National parks have provided a backdrop for dozens, if not hundreds of films throughout the years.
Starting in 1910 with “The Immortal Alamo”, Hollywood directors have been coming to national parks year after year to capture majestic scenery for their productions. From faraway planets to jurassic jungles to Old West hide-outs, great American landscapes have played just about every role imaginable. Movie directors often appreciate these lands because of their undeveloped character, which means manmade infrastructure like electric wires don’t have to be edited be out.
A movie can be as well known for its setting as for the acting or music. Some of the most iconic, recognizable features of national parks have been preserved on film as natural wonders, plot devices, and new worlds.
As you take a look at the following, you’ll find some of your favorite movies, you will learn where that beautiful scenery is located, and you can go there for a visit.
National parks have served as backdrops for countless movies. Glen Canyon National Recreation Area played a key role in Planet of the Apes, Badlands National Park was prominently featured in Dancing With Wolves, and Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade was filmed in Arches National Park.
The list rolls on, not unlike credits at the end of a movie…
Planet of the Apes (1967)
Location: Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Arizona/Utah
What better wild place to play a dusty ape planet than the high desert? While the crashed rocket scene took place at Lake Powell, much of astronaut George Taylor’s (Charlton Heston) journey takes place around Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. Taylor’s journey with Cornelius and Zira through “the forbidden zone” was filmed along the Colorado River in Glen Canyon.
Other movies filmed at Glen Canyon include: Bandolero (1967), Beastsmaster 11 (1990), The Big Country (1957), Damnation Alley (1976), The Flintstones (1993), Highway to Hell (1989), Maverick (1993), Broken Arrow (1996)
Dances With Wolves (1990)
Location: Badlands National Park, South Dakota
Lt. John Dunbar, exiled to a remote western Civil War outpost, befriends wolves and Indians, making him an intolerable aberration in the military. Directed by Kevin Costner, Dancing With Wolves won seven Academy Awards including Best Picture.
Most of this epic movie was filmed on location in South Dakota, including Badlands National Park, the Black Hills, and private ranches near Rapid City and Pierre.
Other movies filmed at Badlands include: Starship Troopers (1997), Armageddon (1998), How the West Was Won (1962), Thunderheart (1992), Dust of War (2013), The Last Hunt (1956)
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)
Location: Arches National Park, Utah
Arches National Park near Moab was featured in the opening sequence of the third Indiana Jones movie. If you’re familiar with the terrain, you may recognize some land markers as young Indy (River Phoenix) explores the high desert as a Boy Scout. It’s there in Arches that Indiana encounters a group of no-gooders with the cross of Coronado.
Other movies filmed at Arches include: Cheyenne Autumn (1963), City Slickers II (1993), Josh and Sam (1992), Rio Conchos (1964), Sundown (1988), Wild Rovers (1966)
The Lone Ranger (2013)
In this modern take on the Lone Ranger, Johnny Depp (Tonto) and Armie Hammer (the masked hero) share adventures throughout the rugged western lands of Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico. While much of the movie was filmed in and around the iconic sites of Monument Valley and Canyonlands National Park, the movie crew also headed to Canyon de Chelly National Monument for a few scenes.
Other movies filmed at Canyon de Chelly include: Poltergeist II: The Other Side (1986), The Big Country (1957), McKenna’s Gold (1967), The Desert Song (1942)
Star Trek V, The Final Frontier (1989)
Location: Yosemite National Park, California
Not your typical Star Trek setting, but nonetheless Yosemite had its moment of trekkie glory when Captain Kirk (William Shatner) decides to take a casual climb up El Capitan during the crew’s shore leave. “Why are you climbing the mountain?” asks Dr. Spock. “Because it’s there,” says Captain Kirk. Sounds good enough to me.
Other movies filmed at Yosemite include: Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975), The Caine Mutiny (1954), Maverick (1994), Order of the Eagle (1989)
Nature does nothing uselessly.