Eureka! Due to the existence of Hollywood and its many film studios, it might not be surprising that so many movies have been made in California. However, once you factor that area out…you still have a lot of films that give thanks to the state that gave us the deliciousness of places like In N Out Burger and treats like Popsicles.
Although not quite the largest of the 50 states, the birthplace of the Internet happens to be the most populous one. And Death Valley, just one of the whopping nine National Parks in the state (the most of any other state) is the hottest, driest place on all of Earth. And Lone Pine is home to the highest peak in the lower 48, Mount Whitney.
Oh and lest we forget, wine; at 90 percent, California produces almost all of it for the rest of the United States!
See below for a shortlist of flicks that were filmed in part or as a whole in the Grizzly Bear state and its 840 miles of Pacific Ocean coastline, massive tree-lined forests, towering mountains, and sandy deserts.
Table of Contents
- Flicks Filmed on Location in California
- I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997)
- Roadhouse (1989)
- Devil’s Rejects (2005)
- Arachnophobia (1990)
- American Pie (1999)
- Seven (1995)
- National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983)
- Planet of the Apes (2001)
- Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi (1982)
- Jurassic Park (1993)
- The Rules of Attraction (2002)
- East of Eden (1955)
- Gladiator (2000)
- The Great Outdoors (1988)
- Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)
- The Birds (1963)
- Django Unchained (2012)
Flicks Filmed on Location in California
I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997)
Although the film is set in the state of North Carolina, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Freddie Prinze, Jr., and friends, while still close to a beach, actually “hit and ran” the Fisherman while riding along famed Highway 1, which wraps around about 656 miles of Pacific coastline.
Patrick Swayze’s stint as an educated, tough bouncer at the Double Deuce took place in Jasper, Missouri. Most of the exterior shots were built for the movie and later removed. But had you looked for them in the Show-Me State, you’d never have found them. Those structures were built in Anaheim, Sanger, Santa Clarita, and Valencia.
Devil’s Rejects (2005)
Similar to films like Mel Brooks’ Robin Hood: Men in Tights and Disney’s The Haunted Mansion, Rob Zombie’s first movie focusing on the sadistic Firefly family was filmed at Sable Ranch in Santa Clarita. The black comedy horror story itself took place in the fictional town of Ruggsville in Texas, which is fortunately not a real place.
Fear not, spider haters of America, Canaima is not an actual place that exists; the name was chosen to pay homage to the name of the park in Venezuela where a few scenes were shot. However, the Jeff Daniels black comedy was actually shot in California for the most part, but in the town of Cambria. Which is hopefully not spider-infested.
American Pie (1999)
This racy teenage sex comedy was set in the state of Michigan, where the writer actually attended high school and based parts of the movie on. However, it was the city of Monrovia, about 2200 miles away, where Jason Biggs, Chris Klein, and the rest of their friends made the immature pact to lose their virginity before graduation.
Like a lot of other movies, the Brad Pitt/Morgan Freeman neo-noir feature Seven never specifically mentions where the story and its characters actually are. This way, viewers can decide for themselves where they “see” everything. It was shot for the most part in Los Angeles, but the last scene (yes, that scene) was in Lancaster.
National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983)
We all know that the Griswold family lives in Illinois; they begin their trip to Wally World from the fictional town of Shermer. But the exterior house used in the first film is actually in Los Angeles, and Wally World, while still in the same state, is actually part Six Flags Magic Mountain in Valencia and part Santa Anita Park in Arcadia.
Planet of the Apes (2001)
Since it’s not possible to film scenes in space or on different planets yet, anything that takes place off Earth must be shot in the most unique areas of the world. The 2001 Mark Walhberg-led Planet of the Apes chose Trona Pinnacles in the Mojave Desert to properly represent Calima, the counterpart to the original movie’s Forbidden Zone.
Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi (1982)
Another motion picture that suffers from the inability to film in space, for the final installment of the second Stars Wars trilogy, they relied on the beautiful trees of the northern coast, specifically the majestic redwoods of the parks, to bring Endor to audiences. General Sherman, the world’s largest tree, resides in Sequoia National Park.
Jurassic Park (1993)
Spielberg’s first foray into dinosaurs was set in Costa Rica. And while most of the movie used Kauai, Hawaii as the stand-in, there were several scenes that another place took that role on. The archaeological dig that Dr. Grant and Dr. Sattler make was set in Wyoming; however, you are seeing the Mojave Desert of Red Rock Canyon State Park.
The Rules of Attraction (2002)
Although author Bret Easton Ellis set his novel at a fictional institution called Camden College, the setting was specific to New England, more specifically, New Hampshire. But when Roger Avary made the movie, they moved the college, along with Paul, Sean, and Lauren, across the country (literally) to the University of Redlands.
East of Eden (1955)
James Dean’s most famous role was of course Rebel Without a Cause. However, before this role, he starred in this adaptation of John Steinbeck’s 1952 novel. Although filmmakers remained true by still shooting in the state, they moved the location a tad bit further north; the novel took place in the Salinas Valley and the movie was shot in Mendocino.
While most of this action/adventure film was shot outside of the US in locations like England, Morocco, and Malta, the Alabama Hills in Lone Pine can be seen as Russell Crowe’s Maximus rides his horse home to check on his family. The epic historical saga took five Oscars home, including Best Actor for Crowe’s performance and Best Picture.
The Great Outdoors (1988)
Don’t be misled by this John Candy/Dan Aykroyd comedy about two families from two very different worlds taking a lake vacation together. That’s not Wisconsin you are looking at on the screen; this movie was actually shot in Bass Lake, right outside of Yosemite National Park, the third largest of the all the National Parks in the state.
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)
The second of the Indiana Jones saga takes Harrison Ford’s iconic archaeology professor to India. While most of the on-location scenes were done in far-off places like Sri Lanka and Macau, the Himalayas you see in the movie were actually played by Mammoth Mountain, where you can also find some of the very best alpine skiing in the world.
The Birds (1963)
Based upon a horror story by author Daphne Du Maurier (most famous for her novel Rebecca), this Alfred Hitchcock production was filmed almost entirely in Bodega and Bodega Bay in NorCal. Many of the structures used are still there, such as the schoolhouse, church, and restaurant. The original story setting was England.
Django Unchained (2012)
Quentin Tarantino’s revisionist western took place in the Old South, with specific mention of Texas. However, a good portion of the Jamie Foxx-led movie was shot in the west. Observant viewers might recognize the Alabama Hills at Lone Pine, Independence, Melody Ranch, Big Sky Movie Ranch, and Mammoth.
This is really only a tiny dent in the list of movies that have been shot on location in 31st state. Due to its natural beauty, size, and varying terrain and weather, even without its Hollywood studios, the Golden State is a popular spot for filmmaking.