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There are some movies out there that just feel like Arizona. While some were shot in the state or take place in the state, other films get that Grand Canyon touch from the local talent who made them. Here are 10 movies every self-respecting Arizonan should watch to feel some local love on the silver screen.
When you tell people, especially people who live in other countries, that you’re from Arizona, they almost always revert to the Wild West depiction of the state. Instead of getting bogged down by that assumption of what life here is actually like, study up. There are plenty of great Arizona gunfighter and outlaw flicks, and Tombstone is a great summary of infamous historical events like the gun fight at the O.K. Corral and the stories of Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday. After watching, you can wow foreign friends with your cowboy know-how and even tell them how you’ve visited Tombstone in real life. Plus, Sam Elliott is the best.
If people don’t think of cowboys when you say you’re from Arizona, they just might mention something about this late 1980s Coen brothers movie. Filmed and set in-state, there are some vaguely familiar locations. However, chances are this crime-filled baby caper flick doesn’t exactly resemble your day-to-day life. Don’t let that spoil it for you. It’s easily one of the funniest Arizona-centric movies ever made.
If a part of you doesn’t get giddy and cheer (at least internally) when the opening scene of Alfred Hitchcock’s iconic thriller Psycho flashes the words “Phoenix, Arizona” on screen with a panning shot over vintage downtown, you’re probably not actually from here. Take some city pride and watch it over and over again until you’re adequately psyched about the scene.
Pump Up the Volume
Thanks to what’s quite possibly one of the best teen movie soundtracks ever (featuring Leonard Cohen, Pixies, and Bad Brains), this movie is great. Since it stars a young Christian Slater as a part-time lit nerd, part-time disgruntled, filthy pirate radio host, it’s even greater. But its setting in the fictional yet realistic Phoenix suburb of Paradise Hills, lined with strip malls and dull houses that all look the same, makes this a movie that you can’t help but relate to. We were all there at one point, and we all wish we were as cool as Happy Harry Hard-On.
Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion
Usually road trip buddy movies pass through Arizona on the way to California or somewhere else westward, but Romy and Michele are headed to Tucson as their final destination. While this isn’t the best movie on the list by any stretch, it’s silly, hilarious, and features Janeane Garofalo. Just try to not have “Time After Time” stuck in your head after watching it.
If you’ve ever been to Lake Havasu, this movie is for you. Unless you were completely plastered like everyone else there, chances are the party kids that invade the popular Arizona destination annoyed the heck out of you. Don’t try to act like you haven’t imagined them all getting munched to bits by a pack of ferocious piranha. No? You haven’t? Okay, well the movie was at least filmed there, so watch it because of that.
Did you know that even Marilyn Monroe made a movie in Arizona? Bus Stop tells the story of a cafe singer and the virgin cowboy who kidnaps her. How this movie premise ever actually got the green light is a mystery, but there are some cool shots of the classic Hollywood actress in Arizona.
Fire in the Sky
Filmed and set in northern Arizona, this ’90s sci-fi flick tells the maybe true story of a group of men who make contact with aliens. After one of them is abducted in a particularly disturbing scene (seriously, it scarred us for life), he is found naked and rambling in Heber. The film is based on Travis Walton’s account of his abduction experience in the book The Walton Experience.
Only the Brave
It was a national tragedy when 19 members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots out of Prescott died battling the Yarnell Hill Fire in 2013, but no one felt the loss more deeply than Arizonans. In 2017, the tragedy got the Hollywood treatment in Only the Brave. We wish it had been filmed in Arizona rather than neighboring New Mexico, but the movie does an incredible job of telling the story of the fallen heroes. Make sure you’ve got tissues handy — this one’s a tearjerker.
Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure
Things that just make us proud to be Arizonan: the Grand Canyon, the chimichanga, and Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure. This ’80s comedy classic was set in San Dimas, California, but it was filmed all over the Valley, including Metrocenter, Golfland Sunsplash, and of course, the Circle K at Southern Avenue and Hardy Drive in Tempe. We recommend you watch the movie, then read our article and go find all the shooting locations.
This article originally appeared in 2014 and has been updated. Jennifer Goldberg contributed to this article.
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