In 1891, Thomas Edison, the inventor of the light bulb, also created the Kinetograph — the world’s first motion picture camera — and went on to establish the first movie studio in West Orange, New Jersey. Although much of the cinematic action soon moved across the continent to Hollywood, America’s bustling city streets, bucolic small towns, and panoramic natural landscapes still dominate screens large and small today, capturing the imagination of audiences around the globe. Here, we explore some of America’s favorite locations that frequently play a pivotal role in movies and television.
Wilmington, North Carolina
Iron Man 3, Matlock, and more Hallmark Christmas movies than you can shake a (peppermint) stick at have been filmed in and around this charming small town in eastern North Carolina. Cobblestoned streets, extravagant azaleas, and historic antebellum architecture make Wilmington a draw for film studios — not to mention the dramatic Cape Fear River, the coastal beaches, and the USS North Carolina, an impressive World War II warship docked in town. Wilmington has also played home to several favorite teen TV series like Dawson’s Creek and One Tree Hill. The city currently has a starring role in teen drama The Summer I Turned Pretty.
Los Angeles, California
Who can forget the swanky shops of Rodeo Drive in Pretty Woman or the looming noir of Union Station in Blade Runner and The Dark Knight Rises? The heart of the American film industry, Los Angeles has long been a favorite location for shooting movies and TV shows, from the iconic Hollywood sign to the eclectic vibe of Venice Beach. Since the first movie made in Hollywood (1908’s The Count of Monte Cristo), Tinseltown has been featured in countless movies and TV shows. Films such as Chinatown, The Graduate, Pulp Fiction, and La La Land have captured the city from all angles and cemented its status as a filming capital, while shows like ‘Beverly Hills 90210 and Entourage have made it synonymous with the glitz and glamor of showbiz.
New York, New York
Law and Order, Sex and the City, When Harry Met Sally… New York City is perhaps the most famous film set in the world, and with good reason. From the skyscrapers of Manhattan to the brownstones of Brooklyn, the city offers a diverse range of iconic backdrops that have been featured in countless movies and TV shows — from Gossip Girl to The Godfather to Goodfellas. Of the city’s many iconic locales, Central Park takes the cake, and not just in the Big Apple — it is the most-filmed location in the world with 532 credits to date.
Las Vegas, Nevada
A popular location for filmmakers, Las Vegas is often called “the Entertainment Capital of the World,” and it’s easy to see why. Bright lights, towering casinos, and unique neon signs have made it a filming jackpot for producers, including those of the Ocean’s 11 trilogy, The Hangover, and CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. Whether it’s the iconic Strip, the scenic Red Rock Canyon, or the harrowing heights of Hoover Dam, the city and its surroundings offer a wealth of unique backdrops that make it a staple of American cinema.
San Francisco, California
Cable cars, colorful houses, hilly streets, and iconic landmarks such as the Golden Gate Bridge and the winding Lombard Street have made San Francisco a favorite filming spot for decades. From movies like Rise of the Planet Apes, Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo, and the beloved Mrs. Doubtfire, to TV shows like Full House and Monk, the “streets of San Francisco” are easy to spot on screens both big and small.
Monument Valley, Arizona/Utah
These stunning sandstone buttes, located in the heart of the Navajo Nation in the southwestern United States, have captured the imaginations of filmmakers and audiences alike. John Ford’s classic 1939 Western Stagecoach helped make the valley a symbol of the American West. Other notable films shot here include The Searchers, Once Upon a Time in the West, and Forrest Gump. TV shows filmed in Monument Valley include Saturday-morning staple The Lone Ranger, campy action adventure Air Wolf and, more recently, HBO’s otherworldly sci-fi series Westworld.