What North Dakota lacks in population (it is the third least populous), it makes up for in size. At 70,704 square miles, it is the 19th largest state. The 39th state to enter the union, both North and South Dakota were admitted the same day, but because N comes before S, North Dakota is listed first.
Among its vast land, there are 13 state parks, as well as the 70,000-acre Theodore Roosevelt National Park in Medora. While the state is landlocked, Lake Sakakawea actually has more shoreline (1,340 miles) than the entire California Pacific Coast (840 miles).
Speaking of Teddy Roosevelt, North Dakota pays even more homage to the 26th president of the United States: One of its nicknames, the “Roughrider State” refers to the calvary he put together for the Spanish-American War.
While it’s sunflowers and honey that lead the state in production, the state also accounts for a great deal of the country’s wheat, beef, and soybeans. It is estimated that about 90 percent of the state’s land is made up of ranches and farms.
Although North Dakota is certainly not the mecca for filmmaking, it has occasionally been used as the setting for several movies. Check out our below list of some of the most interesting:
Movies filmed in North Dakota
Northern Lights (1978)
No, not the lights otherwise known as aurora borealis. This indie film was about a populist political movement of the early 1900s called the Nonpartisan League. It starred Susan Lynch and Joe Spano. The movie was not only filmed in North Dakota but many North Dakotans were also used as extras.
A Different American Dream (2016)
This documentary was about the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation in the western part of the state. It focused on how the shale oil industry has altered the livelihood and environment of three affiliated tribes, the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara. Director Simon Brooks showcases the devastation that has been brought upon the lands.
55min | 13+
This movie starred Boyd Holbrook, Rachel Brosnahan, Tyler Riggs and musician Dwight Yoakam. It told the story of man who leaves his life and young family behind to head to Williston in order to take part in the new “Gold Rush.” Like many who pursued this dream, John Turner finds it’s not that simple. Filming was done in Williston.
1 h 31 min | NR
White Earth (2014)
This documentary discussed the migration of people to the city of White Earth, who came seeking employment in the oil boom. Filmmaker J. Christian Jensen focuses this story on an immigrant mother and three children who have been affected by the oil boom culture. It was nominated for an Oscar for Best Short Subject Documentary.
American Honey (2016)
Sasha Lane, Riley Keough, and Shia LaBeouf starred in this dramedy about a group of teens who sell magazine subscriptions door to door. Their newest recruit, Star, comes from a difficult home life and uses the job as a way to escape Oklahoma. Some filming was done in Williston.
2 h 43 min | R
Valley of Bones (2017)
This thriller starred Autumn Reeser, Muse Watson, and Mark Margolis. A paleontologist trying to make ends meet for her family takes a chance on a tip and heads to the Badlands to find a rare dinosaur fossil. But teaming up with a dangerous recovering drug addict might not have been the best idea. Most of the film was done in Amidon.
1 h 30 min | R
Buick Riviera (2008)
This drama film was based on a 2004 novel by Miljenko Jergović. Faced with persecution, ridicule, and extreme prejudice while living in North Dakota, a Muslim from Bosnia finds solace in his ’65 Buick Riviera. But when he meets another Bosnian, even that solace goes right out the door. The entire movie was filmed in the state.
Directed by the Coen brothers, this crime comedy starred Frances McDormand as a Minnesota officer assigned to a homicide case, and William H. Macy as a man who wants to have his wife kidnapped in order to make ransom money. Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormare costarred. Some filming was done in Fargo, Grafton, Bathgate, and Grand Forks.
1 h 38 min R
Flight of the Red Tail (2009)
This documentary focused on a World War II P-51 Mustang plane and the efforts to get it back into flight after a 2004 crash. Since its decommission after the war, the aircraft was flown in tribute to the Tuskegee Airmen. It was a sequel to the 2007 film, The Red Tail Reborn. The restoration was done in Wahpeton.
Jesus Camp (2006)
Yet another documentary on this list, this one focused on a faction of the evangelical Christian religion that ran the Kids on Fire School of Ministry camp in Devil’s Lake. Due to some of the revelations about the practices and doctrines of the charismatic ministry revealed in the film, the camp was actually closed.
1 h 24 min | PG-13
The Overnighters (2014)
Another documentary here again. This one also deals with the oil boom in the state; however, its focus shifts into how while the jobs and pay may be plentiful, finding affordable housing in the area is not. Jay Reinke, a local pastor, takes matters into his own hands and allows over a thousand people to use his church in Williston as their home.
1 h 41 min | PG-13
Welcome to Leith (2015)
This film discussed how Craig Cobb, a white supremacist, attempted to overpower and take charge of the city of Leith in 2012. Since its population was under 20, he believed he could create his own community based on his ideologies, a plan that terrified the few people who lived in such an isolated area of the state.
1 h 26 min | NR
Wooly Boys (2001)
This comedy starred Kris Kristofferson, Peter Fonda, and Joseph Mazzello. Fonda’s Stoney is a sheep rancher who is tricked by his family into getting help for medical issues. But he is able to foil their plans and sets out with friends on an adventure. Some filming was done in Fryburg, Medora, and Beach.
1 h 39 min | PG
North Dakota is also responsible for other things, such as cameras: In 1887, North Dakotan David Henderson introduced the invention and named it using the first four letters of Dakota and adding another K (Kodak). And at 63, there are more wildlife refuges than any other state.
And just because there aren’t too many people living here, doesn’t mean that it doesn’t still have some pretty big things going on. Between Gladstone and Regent, you’ll find “Geese in Flight”, the biggest metal sculpture in the entire world. And of the three grasslands in the state, Little Missouri National Grasslands is the largest in the US.
With such unique scenery and land, it’s no surprise that North Dakota has been the backdrop for several films.