Salt Flats, Sandlots and Sundance Kids: A Guide to Movies Filmed In Utah

Salt Flats, Sandlots and Sundance Kids: A Guide to Movies Filmed In Utah

By Brian Higgins
February 18, 2022

From classic Westerns to modern blockbusters and everything in between, these are just a few of the many beloved movies made in Utah. 

It’s no secret that Utah’s a popular place for filmmakers. Just go to any national park and you’ll find hundreds of amateur directors setting up shots for their talented actors (bighorn sheep, hoodoos, embarrassed children, etc.). Many a home movie has been made in our great state, but did you know that plenty of Hollywood movies have been filmed here as well? With some of the most unique landscapes in the world, Utah makes for a stunning backdrop to any shot. Here are some of the most popular movies filmed in Utah and the local places that provided some movie magic. 

Wasatch Front

Dumb and Dumber (1994)

Just like Jim Carrey, we hate goodbyes. That’s why we’re starting things off with this goofy comedy classic, one of the most famous movies filmed in Salt Lake City. Viewers will recognize the Salt Lake airport from Lloyd’s tearful goodbye to Mary, but you can also find Harry and Lloyd’s apartment downtown (228 S 300 E) and Mary’s “Aspen” mansion near the mouth of Little Cottonwood Canyon. There you’ll be treated to views of the Wasatch Mountains, which you probably thought would be a little rockier than this. 

Sandlot (1993)

This beloved baseball movie has locations scattered throughout the Wasatch Front, but the titular Sandlot is located on the western outskirts of Salt Lake City. The locals don’t love visitors hopping their fences to see the now (truly) abandoned lot, but you can find most of the old set at a burger shack down the street. Eat your food by the replica field or take it to go and chow down in Salt Lake’s Liberty Park. It’s a great spot to eat lunch or watch The Beast ruin a Founder’s Day picnic. 

Footloose (1984)

Contrary to popular belief, dancing is not actually banned in Utah County. That was only the case in this fictional 1980s hit. High school scenes for “Footloose” were filmed at Payson High, with other locations scattered around Utah County. Take your tractor out for a ride and see if you can spot ‘em all. You might see Kevin Bacon — some say he’s still out there dancing today.

Western Utah

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (2007)

The Bonneville Salt Flats feels like another world, which is exactly why the creators of the third “Pirates of the Caribbean” installment chose it as the location for the trippy realm of Davy Jones’ Locker. The barren yet unique landscape sets the perfect tone for Captain Jack’s out-of-this-world escapades. You won’t find the Black Pearl or any other ships grounded out there, though. The seafarers of the Lake Bonneville days are all in fossil form now. 

Independence Day (1996)

Most visitors to the Salt Flats are punched in the face by the area’s beauty — in “Independence Day” one gets punched in the face by Will Smith. This sci-fi classic puts the Salt Flats on full display when Smith drags an unconscious alien across the barren desert floor, lamenting that he could’ve been at a barbecue instead. The nearby Wendover Airport — where the famous speech by Bill Pullman was filmed — seems like the perfect place for a patriotic cookout. 

The World’s Fastest Indian (2005)

The Salt Flats have hosted plenty of strange creatures in famous movies filmed in Utah, but speed demons are what the area’s most known for. “The World’s Fastest Indian” tells the true story of motorcycle rider Burt Munro, who traveled from New Zealand all the way to Utah with his modified Indian Scout bike to set a new land speed record. The film depicts the Salt Flats as many have seen it before, a blank slate on which to blaze new speeds and create new triumphs. 

Southeast Utah

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)

Looking for the Cross of Coronado? Simply go to the Double Arch in Arches National Park and get separated from your scout troop. That’s what River Phoenix does as a young Indiana in the intro to Stephen Spielberg’s 1989 blockbuster. You’ll find beautiful views and scenic arches there, but probably no secret caves, treasure hunting bandits or legendary crosses. It’s probably for the best — that cross belongs in a museum!

Thelma & Louise (1991)

Not every movie is iconic enough to have a vista named after it, but then again, not every movie has an ending like this one. Outgoing movie buffs can find Thelma & Louise Point in Dead Horse Point State Park, just off the beaten path overlooking the Colorado River. The location, which was used as a stand in for the Grand Canyon in this ‘90s gal-pal drama, can be accessed by off-road and high clearance vehicles. Just make sure your brakes are working. 

127 Hours (2010)

This film tells the true story of climber Aron Ralston, who was trapped in a Utah canyon for 127 hours (more than five days) and had to cut off his own arm to escape. It’s both an inspiring movie and an amazing PSA for sharing your hiking plans. Much of the film was actually shot in Bluejohn Canyon, where Aron’s accident occurred and where the rock that crushed his arm can still be found. A replica of the canyon was also built at a warehouse in Salt Lake City, and the pond jumping scene was filmed at The Homestead Crater in Midway. 

Monument Valley and Southwest Utah

Forrest Gump (1994)

If you’re pretty tired of running, Highway 163 is a good place to turn around and go home. At least that’s what Forrest did after 3 years, 2 months, 14 days and 16 hours on the road. A sign on the side of the road marks the point where Forrest famously finished his run, but this stunning desert view is pretty good from anywhere along the route. In this case, life is like a box of pizza — you know whatever you get is gonna be awesome. 

The Searchers (1956)

You can’t talk about Western movies filmed in Utah without talking about John Ford. Well, you can, but the ghost of John Wayne will punch you clean in the mouth. John Ford filmed many movies in Monument Valley, but “The Searchers” might be his best known. In fact, it’s one of two movies on this list to be widely considered an all-time cinematic great (“Dumb and Dumber” is the other). Although the film is set in Texas, Ford couldn’t resist using the towering buttes of his beloved Monument Valley to set the stage for a Western epic. You can pay tribute to the director by recreating one of “The Searchers” most iconic shots at John Ford Point, a scenic cliffside vista just below the Arizona border.

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) 

If John Ford is the king of Utah filmmaking, Robert Redford is its golden-haired, chiseled-jawed Prince Charming. In addition to founding the world-famous Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Redford also starred in several films with stunning Utah backdrops. The most famous of these is “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” which was filmed in and around Zion National Park. The film vaulted Redford to international stardom, and he later named Sundance Resort after his character in the film. Actors, they’re so humble! 

Honorable Mentions

Up (2009)

OK, so “Up” wasn’t filmed in Utah … or anywhere, really. But this beloved Pixar film inspired a local builder in Herriman, Utah to recreate Carl and Ellie’s house in real life. A family actually lives there now, and based on the cash they rake in from tourists, we don’t think they have plans to take flight anytime soon. 

Napoleon Dynamite (2004) 

Almost all of this cult comedy classic was filmed on the Idaho side of the Utah-Idaho border, but it's got some distinctly Utah elements. It was made by a pair of BYU grads, premiered at Sundance and features Napoleon buying his ridiculous brown suit at a Deseret Industries thrift shop. Sounds like Utah to us.