Instead, most of the movie was shot in downtown Wilmington in North Carolina. A few of the shots were taken at actual locations while most of the interior shots were filmed on a soundstage. 2020 marked 25 years of the movie’s release, and viewers giving it a shot might find that not much has changed about workplace friendships since 1995.
Moonlight – Liberty City, Florida
2016s coming-of-age film Moonlight won many accolades for its plot, cast, and production. The film follows the story of a young African-American boy named Chiron through his childhood, teenage years, and adulthood. Set against the backdrop of Liberty City, the film vividly captures Chiron’s struggles to establish and come to terms with his identity and sexuality. Most of the movie is established to be in the Liberty Square Housing project that was built between 1934 to 1937. This project was the first public housing development in the American South and it is the key shooting location.Other central locations for shooting were Liberty Square, Miami, Virginia Key, and Miramar High School. Moonlight went on to win multiple awards and even bagged the Academy Award for Best Picture. Its win was historic as it marked the first winner to be both directed and written by a Black filmmaker. The film also won two other Oscars and was nominated in seven categories.
The Color Purple – Georgia
Set in the rural areas of Georgia, The Color Purple follows the story of a young, abused, and uneducated African-American woman who struggles to be empowered. It eloquently showcases the struggles faced by Black women especially during the early 1900s and tackles sensitive subjects of racism, sexism, and even poverty. The movie is based on the 1982 Pulitzer-winning novel of the same name. One of the major features and stand-out points of the film are the strong female characters. The movie was also lauded for its accurate use of the Black English Vernacular. It was directed by Steven Spielberg and its cast comprises A-listers such as Whoopi Goldberg, Danny Glover, Oprah Winfrey, and Margaret Avery.The Color Purple is set in the rural areas of Southern America but was actually shot in North Carolina due to the originally planned location not being an option anymore. Some of its filming locations included Charlotte, Salisbury, Union County, Marshville, and Anson County. Additionally, certain scenes of the film were shot at Universal Studio in Hollywood.
Lilo & Stitch – Kokaua Town, Hawaii
Lilo and Stitch are definitely friendship goals. The young duo always seems to be getting up to all kinds of mischief and the film does a fantastic job of showcasing their eccentric shenanigans. The story is set against the backdrop of Kokaua Town, which is a fictional town on the island of Kauaʻi. There are also some reports that suggest the creators took inspiration from other nearby towns along the Southeast shore of the Kauai island in Hawaii.It was the concept and philosophy of Ohana, which refers to the spirit of love, brotherhood, and familial bonds that influenced a lot of the film’s dialogues and plotlines. The heartwarming film had a massive budget and was released in 2002 to an adoring audience. The proof is in the pudding, as they say, and Lilo & Stitch was such a critical and commercial success, that it made a whopping $273.1 million against a budget of approximately $80 million.
True Grit – Western Arkansas
Set in Arkansas, True Grit follows the story of a 14-year old farm girl, Mattie, who is seeking to avenge her father’s murder. To do so, she hires a man with “true grit” and each of them has to face their own demons while on their journey. The 2010 film was directed by the Coen Brothers and is one of the adaptations of the novel of the same name by Charles Portis. The first adaptation was the 1969 original True Grit, which maintained the same captivating and thrilling tone.The film, although set in Arkansas, was actually filmed in multiple locations. Many of the scenes were shot in Texas and a few were shot in Santa Fe, Mexico. The cast of the film comprises some big names in Hollywood, and they all seemingly brought their very best to the table. The budget of the film was set at $38 million and due to its immense success it made a whopping $252.3 million at the box office.
Beverly Hills Cop – Beverly Hill, California
Everyone knows Eddie Murphy to be a jack of all trades as an established comedian, actor, producer, writer, and singer. He rose to fame with his sketches on Saturday Night Live and eventually went on to star in several hits. One of his standout works is his portrayal of Axel Foley in the Beverly Hills Cops trilogy. The first film grossed over $230 million and established him as a universal star. A Detroit cop who sets out to hunt the man who killed his childhood friend—this movie has drama, comedy, and action.It is set in Beverly Hills, California (DUH!) but it was shot across various locations. The opening scene of the film was shot in Detroit and the rest of the movie was shot all over Los Angeles. However, intelligently placed shots of fancy hotels and Rodeo Drive mask this fact. That said, the audiences were duped a bit here too, since some of the “luxury spots” are actually downtown. These scenes were shot in the Millennium Biltmore Hotel at South Grand Avenue.
The Shining – Colorado
The Shining follows the story of a family that’s living in an isolated hotel during winter. A sinister presence at the hotel meddles in the lives of the trio, leading to horror and violence. The movie—considered a cult classic—is adapted from a Stephen King novel of the same name. The film is set in the Stanley Hotel in Colorado but the exterior shots of the hotel were actually of the Timberline Lodge in Oregon. The place is a popular spot for ski tourists and was constructed in 1937. Although the horror/thriller film has quite a fan-following, it made several deviations from the novel.One of the most notable changes was the change in the room number from “217” to “237”. This was done because the hotel was worried that people would actually refuse to use room 217 after the film’s release. Unexpectedly, room 217 has been the most requested room ever since!
Beetlejuice – Connecticut
Another cult classic, this revolves around the trope of a recently-moved family and evil spirits in their new home. But, Beetlejuice takes this trope and flips the switch. The fantasy movie follows the deceased couple who are harassed by the family that has recently moved into their former residence. The couple resorts to seeking help from Beetlejuice (Betelgeuse) who could either be their friend or their foe.The 1988 horror/comedy that is set in Connecticut was actually filmed in East Corinth in Orange County, Vermont. The film bagged an Oscar for Best Makeup and even ended up inspiring an animated spinoff of the same name. The cartoon ran for 94 episodes and there are even talks of reviving this project for another movie. Do you think we’ll get to see Micheal Keaton play the infamous Beetlejuice again? Maybe even get an appearance from goth icon Winona Rider herself? Only time will tell!
Insomnia – Nightmute, Alaska
The psychological thriller Insomnia was set against the backdrop of the city of Nightmute in Alaska. But, actually (much like many of the movies today), the film itself was shot in Canada. To maintain that it was still set in Alaska, the filmmakers used aerial footage of the state. The thriller film boasted of an eerie plot where two detectives travel to the northern town of Nightmute to solve a murder. As the film progresses, the line between reality and fiction begins to blur with some truly spine-chilling scenes.What keeps you hooked, undoubtedly, is the plot of the movie, but what also helps is the absolutely stellar cast. We’ve got some of the biggest names in the industry, including comedian Robin Williams who stepped out of his comfort zone for his character, Al Pacino who aces his role with ease, and Hillary Swank who charms the audiences with her acting chops. To top this, the film was directed by acclaimed filmmaker Christopher Nolan.
Raising Arizona – Arizona
If you’re looking to watch something lighthearted after some serious movies, look no further. Raising Arizona follows the lives of a married couple who are unable to conceive a child and instead choose to kidnap a baby from a set of quintuplets. Sure, the plot sounds heavy, but there are lots of comedic moments wrought about by the actions of people around them. TBH, the chaos in the film is exactly the kinds that you’d expect with a baby around and two frantic sets of parents.Of course, other things that set this film apart are the incredible cast, immaculate filming, and the locations. The entire movie was shot in the desert state of Arizona, including the towns of Phoenix, Tempe, Florence, and even Scottsdale. The film was made with a budget of $5.5 million and had a massive box office return of $29.2 million. It starred popular names such as Nicholas Cage, Holly Hunter, and was directed by the Coen brothers.
To Kill a Mockingbird – Maycomb, Alabama
The 1962 American drama film To Kill a Mockingbird recounts the childhood of protagonist Jean Louise Finch. The film was adapted from Harper Lee’s coming-of-age novel with the same name, and is set in the fictional town of Maycomb in Alabama. Harper Lee’s inspiration for this fictional town comes from her own hometown Monroeville, which is also in Alabama. By the time they got around to filming, the town had changed quite a lot (Hello, modernization!). So much so, that the production team actually ended up recreating the fictional town in the Universal Studios backlot in Hollywood.They tried to maintain as much authenticity as possible, even going so far as to build an exact replica of the original courtroom in Monroeville. Another instance that drew inspiration from the novelist’s real life was the plot of the film itself. Harper Lee’s father, who was a lawyer, had unsuccessfully defended two men Black men against rape charges during her younger days.