Colorado History

The Ten Best Movies Filmed in Colorado

The Ten Best Movies Filmed in Colorado
Jay Vollmar
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.
Stagecoach (1939)
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
The Searchers
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.
click to enlarge IN COLD BLOOD
In Cold Blood
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.
click to enlarge BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
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.
Badlands (1973)
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.

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
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