Most people come to Arizona to see the Grand Canyon, and we don’t blame them, it’s spectacular. But there’s another side to America’s third newest state that’s not as apparent; its movie-filming business. Everything from westerns to comedies have been shot against the state’s dramatic panoramas…
While this Oscar-winning movie was filmed all over the country, Flagstaff’s North San Francisco Street featured in the film when Forrest is in the middle of his epic run. Forrest also passes the abandoned truck stop at Twin Arrows, where we see him wipe his face on a yellow T-shirt, and inadvertently create the acid house smiley face logo.
Travel tip: Visit the laid-back university town of Flagstaff, where craft beer bars like the Historic Brewing Company are king, and littered around are fresh-produce cafes such as Proper Meats. Housed in a former a strip bar, this upmarket deli serves farm-raised meats, poultry and cured products – the daily sausages and warm Aleppo pepper pastrami are winners.
Jim Jarmusch’s dystopian period film sees Johnny Depp play William Blake, who’s on the run after he’s caught in bed with another man’s girlfriend. Pursued by bounty hunters, he finds himself in the spiritual wilderness – parts of which are filmed in suitably mystical Sedona. Visitors can have an equally trippy experience among the striking red rock formations in Sedona today. Home to four vortexes and more psychics, spiritual readers and tarot card consultants than we’d ever seen, you can truly lose yourself in this area of Arizona. Dead Man was also shot in parts of Flagstaff, Cave Creek, and Camp Verde.
A cult classic of the 90s, this comic book-turned-movie stars Lori Petty as a punk rock badass surviving in a dystopian world. The Tucson desert and an old abandoned shopping mall in Phoenix were both used as locations for the sci-fi flick. You can still find the open pit mine south of Tucson, used to film the water pipe scenes.
Travel tip: If you’re into your dystopian scenes, head out into the desert around Tucson, dress up as a bandit and have your very own Mad Max-style end of the world experience. For everyone else, there’s an interesting Titan Missile Museum near the open-pit mine, where scenes from the movie were planned to be filmed, but never went ahead.
The classic love story, staring cinema legends Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman, was not in fact filmed in a Vichy-controlled Moroccan city but the Van Nuys studio in California. However, what most people don’t know is that hotel scenes were captured at Flagstaff’s own Hotel Monte Vista. Other famous hotel guests over the years have included Bing Crosby, Michael J Fox, Jon Bon Jovi, Gary Cooper, Debbie Reynolds, John Wayne, Clark Gable and Anthony Hopkins among others.
Travel tip: It’s been reported that the Hotel Monte Vista is haunted; sightings include a ghostly figures of a bank robber, two prostitutes, a phantom bellboy and a baby in the basement. You can book an overnight stay in one of the rooms and report back with any sightings, the rooms are fittingly old fashioned, and a tad eerie.
Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure
One of the best buddy movies of all time used the Arizona town of Scottsdale. Excellent. Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter starred as Ted ‘Theodore’ Logan and Bill S. Preston, who go on adventures in a time travelling phone box. In reality, much of the movie wasn’t shot in another time or place, but in and around Coronado High School in Scottsdale.
Travel tip: An hour from Scottsdale is a more impressive site – the Montezuma Castle National Monument. Situated about 90 feet above the ground, this ancient fortress built into the rock is believed to have been built by indigenous people between 1100 and 1425 AD. The deserted structure was re-discovered by European-Americans in the 1860s and is an incredible sight to behold.
Wild Wild West
Filmed in parts of Nogales and Old Tucson (the movie studio and theme park west of Tucson), Will Smith’s sci-fi western movie (recognisable by its irritating theme tune) showcases typical local backdrops, including deserts and jagged rock formations. Those wanting to get a closer look can visit the park and watch gunfights, saloon musicals and do a film history tour or mission it into the desert where Will Smith as Capt. James West and Kevin Kline as Ulysses S. Grant go for a ride on a steampunk motorised penny farthing.
Travel tip: Visit Williams (a heritage town on Route 66) where you can have your own cowboy adventure. This place commonly holds classic car shows and Wild West shootouts for tourists and there’s a vintage train ride you can take all the way to the Grand Canyon – it doesn’t get more Western than that.
Planet of the Apes
Astronaut George Taylor and his crew crash land on a distant planet in the future, where apes are the dominant species, and humans are oppressed. The film uses a number of Arizonan locations, including Glen Canyon and the desert around Page. The space ship actually crashes into Lake Powel, which looks exactly the same today. Walks can be taken around the water’s edge where the space crew scramble up the bank with their gear.
Travel tip: An hour’s drive from Lake Powell, make a stop at the Cameron Trading Post, a shrine to Native American Art and artefacts from the local Navajo tribe. The museum has an astonishing collection of original rugs, headdresses, bowls, jewellery, weapons, shoes and more. It’s one of the only places in the area to eat and sleep too, but book ahead as rooms are limited.
Tom Cruise stars as a sports agent who famously said the line “Show me the money!” in this 1996 comedy. The football field used in the movie is Arizona’s Sun Devil Stadium, previously home to NFL’s Arizona Cardinals, from 1988–2005. Visitors can book tickets to see the state’s national team battle it out in front of up to 57,000 fans.
Travel tip: While in Phoenix, pop into A Different Pointe of View restaurant at the Pointe Hilton Tapatio Cliffs Resort, for staggering views over the whole of the city. The food is divine too, with American treats including Maine lobster and Fulton Farms chicken.
Marion Crane, the victim of a vicious attack in the Bates Motel, supposedly lives in Phoenix, and in the opening shot of Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece we see Arizona’s capital. The place where we see Marion and Sam Loomis was the Jefferson Hotel on Jefferson St, the tallest building in the state when it was built in 1915. Sadly, the hotel is no longer open for business, it was later transformed into the Barrister Place Building, but it’s still possible to see the exterior of the building today.
Travel tip: If you like scary, head over to Jerome, a proper cowboy town which, in its heyday, was filled will saloons, brothels and gunslingers. Once an important mining town, it’s now regarded as a ‘ghost town’ and one of the most haunted sites in America. Stop by for saloons, museums, spooky tours and Haunted Hamburger stores.
Steve McQueen flaunts his masculinity as Ace Bonner Junior in this classic cowboy movie about a man who returns to Arizona several years after abandoning his family. Naturally, he gets stuck into rodeo competitions in Prescott. Junior bribes rodeo owner Buck Roan to let him ride again, promising him half the prize money if he wins. We see him drinking in Prescott’s famous Whisky Row, where saloons lined the streets a hundred years ago.
Travel tip: Visit The Historic Palace Restaurant & Saloon on Whiskey Row where bar scenes from Junior Bonner were filmed. Built in 1877, the Wild West trimmings are as distinctive today, with swinging doors, taxidermy on the walls, staff in period garb and cabinets with retro memorabilia in them. A live musician will often play music from the Junior Bonner soundtrack in the frontier saloon (guests can get dinner and a show for $32).