Wyoming in Film - Wyoming Magazine


Wyoming in Film


Wyoming has mystified writers, poets, and explorers since its first discovery. Its vast mountain ranges and pristine wilderness inspires a sense of awe and grand scale in those who are privileged to take it in. The true essence of Wyoming, as well as nature as a whole, was captured in an elegant quote from photographer Annie Leibovitz, “I wish that all of nature’s magnificence, the emotion of the land, the living energy of place could be photographed.” Pursuant to this theme, since the dawn of the moving picture, videographers and filmmakers going back more than 100 years have chosen Wyoming as a backdrop to films of all genre, budget, and scope.

The Western most accurately captures the wild Wyoming spirit, but documentaries, romances, comedies, and dramas have all also found homes in the Equality State. We at Wyoming Magazine have prepared a cursory list of films shot in Wyoming, whether they actually take place there or not, to give an idea of the history of our proud state as depicted in film. We’ve also chosen five films to highlight, whether for their acuity of illustration or cultural significance.

1. Man From Painted Post (1917)

At the precipice of America’s budding motion picture industry was this Western, a silver-screen adaptation of the West’s dime novels. Painted Post, based on the short story Silver Slippers by Jackson Gregory, stars swashbuckling star Douglas Fairbanks as Jim “Fancy” Sherwood, a hero hell-bent on hunting down bad men who have permeated the rolling plains of Wyoming cattle country. All of the location filmings took place in Wyoming, with some other less nature-oriented shots being filmed in Fort Lee, New Jersey, a hot spot for Westerns at the time. While Fairbanks himself wrote in his diary less-than-favorably of the film, the box office returns, as well as critics and fan reception, cemented The Man From Painted Post into cinematic history.

2. The Wild North (1952)

The Wild North is something of a staple in the American Western genre. Starring Stewart Granger in the lead role of Jules Vincent, a French-Canadian fur trapper embroiled in the often violent personal affairs of a captivating Native Amerian girl played by Cyd Charisse, who always seemed to be involved in a number of perplexing situations. While shot in Wyoming, the film takes place in Canada (hence the title). It was the first film to ever be shot in then-revolutionary Asco Color, and in an impressive box-office feat almost quadrupled its extravagant budget of $1 million.

3. Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)

Owing much to the likes of Ray Bradbury, Steven Spielberg’s epic extraterrestrial tale has been called “The most important film of our time,” by the esteemed sci-fi author, and its director’s storytelling abilities have been likened to that of Jules Verne and George Melies. Close Encounters opened the door for a branch of literary science fiction little explored to such extent. A tale about aliens of unknown origin and intent does not have to be steeped in cheesy visuals and hackneyed dialogue, but can instead delve into our most primal emotions, and existential questions. Spielberg’s influence can be seen in Denis Villeneuve’s new masterpiece “Arrival,” a film that eloquently reconnoiters these same motifs. Much of the principal photography took place with the larger-than-life Devil’s Tower as a backdrop, and Steven Spielberg’s immensely enjoyable and equally imaginative story took both the critics and the box-office by storm, with the latter earning nearly $304 million against a budget of $20 million. The cultural impact of Close Encounters and the films and filmmakers it has inspired will be seen for years to come.

4. Django Unchained (2012)

Quentin Tarantino’s unconventional Western is perhaps his best work. The film stars Jamie Foxx as the eponymous Django, a slave who’s freed by dentist-turned-bounty hunter King Schultz played by Christoph Waltz and what ensues is a gloriously ridiculous bloodbath as the deadly duo cut a sanguine path across a brilliantly shot antebellum America. For the shots set in Winter, during which the audience sees our hero perfecting his bounty-hunting and gun-slinging skills, the majestic Grand Tetons provide a gorgeous backdrop. The film was a widespread critical and financial success, landing on many “Top 10” lists for the year and others praising it as “a troubling and important movie about slavery and racism.” Earning just over $425 million, it is Tarantino’s most successful theatrical release to date.

5. Nebraska (2013)

Set in Billings, Montana, Nebraska tells the story of Woody Grant played to critical acclaim by Bruce Dern, a man who is insistent upon going to Nebraska to collect a $1 million prize, of which his children are more than dubious. The story that unfolds is a touching and exceedingly well-acted familial drama that explores the themes of love, mental illness, and loyalty. Beside Dern, who won at the Cannes film festival for best actor, are Will Forte, June Squibb, and Bob Odenkirk. A brisk filming schedule of 35 days split its time between Billings, Rapid City, and Buffalo, Wyoming. The film received a long list of accolades, including 6 at the Academy Awards and $27 million at the box office against a budget of over $12 million.

Movie Timeline (non-exhaustive):

  1. Charge of the Light Brigade 1912
  2. The Man from Painted Post 1917
  3. The Hell Cat 1918
  4. The Thundering Herd 1924
  5. Wyoming 1927
  6. The Big Trail 1930
  7. Yellowstone 1936
  8. Son of Lassie 1946
  9. The Wild North, 1952
  10. Shane 1953
  11. Spencer’s Mountain 1963
  12. The Wild Country 1973
  13. Seven Alone 1975
  14. The Outlaw Josey Wales 1976
  15. Close Encounters of the Third Kind 1977
  16. The Mountain Men 1980
  17. Rocky IV 1985
  18. Prison 1987
  19. Ghosts Can’t Do It 1989
  20. Dances with Wolves 1991
  21. The Vanishing 1993
  22. Flicka 2006
  23. Buck 2011
  24. Django Unchained 2011
  25. Nebraska 2013

— Wyoming Magazine

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