Locally Made: Have You Seen All 9 of These Movies Filmed in Arizona?

Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

By Lorraine Longhi

May 20, 2022

From 1939 to 2011, check out these timeless films set in Arizona.

Located just six hours outside of Los Angeles, the movie-making capital of the world, Arizona has long been a close—and cheap—alternative to filming in California.

Our state’s rich history, hot climates, and alien, desert landscapes have made it the backdrop of everything from classic westerns to movies set in outer space.

Here are nine classic films that have been filmed in Arizona over the last eight decades.

AP Photo

1939: ‘Stagecoach’ 

Directed by John Ford and considered John Wayne’s breakout role, this 1939 classic western follows a group of strangers who board the eponymous stagecoach across the American Southwest in 1880.

The production crew of the film lived in Kayenta, a small town on the Navajo Nation just outside of Monument Valley, which is split between the Utah-Arizona border. Filming also took place in Goulding’s Trading Post, just north of the border. 

It was the first of many westerns that Ford would film in Monument Valley with John Wayne. Today, visitors to Monument Valley can see John Wayne’s cabin, which was used for exterior shots for his character’s home in another Ford film, “She Wore a Yellow Ribbon,” as well as John Ford Point, a sweeping view of the valley that is featured in several of the director’s films.

Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

1942: ‘Casablanca’

Consistently ranking among the best films of all time, this classic led by Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman also featured several filming locations in Arizona.

The movie follows an American expat and nightclub owner who must help his former lover and her husband escape the Nazis. One of its scenes was filmed at the historic Hotel Monte Vista in Flagstaff.

The film also cites filming locations at the Hotel Del Sol in Yuma and Gilpin Airport in Tucson. 

1955: ‘Oklahoma!’ 

Based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning Broadway musical, “Oklahoma!” follows the love story of Laurey and Curly, set in the titular state in the early 1900s.

But many of the scenes from the film were actually filmed in southern Arizona. 

Director Fred Zinnemann chose to film in Arizona because Oklahoma was too developed at the time of filming in the 1950s to resemble the Oklahoma territory at the turn of the 20th century, according to the Tucson Star.

The movie’s opening scene, as the main character passes by a field of corn stalks and sits amid a backdrop of lush, green fields, was filmed at Canoa Ranch in Green Valley, which has since been turned into a historic conservation site.

Former Rep. Jim Kolbe told KJZZ in 2019 that a scene from the movie was filmed on his family’s ranch in the San Rafael Valley, and that flatbed trucks had to transport stalks of corn in to plant an entire corn field.

And even the corn was homegrown: the University of Arizona’s agriculture department was tasked with growing a field of corn for the farm scenes, according to the Green Valley News

1968: ‘Planet of the Apes’ 

This science fiction franchise has spawned five films, a TV show, and comic books, but “Planet of the Apes” originated with the 1963 French novel that loosely inspired the first film.

The 1968 movie  was a critical and commercial success and won an honorary Academy Award for its achievement in makeup.

Set on an arid, unnamed planet 2,000 years in the future, “Planet of the Apes” was filmed in the desert around Page, Glen Canyon, and Lake Powell in northern Arizona.

The environment ultimately aligned perfectly with the direction in the film’s shooting script, which described “cratered desert of reddish hue” and “a vast lake surrounded by soaring sandstone pinnacles.”

“We are looking at a lifeless desert of sandstone buttes and pinnacles,” the script’s direction read when its protagonists first crash landed on the planet. “There is no sign of vegetation anywhere.”

AP Photo/20th Century-Fox Film Corporation

1977: ‘Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope

The Star Wars universe may take place in a galaxy far, far away, but Arizona residents can find a set of the original films a little closer to home. 

“Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope” was the first entry in a franchise that has now spanned six decades and dozens of films, TV series, and video games, and Arizona had a small part to play in the film that started it all—albeit in a special edition that was released to celebrate the film’s 20th anniversary.

The Imperial Sand Dunes, which sit across the Arizona-California border from Yuma, were originally used to film a scene in the franchise’s third installment, “Return of the Jedi,” where crime lord Jabba the Hutt pushes Luke Skywalker out of a sky barge on Luke’s desert home planet of Tatooine.

Filmmakers would later return to the dunes to film additional shots for the special anniversary edition of “A New Hope,” according to The Arizona Republic.

While the original Tatooine scenes were originally filmed in Tunisia, viewers would be hard pressed to notice the difference between the rolling, sandy dunes of Arizona and Africa.

1989: ‘Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure

Tempe residents know that strange things are afoot at the Circle K on Southern Avenue and Hardy Drive.

It’s no ordinary Circle K: It’s the gas station where Bill S. Preston Esquire and Ted “Theodore” Logan kick off the eponymous adventure in their 1989 stoner classic “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure.”

While the Circle K sees the start of Bill and Ted’s adventure, several other Valley locations were used throughout the film, including Golfland Sunsplash in Mesa, Coronado High School in Scottsdale, the AMF Village Lanes in Tempe, and the now defunct Metrocenter Mall in north Phoenix, according to the Phoenix New Times.

Keanu Reeves, who played Ted, would also frequent bars around Tempe during the shooting of the film, according to the film’s production assistant.

Rick Rothen, a location manager on the film, told the New Times that Phoenix was chosen as the filming location because of tax breaks that Arizona was offering Hollywood productions at the time.

Naris Visitsin/Getty Images

1994: ‘Forrest Gump’ 

As Tom Hanks’ Forrest Gump ends his climactic running journey across America in the Oscar-winning 1994 film, he moves through several locations around northern Arizona—including one that’s already made an appearance on this list.

As Forrest’s run comes to a close, he and the apostles he has gathered stop in front of a sweeping view of Monument Valley. The view, which is now appropriately named Forrest Gump Point, is actually in Utah, just a short 15-minute drive north from the Utah-Arizona border.

In another famous shot, as Forrest traipses through dog excrement and births the iconic “Shit Happens” bumper sticker, Hanks is actually running through downtown Flagstaff, near historic Route 66.

The location is even named as an official landmark on trip planning site Roadtrippers: “Where Forrest Gump steps in dog crap.”

“Such a fun stop for my movie-buff family!” a reviewer wrote in 2015. “We waited for our dog to c**p so we could get a picture of our son stepping in it for a truly authentic photo!”


2006: ‘Little Miss Sunshine

This Oscar-winning story follows a dysfunctional family who pile into a barely-functioning, bright yellow Volkswagen bus to head from New Mexico to California for their daughter’s beauty pageant. 

The film cites filming locations in Flagstaff, Chandler, and Phoenix as the family makes their way through Arizona and into California.

Eagle-eyed Arizona residents will be able to spot familiar, local freeway interchanges and signs near the end of the film. 

2011: ‘Fast Five’ 

Five films, including four sequels and one spin-off, have been added to the “Fast & Furious” franchise since “Fast Five debuted” in 2011, but it is widely credited for  jumpstarting the ailing franchise.

Marking the franchise’s pivot from street racing to car heists, the first major set piece of the film involves a theft of three cars from a moving train, culminating in the main characters leaping into the Colorado River.

Filming for the heist took place in the Mojave Desert, on railroad tracks that run between Parker, Arizona, and Rice, California, alongside Highway 62.

While filming took place near Rice, 38 miles west of Parker, production crew of the film lived in motels and hotels in the Arizona town, according to reporting from the Parker Pioneer at the time.

The studio spent an estimated $2.2 million filming in the area for two months, with Parker seeing an estimated $500,000 in economic impact from the filming.


CATEGORIES: Uncategorized


Local News

Related Stories
Share This