What movies have been filmed in Utah? – Deseret News

Kevin Bacon, left, and Lori Singer in the 1984 film “Footloose.” A century ago, the premiere of two silent films led to the start of an entertainment movement that bestowed Utah with the nickname “Little Hollywood.”
Paramount Home Entertainment

A century ago, the premiere of two silent films led to the start of an entertainment movement that bestowed Utah with the nickname “Little Hollywood.”
“The Covered Wagon” and “The Deadwood Coach” were both filmed in southern Utah. While “The Deadwood Coach” is now lost to us, the other movie helped to mold the Western genre, cementing Utah’s pivotal role in bringing the Wild West to screen.
To commemorate the occasion, the Utah Film Commission gathered film aficionados and industry professionals together Thursday at the Capitol. With paintings of the Wild West looming over the attendees, an all-star panel of Lacey Chabert, James D’Arc, Jerusha Hess, Virginia Pearce and Amy Redford reflected on their film work in the Beehive State.
The event also saw the unveiling of a new exhibit on the fourth floor of the Capitol: “100 Years of Utah Film & Television.” The exhibit shows Utah’s rich history with entertainment and has artifacts from the industry throughout the years.
The event was just days before another big film anniversary — it’s been 20 years since “Napoleon Dynamite” premiered. Jerusha Hess met her husband Jared Hess at Brigham Young University before making the movie. Together they developed the coming-of-age movie about a lanky teenager that became a cult classic after it premiered on Jan. 17, 2004, at the Sundance Film Festival.
Filmed in Preston, Idaho, as well as in parts of Utah, the Hess’ film defied expectations. Working off of a shoestring budget of around $200,000, “Napoleon Dynamite” amassed upward of $46 million at the box office.
Producer Jeremy Coon said the cost of getting the movie to Sundance totaled $400,000. “Any independent movie is like dumping money on a fire. You just don’t know if you’re ever going to see it again,” Jared Hess told the Deseret News.
“We were hungry. We were desperate to just eat. We just put everything into that script,” Jerusha Hess said. Utah Film Commission director Virginia Pearce recalled stumbling upon a note Hess wrote to her professors requesting class credit for making the movie, as the audience chuckled.
Getting the call that the film made it into the 2004 Sundance Film Festival shocked them both, Jerusha Hess said. They didn’t expect that it would make it that far. They expected having to make another movie in the future to really get eyes on their work. She quipped that it was the dream of indie filmmakers to make it that far so quickly.
“When we showed it the first night at Sundance, it was the first shot of Napoleon getting in front of the bus, everyone started laughing and we just were crying,” Hess said. She indicated they did not think anyone would really watch the movie, but it took off.
Six months later, Jerusha and Jared Hess were in the mall with their newborn baby and they walked past a Hot Topic store. They were surprised to see “Vote for Pedro” T-shirts and other “Napoleon” merchandise — it was something that they didn’t think was possible.
It’s not just “Napoleon Dynamite” that features scenes in Utah.
Utah is something of a hub for Hallmark films, as Chabert explained. “Christmas Land” was filmed in Riverton, Farmington and Salt Lake City, like many other movies made for the network.
Chabert may be best known for her iconic role as Gretchen Wieners in “Mean Girls,” but she’s also become a “Hallmark Queen” as Pearce dubbed her. While Chabert said she films movies everywhere, there’s something she really enjoys about Utah.
“Salt Lake City was just so welcoming,” she said, explaining that as a mother, she’s found Utah a family-friendly place with great museums and kind people.
D’Arc, a film industry historian and author of “When Hollywood Came to Utah,” recalled that he was told by a person in the film industry that there was a shared love of filming in Utah because grandmas would come out of their homes and give cookies to the filmmakers. “And the cookies were good,” he said to audience laughter.
Hollywood has done big business in Utah and not just in the form of Westerns. From “High School Musical” to “Footloose” to “The Sandlot,” teen favorites and classics have had their start in Utah. Redford emphasized the importance of Indigenous filmmakers in the Beehive State. That’s something the Sundance Film Festival is highlighting this year too, as it will host a panel with Alex Lazarowich and Adam Piron discussing the importance of empowering Indigenous filmmakers.
Christmas movies have also found their home in Utah. The picturesque mountains and the endless supply of snow renders it an ideal location for scenes in movies like “Dumb and Dumber,” “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” and “Little Women.”
The ghost towns in southern Utah have also provided natural filming locations. Frozen in time from a bygone era, “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” used the ghost town of Grafton as a filming spot. Log cabins and other buildings from the Wild West fill the area, rendering it an ideal location for contemporary Western movies.
Another movie filmed in Utah that is having an anniversary this year is “Footloose,” which is turning 40. Gov. Spencer Cox invited Kevin Bacon to return to the Beehive State for the anniversary, and the students of Payson High School where much of the movie was filmed really want Bacon to attend their prom — before the school is torn down.
The movie industry has brought in significant revenue for Utah. Over the course of the last decade, Pearce said that entertainment made in Utah has brought $600 million to the state. And $300 million of that has gone to rural communities.
And the future is bright. Other productions filmed in Utah like “The Chosen” and “Horizon: An American Saga” are coming out in 2024.

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