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.
Colorado: 'Dumb and Dumber'Photo: New Line Cinema
The Farrelly Brothers' 1994 Dumb and Dumber still stands as their strongest work, Peter Farrelly's 2019 Best Picture win (Green Book) notwithstanding. It's essentially a road comedy centered on the two title idiots played by Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels, and many of the strongest jokes of the film are concentrated in their destination: Aspen, Colorado.
While Breckenridge, Estes Park, and Copper Mountain Resort largely stood in for that far tonier enclave, between the duo's flamboyant charity dinner tuxedos, Lloyd's immortal "so you're telling me there's a chance?," and Harry freezing his tongue to a ski lift, the mountain town thoroughly delivered as a joke-machine location.
Connecticut: 'The Ice Storm'Photo: 20th Century Fox
Summarizing the plot of Ang Lee’s 1997 slice-of-life domestic drama The Ice Storm is not terribly easy. On its face, it’s the story of a group of semi-depressed, wealthy professionals in the '70s testing the limits of their own post-sexual revolution adventurism as their kids come to their own awakenings on the margins. But even that glosses over the acid comedy and dire turns that spiral from Lee and screenwriter James Schamus's masterful construction.
In order to achieve the sense of spiritual isolation the film is ultimately concerned with, Lee used the disconnected modernist homes and the small New England town center of New Canaan, Connecticut. Like Jonathan Demme's Rachel Getting Married, also shot in the state, Lee traded on the inadequacy of material riches to soothe a group of well-off Northeasterners' bigger, more universal troubles, and he did so to tremendous effect.
California: 'Citizen Kane'Photo: RKO Radio Pictures
Orson Welles's 1941 examination of greed, curdled ambition, and aging, Citizen Kane, is regularly cited as the greatest film of all time. That it also happens to be the greatest film shot in California, the home of Hollywood and the filming location of masterpieces crafted by everyone from Charlie Chaplin to Greta Gerwig, naturally places it atop a pretty estimable mountain of work.
Kane was filmed almost entirely on sound stages on the Paramount lot, with a few excursions to San Diego for Xanadu exteriors. Welles and his production team were largely working off the actual life of publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst, another major California figure whose tumultuous ascent to the top of New York’s newspaper world was blended with strains of Joseph Pulitzer and Samuel Insull, among others. Viewed today, the film's sheer scope and innovation continue to boggle, especially given the many decades of film history that have elapsed since.
Delaware: 'Dead Poets Society'
Peter Weir’s 1989 tale of arts appreciation and the power of a committed teacher, Dead Poets Society, is best remembered today for a single scene of spirited Walt Whitman recitation. That's unfortunate, given the thoughtfully constructed work that surrounds those valedictory couple of minutes. The film boasts some of Robin Williams's finest dramatic work.
The actual school Williams's inspirational English teacher, John Keating, taught at was St. Andrew's School in Middletown, Delaware. As for sequences outside the school’s halls, those were largely distributed between New Castle and Wilmington.