Alaska is a popular filming destination, and for good reason. It is the ultimate wilderness – home to all but three of the country’s 20 highest peaks, a coastline longer than that of the mainland and over 100,000 glaciers. It is both terrifying and inspiring, a real showstopper. So it’s no surprise that it provides the perfect background for all kinds of movies. From low-budget Indie wildlife shorts to big budget Hollywood horror stories, here are some of the most famous movies filmed in Alaska.
Seven famous movies filmed in Alaska
1. Into the Wild (2007)
Best locations: Stampede Trail, Denali National Park and Cantwell
Into the Wild is a biographical film about an idealistic college graduate who takes a perilous hike across North America into the Alaskan wilderness. Along the way, he discovers an abandoned bus with the number 142, which he later calls the ‘Magic Bus’.
Fans of the movie and book of the same name can visit the Magic Bus 142 today. It’s now a famous attraction for hikers around the world, located on the Stampede Trail in Denali National Park. The movie wasn’t filmed on the 30 km trail, since the location bus location was too remote. It was chiefly filmed in the town of Cantwell, 80 km south.
2. Insomnia (2002)
Best locations: Valdez, particularly Columbia Glacier and the Richardson Highway
Christopher Nolan’s thriller ‘Insomnia’ follows the story of the sleep-deprived L.A. detective played by Al Pacino on the hunt for the murderer of a teenage girl. Robin Williams plays a fellow LAPD detective, along with Hilary Swank as a young local detective.
The movie takes place in Nightmute but it was mostly filmed in Valdez over three months. Columbia Glacier provides the backdrop for the opening aerial scene, while the final iconic waterfall road scene is actually the Richardson Highway.
3. Balto (1995)
Best locations: Nenana, Juneau, Anchorage
Balto is an animated adventure film loosely based on the story of a real sled dog in Alaska. The dog helped transport life-saving medication to children suffering from Diptheria in the town of Nome in 1925. In the movie, Balto is ridiculed, until he proves his worth by leading a dog team on a 600-mile trip across the Alaskan wilderness to get medical supplies.
While it is a cartoon, there are plenty of references to real places in Alaska. Locations include Nenana and Juneau, as well as Anchorage, albeit briefly. Disney remade the movie in 2019 as ‘Togo’, but filmed it in Alberta, Canada.
4. Big Miracle (2012)
Best locations: Alaska Sea Life Center, Anchorage
Starring Drew Barrymore and John Krasinski, Big Miracle tells the story of Operation Breakthrough, the 1988 international effort to rescue grey whales trapped in ice. Filming took place entirely in Barrow, Anchorage, and Seward.
The movie is set in Barrow, but because of the extreme temperatures the team were forced to film in Anchorage. The production team gave downtown Anchorage a 1980s makeover, with town sets filling in for the rest. You can visit the Mexican restaurant, Amigos, which stands in for the real-life Mexican restaurant. Alaska Sea Life Center also plays a prominent role in the movie.
5. The Big White (2005)
Best locations: White Pass
The Big White is a black comedy movie starring Robin Williams and Holly Hunter. Williams plays an indebted travel agent who tries to win $1 million by claiming a dead body is his missing brother.
Most of the outdoor scenes and cinematography were shot at the summit of the White Pass, along the border of Alaska and British Columbia.
6. Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991)
Best locations: Knik Glacier, Chugach State Park, Valdez-Cordova Census Area
In the fourth instalment of the Star Trek franchise, Captain Kirk and his crew have to travel back in time to reverse the disastrous effects caused by an unknown space probe on planet earth. Even non-‘Trekkies’ may well recognise the Alaskan landscape forming the backdrop to some of the movie’s most iconic scenes.
This movie also marked the first time Star Trek had ever been filmed outside of California. Key filming locations included the Knik Glacier, Chugach State Park and the Valdez-Cordova Census Area.
7. The Thing (1982)
Best locations: Juneau
The Thing is a science fiction horror movie directed by John Carpenter. It tells the story of a group of American researchers in Antarctica, who encounter a parasitic extraterrestrial life-form that assimilates and imitates other organisms. Filming lasted for around 12 weeks, with principal photography chiefly filmed in Juneau.