The 35th state to enter the union wasn’t always known as West Virginia. Before the Civil War, it was actually part of Virginia and only broke away in 1863. But that doesn’t mean that they don’t have their own set of firsts.
West Virginia was the first state to use a sales tax in 1921. The first steamboat launched there in 1787. They were even the first state to use outdoor advertising by painting bridges and barns in the early 1900s. And of course, the first battle of the Civil War, The Battle of Philippi, took place on the state’s grounds.
It’s not nicknamed the Mountain State for nothing; its entirety lies within the 737,000 square mile Appalachian Mountains. It could also have been called the forest state as it takes up 75% of it. And then, of course, there is its main industry: West Virginia produces 15 percent of the nation’s coal, second only to Wyoming.
There is a lot to the 40th most populated state and filmmakers have known it for quite a while. Take a look below at our list of some of the most interesting movies that can thank West Virginia for its scenery.
Movies filmed in West Virginia
Super 8 (2011)
This monster movie had J.J. Abrams directing and Steven Spielberg producing. It tells the story of a group of young adults who while trying to make their own movie become witness to a train derailment that leads to an even bigger disaster. The film was set in a fictional town in Ohio, but shots were done in Weirton and Follansbee.
1 h 51 min | PG-13
The Glass Castle (2017)
This drama starring Brie Larson, Naomi Watts, and Woody Harrelson was based on a 2005 memoir by Jeanette Walls. Walls was brought up with her three siblings by parents who not only never seemed to have money but also lacked key parenting skills. Parts of the movie were set in West Virginia, with filming done in Welch.
2 h 6 min | PG-13
This story was based upon real events known as the Battle of Matewan when a coal miners’ strike flared into a shootout in 1920. It was Chris Cooper’s first film, with James Earl Jones and Mary McDonnell also in starring roles. Filmmakers remained true to the West Virginia setting and used several areas such as New River Gorge and Thurmond.
2h 15m | 15+
Gods and Generals (2003)
This period drama was based upon Jeffrey Shaara’s 1996 book about Confederate general Stonewall Jackson and the American Civil War. It was a prequel to 1993’s Gettysburg film. Stephen Lang, Jeff Daniels, and Robert Duvall were in lead roles. The film was shot in several key Civil War states, including Harper’s Ferry, and Charles Town.
3 h 38 min | PG-13
In producer Tony Scott’s final film, two men (Denzel Washington and Chris Pine) try to stop a runaway freight train going full speed before it crashes and its highly flammable and toxic contents cause a disaster. The story is based upon a true event that occurred in 2001. Some filming was done in Follansbee, Benwood, and Wheeling.
1 h 38 min | PG-13
The Night of the Hunter (1955)
This Robert Mitchum-led thriller was based on a 1953 Davis Grubb novel about a preacher/serial killer who has swindled and murdered several women. And now he is on the prowl for more. The story was based on a real occurrence in 1932 in Clarksburg. Filming locations included Moundsville.
1 h 32 min | 13+
Win a Date with Tad Hamilton! (2004)
In this romcom, Josh Duhamel played Tad, a handsome celebrity, and Kate Bosworth Rosalee, the lucky girl who wins a date with him. Topher Grace, Sean Hayes, and Ginnifer Goodwin also starred. The story was set in Fraziers Bottom, with locations done there as well as in Charleston, Fayetteville, and Grandview.
1 h 36 min | PG-13
Super Size Me (2004)
Both directed and starring Morgan Spurlock, this documentary follows him for 30 days as he consumes only fast food from McDonald’s. It tracks and discusses the changes to Spurlock (both inside and out) as well as the fast-food industry and nutrition as a whole. The film was shot all over the United States, including Beckley.
1 h 38 min | PG-13
We Are Marshall (2006)
This film was based on the true story of a 1970 plane crash that killed players, coaches, trainers, and boosters of Marshall University’s football team. It accounts the crash’s effect on the Huntington community as well as the college. Matthew McConaughey and Matthew Fox were in lead roles. Shots were done in Huntington and Kenova.
2 h 11 min | PG
Out of the Furnace (2013)
Leonardo DiCaprio was behind the camera for this crime drama with Christian Bale, Casey Affleck, and Woody Harrelson starring. Affleck’s Rodney has gone missing after getting involved with an assortment of gambling debts, and his brother (Bale) is searching for him. The film was set and also shot in PA, but there were some scenes in Moundsville.
1 h 56 min | R
This documentary film from independent director and producer Sean Dunne discussed the prescription drug epidemic in parts of West Virginia, namely Oceana and other areas of Wyoming County. It looks at not only how Oxycodone became such a problem in this coal-mining town, but also how the drug has affected the makeup of this part of the state.
1 h 18 min | NR
The Rain People (1969)
Director Francis Ford Coppola’s sixth movie, this one had Robert Duvall, Shirley Knight and James Caan in lead roles. Knight is a pregnant wife who after leaving her husband, picks up a hitchhiker, hoping to help him find his way again. Some filming was done in Clarksburg and Weston.
1 h 41 min | R
Child of God (2013)
This crime film was both written and directed by actor James Franco. It was based on a 1973 Cormac McCarthy novel. Lester Ballard is a dangerous man whose violence only grows as his story is related to the audience. The film was set in 1950s Tennessee, but locations were all done in Lewisburg, Ronceverte, and Hillsboro.
1 h 44 min | R
This romance film had Daryl Hannah and Aidan Quinn leading as two teens from opposite sides of the track who fall in love despite their different stations in life. It was Chris Columbus’s screenwriting debut. Jennifer Grey and Kenneth McMillan costarred. Filming locations included Weirton, Wheeling, and New Cumberland.
1 h 33 min | R
Primal Fear (1996)
This legal thriller was based upon a 1993 novel by William Diehl. Richard Gere starred as an attorney who is not only defending but also believes in the innocence of a young man (Edward Norton) accused of killing an archbishop. Frances McDormand and Laura Linney costarred. Filming was done in several areas of the US, including Keystone.
2 h 10 min | R
Another Richard Gere film, this period romance paired him with Jodie Foster, and put them both in a post-Civil War setting. It was based upon a 1982 French movie and tells the story of a wife whose presumed dead husband returns home after a six-year absence. The film was done in Virginia for the most part, with one location in Snowshoe.
1 h 53 min | PG-13
Not to be confused with another genre of movies, this action film was the first of three in the franchise starring Vin Diesel as Xander Cage, an extreme sports athlete. In this first film, he uses his skills to go undercover for the NSA. Filming relied heavily on the Czech Republic, but New River Gorge was among the few US locations.
2 h 4 min | PG-13
For a state that is on the small side (a little over 24,000 square miles), it sure does have some big things. The New River Gorge Bridge is the longest steel arch bridge in the entire Western Hemisphere. And the Phil G. McDonald Bridge is 700 feet tall, the tallest in the world. And Organ Cave is the 3rd largest cave in America.
And while it may also seem small on the scale of states that filmmakers frequently use for scenes, it still ranks higher than some other ones. Its importance to American history and its overall abundance of views and vistas keep Hollywood coming back for more.