It may not have the reputation California, New York or even Utah has for blockbuster filmmaking, but Arizona gets its fair share. Between its sprawling deserts, vast urban city centres and ghost towns, it’s a popular backdrop for a range of different movies, from zombie apocalypses to 90s romcoms. More than 5,000 films and TV shows have been filmed in Arizona since 1913. The first-ever movie filmed here was the aptly named movie Arizona. Since then it’s seen the likes of Star Wars, Forest Gump and The Nutty Professor. Here are seven famous movies filmed in Arizona for all you film buffs.
Famous movies filmed in Arizona
Location: Jefferson Hotel, Phoenix
Alfred Hitchcock’s iconic psychological horror, mystery, thriller movie was mostly filmed in a Hollywood studio. However, some of its most celebrated horror scenes take place against a recognizably Arizonan backdrop. The movie hinges around the relationship between on-the-run Marion Crane and shy motel proprietor Norman Bates and also dives into what happens after her mysterious disappearance. The famous opening scene pans across downtown Phoenix before settling on the hotel room where the tryst takes place. That was a real hotel – the Jefferson Hotel. Apparently, there were never any plans to open the film at Christmas. The team accidentally scheduled the filming for December. To account for all the Christmas decorating, Hitchock added the date to the opening scene.
Location: Hyatt Regency Valencia, Chandler, Phoneix, Flagstaff
Little Miss Sunshine follows a family’s chaotic journey as they ride a canary-yellow van along Route 66 to get their seven-year-old daughter to the “Little Miss Sunshine” beauty pageant. The indie movie hit the big time, scooping up two Oscars and a handful of Baftas and guild awards too. Incredibly, the movie made a profit of over $60 million on US soil (over $100 million globally) and the production budget was under $8 million.
While most of the comedy is staged in New Mexico, these scenes are actually in Arizona. Chandler, Phoenix and Flagstaff all feature in the movie. Filming took place over thirty days, with a good chunk at the Hyatt Regency Valencia.
Location: Sun Devil Stadium
This cult classic romantic-comedy-drama tells the story of agent Jerry Maguire (played by Tom Cruise). After a brutal sacking, he tries to get back on his feet. His only client is the disgruntled Rod Tidwell, a football player who wants a better contract. One of the most famous catchphrases from the movie, “Show me the money!” takes place in Arizona. It took place a Sun Devil Stadium, Arizona State University‘s football stadium.
Location: Grand Canyon, Colorado River and Lake Powell
One of the most iconic movies in sci-fi history, Planet of the Apes re-imagines the world. An astronaut crew crash-lands on a planet in the distant future. Intelligent talking apes dominate, while all the humans remain mute, oppressed and dressed in animal skins. Terrifying stuff.
The desert scenes were all filmed on location in Arizona, in the desert-like terrain of northern Arizona. The Grand Canyon, Colorado River, Lake Powell, Glen Canyon and Page Arizona all make blockbuster appearances.
Location: Yuma Desert
In Return of the Jedi, the third instalment of the Star Wars trilogy, the Galactic Empire is constructing a second Death Star to crush the Rebel Alliance once and for all. Meanwhile, Luke Skywalker, now a Jedi Knight, attempts to bring his father Darth Vader back to the Force.
Elstree Studio in Hertfordshire Southeast England was the setting for much of this Star Wars movie, but those otherworldly desert shots were further afield. Jabber the Hutt’s undeniably huge hover barge is at the Imperial Sand Dunes in Buttercup Valley, west of Juma. Jarhead and The Scorpian King also maximized that barren landscape too. They captured The Great Pit of Carkoon, home to the Sarlacc that eats Jabba’s prisoners here too.
Location: Monument Hill
Remember that iconic scene where Forrest Gump stops running? He’s three years into an ultra-ultra-ultra marathon, having zipped across the country a few times and also gained a group of stragglers. He stops abruptly, announces he’s tired and going home, while someone shouts, “Not what are we supposed to do?”. That’s in Arizona too, on Monument Hill. There’s even a makeshift sign saying ‘Forrest Gump Hill’.
If you haven’t seen the movie (and if not, where have you been?), Forrest Gump tells the tale of a slow-witted by a kindhearted man from Alabama, who witnesses (and accidentally influences) some of the most defining moments in 20th century America. Tom Hanks plays Forrest and the film features such famous quotes as: “Life is like a box of chocolates… you never know what you’re gonna get” and “stupid is as stupid does”.
Location: Tuscon, Arizona
This movie follows a young girl who is one of the last survivors on dystopian Earth. Riding around on a war tank, she managed to fight against a tyrannical regime for the last remaining potable water supply on the planet. Lory Petty played the original tank girl and Courtney Love also wrote the highly-acclaimed soundtrack.
Filming took place over 16 weeks. Two of the three locations are in Arizona. The Liquid Silver Club is actually an abandoned shopping mall in Phoenix. The rest of the filming took place within 40 miles of Tuscon, Arizona. Most of the scenes utilized an abandoned open-pit mine. But, filming paused due to a dangerous chemical leak.