In film, locations rarely play themselves. Utah’s Monument Valley has doubled for just about anywhere vaguely considered "Western," including at least one location outside Earth’s terrestrial bounds. Ditto the entire city of Atlanta for cityscapes of all kinds and California’s Vasquez Rocks for a close-to-Hollywood Monument Valley alternative.
Where the rubber of screenwriting meets the actual road of production, with its filming tax incentives and location permits, you get geography picked over pretty fast. A stretch of Delaware woods plays as Connecticut in a pinch, due largely to the fact that nobody’s been everywhere and most films can count on audiences to grant them some base level of suspension of disbelief. But it's not often that the actual spots in which a film was made get the credit they deserve for providing atmosphere and a tactile sense of place.
Here is the most famous movie filmed - if not entirely, at least to a significant degree - in most of the 50 states.
Alabama: 'Close Encounters of the Third Kind'Photo: Columbia Pictures
Steven Spielberg’s 1977 follow-up to his blockbuster hit Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind was one of the earliest examples of the particular blend of homey sentimentalism and expansive wonder that went on to define his output for decades. It achieved that artful mix through both impressive practical effects and the rugged landscapes of rural Mobile, Bay Minette, and Fairhope, Alabama, which he deployed as his meeting points for humans and aliens.
Seen today, perhaps Close Encounters’ most lasting feature is the one that Spielberg's production designers could only claim partial credit for. In addition to taking advantage of unused airship hangars at the Brookley Air Force Base to create sound stages, Spielberg used a good deal of Alabama’s natural geography as a double for Indiana, where the film is actually set. Those exteriors served as the greatest sort of stage: one that complemented and showcased his sweet, heady story.
Alaska: 'The Thing'Photo: Universal Pictures
The Thing, John Carpenter’s 1982 remake of Howard Hawks's 1951 The Thing from Another World, is probably rightly remembered today for featuring some of the most nightmarish and impressive practical effects in horror. What shouldn’t be discounted, however, are the stunning snowy exteriors that the filming locations - Juneau, Alaska, and British Columbia - provided.
While the film was set in Antarctica, Juneau's harsh extremes more than convincingly stood in for those of that southernmost continent. From the iconic opening sled-dog sequence to R.J. MacReady's (Kurt Russell) nighttime vigil against the surviving members of his paranoid and homicidal crew, one would be hard-pressed to argue that The Thing's effectiveness would have landed without the alien feel the Last Frontier gave it.
Arizona: 'Raising Arizona'Photo: 20th Century Fox
The 1987 baby-napping comedy Raising Arizona was the first of Joel and Ethan Coen's films to signal the madcap extremes they would later dig into further in the likes of Hail, Caesar!, The Hudsucker Proxy, and O Brother, Where Art Thou? Throughout its runtime, the film uses its namesake state as a backdrop for its Looney Tunes-adjacent plot, which features everything from a near-invincible biker from hell to multiple botched robberies.
The state itself plays a key role, as both the luxurious lifestyle of Nathan Arizona Sr. (Trey Wilson) and the meager existence of Ed (Holly Hunter) and H.I. McDunnough (Nicolas Cage) are thoroughly established through the film's locations. In the case of the former, the Phoenician Resort in Scottsdale served as Arizona Sr.'s palatial, wealth-exuding estate; in the case of the latter, Lost Dutchman State Park outside Scottsdale served as the host to H.I. and Ed's starter home/trailer.
Arkansas: 'Sling Blade'Photo: Miramax Films
Billy Bob Thornton's 1996 Oscar-winning slow-burn thriller, Sling Blade, tells the story of Karl Childers, an intellectually disabled Arkansas man and convicted murderer, and his gradual reintegration into society after leaving a psychiatric facility in which he'd been confined since the age of 12. Upon release, Karl gets himself wrapped up in a series of relationships that, through their own turbulent dynamics, (spoiler alert) eventually lead him to take another life.
Thornton wrote and directed the film himself, taking special care to portray his home state in the sort of Southern Gothic light that the likes of author Charles Portis, another Arkansas native, had helped establish it in. The whole thing was filmed in Benton, Arkansas, and makes considerable use of the place's small-town feel.