It’s no wonder that Arizona has been the location for so many films over the last century. They’ve got three national parks: Grand Canyon National Park, Saguaro National Park, and Petrified Forest National Park. And twenty-one national monuments, memorials, and historic sites, including Canyon de Chelly Monument in Chinle, which was settled by the Navajo tribe way back in 2500 B.C.E.
Even the climate, which consists of semi-arid, arid, and humid depending on where in the state you are, is unique and varied. While it’s not a surprise to see so many Westerns on this list, after all, Arizona is an integral part of the Wild West. Films like 1990’s Young Guns II (Tumacacori National Historic Park) and 1987’s The Quick and the Dead (various locations including Coconino National Forest in Flagstaff) would probably be entirely different movies if their scenes were shot somewhere else, were part of a set that was built, or even worse, completely digitized with green screens.
But there is a long list of other films that were shot (either in part or total) on location in the state that the saguaro cacti call home, like 1987’s Can’t Buy Me Love (Tucson) and The Karate Kid (various locations, including Sedona). And there are probably a lot of films on the list that you would never have guessed had parts filmed in the Grand Canyon State, like 1994’s Shawshank Redemption (set in Maine, but parts shot in Yuma) and 1998’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (set in Las Vegas, but parts shot in Kingman).
And these movies are just the tip of a very large iceberg…right ahead. See below for a thorough list of flicks that were filmed in the sixth-largest state in the US.
Movies Filmed in the State of Arizona
Young Guns II (1990)
Young Guns II is a Geoff Murphy-directed sequel to the 1988 American western film Young Guns. Starring Emilio Estevez, Kiefer Sutherland, and Lou Diamond Philips.
The film, which tells the life story of Billy the Kid in the years after the Lincoln Country War, had scenes shot in Tumacacori National Park in Arizona, located in Santa Cruz County. This historical park is also home to three National Historic Landmark Sites.
Other shooting locations within Arizona include Bisbee, Sonoran Desert, and the Tuscon and Sierrita mountains.
1h 44min | PG-13
The Quick and the Dead (1995)
Sam Raimi’s The Quick and the Dead, which stars big Hollywood names like Sharon Stone, Gene Hackman, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Gene Hackman, is a revisionist Western film that follows Ellen, who came to the town of Redemption seeking revenge.
The original filming location was supposed to be Mexico, but it eventually moved to different locations in Arizona, such as the Old Tucson Studios, Mescal, and the Sonoran Desert.
The movie initially received mixed reviews but eventually gained cult status, with praises for Raimi’s directing and Stone’s performance.
1h 47min | R
Can’t Buy Me Love (1987)
This 1987 romantic teen comedy, directed by Steve Rash, tells the story of an outcast (played by Patrick Dempsey) paying a popular high school girl (Amanda Peterson) a thousand dollars to pretend to be his girlfriend.
The film is set in Arizona, where the filming took place. It was shot on location in Tucson, at the Tucson High Magnet School, as well as other locations such as the Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, The Loft Cinema, and Pima Air Museum.
1h 34min | PG-13
The Karate Kid (1984)
The Karate Kid, directed by John Avildsen, is one of the most popular martial arts drama films. Starring Ralph Macchio as Daniel LaRusso and Pat Morita as Mr. Miyagi, it’s the first installment of what would eventually be a film franchise.
The film had different shooting locations in California (such as Calabasas, Malibu, and Los Angeles), but it also has scenes shot in Arizona, namely the Oak Creek Canyon, Phoenix, and Sedona.
2h 6min | PG
Raising Arizona (1987)
This Coen Brothers-directed/written film stars Nicholas Cage and Holly Hunter and tells the story of a couple who would do anything to have a child. What follows is a story that is today considered as one of the best comedies of its time.
The film was shot in ten weeks, in different locations around Arizona. Some of these include popular sites like the Sonoran Desert and Camelback Mountain. They also scene at the Lost Dutchman State Park, which is popular for hiking and camping.
1h 34min | PG-13
Shawshank Redemption (1994)
Based on a Stephen King novella, Shawshank Redemption is an award-winning drama film directed by Frank Darabont and stars Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman.
The film was mostly shot in Mansfield, Ohio, specifically the Ohio State Reformatory (the place where Robbins’ character, Andy Dufresne, was serving time). It, however, had scenes shot in US Virgin Islands and Yuma, Arizona.
2h 22min | R
Major League (1989)
Directed by David S. Ward, Major League stars Tom Berenger, Charlie Sheen, And Corbin Bernsen. The Cleveland Indians baseball team owner put together the worst-possible team so she could move them to Miami, but the athletes soon develop more team spirit that turns them into potential champions.
Many training scenes were filmed at the Hi Corbett Field in Tucson, Arizona. This was the spring training location for the real-life Cleveland Indians team from the late 40s to the early 90s. It’s currently home to the University of Arizona Wildcats.
1h 47min | R
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998)
This film adaptation of Hunter S. Thompson’s most popular book, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is directed by Terry Gilliam and stars Johnny Depp and Benicio Del Toro, who play Raoul Duke and Dr. Gonzo, who journey through the city while on a variety of recreational drugs.
The film contains scenes filmed in Kingman, Arizona (they filmed at the Kingman Airport). Sharp-eyed audiences pointed out that the Hualapai Mountain could also be seen in some scenes. Most of the film’s scenes were shot in Nevada and California.
1h 58min | R
Eight Legged Freaks (2002)
The 2002 comedy action film Eight Legged Freaks, directed by Ellory Elkayam and stars David Arquette and Scarlett Johansson, is about spiders mutating into huge creatures, attacking the small town of Prosperity, Arizona.
Prosperity is not an actual town, but the film did film many scenes in Arizona. One of these is the Manistee Town Center, a mall in Glendale, Arizona. The mall was closed and demolished after the film’s shooting, and the production was even able to use the actual demolition scene in the movie.
Other Arizona locations include Superior, Arizona (a mining town), and Black Canyon City.
1h 39min | PG-13
Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989)
This was the movie that started the popular Bill & Ted franchise. Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, directed by Stephen Herek, starring Keanu, Reeves, Alex Winter, and George Carlin.
The film was shot in different cities in Arizona, such as Phoenix and Tempe. Many scenes were filmed at the Coronado High School, located in Scottsdale. Other Arizona spots in the film include Carefree, Mesa (Golfland Sunsplash), and Phoenix.
1h 30min | PG
Little Miss Sunshine (2006)
Little Miss Sunshine, a multi-awarded film directed by husband and wife team Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, tells the story of a family who takes a cross-country road trip driving seven-year-old Olive (Abigail Breslin) to a beauty pageant.
The film, which stars Greg Kinnear, Toni Collette, Steve Carrell, Alan Arkin, and Paul Dano, was filmed for about a month in California and Arizona. Some of the main areas include Flagstaff, Phoenix, and Chandler.
1h 41min | R
Revenge of the Nerds (1984)
Another iconic 80’s film, Revenge of the Nerds is a comedy by director Jeff Kanew and stars Robert Carradine and Anthony Edwards, tells the story of a group of outcasts who fight harassment from the jocks.
The film takes place at the fictional Adams College. Some of the scenes that show the characters entering the fraternity houses were filmed at the University of Arizona in Tucson.
1hr 30min | R
National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983)
Also known as Vacation, this 1983 comedy directed by Harold Ramis and starring Chevy Chase is the film that started a string of successful sequels. It is often known as one of the most iconic comedy films of all time.
The film had a number of shooting locations, such as California, Colorado, and Utah. Some of the scenes were shot at the Grand Canyon in Arizona, one of the seven natural wonders of the world (and one of the largest canyons on Earth).
1h 38min | R
Return of the Jedi (1983)
Return of the Jedi, the third installment of the Star Wars trilogy, is the highest-grossing film of 1983. Directed by Richard Marquand, the film stars Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, and Harrison Ford.
The film was filmed mainly in California, Arizona, and England. One of the main locations in the Yuma Desert in Arizona, where the crew filmed scenes for Tatooine. This article on Desert USA tells the story of a father and son who caught a glimpse of Star Wars props on the Yuma Desert sand dunes.
1h 38min | R
Easy Rider (1969)
Classic biker film Easy Rider, released in 1969, stars Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda (who directed and wrote the film respectively) is about two bikers traveling through the American Southwest.
A scene shows main characters Wyatt (Fonda) and Billy (Hopper) passing a lumberjack featured on Route 66, in Flagstaff, Arizona. This statue has since been moved to the J. Lawrence Walkup Skydome at the Northern Arizona University. Other main filming locations include California (Malibu), New Mexico (El Prado), and Louisiana (Morganza).
1h 35min | R
Everything Must Go (2010)
This 2010 black comedy film is based on a 1978 short story by Raymond Carver titled Why Don’t You Dance?. Directed by Dan Rush and starring Will Ferrell, it tells the story of salesman Rick Halsey, who gets fired from his job because of his alcoholism.
The story is set in Arcadia, Arizona, but the filming took place in Phoenix and Scottsdale. One confirmed filming site is at North Dreamy Draw Drive in Phoenix, at a restaurant called Aunt Chiladas.
1h 37min | R