Since the beginning of motion pictures, filmmakers have wanted to feature beautiful landscapes and striking exteriors in their movies. If there’s one Hollywood genre that captures this motif, it’s the Western and no other state tells the tale of the Western better than Wyoming. From Cecil B. DeMille to Quentin Tarantino, filmmakers have flocked to the Cowboy State for its wide-open vistas and rough-hewn terrain.
Early visitors include Mary Miles Minter and Tom Moore starring in “The Cowboy and the Lady” in 1922. In one of his earliest feature roles, 23-year-old John Wayne, an actor who would become virtually synonymous with the Western, led 1930’s “The Big Trail” shot in Yellowstone and Jackson Hole.Three years later, DeMille would shoot cavalry sequences in Laramie for his war epic “The Plainsman” starring Hollywood legends Gary Cooper and Jean Arthur.
Much of the 1950s American classic “Shane” was shot in Grand Teton National Park and around Jackson Hole. Parts of “Cheyenne Autumn” starring Richard Widmark were also shot here in 1964. And although most of “Dances With Wolves” was shot in South Dakota, many of the sensational landscapes featured in the film were photographed in Wyoming.
Some other well-known Westerns that have been shot in Wyoming include “The Outlaw Josey Wales” and “My Darling Clementine.” But it’s not just the Western in which Wyoming’s stunning exteriors have been featured by filmmakers. Maestro Steven Spielberg memorably capitalized on the unique rock formation Devil’s Tower for “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” in 1977 starring Richard Dreyfuss.
Two years later, parts of “Star Trek” were shot in Yellowstone National Park for the first in a series of motion picture blockbusters. In another modern sci-fi classic, Wyoming stepped in for an exotic faraway planet when its mysterious Hell’s Half Acre was used in key scenes in Paul Verhoeven’s “Starship Troopers” in 1997.
And Wyoming is featured in movies that are about the American story as much as anything else. Taking a break from the classic western, John Wayne returned to Wyoming in 1966 for “The Hellfighters” about roughnecks and oil well firefighters. Iconic 1980s hero Rocky Balboa dramatically upset the Soviet boxing machine Ivan Drago in “Rocky IV,” a film that was heavily shot in Wyoming. The state took in another prizefighter with Clint Eastwood’s Philo Beddoe for 1980’s “Any Which Way You Can,” a film shot throughout the Jackson Hole area.
The Ang Lee cowboy romance “Brokeback Mountain” and Quentin Tarantino’s 19th-century revenge thriller “Django Unchained” were both shot extensively in Wyoming. Not surprisingly, the state is regularly featured in nonfiction works as well. Boasting the largest National Park in America’s renowned system of preserved lands, Wyoming natural resources are frequently studied and filmed in great detail.
One of America’s best-known documentarians, Ken Burns, extensively featured Yellowstone in his landmark “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea” series for PBS. Yellowstone again took center stage in “The Living Planet,” narrated by the renowned British naturalist David Attenborough. And even before both of them, Walt Disney’s “Wonderful World of Color” explored Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park.
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