Whether central to the plot or merely providing a beautiful backdrop, here’s a look at the starring role Kentucky has played in film history.
We’ve all heard the saying, “pretty enough to be in pictures,” and Kentucky is just that. The Bluegrass state is known for its beautiful forests and waterways, along with friendly folks and a diversity of locations from rural to urban ready to provide the perfect setting.
Thanks to generous tax credits offered as part of a statewide film incentive program passed in 2015, more and more projects are choosing to film in the Commonwealth. One of the latest is “Above Suspicion,” a crime drama filmed in and around Lexington and in Harlan that stars Emilia Clark, Jack Huston and Thora Birch. It’s set for a 2017 release.
In celebration of the Commonwealth’s illustrious film career, here’s a look at 15 famous films in which Kentucky has played a role. Some of them might surprise you.
“The Kentuckian” (1955)
“The Kentuckian,”directed by and starring Burt Lancaster, puts Kentucky front and center and features several of our most beautiful locations. Scenes were filmed at the famed Cumberland Falls, along with areas of Levi Jackson Wilderness Road State Park near London, Owensboro, and along the Green River.
“Raintree County” (1957)
This Civil War drama starring Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift was filmed in Danville, Kentucky, among other locations. Part of the set still stands as the Pioneer Playhouse outdoor theater. Some scenes were filmed at the Liberty Hall Historic Site in Frankfort and also near Paducah. Clift is said to have had had some extremely wild parties during the filming (he famously wrecked his car coming home from a party at Liz Taylor’s house in Bel Air while making “Raintree County”). It’s also no secret that Liz had extravagant tastes and liked to go on shopping sprees, which was great for the local economy!
“How The West Was Won” (1962)
This classic Western features a barrage of high-wattage stars, including John Wayne, Gregory Peck, Debbie Reynolds, Spencer Tracy and James Stewart, to name a few. Though the movie is set in California, portions of it were filmed in Paducah and Smithland, Kentucky, around the Cumberland and Ohio rivers. The film includes some of the Civil War battle footage repurposed from “Raintree County.”
This famed 007 flick — some say it’s the one that set the bar for all others to come — stars Sean Connery as James Bond and Honor Blackman as Pussy Galore. This is one of the classic Bond films that caused America to fall in love with the special agent and all his unique toys. Although it’s set primarily in Switzerland and England, parts were filmed in Muldraugh, Kentucky, a small city that’s completely encompassed by the Fort Knox army base.
“Coal Miner’s Daughter” (1980)
This is the touching story of Loretta Lynn and her journey through life and the music industry. It features Sissy Spacek as Loretta and shows the bonding friendships and heartaches of this budding country music star, who famously grew up a coal miner’s daughter in Butcher Hollow, Kentucky. The movie was filmed in several Kentucky locations, including Van Lear, Jenkins and Whitesburg.
This military comedy starring John Candy and Bill Murray was partially filmed in Clermont, Kentucky, on site at the Old Jim Beam Distillery. Jim Beam actually allowed the film crew to run a tank through a few of its old warehouses that were no longer in use. It seems everyone has a story of meeting Bill Murray these day, and here’s mine. My parent’s farm bordered the property where filming took place, and I was watching the film crew from a distance on horseback one day when a limo pulled up. It was Bill Murray asking for directions, which I provided. I was only an 11-year-old kid at the time, and he handed me an autograph that said, “Jenny, your horse smells. Bill Murray.” I was somewhat offended until my parents explained who he was.
“Rain Man” (1988)
While it’s not exactly set in the Bluegrass state — Charlie Babbitt (Tom Cruise) and his brother Raymond (Dustin Hoffman) begin their epic road trip west from Cincinnati — parts of this iconic late-80s film were filmed in Northern Kentucky. The funeral scene was filmed at Evergreen Cemetery in Southgate, and St. Anne Convent in Melbourne serves as the Wallbrook Mental Institution, where Hoffman’s character lived. Scenes were also filmed at Pompilio’s Italian Restaurant in Newport and at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport.
“Demolition Man” (1993)
This sci-fi cop and criminal thriller is set in a future where some of the worst convicts are frozen via cryogenics. It stars Sylvester Stallone, Wesley Snipes and Sandra Bullock. The film is set in the fictional sprawling west coast city of San Angeles, but the crew filmed an actual demolition of an old building of the campus of Belknap Hardware and Manufacturing Company in Louisville for one key scene.
“Fire Down Below” (1997)
“Fire Down Below,” starring Steven Seagal and Kris Kristofferson, was not only filmed in the beautiful Eastern Appalachian area of Kentucky, the plot also centers around a Kentucky coal mine. Seagal goes undercover to help stop toxic dumping in mines and to preserve the natural beauty of our state. Parts of a chase scene were filmed at Natural Bridge State Resort Park, and the cave scenes were filmed at the Great Saltpetre Preserve in Livingston.
“In Country” (1989)
This heart-tugging movie movie is set in Hopewell, a fictional small town in Kentucky. Based on the novel by Kentucky author Bobbie Ann Mason, the plot centers around the relationship between a young woman, Samantha Hughes (Emily Lloyd) and her uncle (Bruce Willis), a Vietnam vet suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Samantha’s father, who she never knew, was killed in Vietnam and she longs to know more about him. Much of the movie was filmed the far western Jackson Purchase area and Paducah, along with many scenes in the beautiful community of Mayfield.
“The Insider” (1999)
“The Insider,” starring Al Pacino and Russell Crow, is based on the true story of a tobacco industry whistle blower and takes place in the Brown & Williamson Tobacco Company. The movie was partially filmed in Louisville, Kentucky. The film wasn’t a huge hit, but it does show the courage and the strength of one brave Kentuckian who called out powerful executives from one of the biggest industries in our state for their wrong doings.
This feel good Depression-era horse tale is based on the real life and racing career of Seabiscuit, a surprising Derby winner who was undersized and under estimated. Based on a book by Laura Hillenbrand, the film stars Tobey Maguire and Jeff Bridges. Lexington’s Keeneland Racecourse was transformed into Maryland’s Pimlico Race Course for the film, and several scenes were also shot in Paris, Kentucky.
Writer and director Cameron Crowe set out to explore the nuances of small-town life in this feature film, and he sets his movie in Elizabethtown, Kentucky. Susan Sarandon, Orlando Bloom and Kirsten Dunst star. Although several scenes were filmed in Elizabethtown, most of the small-town scenes were filmed in downtown Versailles. Notable locations also include Louisville’s Brown Hotel, Cave Hill Cemetery and Highland Middle School, as well as Otter Creek Park in Meade County.
Starring John Malkovich, Diane Lane, Kevin Connolly and James Cromwell, “Secretariat” is the Disney-fied tale of the powerful thoroughbred who won hearts — and the first Triple Crown victory in 25 years — in 1973. Scenes depicting Secretariat’s Kentucky Derby win were filmed at Churchill Downs in Louisville, naturally, while scenes depicting his amazing 31-length victory at the Belmont Stakes were shot at Lexington’s Keeneland Racecourse. The movie also filmed in areas of Louisiana.
Melissa McCarthy, Susan Sarandon, Dan Aykroyd and Kathy Bates star in this amusing comedy about the chaotic life of Tammy, who hits the road with her booze-loving grandmother after a series of setbacks. The film is partially set in Louisville but, while a few scenes were shot there as well as in La Grange, most of the principal photography took place in North Carolina, presumably because the state offered better tax credits at the time.
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