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

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Hawaii: The Descendants (2011)

Trouble in paradise, indeed: Alexander Payne made prime use of Hawaii’s luscious greenery and gem-blue oceans to counterpoint the melancholy story of a husband (George Clooney) who discovers that his dying wife was unfaithful.—Keith Uhlich



 Watch this classic American film set in Hawaii now at Amazon Instant Video

Idaho: My Own Private Idaho (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


 Watch this classic American film set in Idaho now at Amazon Instant Video

Illinois: Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (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


 Watch this classic American film set in Illinois now at Amazon Instant Video

Indiana: Hoosiers (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



 Watch this classic American film set in Indiana now at Amazon Instant Video

Iowa: Field of Dreams (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



 Watch this classic American film set in Iowa now at Amazon Instant Video

Kansas: The Wizard of Oz (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


 Watch this classic American film set in Kansas now at Amazon Instant Video

Kentucky: Coal Miner’s Daughter (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


 Watch this classic American film set in Kentucky now at Amazon Instant Video

Louisiana: The Big Easy (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



 Watch this classic American film set in Louisiana now at Amazon Instant Video

Maine: Dolores Claiborne (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


 Watch this classic American film set in Maine now at Amazon Instant Video

Maryland: Pink Flamingos (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


 Buy this classic American film set in Maryland on Amazon

See iconic American films: Massachusetts to New Jersey


Users say

55 comments
Eric L
Eric L

"The Ice Storm" for Connecticut???? Surely you jest.   "The Swimmer" with Burt Lancaster is a better choice. Even Mystic Pizza is a better choice.

Hans
Hans

"Garden State" for Garden State!

Lesley
Lesley

There are a lot of good and bad things on this list, but as a Texan I'm pretty sure y'all chose it because it was the first movie you thought of with the name "Texas" in the title. There are so many more iconic movies that truly encapsulate the spirit of Texas, such as Giant, The Last Picture Show, Days of Heaven, Friday Night Lights...

Eric
Eric

Maine should have been Shawshank Redemption and Colorado The Shining, The Departed for Mass, how about Paris, Texas for Texas

PT in Ellensburg
PT in Ellensburg

I applaud the thought that went into this list, even if I disagree with some of the picks. I do think it's weighed too heavily towards recent films. The two picks I most strongly disagree with are Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Pink Flamingos. Odd, even disgusting, movies, in my opinon. For Texas, I would have gone with The Searchers or Urban Cowboy, and for Maryland, Diner. Other suggested picks: Wyoming- Heaven's Gate or Shane; Arizona- Tombstone or My Darling Clementine; New York- Annie Hall; Pennsylvania- The Deer Hunter, and Oregon- One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Considering the thousands of candidates to choose from for California, I have to say you nailed it with Chinatown. Perfect choice.

Deavin
Deavin

The fact that Forrest Gump isn't listed for Alabama made me not want to read the rest of the list.

Chris Johnson
Chris Johnson

I would have picked On Golden Pond for New Hampshire. The Fighter was good for MA, but maybe Good Will Hunting? There should have been runner ups for certain states.

rhetorical tool
rhetorical tool

For Texas, I'd go with J. Sayles "Lone Star," or R. Linklater's Dazed and Confused, or Giant or The Last Picture Show, or Paris, TX, or David Byrne's True Stories any of those capture something more substantial about Texas than Chainsaw Massacre.

Ryan
Ryan

Jeremiah Johnson was filmed entirely in Utah, not Colorado.

Hillary
Hillary

I think most people in South Dakota would say that our most iconic movie is Dances With Wolves.

Alex
Alex

Good, but Diner should be for Maryland.

Mike
Mike

Connecticut also has Revolutionary Road...a nice depiction of Connecticut life while working in the maniacal world of New York City...

dave
dave

florida? really? body heat hands down. William hurt, katheline turner, kasdan's finest loses to a bunch of bimbos? come on...

Buddy
Buddy

Wyoming, "Brokeback Mountain:" Yes, the scenery was gorgeous but most of the movie was filmed in Alberta, Canada.

sam
sam

Idaho didn't get Napoleon Dynamite?

Jack
Jack

Texas should be Varsity Blues....come on

Jennifer Arthur
Jennifer Arthur

Better choices for Missouri: Winter's Bone, Meet Me in St Louis.

Ryan
Ryan

While The Fighter is great, Massachusetts should be Goodwill Hunting. Goodwill Hunting very much stands at the intersection of the Bay State, in between its gritty old town feel and working class folks -- and the more educated, often more phony, newer, wealthier types and hipper, Brahman locations. Whether it was the settings and scenery, or characters like the ones played by Damon and Williams, the movie truly stands at the crossroads and is Massachusetts.

heather
heather

A better choice for Minnesota would have been Grumpy Old Men and being from South Dakota and loving Hitchcock film, I still would have chosen Dances with Wolves. Coal Miner's Daughter in a great film but so is Elizabethtown for Kentucky, but that's a toss up. And I would have liked to seen Double Jeopardy in the running for Louisiana.

MikeyP
MikeyP

Say Anything for Washington would have been a better choice. ANd "Garden State" instead of Clerks is another choice i would have gone with. But i understand their choices. Pretty good list (iconic)

john
john

HaHa Wyoming, where anonymous homo love is welcomed by all.

john
john

HaHa Wyoming, where anonymous homo love is welcomed by all.

tom
tom

pretty average list all in all. i agree with a lot of the suggestions by a lot of the people in the comments. but being from Minnesota, i hate the choice of Purple Rain, and i hate Fargo for North Dakota. i know Fargo is actually in NoDak, but the whole movie takes place in Minnesota. it was shot in Minnesota. the characters even have crazy, over-the-top Minnesotan accents. and if you really can't go with Fargo, then The Mighty Ducks would've been a better choice than Purple Rain. MD is a hockey movie, taking place in Minnesota, largely - if not completely - shot in Minnesota. also, as a side note, as much as i love North By Northwest, you gotta go with Dances With Wolves for South Dakota

Scott
Scott

A couple of quick suggestions - The Departed for MA and Fargo for MN. Those seem pretty obvious.

wj
wj

definitely agree with the comment below about Stand By Me. That movie perfectly captures summertime in Oregon.

Gary Trout
Gary Trout

West Virginia should be represented by the magnificent "Night of the Hunter", an unforgettable film.

Doug
Doug

Disagree with Missouri a much better representation would have been Ang Lee's Ride with the Devil, set in the Civil War in Missouri or Clint Eastwood's Outlaw Josey Wales

Austin
Austin

Why George Washington is representing NC instead of Lynch's legendary Blue Velvet is beyond me.

Kong1965
Kong1965

I don't care what the "locale" of Fight Club is supposed to be, it's a patently California film. Every scene is L.A., especially the last scene where the buildings are all brought down. Every exterior scene is filmed around L.A. icons, including Century Plaza. The buses, the bar and Paper St. scenes, LAX, I mean everything about this film says "L.A.". You can't assign a film to Delaware that doesn't have a single exterior scene shot anywhere but California/L.A.. C'mon, you can do better than this. How about "Dead Poet's Society" for cryin' out loud?

Fuchsia
Fuchsia

As far as Kevin Smith goes, I think Mallrats is a better depiction of Jersey. And to the person ranting about the amount of 'recent' movies on the list, if they were all old mid-nineteenth century movies, they would be representing very dated notions of the states and the list would be a lot of nostaltic smalltown Americana. As previously mentioned, you'd find a lot of takes place in Illinois, shot in Vermont or in a studio type stuff. PLUS, a lot of these movies really aren't as recent as you think. And early nineties movie, for example, is now twenty years old.

Aaron
Aaron

Largely a pretty good list. And fun to click through too. Like everyone else, I have some differing opinions too. I agree with previous commenters about Boston and Florida. There are dozens of movies that are more iconic than "Spring Breakers," a movie to that just made it to BluRay. Considering the dearth of pre-1990 classics, I'll go with "The Palm Beach Story." My other votes would be: "Bull Durham" for North Carolina "Giant" for Texas "Roger and Me" for Michigan "Leaving Las Vegas" - Nevada It's hard to beat "Chinatown" but I might pick "Vertigo" for California. "Sleepless in Seattle" for Washington strikes me as more 'iconic' than "Singles." "The Big Sleep" may be the most iconic movie to take place in South Carolina, but all they talk about is Ann Arbor. I would go with "The Patriot," a lesser movie, but more iconic about S.C.

Shane
Shane

Michigan deserved a better title. Blue Collar?! I'm from Michigan and I haven't even heard of it. Countless better choices come mind. Some of them include: Gran Torino, 8-Mile, Four Brothers, Escanaba in da Moonlight, Detroit Rock City, Robocop.

James
James

A good list for the most part. I wish my home state of Arizona was better represented by a movie that captured the essence of the Grand Canyon State. Not the "Raising Arizona" is a bad film by any means, but I feel like it could be set anywhere. A classic western like "Stagecoach" or "3:10 to Yuma" (the original) would've been a preferable choice. Other recommendations: Texas - "Lone Star" - I know John Sayles is already represented on this list with "Matewan", but Lone Star will always be his best work IMHO. Besides, WV can always be represented by... West Virginia - "October Sky" Michigan - "Roger and Me" - Before the conspiracy theories and the hatred of Republican politics clouded his vision Michael Moore was the best documentary film-maker around Connecticut - "Mystic Pizza" - Maybe not as good as "The Ice Storm" but not as heavy-handed either. Plus, it was the launching pad for Julia Roberts Pennsylvania - "All the Right Moves" - Okay, nothing beats "Rocky" but having lived in PA I can tell you it is a state that worships high school football

FinnFann
FinnFann

For Indiana, I suggest Breaking Away For New Hampshire, I suggest On Golden Pond

Todd
Todd

How about Stand By Me, Animal House ,Drug Store Cowboy for Oregon?

John
John

Some other alternates: "Petrified Forest" for Arizona (an oldie), "The Producers" for New York, "Good Will Hunting" for Massachusetts (though largely filmed here in Toronto), "Zack and Miri Make a Porno" for Pennsylvania (the western part instead of Philly), "Bullitt" for Califormia (great chase scene in SF), "Fried Green Tomatoes" for Alabama

John
John

I would have picked "Days of Heaven" or "Tree of Life" for Texas since they were directed by a Texan as well as being set there. And while you already have another Stephen King adaptation on the list, I would have picked "The Shining" for Colorado.

David Fear
David Fear

Ugh, this New Yorker is wiping the egg off his face...we've corrected the Massachusetts entry re: Lowell. All apologies to the fine people of Lowell and MA.

Kristine
Kristine

Agree with the others: The Fighter was based out of Lowell, not Dorchester.

Alissa
Alissa

I would have chosen "Garden State" for New Jersey and "The Departed" for Massachusetts. JMHO

Slm
Slm

No Paris, Texas by Wim Wenders...? Big Fail!

God
God

Melvin and Howard for Nevada?! Over Casino, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, The Hangover, The Oceans's movies???

brianleeraiderfan
brianleeraiderfan

i think Jeramiah Johnson was actually mostly filmed in Utah not Colorado. Filming this movie was the reason Redford eventually moved to Utah. Sundance. The entire film festival. Right?

Lesley
Lesley

Do not agree with Florida. How is a movie made last year a classic? Also I can easily name a movie for Florida: "Scarface"

Pitt
Pitt

While I appreciate it's inclusion on the list, "Brokeback Mountain" was actually filmed in Canada, not Wyoming...

Aiden
Aiden

The fact that you call the setting of The Fighter "a working-class Dorchester community" and then immediately trot out fake words like "microcosmos" as if you have effortlessly mastered both film comprehension and the English language tells me all I need to about this article. Garbage.

Josh
Josh

A principle we used (one that might not be obvious): Rarely did pre-1950 films shoot on location. They were usually marked by the artifice of Hollywood studio sets; location shooting was an evolution that happened later. Even so, we picked some studio-shot movies like Gone with the Wind and Wizard of Oz, titles that evoke the *idea* of their states. But overall, we were looking for authenticity. Loving the comments!—JR

Jonathan Woollen
Jonathan Woollen

Gonna stump for Blue Velvet as the more representative choice of my beautiful home state of North Carolina.

Tom
Tom

"Spring Breakers" for Florida? Not something actually worth watching, like "Key Largo?"

Eric L
Eric L

@Mike Really? Thought the point of the movie was to show the stifling life they led.  Mystic Pizza, The Swimmer, both are better than TO's choice.  

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