Colorado’s natural beauty has lured filmmakers since the birth of cinema, and in recent years, the pace of production in these parts has picked up after something of a dry period, with flicks such as 2015’s The Hateful Eight and this year’s Netflix drama Our Souls at Night shooting here. (Netflix is also showing the documentary Voyeur, which profiles one of the area's most infamous residents.) But what are truly the best movies to have been at least partly filmed in the state? Here are the ten that made our final cut, listed in chronological order.
Colorado filming location: Cañon City
Director John Ford’s tale moves seamlessly between a relatively small space (a stagecoach overstuffed with characters so classic they became stereotypes) and the wide open West, making room for thrilling action, tense drama, comic relief and plenty more along the way. It’s the movie that made John Wayne a star, and the better part of a century later, his raw-boned, naturalistic charisma still leaps off the screen.
The Searchers (1956)
Colorado filming locations: Aspen, Gunnison
Director Ford and star Wayne are the main forces here, too, but The Searchers is a much more intense offering. Unlike most of Wayne’s roles, which tend toward the one-dimensionally heroic, protagonist Ethan Edwards is a dark force whose obsession with rescuing his niece (Natalie Wood) from Comanches comes across as deeply racist, particularly for modern viewers. The tension between Wayne’s good-guy persona and his brutal actions in The Searchers explains why the film’s power has lasted so long.
In Cold Blood (1967)
Colorado filming location: Cañon City
Today’s audiences have grown accustomed to stories told from a killer’s point of view. But at the time of its release, In Cold Blood, based on a true-crime book by Truman Capote, came across as legitimately shocking. Director Richard Brooks uses harsh, black-and-white photography and a documentary style to illuminate a farm family’s brutal slaying and its grim aftermath.
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)
Colorado filming locations: Durango, Silverton, Telluride and more
William Goldman’s cheeky, Oscar-winning screenplay has been taught in film schools for nearly half a century, and for good reason. The dialogue he puts into the mouths of outlaws Butch (Paul Newman) and Sundance (Robert Redford) constitutes a cinematic charm offensive that obliterates naysayers’ complaints about historical inaccuracy — and the final image of the pair at the moment before their death attains an unmistakable, and unexpected, poignancy.
Colorado filming locations: Rocky Ford, La Junta, Las Animas, Trinidad and more
This fictionalization of the Charlie Starkweather murders marked the feature-film debut of director Terrence Malick, and it strikes a much better balance between gorgeous imagery and unbearable pretentiousness than his most recent cinematic offerings. Young stars Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek manage to evoke innocence and naiveté amid the mayhem and Malick’s visual poetry, which beautifully captures some of Colorado’s more isolated places.
Colorado filming locations: Boulder, Golden, Lakewood and more
Among the best of what director/writer/star Woody Allen subsequently dubbed his “early, funny ones,” Sleeper is both a throwback to Marx Brothers-style comedy chaos and a merrily neurotic vision of a future in which so-called health food is revealed to have been terribly unhealthy and sexual release is achieved in seconds thanks to a miraculous device dubbed the Orgasmatron. Much of the action takes place in a modernistic building visible from Interstate 70 that’s still known as “the Sleeper house.”
Colorado filming location: Colorado Springs
Yes, WarGames, in which a teen video gamer played by Matthew Broderick nearly triggers global Armageddon, is dated, but in the best way possible. It’s among the inspirations for Ready Player One, an Ernest Cline novel getting the Steven Spielberg treatment next year, and no wonder: Despite tech that’s looked silly for decades, director John Badham’s cheese-fest is as definitively ’80s as anything by John Hughes.
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)
Colorado filming locations: Alamosa, Cortez, Pagosa Springs
Currently the second-best of the Indiana Jones series (after Raiders of the Lost Ark and before Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and the misbegotten reboot bid Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull), Crusade blends action with smile-inducing banter between Harrison Ford and Sean Connery as Indy’s dad, believe it or not. Fortunately, believability is beside the point, and so are the mechanics of the pair’s quest for the Holy Grail. Why bother with such details when there are aging Nazis to defeat?
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In the Line of Fire (1993)
Colorado filming location: Denver (Civic Center Park)
Although Clint Eastwood has won two Oscars as best director, he’s often better off as an actor when someone else is at the helm. That’s certainly the case with In the Line of Fire, during which director Wolfgang Petersen (Das Boot) draws the tension tight while following the efforts of aging, guilt-ridden Secret Service agent Frank Horrigan to make up for not preventing John F. Kennedy’s assassination by saving a different president.
About Schmidt (2002)
Colorado filming locations: Boulder, Denver
Jack Nicholson is the central attraction in About Schmidt, co-writer/director Alexander Payne’s study of a curmudgeonly retiree whose trip to his estranged daughter’s wedding teaches him more about himself than he could have ever expected. Latter-day Nicholson performances tend toward the shticky, but under Payne’s sympathetic gaze, he strips away the artifice to reveal the core of his character in ways that mingle humor and melancholia, sans the sentimentality.