50 American films, 50 states: One iconic movie for each state

In celebration of the big, bold USA, we take a trip through all 50 states via 50 indelible American films.

The best films are a journey, taking us to a place we’ve never been (at least for a while). Can’t a cinematic road map be charted, cruising a viewer through a grand tour of all 50 American states? We’ve spent time with our atlas and Blu-rays, finding 50 iconic movies. Go alphabetically with us, or click on the map above to find your home state. Sorry, D.C.—you are still just a federal district and not technically a state; content yourself with All the President’s Men or, depending on your mood, White House Down. Did we forget a state classic? Inform your local chamber of commerce—and let us know in the comments.

Alabama to Georgia

Alabama: <em>To Kill a Mockingbird</em> (1962)

The time is the 1930s, and in fictional Maycomb, Alabama, life is a paradise of swaying trees and bountiful breakfasts—for some. For others, the Deep South is a hard place, requiring the efforts of a decent lawyer (the mighty Gregory Peck).—Joshua Rothkopf



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Alaska: <em>Into the Wild</em> (2007)

True to its nickname, Alaska is the last frontier for adventurer Christopher McCandless (Emile Hirsch). Sean Penn’s wilderness drama follows this hungry young protagonist as he seeks enlightenment in the hinterlands of our nation’s northernmost state, its rugged, unforgiving landscapes counterpointing his own spiritual discontent.—Keith Uhlich


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Arkansas: <em>Sling Blade</em> (1996)

Billy Bob Thornton became a household name with this touching Southern drama, which he not only dominated as the mentally slow Karl, but wrote and directed. The overall picture—an Arkansas of crime, compassion and hope—was positively Clintonian.—Joshua Rothkopf



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California: <em>Chinatown</em> (1974)

It may be the birthplace of beach parties, the Summer of Love and Hollywood, but Roman Polanski’s noir tears the scab off California dreamin’: an L.A. detective story that exposes what lies beneath our go-west idealism, while simultaneously evoking nostalgia for the Golden State’s sunny facade.—David Fear


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Colorado: <em>Jeremiah Johnson</em> (1972)

In Sydney Pollack’s backcountry oater, a jaded Mexican War veteran (Robert Redford) seeks solace in the American West, only to discover that life in the Rocky Mountain State—with its harsh weather, craggy terrain and aggressive inhabitants—is more turbulent than transcendental.—Keith Uhlich


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Delaware: <em>Fight Club</em> (1999)

A tough one! The slender First State doesn’t have a lot of cinematic history, and authorities denied David Fincher permission to shoot his radical anticapitalist comedy in Wilmington, where it’s set. But enough clues are sprinkled throughout—business cards, license plates—to know we’re at the financial hub.—Joshua Rothkopf


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Florida: <em>Spring Breakers</em> (2012)

As tawdry and trashed as the collegiate tradition itself, Harmony Korine’s tale of girls gone wild presents a Florida that’s a neon fountain of youth—a version of the state’s sunbaked, garish resort-town vibe that feels only slightly exaggerated.—David Fear



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Georgia: <em>Gone with the Wind</em> (1939)

Frankly, my dear, we don’t give a damn that this classic Hollywood melodrama was shot mostly in Tinseltown. Between its extravagant plantation sets, the epic battle scenes, a Southern-fried romantic triangle and the unforgettable burning of Atlanta, this is the most iconic rendering of Georgia on film.—Keith Uhlich


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Hawaii to Maryland

Idaho: <em>My Own Private Idaho</em> (1991)

Gus Van Sant’s moody, Shakespeare-inflected street-youth tale follows a narcoleptic hustler (River Phoenix) on a tragic journey in search of himself. Idaho is the place he’s most drawn to: a site of roots (it’s where the last of his family lives) and hallucinogenic dreams (a highway to nowhere stretches tauntingly beyond the horizon).—Keith Uhlich


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Illinois: <em>Ferris Bueller’s Day Off</em> (1986)

Chicago is shown off magnificently as a playground for an irresponsible teen hero: Ferris (Matthew Broderick) drags his friends to Wrigley Field and the Art Institute, high up the Sears Tower—and even to the front of the Von Steuben Day Parade. Writer-director John Hughes, a local, called the movie his love letter to the city.—Joshua Rothkopf


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Indiana: <em>Hoosiers</em> (1986)

Basketball-obsessed Indiana and its 1954 state champions from small-town Milan were the real-life inspiration for this stirring sports drama, set in an abstract terrain of painted court lines and clean-cut grass, a place where second chances can happen.—Joshua Rothkopf



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Iowa: <em>Field of Dreams</em> (1989)

Could Kevin Costner’s classic double play of baseball and father issues be set anywhere but the “corn jewel” of the American heartland? We think not: The film’s mix of salt-of-the-earth values and moral fortitude exemplifies the Hawkeye State’s character to a tee.—David Fear



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Kansas: <em>The Wizard of Oz</em> (1939)

Of course, there’s a point when we’re not in Kansas anymore. But until then, in lovely sepia tones, Dorothy’s farm surroundings come to vivid life, as does a scary “twister” on the horizon. Judy Garland’s immortal rendition of “Over the Rainbow” is a full dose of country yearning in two minutes.—Joshua Rothkopf


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Kentucky: <em>Coal Miner’s Daughter</em> (1980)

Going from rags to riches is the American Dream, but this biopic of country-music legend Loretta Lynn (starring a spunky, radiant Sissy Spacek) emphasizes that hers is a Kentucky story—she’s a honky-tonk honeysuckle rose born in coal dust and bred by the state’s hardscrabble rural beauty.—David Fear


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Louisiana: <em>The Big Easy</em> (1987)

You won’t find a better picture of the state’s unofficial capital than this sleazy, sweaty mystery set in New Orleans. The longer Dennis Quaid and Ellen Barkin prowl the city’s lively streets and hot spots, the more the region’s Cajun-inflected funky spirit comes through.—David Fear



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Maine: <em>Dolores Claiborne</em> (1995)

It would be perverse of us not to pick a Stephen King adaptation, so thoroughly he commits to depicting his home state. We like this domestic drama, a murder mystery set in a handsome coastal town. Kathy Bates embodies take-no-guff Maine attitude—King wrote the character especially for his Misery star.—Joshua Rothkopf


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Maryland: <em>Pink Flamingos</em> (1972)

Baltimore’s favorite transgressive son, John Waters, made a big splash with this shameless black comedy about a Maryland family with a taste for rabble-rousing, criminal activity and dog excrement. Even at its sleaziest, the film is a strangely loving portrait of the director’s home state, freaks and all.—Keith Uhlich


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Massachusetts to New Jersey

Massachusetts: <em>The Fighter</em> (2010)

Never mind the blue bloods: David O. Russell’s story of boxer “Irish” Micky Ward’s grab for the brass ring gives us a working-class Lowell community that’s pugnacious, vivacious and fiercely loyal to its own. In this Massachusetts microcosmos, everyone is a fighter.—David Fear


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Minnesota: <em>Purple Rain</em> (1984)

With his loosely autobiographical cult musical, pop star Prince had us wanting to purify ourselves in the waters of Lake Minnetonka. Numerous Minnesota landmarks appear, most notably the legendary First Avenue nightclub, where our prancing hero brings his many adoring doves to tears.—Keith Uhlich


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Mississippi: <em>In the Heat of the Night</em> (1967)

The town is fictional, but this Oscar-winning thriller about a white police chief and an African-American detective channels a very real Mississippi—one racked with hot temperatures, racial tensions and uneasy acceptance of the era’s tides of change.—David Fear



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Missouri: <em>Waiting for Guffman</em> (1997)

Christopher Guest’s faux documentary about Blaine, MO (“stool capital of the United States”), and a community-theater troupe with delusions of Broadway grandeur beautifully captures small-town American eccentricity, always with a gentle wink.—Keith Uhlich



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Montana: <em>A River Runs Through It</em> (1992)

Watch virtually any scene from Robert Redford’s fly-fishing family drama and you’ll get a sense of Montana’s majestic landscape; every time Brad Pitt casts his line into the Blackfoot River, you realize why they call it Big Sky country.—David Fear



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Nevada: <em>Melvin and Howard</em> (1980)

Las Vegas and its barren outskirts provide the mythic meeting place for billionaire mogul Howard Hughes (Jason Robards) and service-station owner Melvin Dummar (Paul Le Mat). Melvin spends the rest of Jonathan Demme’s delightfully quirky comedy trying to prove the encounter took place; the arid Nevada desert haunts the film like a half-remembered dreamscape.—Keith Uhlich


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New Hampshire: <em>To Die For</em> (1995)

New Hampshire, with its quiet suburbs and picture-perfect scenery, is the setting for Gus Van Sant’s stone-cold black comedy about a career-obsessed woman (Nicole Kidman) who murderously manipulates her way up the ranks of a local cable station.—Keith Uhlich



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New Jersey: <em>Clerks</em> (1994)

A strong contender for the scrappiest state in the union, “Dirty Jersey” gets the eloquently foulmouthed comedy it deserves in Kevin Smith’s indie classic about counter jockeys. They tell it like it is—in the funny, frank way you associate with the Garden State.—David Fear



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New Mexico to South Carolina

New Mexico: <em>Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid</em> (1973)

America’s legendary outlaw went down at Old Fort Sumner, in the state nicknamed the Land of Enchantment. Strong-willed director Sam Peckinpah turned in a Western for the ages (despite much studio interference), caked with grime and dirt, tinged with frontier wildness.—Joshua Rothkopf


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New York: <em>Taxi Driver</em> (1976)

Martin Scorsese’s portrait of a lost soul shows us a mythic NYC filled with steaming manholes, colorful street characters and the sense that some of its citizens are on the verge of psychological breakdown. It’s an overwhelming urban jungle that can make you feel like “God’s lonely man,” even when you’re behind the wheel of an iconic yellow cab.—David Fear


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North Carolina: <em>George Washington</em> (2000)

David Gordon Green made his feature film debut with this poetic look at a group of poor children living in rural North Carolina. Long before he hopped aboard the pineapple express, Green’s ethereal imagery and vivid sense of place (wracked with economic and spiritual depression) had many proclaiming him the new Terrence Malick.—Keith Uhlich


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North Dakota: <em>Fargo</em> (1996)

Much of the movie takes place in ice-scraped Minnesota, but we can’t help but defer to the title: It’s where half-smart car dealer Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy) drives to set up his kidnapping scheme. More symbolically, North Dakota is the wintry place where all is lost in the Coens’ breakthrough.—Joshua Rothkopf


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Ohio: <em>American Splendor</em> (2003)

As played by Paul Giamatti, underground comic-book memoirist Harvey Pekar is a cranky yet sympathetic ogre. Crucially, though, on Letterman and a national stage, Pekar becomes a symbol for his unpretentious blue-collar hometown of Cleveland (where the movie was largely shot).—Joshua Rothkopf


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Oklahoma: <em>Oklahoma!</em> (1955)

The title song says it all: “Where the wind comes sweepin’ down the plain / And the wavin’ wheat can sure smell sweet!” Forget Broadway: The vistas in this adaptation of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s hit musical make you feel like you’ve just been dropped into Sooner State grandeur.—David Fear


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Pennsylvania: <em>Rocky</em> (1976)

Mention the City of Brotherly Love to folks and they’ll picture Philly’s No. 1 son jogging up those Philadelphia Museum of Art steps. Sylvester Stallone’s underdog drama reminds us, 200 years after the Declaration of Independence was signed there, that the state’s best-known city can still produce American dreamers who go the distance.—David Fear


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Rhode Island: <em>There’s Something About Mary</em> (1998)

Sure, you remember the “hair gel” scene the most—a notorious comedy moment that will never die so long as there are horndogs. But codirectors Peter and Bobby Farrelly have always demonstrated a commitment to their cozy home state; most of their movies are at least partly set there.—Joshua Rothkopf


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South Carolina: <em>The Big Chill</em> (1983)

A generational landmark, Lawrence Kasdan’s ensemble drama was responsible for launching the career of Meg Tilly (and hooking millions on a Motown soundtrack). The place where all the tension happens is a lovely antebellum mansion in Beaufort, SC, deceptively serene.—Joshua Rothkopf


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South Dakota to Wyoming

South Dakota: <em>North by Northwest</em> (1959)

Alfred Hitchcock’s masterful suspense thriller follows Cary Grant’s innocent-man-on-the-run through multiple states. But all roads lead to a monumentally cliff-hanging finale at Mount Rushmore—and an iconic Hitchcockian valentine to South Dakota.—Keith Uhlich



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Tennessee: <em>Nashville</em> (1975)

Arguably the finest American movie of the 1970s, Robert Altman’s sprawling masterpiece takes in the entirety of Music City, from its local singing legends to its fluky aspiring artists—and all freaks and fans in between. If you know only the (unrelated) TV psychodrama, you’ve got some woodshedding ahead of you.—Joshua Rothkopf


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Texas: <em>The Texas Chain Saw Massacre</em> (1974)

We’ve tasted the barbecue, and it’s you: Tobe Hooper’s brutally effective slasher about a road-tripping group of teens who run afoul of a cannibalistic backwoods family makes the desolate landscapes and sweltering summer heat of the Lone Star State seem relentlessly nightmarish. Inside or out, there’s no escape from the horror.—Keith Uhlich


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Utah: <em>127 Hours</em> (2010)

James Franco’s hiker is stuck between a rock and a hard place (literally) for most of this true-story survival tale. But Danny Boyle’s film still captures Utah’s Canyonlands National Park in all its rugged glory, and gives viewers a sense of the natural beauty that characterizes our 45th state.—David Fear


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Vermont: <em>The Trouble with Harry</em> (1955)

A dead body appears in the woods outside a Vermont hamlet. Whodunit? Alfred Hitchcock’s mild-mannered murder mystery captures the plush beauty of the Green Mountain State—even though production began so late in the season, they had to glue their own foliage to the trees.—Keith Uhlich


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Virginia: <em>The New World</em> (2005)

Jamestown, VA, was the first permanent English colony in the Americas. Terrence Malick’s lyrical exploration of the settlement’s history—notably the relationship between explorer John Smith and Indian princess Pocahontas—beautifully re-creates the gorgeous, rough-hewn locale.—Keith Uhlich


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Washington: <em>Singles</em> (1992)

Cameron Crowe’s friends-in-their-twenties drama serves nicely as a time capsule of Seattle’s grunge scene, a moment when the world’s attention swiveled to flannel shirts and bruised, rainy emotions. Watch closely and you’ll catch cameos by members of Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and Alice in Chains.—Joshua Rothkopf


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West Virginia: <em>Matewan</em> (1987)

The area’s mountainous terrain and the tenacious people who work it are beautifully represented in John Sayles’s re-creation of the 1920 coal miners’ strike that scarred the state. Sooty laborers, social activists and manic preachers choose their sides in a landscape that seems both craggy and nurturing.—David Fear


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Wisconsin: <em>Come and Get It</em> (1936)

The ultimate logging psychodrama comes from an esteemed Edna Ferber novel and features brawny men competing for the comely attentions of saloon singer Lotta (Frances Farmer, one of Howard Hawks’s spunkiest female leads). A fortune is made over the course of a generation; an audience learns much about deforestation.—Joshua Rothkopf


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Wyoming: <em>Brokeback Mountain</em> (2005)

You don’t have to be a love-struck cowboy to swoon over the gorgeous scenery in Ang Lee’s romantic tragedy. The high plains, rocky mountains and rushing rivers that form the backdrop for Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal’s trysts will make you fall for the territory’s wide-open spaces.—David Fear


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