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Cinematic Stripes: Discovering America Through Its States in Film

3 Mins read

Hollywood has been our cultural ambassador for quite some time now, often introducing American life and landscapes to the rest of the world. But how accurately do movies represent each of the 50 states across our great landscape? Here's an intriguing trove of fun facts about U.S. states as they are often portrayed in American movies.

The Big NY

Let's kick it off with New York. The Big Apple, with its bustling streets and towering skyscrapers, has played backdrop to more films than perhaps any other city in the world. Everyone knows about the infamous King Kong atop the Empire State Building or Spidey swinging through Queens. But did you know the New York Public Library has been a film location for over 60 productions including Ghostbusters and The Day After Tomorrow?

And let's not forget New York representing… well, not New York. In Escape from New York, despite its title, most of it was filmed in St. Louis after a massive fire there made for a convincingly dystopian Manhattan.

The Golden State of Hollywood

Ugh, California – not just a mecca for aspiring stars but also a shape-shifter onscreen. Surprisingly enough, sunny Cali morphs into Korean landscapes in MASH, forks in as Iran for parts of Argo, and even slinks into the role of Montana in certain scenes from A River Runs Through It*. Sure, Hollywood magic can make one state look like another country, but it surely messes with our sense of geography!

The Windy City's Dark Knight

Moving to Illinois, specifically Chicago – now known as Gotham City thanks to Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy. Can we talk about how perfectly its grim facades translated into the home of the Dark Knight? Yet Chicago isn't just Gotham; it doubles as Shermer, Illinois, the fictional town John Hughes made iconic throughout his movies like The Breakfast Club and Ferris Bueller's Day Off. Hughes' high school tribulations have become so quintessentially "American teen" that they've arguably redefined our global image.

Chameleon States

Let’s chat now about those unsung heroes: states that constantly double for others thanks to tax incentives and versatile landscapes. Georgia is one such chameleon – take a bow! Atlanta alone has played host to Panem from The Hunger Games, been decked out as San Francisco for Marvel's Ant-Man, and spun into Hawkins, Indiana for Netflix sensation Stranger Things. Those tax breaks do wild things on camera.

Then there’s Hawaii—not just a backdrop for tropical shenanigans or Jurassic creature features (hey there, Jurassic Park), but also possessing diverse terrain enough to stand in for African savannas (Tropic Thunder) and even distant planets (several scenes from snarky sci-fi romp Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2).

Spotlight on Smaller States

Fear not: smaller states get screentime too! Rhode Island may be tiny but certainly mighty when it comes to film creds—parts of Wes Anderson's eccentric offering Moonrise Kingdom were filmed here.

And delightful quirk alert: Contrary to popular belief, very few scenes from Fargo, the movie synonymous with North Dakota, were actually shot there—most took place in Minnesota!

Lone Star Appearances

Texas – vast deserts, cowboy culture, sprawling cities – makes quite an impression cinematically speaking as well. SXSW darling films like Boyhood showcased Texan suburbia over its groundbreaking 12-year production span.

Oh yeah – ever catch Alaska flexing its icy muscles? It was featured front-and-center in Sean Penn’s hauntingly beautiful flick Into The Wild. While not every shot was on location (some were done across several states), Alaska’s widescreen grandeur was undeniably captivating.

What makes these cinematic depictions noteworthy is that their mixtape of reality and fiction showcases U.S states in ways that might slightly warp your Google Maps muscle memory but expands your cultural vocabulary like nothing else.

We haven't even touched on compelling plot-driven narratives that feature local histories — remembrances carefully curated by flicks such as Mississippi’s racially-charged tales (A Time to Kill, anyone?) or Detroit's gritty urban sprawl providing perfect fodder for gripping dramas like Michigan’s own 8 Mile.

But maybe more fascinating is how these state representations play parts in constructing social identities within American culture—a form of storytelling that traverses both geography and time itself.

Now I’d love to hear your take on all this silver screen geography – have you noticed any particular state playing dress-up exceedingly well? Or perhaps you’ve got a bone to pick with how your home state is usually depicted? Let's chat below!

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