Photo courtesy of 20th Century Fox
5 Best Films Made in Arizona
Rumor has it that Flagstaff was almost the filmmaking capital of America, but it was abandoned in favor of Hollywood due to cold weather. I feel we were unfairly represented.
470 miles from Hollywood isn’t that bad though. Not all of Arizona looks like the ugly stretch of desert between Tempe and Tucson, and as such quite a few famous movies have been shot in our unique locales — assumedly when it wasn’t so hot that cameras melted and actors passed out from heat stroke. So what movies do you need to know were filmed in the Grand Canyon state, and why?
Two disclaimers before we start: usually when I rank films of a certain group, I make sure to see every entry in that group. I have not seen every movie shot in Arizona (I’m not a huge fan of Westerns, so that might never happen). So while these might not be objectively the best movies in AZ history, they are some of the most noteworthy, for reasons I’ll be careful to explain.
Secondly, a movie doesn’t count if it only had a few scenes in Arizona. Sorry, Psycho’s opening shot and Star Wars’ couple of seconds in Yuma.
- The Searchers (1956)
Remember when I said that I’m not a huge fan of Westerns? Hopefully you do, it was like two paragraphs ago. The first time a film professor required me to watch The Searchers, one of John Wayne’s most famous Westerns, I was blown away by two things: its unabashed racism and how well made it was. Societal implications aside, it’s perhaps John Ford’s most accomplished Western — and it was filmed mostly on Arizona’s side of Monument Valley! The iconic red mountains provide a memorable backdrop to cowboy
escapades and uneasy attitudes toward Native Americans. The opening and closing shots display doorframes open to scenery that you might see out your front door every day.
- Everything Must Go (2010)
This is the only movie on the list that’s not a timeless classic, but it gets points for a number of reasons: every single scene was shot in and around Phoenix and Scottsdale, it’s an extremely recent example of filmmaking in Arizona, and the movie gets an endearingly empathetic performance out of Will Ferrell. When Everything Must Go was in production around six years ago, multiple Arizona natives were given bit parts in the film, marking it as a successful community effort of the Phoenix area.
- Raising Arizona (1987)
The Coen brothers are well known in cinematic circles for the subtleties of their comedy, but there’s no hidden meaning or misleading in this film’s title. Only our state could prompt a terrific performance from Nicholas Cage!
While you’re watching insane criminal activity, child kidnapping, and marital troubles — and laughing at the Coen brothers’ dark, bizarre style of comedy — you can find an equal amount of enjoyment in pointing out all the recognizable mountains and landmarks littered throughout this cult classic’s Arizona setting.
- Jerry Maguire (1996)
Back before Cameron Crowe had Matt Damon buying zoos, he was directing classics like Jerry Maguire — and filming in Sun Devil Stadium.
This famous romantic comedy (I think it invented the phrase “you complete me”) doesn’t just contain key scenes at Arizona State University’s stadium; the plot revolves around Tom Cruise’s sports agent Jerry Maguire representing a fictional player of the Arizona Cardinals. This movie is not only set in Arizona, it’s a great slice of AZ culture.
- Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989)
Ok, this isn’t exactly high art, but you’d be lying if you said this time traveling surfer dude quest wasn’t an immediately recognizable blast. A young, most excellent Keanu Reeves doesn’t just adventure through time to pass a history class: he and his partner adventure all over Arizona as well! From the AMF bowling alley and Circle K that many of us might frequent in Tempe (I do!) to Mesa’s Golfland Sunsplash, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure is the best example of what Arizona has to offer for movie fun. Party on, AZ!