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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South Dakota: North by Northwest (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



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

Tennessee: Nashville (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


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

Texas: The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (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


 Buy this classic American film set in Texas on Amazon

Utah: 127 Hours (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


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

Vermont: The Trouble with Harry (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


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

Virginia: The New World (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


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

Washington: Singles (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


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

West Virginia: Matewan (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


 Buy this classic American film set in West Virginia on Amazon

Wisconsin: Come and Get It (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


 Buy this classic American film set in Wisconsin on Amazon

Wyoming: Brokeback Mountain (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


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



Users say

53 comments
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?"

travis
travis

The Fighter is set in Lowell, MA. Do your research.

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