In Field Of Dreams, when Kevin Costner is asked of his homemade baseball diamond, “Is this Heaven?” there’s a reason he doesn’t answer, “No, it’s Alaska.” It’s the same reason that Judy Garland in The Wizard Of Oz doesn’t declare, “we’re not in New Jersey anymore.” Because even before actors are cast and cameras start rolling, the first clue as to what a movie is going to be is where it takes place. When a film plants its flag in a particular city and state, that area’s unique sociopolitical, economic, topographical, or cultural baggage provides a storytelling starting point.
All 50 American states—plus Washington D.C.—have some combination of spacious skies, mountains majesty, shining seas, and alabaster cities, and when a story finds its perfect location (think the sweltering New York City of Do The Right Thing), it serves as shorthand that puts us in the proper frame of mind, whether it’s the sun-baked and blood-soaked Miami of Brian De Palma’s immigrant story Scarface, or the glitz and glamor of Steven Soderbergh’s Las Vegas in the comedy caper Ocean’s Eleven.
With Fourth of July upon us, we’ve decided to spotlight the best films that take place in all 50 states. And don’t worry, we didn’t forget Washington D.C. Some of these final selections were tough (hello, California and New York) but each top choice is a great film that leans into a topography, urban layout, vibe, or culture unique to each state. Before we send you off to explore the list, just a heads up that we didn’t consider where the film was actually shot, just where the story takes place. With that in mind, let’s wish America a happy 247th birthday and embark on this uniquely cinematic road trip.