50 States, 50 Movies

A piece was published on the Huffington Post today, identifying every state of the U.S. by one movie.  Here’s the map they came up with:

The selection criteria isn’t necessarily clear on the HuffPo…. not much is said about what kind of thinking was behind these selections.  It appears that most of these movies have stories based in the states listed, which is a good idea.Now, beyond the fact that the cartography of this map is sooooooooo incredibly terrible (gross, gross, gross!), I do think they could have come up with some better selections for some of these states.  Okay, fine, many of these states.  Yeah, I’m sitting here, debating an issue of taste.  So?   My proposed changes, or at least suggestions for alternatives:

  • Alabama – To Kill a Mockingbird (1962), Fried Green Tomatoes (1991), Forrest Gump (1994)
  • Alaska – Lost in Alaska (Abbott and Costello, 1952), Mystery, Alaska (1999), Grizzly Man (2005)
  • Arizona – Easy Rider (1969), which seems pretty obvious to me.  Also, Gunfight at the OK Corral (1957), Psycho (1960), Pump up the Volume (1990) I really think that Raising Arizona was the easy way out on this one.
  • Arkansas – Actually, I’m good with True Grit.
  • California – Okay, so like every film ever is based in California, right?  The best you could come up with is Fast Times in Ridgemont High, which may be the most overrated film of the 1980s?  I’m going to say two, and only two, films: The Karate Kid (1984) and Back to the Future (1985).  Still cheesy, still from the 80s… much, MUCH better than Fast Times.
  • Colorado – Yes, Red Dawn is a cornball classic.  Add Dumb and Dumber (1994), South Park (2001) and Bowling for Columbine (2002) and we’re good.
  • Connecticut – Quiz Show (1994) and The Ref (1994).
  • Delaware – Delaware gets Wayne’s World because Wayne mentions Delaware.  Wayne’s World is based in Aurora, Illinois.  Then again, I can’t think of any other options for Delaware.
  • Florida – The Cocoanuts (Marx Brothers, 1929), Porky’s (1981), and Flight of the Navigator (1986).
  • Georgia – Again, the option here is a good one. Deliverance is one of the more creepy movies of all time.  I’m pretty sure, though, that Gone with the Wind (1939) and Driving Miss Daisy (1989) should be in the running as well.
  • Hawaii – Blue Hawaii (Elvis! 1961), 50 First Dates (2004), Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008).
  • Idaho – Napoleon Dynamite is a good choice here.  River Wild (1994) would be an alternative, though not a very good one.  What do you want?  It’s fricking Idaho!
  • Illinois – Another state where so many movies have been set, thanks to Chicago.  The Blues Brothers (1980) is iconic. So, though, is Halloween (1978), Ferris Beuller’s Day Off (1986), Christmas Vacation (1989), Home Alone (1990) and Wayne’s World (1992).
  • Indiana – Ahh, my homestate. Yeah, Hoosiers (1987) is imposible to beat. But we can add to it.  Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), Breaking Away (1980), A Christmas Story (1983) and Public Enemies (2009).
  • Iowa – Field of Dreams is the best. Any more?  The Bridges of Madison County? Ew.
  • Kansas – The Wizard of Oz is wayyyyyy wayyyyy too easy here.  Try In Cold Blood (1967) or Paper Moon (1973) instead.
  • Kentucky – Harlan County USA (1975), Elizabethtown (2005) or… cough… Racing Stripes (2005).
  • Louisiana – A Streetcar Named Desire (1951), Steel Magnolias (1987), The Green Mile (1999), or When the Levees Broke (2006).
  • Maine – I think they’re right on the money with The Shawshank Redemption (1994). Just about anything from Stephen King is set there, though… including Pet Sematary (1989) and It (1990). Also, a personal favorite from my childhood, Pete’s Dragon (1977) is set in the fictional town of Passamaquoddy.
  • Maryland – Pink Flamingos?  Really?  How about Diner (1984).
  • Massachusetts – A bunch of films set up here as well.  The Crucible (1957), Little Women (1994), Good Will Hunting (1997)… hell, even Fever Pitch (2005), the pretty terrible adaptation of the Nick Hornby book.
  • Michigan – Poor, poor, poor choice here.  Roger and Me (1989), Gross Point Blank (1997), American Pie (1999), 8 Mile (2002), Gran Torino (2008)… and another childhood favorite — believe it or not — Tucker: A Man and His Dream (1988).
  • Minnesota – Fargo is really good.  I’d add The Mighty Ducks (1992), Angus (1995) and Juno (2007).
  • Missississippi – Dude!  In the Heat of the Night (1967) is an egregious omission. Though I do like O Brother Where Art Thou? I think Sidney Poitier’s performance is incredible… though that is like saying the Beatles made some decent rock music.
  • Missouri – Waiting for Guffman (1997) is all I’ve got.  I’ve not seen Jesus Camp.
  • Montana – Getting to some slim pickins out west. Wasn’t The Horse Whisperer (1995) based here?
  • Nebraska – About Schmidt (2001).  It’s based in Omaha, and it’s the only film I can think of that is.
  • Nevada – Approximately four million movies have been based in Las Vegas as well.  For this, we’ll say Viva Las Vegas (Elvis again! 1964), Mars Attacks! (1995), Vegas Vacation (1997) and Ocean’s Eleven (2001).
  • New Hampshire – What About Bob (1991) is an all-time classic… but so is On Golden Pond (1981).  I also liked Mr. Deeds (2002) and saw it about one thousand times when I worked as a projectionist.
  • New Jersey – I’m good with Clerks, honorable mention to Garden State (2004).
  • New Mexico – The Good, the Bad and the Ugly 1966).  How can you go wrong there?
  • New York – Every film that’s not based in California or Chicago is based in New York City.  By this, I mean… well, just about every film that’s ever been shot.  God, a lot of movies are shot in New York.  It’s one of those where it’s difficult to even start suggesting.  Taxi Driver is honestly a good choice out of the millions…. I’d throw in Miracle on 34th Street (1947), Annie Hall (1980), Summer of Sam (1999), The Gangs of New York (2002), Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist (2008).  I find these films interesting depictions of the city’s geography.
  • North Carolina – Bull Durham is an excellent choice for North Carolina.
  • North Dakota -Again, I’ve never seen Jesus Camp. I’ve cued it up on Netflix, okay?!  I recommend Three Faces West (1940, with John Wayne)… if you can get over the horrific attempts at accents.
  • Ohio – I’ve never seen Gummo (2007), but a more logical choice would have been Major League (1989).
  • Oklahoma – Twister is really a pretty awful film.  Sadly, I think it’s the best film to ever be based in Oklahoma.  How haven’t we had a film based on the Land Run of 1889 yet?
  • Oregon – The Goonies, to me, was another overrated 1980s film.  I just never really got it.  So, I’ll replace it with a childhood favorite: Kindergarten Cop (1990).
  • Pennsylvania – Really, a pretty quiet contender for having a ton of movies set here. Rocky (1977), Slapshot (1977), All the Right Moves (1983), Witness (1985), Gung Ho (1986), Philadelphia (1993), Groundhog Day (1993), Kingpin (1996), Girl Interrupted (1999) and even Zack and Miri Make a Porno (2008), which has cheap laughs but laughs nonetheless.
  • Rhode Island – I’m pretty happy with the selection of There’s Something About Mary, which was hilarious when released but seems to have been quickly forgotten.
  • South Carolina – Glory is a great film, and a good choice for South Carolina.  The Patriot (2000) is pretty similar in terms of being a historical war movie with accuracy, etc.
  • South Dakota – Dances with Wolves always seemed really pretentious to me, but it’s probably the best movie to be set in South Dakota.
  • Tennessee – You know, I started thinking about it, and there just aren’t that many films that have been based in Tennessee.  I have no idea why.  I looked up a list on Wikipedia and found that the list there is thin as well, despite the great cities of Nashville and Memphis and their ties to the entertainment world.  Strange, I thought.  I guess that means the original map’s choice of Evil Dead is the best we can do.
  • Texas – A lot of movies have also been set in Texas, but not very many good ones.  I always had a soft spot for Happy, Texas (1999), which may be one of the more ridiculous movies ever made.  The Texas Chainsaw Massacre series is, of course, based here for people who like the blood and guts.  No Country for Old Men is an outstanding film, the best of the group… and the one named on the original map.
  • Utah – SLC Punk is highly recommended. Great film, underrated.
  • Vermont – Super Troopers is hilarious (“The snozberries taste like snozberries!”), and Dead Poets’ Society (1989) is one of those movies that everyone has seen, so everyone can talk about it.
  • Virginia – Back when I worked as a projectionist, Remember the Titans was one of the more rewatchable movies that we showed.  I also liked Minority Report (2002) and Gods and Generals (2002) from the same general time period.
  • Washington –  Dude!  Dante’s Peak (1997)!  Pierce Brosnan is a geologist!
  • West Virginia – I’ve never seen Rocket Boys, but I do like The Mothman Prophecies (2002).  We Are Marshall (2006) is okay as well.
  • Wisconsin – BASEketball (1998) and Dogma (1999) are two of my all-time favorites.
  • Wyoming – Though I honestly wasn’t a fan of Brokeback Mountain, I guess it’s probably the best movie to be based in Wyoming.

So, my map?  (you can click on it for a larger size)

Of course, this map is based on nothing but my own preferences.  Got any ideas?  I’d love to hear your comments and suggestions…. or hell, even make a map of your own!

Author: Andrew Shears

Andrew Shears is an Assistant Professor of Geography at Mansfield University in Mansfield, Pennsylvania. His research interests lie at an intersection of the human-environmental nexus, and includes branches of mapping, technological, memorialization and urban geographies. He lives in Wellsboro, Pennsylvania with his wife Amy, a professional photographer.

22 thoughts on “50 States, 50 Movies”

  1. Not for nothin’ but “Bridges of Madison County” is based on Madison County, Indiana, not Iowa. And being from South Bend, Indiana, I HAVE to ask; What about “Rudy”?

  2. Good corrective choices!

    A few pointers though:

    “Dead Poets Society” was filmed in Middletown Delaware. In the movie, they never really say what state its supposed to be.

    “Up in the Air” was parially set in Omaha, Nebraska.

    There was a film about the Oklahoma land rush. It was called “Far and Away” (Ron Howard directed Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman).

  3. Tennessee: Hustle and Flow

    Missouri: Meet me in St. Louis, White Palace

    Delaware: Fight Club takes place where all the credit card companies are HQed, which is Wilmington DE

  4. Two other Maryland options:

    The Blair Witch Project – I heard a third-hand report that the local officials in Burkitsville actually quit replacing the Burkitsville signs for a while after the movie as they kept getting stolen.

    Heavy Metal Parking Lot – Hilarious look at 80s metal fans. Filmed in the parking lot of the Capitol Centre in Landover Md before a Judas Priest concert.

    1. See, I thought about the Blair Witch Project, but I really hated that movie. But you’ve make me want to check out Heavy Metal Parking Lot… sounds like a fantastic piece of people-watching.

      1. Fully agree with you re: Blair Witch – only movie I’ve ever seen that made me physically ill. I got a serious case of motion sickness from the camera movement and right at the end was struggling to stay in the theater – I was afraid I was going to vomit in the theater – fortunately, it ended, I ran to the restroom and was fine after that.

        HMPL is pretty funny at times – the people are generally my age, so it’s a rather humourous, if not disturbing mirror as I’m also from Maryland.

  5. Why must Wyoming constantly be associated with Broke Back Mountain, What about Hell Fighters (John Wayne) or Any which way you can (Clint Eastwood) a good portion of 2012, and Im sorry but how can you put close encounters of the third kind anywhere but Devils Tower in the great stat of Wyoming.

  6. Being a proud Northwest boy, I noted you left two off of “Oregon’s” entry:

    Eugene (University of Oregon Main Campus): “Animal House”
    Salem (Oregon State Hospital): “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest”

    And one for my current “area of living”

    California (San Diego/Miramar): “TOP GUN”
    (FYI: Miramar is a suburb of San Diego. At the time, Miramar Naval Air Station was the home of the “TOP GUN” program. NAS Miramar is now Miramar Marine Corps Air Station, with the TOP GUN program relocated to NAS Fallon, Reno, NV.)


  7. Well, not for nothing, but “Rocket Boys” isn’t a movie. Its a book and the movie its based on is called “October Sky”.

    And its one of the best movies of all time.

  8. Very fun exercise…not enough time for me to come up with an entire 50-state list of my own, but just a few thoughts:

    Arkansas – “Winter’s Bone” may be one of the best movies of the past decade, see it immediately if you haven’t.

    California – “The Wizard of Speed and Time” – I may be the only person on the planet who has ever seen this, but it was a great satire of the film industry in LA during the early 1980s. And you can’t forget “American Graffiti.”

    Georgia – Can’t argue with “Deliverance” but “Cool Hand Luke” is way, way up there.

    Maine – While we’re talking Stephen King and Maine, “The Mist” is one of my favorites.

    Maryland – “Wedding Crashers!”

    Massachusetts – The Depahhhted, fackin’ brilliant movie. NO ONE DENIES THIS.

    Mississippi – Doesn’t “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” take place in MS?

    Tennessee – It doesn’t get more Tennessee than Robert Altman’s “Nashville” (1975).

    Texas – Again, so many excellent choices, but “Dazed and Confused” and “The Last Picture Show” both deserve a mention.

    West Virginia – “October Sky” and “Silent Hill”

    Also, I’m not sure which northwestern state “Without a Paddle” was meant to take place in, but that’s an underrated movie.

  9. THANK YOU for replacing Ohio’s entry. While “Gummo” looks very interesting, I’d never heard of it either (not that I’m a movie buff, but being from Ohio, I would’ve expected to have AT LEAST heard of it). My first thought was American Splendor, and then I looked it up, and while I don’t know to what degree these movies emphasize their Ohio-ness, apparently Raging Bull, Rain Man, and Antwone Fisher were set here. Couple comedies too: Eurotrip, Accepted, and Tommy Boy.

  10. I can’t understand how Tennessee doesn’t get “Walk the Line,” “Hustle & Flow” or “Nashville” as it’s pick in anyone’s list.

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