The Movies About Idaho

Idaho is not a state that gets a lot of attention when it comes to movies, either that are set and filmed within the state or that are about the state without having actually being filmed in it. It does not have the benefit of being close to Hollywood and so a cheap place to film and it is not as recognizable as other states with famous cities. Funnily enough, more movies and television shows about things that supposedly are happening in the United States have been shot in Canada than Idaho, by far. However, there are a select number of movies that have been shot in Idaho or, at the very least, take place in Idaho. There are not many of these, but they do exist and if you are a fan of Idaho as a state, you might want to know more about Idaho on the big screen (Or the little screen). Not all of these movies are actually about Idaho since most stories are not about a specific place but about the people who occupied that space, but Idaho tends to be featured significantly in these movies and it is a nice way to see your state on display. No movie out there that is not a documentary is purely about a place. A movie is always about people.

To start with, there is the quintessential Idaho film that every Idahoan needs to know about and that many people outside of Idaho are aware of. What am I talking about? Why Dante’s Peak of course! What? You thought I was going to see Napoleon Dynamite? Well, we will get to that one in a little bit. Idaho is definitely a very volcanic state with all kinds of cinder cones and lava flows, so it makes sense to set a film about a dangerous volcanic eruption in Idaho. Of course, the featured volcano of Dante’s Peak does not actually exist in Idaho but that does not necessarily matter. It features Pierce Brosnan as the protagonist and has Linda Hamilton as the leading lady. Basically, if you wanted to see James Bond with an American accent fight a volcano, Dante’s Peak is a fun movie to watch. You are not going to see a modern Citizen Kane but a good disaster movie featuring an explosive volcano can be pretty fun if you want to just turn your brain off. Just do not expect to do any deep analyzing of the plot and characters.

But yes, the actual quintessential film about Idaho is Napoleon Dynamite, a movie so funny that it actually managed to transcend its connection to Idaho and have a universal appeal to people who have never set foot in the Gem State (A nickname that features in the movie!). If you are not familiar with Napoleon Dynamite, it is a high school comedy about a whole bunch of awkward teenagers and adults trying to make their way through the school year. None of the actors are big names (After the movie some of them received larger roles and more recognition) but many of them have a direct connection to Idaho. In fact, some of the extras are people they just called up from areas local to the filming. There were some times when a little extra help was needed and so the locals showed up to be featured in the film. Some of the most famous moments in the movie are just locals being locals. The movie is a bit divisive in its comedy. Some people think it is hilarious and others kind it to be silly and even stupid, but it was a bit of a landmark movie and probably the most famous film to come out of Idaho.

The last two specific movies I want to mention are a bit more serious in their tone than a goofy comedy and bad action movie. The first is Smoke Signals¸ a movie that very few people are likely to have heard of. For a general plot, it is about two young Indian men (In the movie they prefer to be known as Indians rather than Native Americans) who go on a journey across Idaho to learn more about their father/ adoptive father. Beyond just having an inspiring story, the film was the first movie to be entirely shot with Native American actors and with a Native American production crew. The director was Native Americans and all of the principal actors were as well. To top it all off, it is a genuinely good movie, with some amusing and powerful moments. The lead actor, Adam Beach, has gone on to star in a lot of larger movies, though none of them have done as much to represent his heritage as Smoke Signals. Unlike the other movies I have mentioned so far, it is a thoughtful experience and a short watch. There is also quite a bit of Idaho on display for you to see. You are not going to see the inner city of Boise, but you can see a fair bit of the Idaho countryside. The same can be said for Napoleon Dynamite, bit Dante’s Peak you could watch without even realizing it was set in Idaho. That is unless you are very familiar with the Idaho landscape.

Now, while Hollywood has mostly forgone making movies about Idaho, there is one kind of movie that has been made in and about Idaho in great numbers. One of the most famous moments in Idaho’s history occurred during the Old West and the time of the Oregon Trail. As you might imagine, there have been quite a few movies written about this time. There were a huge number of westerns made in the 40s and middle part of the 20th century. Only a couple of the westerns set in Idaho did well at all but there are movies out there that have been set in Idaho that you might be interested to see. It is a window into a different time, that time being the mid-1900s because westerns are not period accurate at all.


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