Cinematic Backdrop: St. George Goes to Hollywood

Cinematic Backdrop: St. George Goes to Hollywood

St. George’s red rocks and towering peaks create a majestic skyline enjoyed by residents and visitors alike. Thanks in part to this beautiful scenery, our desert oasis has become one of the US’s fastest-growing cities.

But St. George’s picturesque landscape doesn’t just look awe-inspiring to the naked eye. It’s also incredibly photogenic. No wonder numerous Hollywood films have used St. George and the surrounding areas as a backdrop.

Whether you call St. George home now or hope to soon, you might be interested to learn more about the city’s rich Hollywood history. Below, we’ve listed nine movies that cast St. George in a supporting role—the scenery.

“Only Angels Have Wings”

Black-and-white movie fans in St. George should include this film on their must-see list. This 1939 drama brought some of Hollywood’s biggest names to St. George. Legendary director Howard Hawks shot scenes of stunt pilot Paul Mantz flying over Snow Canyon and Washington County’s Black Hills.

In the movie, leading man Cary Grant and silent film star Richard Barthelmess play the pilots in the cockpit. The audience is meant to believe they fly over the Andes Mountains in South America, not the red rocks of Southern Utah.

“Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”

No list of movies filmed in St. George is complete unless it includes this 1969 classic. The film paired Paul Newman and Robert Redford onscreen for the first time as leaders of the infamous Hole in the Wall gang. Filmmakers shot various scenes of Newman and Redford escaping capture in nearby Snow Canyon and Zion National Park.

This film also altered Utah film history in another significant way. During production, Redford gained an appreciation for the Beehive State’s natural beauty. He eventually bought a home here and founded Park City’s annual Sundance Film Festival.

“Jeremiah Johnson” and “The Electric Horseman”

These movies provide more evidence that Robert Redford loves St. George. They’re the second and third films he made in the region during the 1970s, and both feature stunning St. George backdrops.

In the movies, Redford portrays a cowboy of sorts. “Jeremiah Johnson” takes place in the mid-1800s and follows mountain man Johnson through the untamed Rockies. “The Electric Horseman” has a more contemporary setting and storyline. Redford plays a former rodeo champion on the run with a thoroughbred horse and a TV reporter.

“Romancing the Stone” and “The Jewel of the Nile”

These 1980s romantic action adventures starring Michael Douglass and Kathleen Turner feature a few scenes filmed in or around St. George. This franchise gives St. George scenery a chance to prove its versatility. It doubles as Columbia in “Stone” and stands in for the Middle East or Northern Africa in “Jewel.”

“The Conqueror”

Although John Wayne and Southern Utah are known for their roles in Hollywood westerns, The Duke wasn’t shooting a cowboy flick when he came to St. George for this picture. Instead, he played notorious emperor Genghis Kahn. Neither critics nor audiences had much love for this movie. Wayne himself later admitted that he wasn’t a good fit for the role.

Although the film isn’t a critical darling, it does include plenty of local scenery. If you watch it, you’ll catch glimpses of not only St. George but also nearby Hurricane and Warner Valley. John Wayne and his leading lady Susan Hayward also rented homes in St. George during the 13-week shoot. On some days, fans lined up for hours outside Hayward’s home to request autographs.

“High School Musical 2”

The stars of Disney Channel’s “High School Musical” sang, danced, and swam around St. George’s Entrada at Snow Canyon Country Club for this 2007 sequel. In the movie, a few of the film’s stars, including Zac Efron, even practiced their golf swing on the club’s private golf course, which Golf Digest rates as one of Utah’s best.

More than 18 million tweens and teens turned in for the August 17 premiere. For that night, many American households had all eyes on St. George.

“The Flyboys”

Don’t confuse this lesser-known independent film with 2006’s “Flyboys,” which stars James Franco as a WWI pilot. “The Flyboys” depicts the real-life story of two boys who crashed alone in a small airplane outside Cooper, Arizona in 2004.

The film’s two young stars had acted around airplanes before. They previously played alongside each other in “Pearl Harbor.” They portrayed the children who grew into Ben Affleck’s and Josh Hartnett’s characters.

In addition to being filmed in St. George, Hurricane, and Mesquite, “The Flyboys” had an exclusive early release to test audiences in Southern Utah in 2008. The film went on to win more than 70 awards at various film festivals.

 

What can you do with your newly acquired knowledge of St. George’s film history? Pop in one of these movies, visit the local sites they feature, or step into your backyard to enjoy St. George’s Hollywood-worthy backdrops.

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