PHOTO: Jennifer Bui/Thrillist
By Andy Kryza
There’s nothing quite like seeing your hometown on screen. Unless you’re me, in which case you get really sad because you’re watching Roger & Me. (Aaaaaawkward!)
Aaaaaanyway, to paraphrase an old adage, location is everything. As such, each state has played home to movies of all shapes and sizes. But what movie is the best representation of its state? We dove deep into the filmographies of each of the 50 Nifties to find out.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a nerd list without rules. As such, there are no documentaries on this list. There are also no straight-up biographical movies, or ones based largely on true stories. And, finally and most confusingly, the films can be set in the state without being filmed there. Which is to say, The Departed could win Massachusetts, despite being filmed in New York. Spoiler alert: it didn’t win.
All right? All right. Let’s roll.
Alabama: To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)
Courtesy of Universal Pictures
Let’s just go ahead and pretend that Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman didn’t get released this year and change Atticus Finch into a racist old coot. Let’s just remember him as Gregory Peck. That sounds way better.
Alaska: The Edge (1997)
As much as The Grey excelled as a meditation on survivalism and such, we were promised Liam Neeson shanking wolves by using broken bottles to make himself into a makeshift Wolverine. That didn’t really happen. But in The Edge, you have Anthony Hopkins and Alec Baldwin fighting a bear. So The Edge wins.
Arizona: Raising Arizona (1987)
Post-apocalyptic bikers, pomade-obsessed John Goodman, unpainted furniture, quintuplets, diapers, and Nic Cage’s hair. That’s all you really need.
Arkansas: White Lightning (1973)
I mean, it’s among Sterling Archer’s favorite Burt Reynolds movies, and gave us the wonders of Gator McKlusky, who also got a titular movie in his honor. Alas, the McKlusky Trilogy is yet unrealized.
California: Point Break (1991)
Courtesy of 20th Century Fox
L.A. Confidential, Chinatown, Sunset Boulevard, Mulholland Drive, Terminator 2, Boogie Nights, The Graduate, Die Hard, Heat, Swingers, Psycho, Vertigo, Boyz n the Hood, Drive, Jackie Brown, Double Indemnity, The Big Lebowski, Bullitt, Dirty Harry, Big Trouble in Little China. What do these movies have in common? They’re all set in California. And none of them are Point Break.
Colorado: The Shining (1980)
I’m not talking about the Jack Nicholson one. I’m talking about the made-for-TV one that Stephen King preferred. The one where some studio executive said, “You know, if we’re going to re-make The Shining, the first thing we need to do is find an actor with the chops to out-psycho Jack Nicholson.”
“Ooh!” said the partner. “I’ve got an idea. What about the guy from Wings?”
“No. The goofy one. He seems like he’d be the perfect choice.”
Actually, wait. No. I’m talking about the Jack Nicholson one.
Connecticut: Beetlejuice (1988)
Say his name three times and maybe they’ll drop the idea of making a 30-years-later sequel!
Delaware: Fight Club (1999)
Until I started researching this story, I didn’t know Fight Club was set in Delaware. I wonder why people don’t talk about it.
Florida: Scarface (1983)
Courtesy of Universal Pictures
Twenty thousand dorm-room posters can’t be wrong!
Georgia: Deliverance (1972)
Come to Georgia! Everybody gets laid!
Hawaii: Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008)
With respect to Hard Ticket to Hawaii — featuring the most violent use of Frisbees this side of Captain America (seriously, watch this) — Forgetting Sarah Marshall wins simply for accomplishing the task of making a romantic comedy that’s actually funny.
Idaho: Napoleon Dynamite (2004)
Look, we know you still have a “Vote for Pedro” shirt somewhere in your dresser, even if you claimed you were sick of this movie by the fifth time you made somebody watch it. Also, they don’t film a lot of movies in Idaho. Gawd!
Illinois: Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)
Courtesy of Paramount Pictures
When considering films set in Illinois, the choice comes down to two mentally unhinged men. There’s Haddonfield’s psychopathic Michael Myers, best known for making kebabs out of his family and myriad babysitters, and then there’s suburban Chicago’s favorite sociopath, Ferris Bueller, who manipulates an entire town into thinking he’s dying, ruins his principal’s career, ensures his best friend will likely be beaten by his father, and embroils his girlfriend in a web of lies so deep that she’ll forever have to pretend her grandmother is dead. All so he could ditch school. God bless him.
Indiana: Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
Indiana is where Viggo Mortensen fled a life of crime to start a family in A History of Violence. On the other end of the spectrum, in Close Encounters of the Third Kind Richard Dreyfuss actually fled his family to go kick it with aliens. We’re giving the edge to the Spielbergian saga of intergalactic wonder and paternal abandonment, mainly because it doesn’t have any really gross stairway sex.
Iowa: What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? (1993)
Our first instinct was to go with the surprisingly funny Ed Helms sleeper Cedar Rapids, but then we had a flashback to a time when Johnny Depp didn’t mistake wearing a goofy hat and a bunch of scarves for acting, and how it looked like Leonardo DiCaprio might actually win an Oscar before turning 40. Sigh. Those were good days.
Kansas: Looper (2012)
Courtesy of Tristar Pictures
Superman didn’t spend enough time in Smallville, and Dorothy realized she wasn’t in Kansas anymore far too soon to say The Wizard of Oz is primarily set there. But in Looper, Joseph Gordon Levitt and his putty nose use the chaff as the backdrop of a interdimensional circle-of-life — or death, rather — plot. Kansas City looks slick as a futuristic den of sin.
Kentucky: Next of Kin (1989)
Look, Next of Kin isn’t very good. But it does feature Patrick Swayze and Liam Neeson as rednecks out for justice. And the alternatives here are Elizabethtown and Fire Down Below.
Louisiana: A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)
I really, really wanted to put Hard Target here. But sometimes, you just have to do what’s right. It’s the Chance Boudreaux way.
Maine: Wet Hot American Summer (2001)
Courtesy of USA Pictures
Even without the Netflix revival, Camp Firewood was a place we all wanted to call home, if only for one magical, fridge-humping summer long since past.
Maryland: The Blair Witch Project (1999)
With respect to Maryland’s Step Up, no movie made people so scared to go into the woods as Blair Witch. Except maybe Into the Woods. But that was out of fear of encountering Johnny Depp in a zoot suit.
Massachusetts: Jaws (1975)
The Departed had Jack Nicholson with a gigantic sex toy. Only Jaws could rob that of its frightening iconography. The theme from Steven Spielberg’s defining moment beats the crap out of the Dropkick Murphys any day.
Michigan: Grosse Pointe Blank (1997)
Most of my home state’s iconic movies are either based on misery (Roger & Me, Anatomy of a Murder), real people (Tucker: A Man and His Dream, 8 Mile), Will Ferrell in a stupid wig (Semi-Pro), being vastly overrated (Gran Torino), or Yooper eccentricities foreign to all but the ice-fishing elite (Escanaba in da Moonlight). And while The Crow technically takes place in Detroit, it appears to have been filmed inside a Hot Topic employee’s sketch book. Which leads us to the delightful Grosse Pointe Blank, which manages to at once be a hitman flick, a romantic comedy, and a throwback to the joys of the ‘80s, all while providing Dan Aykroyd some much needed work. Your move, Michael Moore.
Minnesota: Fargo (1996)
Courtesy of Gramercy Pictures
Fargo may be named after a North Dakota city, but it takes place largely in the great, polite, simmeringly violent state of Minnesota. And while the Coens’ masterpiece bumps Purple Rain out of contention, consider this: watching the wood chipper scene while listening to “Darling Nikki” is the modern equivalent of cranking Dark Side during Wizard of Oz. You betcha.
Mississippi: In the Heat of the Night (1967)
Not only is it one of the best cop movies of all time, it’s also one of the most important films of its era thanks to Sidney Poitier and the slap heard around the world.
Missouri: Gone Girl (2014)
Come for Missouri’s gorgeous abandoned malls. Stay for the killer sex.
Montana: Legends of the Fall (1994)
Honestly, I hate this movie. But it’s way better than Thunderbolt and Lightfoot.
Nebraska: Election (1999)
Courtesy of Paramount Pictures
When discussing the cinema of Nebraska, you might consider Nebraska. But at the end of the day, you always pick Flick.
Nevada: Superbad (2007)
Most Nevada-based movies of any stature are based — loosely — on true events, which disqualifies most movies and anything featuring Hunter S. Thompson. That makes the ch — wait, Superbad takes place in Nevada? Well crap, there we go. Phew. I thought I was going to have to make a case for The Hills Have Eyes.
New Hampshire: What About Bob? (1991)
Is it Bill Murray’s best work? Yes. Yes it is. And look! He’s saaaaaailing!
New Jersey: Being John Malkovich (1999)
You thought I was gonna say Garden State, didn’t you? I’d actually rather punch myself repeatedly in the groin than even think of that movie. Meanwhile, Being John Malkovich is so Jersey that the turnpike serves as a portal into the mind of the star of Con Air. Zach Braff’s New Jersey is just a portal into crappy hipster music.
New Mexico: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966)
Courtesy of United Artists
It doesn’t really matter if movies other than The Good, the Bad and the Ugly were set in New Mexico. Because The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is set in New Mexico.
New York: The Godfather (1972)
You’d think it’d be hard to pick one movie set in New York. It was actually super easy.
North Carolina: Cape Fear (1962)
Not the Scorsese version. The Gregory Peck/Robert Mitchum version. But also the Scorsese version.
North Dakota: Leprechaun (1993)
Without Leprechaun, there is no Leprechaun in the Hood.
Ohio: Tommy Boy (1995)
Courtesy of Paramount Pictures
It was the best thing to happened to Sandusky, Ohio, since the Magnum.
Oklahoma: UHF (1989)
Film purists of a certain vintage will say “What about Oklahoma?!” Well, grandma, there was no wheel of fish in Oklahoma.
Oregon: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)
Nowadays, a bunch of nut-jobs donning sailor hats and chartering a boat for a day of weed smoking, fishing, and casual sex is just an example of twee Portland nonsense. When Cuckoo’s Nest came out, it was a light moment in one of the most important wake-up calls of its era.
Pennsylvania: Night of the Living Dead (1968)
There’s a statue of Rocky in Philly that might argue the Italian Stallion is the most important film to come out of Pennsylvania. But really, while Rocky’s fine and all, all it did was encourage bad fight choreography and a boxing strategy that just involved fighters taking turns punching each other in the face without blocking. Night of the Living Dead, meanwhile, continues, decades later, to be perhaps the most influential American horror film of all time. Oh, and it’s still super scary.
Rhode Island: The Witches of Eastwick (1987)
Courtesy of Warner Bros.
Do you remember Dan in Real Life? Of course you don’t. It was pretty good. But it had Dane Cook singing “Let My Love Open the Door” in it, which is a combination of the worst comedian and the worst song. Bad equation. So Dan’s out. And since the Farrelly brothers’ movies only tend to use RI as a starting point (with respect to Outside Providence), there’s just something wonderful about Jack Nicholson — as Satan — having group sex with Michelle Pfeiffer, Cher, and Susan Sarandon.
South Carolina: Slither (2006)
Before he made Guardians of the Galaxy, James Gunn made this under-seen horror comedy about a small hick town invaded by alien slugs that turn people into zombies that eat roadkill, spit acid, and meld with Michael Rooker so that he can win back Elizabeth Banks and also become a global parasite. It’s as weird as it sounds. And it’s brilliant.
South Dakota: North by Northwest (1959)
Hitchcock’s closest thing to a Bond movie features a career-best Cary Grant dodging bullets while dangling from Mount Rushmore. And while you might argue that only one-third of the movie is in SoDak, it’s the most prominent location of the picture. And also, it’s not Dances with Wolves.
Tennessee: The Evil Dead (1981)
Not the funny one. The really, really effed-up one.
Texas: Dazed and Confused (1993)
Courtesy of Gramercy Pictures
Conventional wisdom would dictate that a Western should prevail. You know who didn’t listen to convention? Wooderson. And, come on, dude may have been a pervert, but at least he was having a good time.
Utah: Con Air (1997)
When Nicolas Cage is the sanest character in a movie, you’ve got yourself a classic.
Vermont: Baby Boom (1987)
Fact: this is my wife’s favorite movie. She actually has a picture from it tacked to her bulletin board in her office to inspire her. Plus, she’s looking at me now, so I can’t really tell you how much I love The Trouble with Harry. Baby Boom it is!
Virginia: Shenandoah (1965)
Slim pickins in Virginia, but you could do a lot worse than a Jimmy Stewart anti-Western that was hailed as a subversive anti-Vietnam commentary.
Washington: First Blood (1982)
Courtesy of Artisan Entertainment
Sorry, Seattle. Singles sucks. And it doesn’t include Stallone straight-up maiming every cop in Washington after he freaks out. Fun fact: Rambo doesn’t actually kill anyone in First Blood, despite it being one of the most violent movies of its time. Sure, some of these dudes probably died of blood poisoning or Rambo-related stress, but only one dude dies on screen. And it’s his own damn fault for starting a war you wouldn’t beleeb.
West Virginia: Night of the Hunter (1955)
If you can escape this classic without forever distrusting preachers, you are a stronger man than I.
Wisconsin: Bridesmaids (2011)
Hey girl, listen. I’m not picking Lars and the Real Girl. Because that movie is ridiculous. And Bridesmaids features street-pooping. Street-pooping always trumps the Baby Goose crying.
Wyoming: Brokeback Mountain (2005)
I was tempted to put the Clint Eastwood/fighting orangutan classic Any Which Way You Can in the Wyoming slot, but come on now. That’s just too easy.
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