Arizona Desert Pictures: Movies in Phoenix

By: Katarina Kovacevic

March 7, 2014

Three Sisters, Monument Valley National Park, Arizona

It’s arguably one of the most iconic film scenes of all time: Thelma and Louise, in a final show of solidarity, hightailing it in their blue T-Bird off the edge of the Grand Canyon.


Not to break your heart or anything, but those scenes? Well, they were actually filmed in the deserts of Utah. Hollywood – it’s all smoke and mirrors! But the silver lining here is that many of your favourite Arizona silver screen moments do really showcase the Grand Canyon State.


Here are a few of our favourite Arizona desert cameos:

The towering spires of Monument Valley are featured prominently in Forrest Gump’s cross-country trek. One of Arizona’s most dramatic desert landscapes, the red sandstone mesas are the product of millions of years of wind, water and erosion. They also happen to make an inspiring backdrop during Forrest’s epic, cross-country marathon.


John Wayne in Stagecoach | Arizona Desert Pictures

John Wayne in Stagecoach (1939) © Insomnia Cured Here/flickr


A quintessential representation of the Old West, Monument Valley has in fact been a choice shooting location since the early days of Hollywood. The first movie cowboy to dig his spurs into the region’s red dirt was none other than John Wayne, who filmed Stagecoach here in the 1930s. It’s fair to say that the peaks of the Arizona landscape logged almost as much screen time as The Duke himself.


How the West was Won | Arizona Desert Pictures

Salt River Canyon and Tonto National Forest in How the West Was Won © tonda/iStock/Thinkstock


Of course, Stagecoach was just the beginning of the Western craze, which swept through Hollywood in the mid-20th century and has arguably never disappeared – modern classics like True Grit and There Will Be Blood continue to keep the genre alive and well. It’s not hard to argue that Arizona has had a huge impact on this style of filmmaking, from The Searchers, another John Wayne classic (also set in Monument Valley) to How the West Was Won, which featured a star-studded cast including names like Jimmy Stewart, Henry Fonda, Gregory Peck, and John Wayne, and was shot in Tonto National Forest, Old Tucson, and Monument Valley.


Into the Wild | Arizona Desert Pictures

Lake Mead featured in Into the Wild (2007) © sonoandrea/iStock/Thinkstock


Still, Arizona’s place in film goes far beyond cowboys and outlaws. Into the Wild, a survival drama starring Emile Hirsch, was released in 2007 and filmed across the state. Based on a true story, the film’s protagonist battles the elements in Lake Mead and beyond as he journeys across the U.S.


Grand Canyon | Arizona Desert Pictures

The Grand Canyon is one of the world’s seven natural wonders © Arizona Office of Tourism


And for those who were disappointed at the earlier Thelma and Louise revelation, rest assured that the Grand Canyon really does appear in National Lampoon’s Vacation, the 1983 comedy starring comedian Chevy Chase. There, the landscape provides a backdrop for the Griswold family’s misadventures.


From classic cowboy-and-Indian flicks to raunchy comedies, Arizona’s wild landscapes have left an indelible impression on Hollywood filmmaking. Once you’ve gotten your fill of on-screen inspiration, journey to the state and explore these incredible landscapes for yourself.


Tombstone | Arizona Desert Pictures

Classic Western fun in the Southern Arizona town of Tombstone ©  Arizona Office of Tourism


Connecting you to numerous destinations across the United States and Canada, our partnership with Delta makes booking a trip to Phoenix simple.


Where was your favourite Arizona film shot? Have you seen any of these filming locations in person? Let us know in the comments below.

Written by Katarina Kovacevic


Katarina Kovacevic

Katarina Kovacevic is a freelance travel writer, author of The Food Lovers’ Guide To Phoenix & Scottsdale, and founder/editor of Style Jaunt, a blog about fashionable travel. Her work has appeared in publications like American Spa, The New York Post, Travel + Leisure online, and more. Follow her travels on Twitter @Little_K and Instagram @Little_K_Kata.

Categories: Our Places