Movies by State: The Greater Midwest

Nebraska Prairie
Photo Courtesy National Park Service

This image of Homestead National Monument in Beatrice, NE brings us to our next category – movies set in the great American prairie.  There are a lot of states in this section, so let’s get started from north to south.

North Dakota

North Dakota.  The very name conjures up images of…well, not very much.  The state board of tourism has a tendency to buy out hours of commercial time during sporting events in neighboring states in an attempt to convince people to visit doughnut shops and places rightfully called “the badlands.”  Yes everyone – North Dakota is essentially the New Jersey/Jerry Gergich of the Midwest.

What movies are set there?  Even the most notable movie named after a city in North Dakota isn’t actually set in that city (more on that later).  There are a couple of westerns that deal with the Battle of Little Bighorn (which took place in Montana) like 7th Calvary (1956) and Bugles in the Afternoon (1952).  Cult horror film Leprechaun (1993) is also set in North Dakota, although it was shot in California and it’s terrible.  Man, North Dakota just can’t catch a break.

South Dakota

Just like in real life, South Dakota gets more attention that North Dakota as a setting of movies – although not by much.  There aren’t many more feature films by volume set here than North Dakota, and most are primarily set in other states.  However, there is one movie that is set here in a rather unforgettable fashion.

Sure, North by Northwest (1959) is set in several different states, but who could forget the epic showdown on top of Mount Rushmore?  Another key…ahem…scene, is also set in South Dakota (probably).  On a train.  You know which one.

I was talking about the train going through the tunnel.  What were you thinking about?  It’s a double entendre you say?  Hmmm…I’ll have to check that out again.

Yep.  Double entendre.  Anyway on to the next state…

Iowa

Iowa movies get a lot of unforgettable lines.  Our state fair is a great state fair (State Fair (1945)).  Seventy-six trombones led the big parade (The Music Man (1962)).   I’m having a birthday party, but you’re not invited, but you can come if you want to (What’s Eating Gilbert Grape (1993)).  I was just going to have some iced tea and split the atom, but that can wait. (The Bridges of Madison County (1995)). There’s a separation between religion and insurance – it’s in the constitution (Cedar Rapids (2011)).  

Okay those got increasingly more obscure.  But it sets up the most commonly quoted Iowa movie, 1989’s Field of Dreams.  It’s surprising how often baseball has come up in these posts, but this particular film, like the others, is hard to argue with.  After all, as James Earl Jones said in the film

People will come Ray. The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it’s a part of our past, Ray. It reminds of us of all that once was good and it could be again. Oh… people will come Ray. People will most definitely come.

Nebraska

Like its neighbors, a good number of westerns have been set in Nebraska over the years.  The creators of The Far Horizons (1955) thought the story of Lewis and Clark was too boring, so they made some stuff up.  The Nebraskan (1953) is a western set in Nebraska.  I just learned about it looking at Wikipedia this afternoon and I know absolutely nothing else about it.  Boys Don’t Cry (1999) is a kind of modern western, although it certainly doesn’t share the same themes, or thankfully, poor quality of the aforementioned films.

When most people from outside of Nebraska think of the state, they think of its large agricultural industry.  Although Children of the Corn (1984) is set there – and NOT about agriculture – many of the most notable films set in the Cornhusker State are set in its two biggest cities – Lincoln and Omaha.  Terms of Endearment (1984) ends up in Lincoln.  So does Nebraska (2013), well eventually anyway.   Election (1999) and About Schmidt (2002) are set in Omaha.

The most notable film set in Nebraska, in my opinion, is also largely set in Omaha.  Well, it’s not set there so much as grounded there.  Up in the Air (2009) has aged remarkably well for a film that is very much a creature of its time and place.  My bold prediction of the day is that it becomes known as one of George Clooney’s two or three finest performances.  If you haven’t seen it since it came out (or at all), I highly recommend giving it another viewing.

Missouri

The Show Me State.  I was thinking that I bit off more than I could chew lumping this in with the other states in this article, but, surprisingly, there actually aren’t that many films set in Missouri.

Last year’s fine film noir Gone Girl (2014) is set here.  As is Waiting for Guffman (1997), Winter’s Bone (2010), and Parenthood (1989).  There are a few more, but this article is running long and if you want a list of movies, go to Wikipedia.

The most notable Missouri film?  It’s probably the 1944 Judy Garland vehicle Meet Me in St. Louis.  I personally find it to be an annoying movie with incredibly low stakes – I mean, who really cares if they move to New York?  Anyway, most people seem to like it and it gave us one of our finest Christmas songs.  The “real” lyrics to Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas are a little depressing, but Judy Garland’s performance here is a highlight.

Kansas

Any movie about Superman will have a large chunk set in the fictional town of Smallville, Kansas.  It’s never clear where Metropolis actually is, it could be in Kansas for all we know.  Contrary to popular belief – Metropolis is NOT New York City, Gotham City is.  Gotham and Metropolis are two distinctly separate cities in the DC Comics universe.

There are few other films set in Jayhawk country, like Capote (2005) and Planes, Trains, and Automobiles (1987), but there is one film in particular worth highlighting.  The Wizard of Oz (1939) does not actually take place in Kansas for the most part (or does it? was it really all a dream?), but its grounding in reality adds to its emotional effect.  It remains one of the finest American films ever made.

Oklahoma

We’re not in Kansas anymore, and we’re at the end of our article.  Oklahoma doesn’t get a ton of air-time from Hollywood, but there are few notable films set here.  August: Osage County (2013), Oklahoma! (1955), and Far and Away (1992) are some examples.  The most notable?  The movie about the constant bane of this entire region of the country: 1996’s Twister.

 

Next, the state that I currently inhabit – Minnesota.

(c) 2015 D.G. McCabe