Five Movies You Didn’t Know Were Filmed in Utah

State officials are staging a year-long exhibition to celebrate 100 years of filmmaking in the state

Person holding up a snapshot from the movie "Thelma & Louise" in front of rock formation
The 1991 movie Thelma and Louise was filmed all over Utah, including at Fossil Point near Moab. Andrea David / Utah Office of Tourism

In the mid-1920s, two silent Westerns—The Covered Wagon and The Deadwood Coach—used Utah’s rugged landscape as their backdrops. Since then, more than 1,000 movies and TV shows have been filmed in the state.

To celebrate 100 years of movie-making in Utah, curators have organized an exhibition at the state capitol building in Salt Lake City. On view through the end of the year, “Utah: America’s Film Set” examines the state’s evolving role in the movie industry through photographs, scripts and props—including a yearbook from High School Musical and a baseball from The Sandlot.

Utahns can thank three brothers for kickstarting the state’s film industry. In the early 1900s, Chauncey, Caleb and Gronway Parry moved from Salt Lake City to Cedar City, a small town in the state’s southwest corner, to run a transportation company that offered car and bus tours of Utah’s national parks. Eventually, they started convincing Hollywood studios to use southwest Utah’s iconic red-rock terrain for early Westerns.

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At the time, Utah was a “very insular, withdrawn society,” James D’Arc, a retired film archivist and historian at Brigham Young University, tells the Salt Lake Tribune’s Palak Jayswal.

“When the Parry brothers … opened it up to the Hollywood studios in the 1920s, in essence, what they did is they opened up Utah to the world,” he says. “And what did the world do? They came here in droves.”

Filmmaking has become big business in Utah. In the past decade alone, it’s created more than 36,000 jobs and contributed more than $600 million to the state’s economy, according to the Utah Film Commission, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.

While some filmmakers come to Utah to make Westerns, others are drawn to the state’s “anytown USA vibe,” Virginia Pearce, the commission’s director, tells Variety’s Kathy A. McDonald. “Hallmark and Disney love shooting here because [there are] many small-town feels within an hour of Salt Lake.”

Were any of your favorite flicks filmed in Utah? Here’s a snapshot of just a few of the movies made in the Beehive State.

Footloose (1984)

Kevin Bacon stars in this quintessential ’80s flick, which follows big-city teenager Ren McCormack after he moves to a conservative small town, where dancing and rock music are banned.

Much of the movie was filmed at Utah’s Payson High School, which is slated to be torn down next year. Ahead of its demolition, students lobbied for Bacon to return to his old stomping grounds. Last month, the actor paid the town of Payson a visit.

“You were all just tireless, unrelenting in your desire to have me return, and you talked me into it,” Bacon said while visiting the school on April 20, as reported by the Washington Post’s Omari Daniels. “It’s amazing, the power that this movie has to bring people together.”

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High School Musical (2006)

This peppy Disney Channel Original Movie starring Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens was filmed at various locations in Utah, including the real East High School in Salt Lake City. The sequels and subsequent TV series were also filmed in the state.

Die-hard fans can make a road trip out of visiting the various filming locations thanks to a detailed four-day itinerary created by the state’s tourism office.

Napoleon Dynamite (2004)

The husband-and-wife duo behind this iconic comedy—Jared and Jerusha Hess—met while studying at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. Much of the coming-of-age-tale was filmed in Preston, Idaho, which is just across the northern Utah border, but parts were filmed in the town of Richmond, Utah.

The Sandlot (1993)

“You’re killin’ me, Smalls!” While this baseball classic was set in California’s San Fernando Valley in 1962, the movie was actually filmed in Utah in the early 1990s. The state tourism office has created another itinerary for travelers interested in visiting The Sandlot’s filming locations—including the Lorin Farr Community Pool in Ogden (where the boys ogle lifeguard Wendy Peffercorn, played by Marley Shelton) and the Riverside Baseball Field in Salt Lake City (where the boys face off against their Little League rivals).

Thelma and Louise (1991)

Utah’s dusty roads, small towns and otherworldly geological formations provided the ideal backdrop for Thelma and Louise. Spoiler alert: The movie’s memorable final scene—in which the two women drive off a cliff in their Ford Thunderbird convertible—was filmed at Fossil Point near Dead Horse Point State Park, not the “goddamned Grand Canyon,” as Louise (Susan Sarandon) believes.

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