While not quite as famous of a shooting location as Los Angeles or Vancouver, several films have been shot in Montana. In an effort to utilize the region’s unique and natural beauty, films shot here typically seek to use the landscape as a key portion of their cinematography.
From independent darlings to huge blockbuster productions, here are some of the most noteworthy films to be shot in the state of Montana.
I first wanted to mention that one of the most popular TV shows in recent years, Yellowstone, has been largely filmed in Montana (after moving filming from Utah). Click here to learn more about where Yellowstone is filmed in Montana.
10 Notable Movies Filmed in Montana
1. The Shining
Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 cult classic horror movie, The Shining, follows Jack Nicholson as Jack Torrance as he descends into madness while snowed in at a vacant lodge. In some ways, the snow becomes one of the characters, a catalyst to Torrance’s demise.
To establish the veracity of the wintry conditions at the fictional Overlook Hotel, many of the establishing shots were filmed in Montana. While the majority of the movie was filmed on a soundstage in England, the snowy surroundings simply couldn’t be replicated in a studio.
Saint Mary Lake and Wild Goose Island in Glacier National Park were the filming locations for the opening scenes. The famous shot following the Torrance family’s Volkswagen Beetle down a snowy highway was filmed along Montana’s famous Going-to-the-Sun Road.
2. The Missouri Breaks
Another movie filmed in Montana starring Jack Nicholson, the Missouri Breaks follows a down-on-his-luck rustler as he bands together with his gang to pull off a complicated revenge heist that ends in bloodshed. Originally released in 1976, it became an instant classic, partially due to it being scored by John Williams of Star Wars fame.
It takes its name from a region in northeastern Montana where the Missouri river has, over centuries, cut deep ‘breaks’ in the landscape, these rifts relating the changing banks of the Missouri throughout its lifespan. This part of Montana, even before its statehood, had always been known for being a bit rough, both in terrain and in culture, and served as a perfect backdrop for this harrowing tale.
Though the title would suggest the entire production was based in Missouri River Country, shooting occurred in many places around Montana. Red Lodge, Billings, Virginia City, and sections of the Yellowstone River were all used as shooting locations throughout the production as well.
3. A River Runs Through It
This epic 1992 film directed by Robert Redford and starring Brad Pitt has become ingrained in the cultural landscape so deeply that it is inextricable to the way folks view Montana. It won the Academy Award for Best Cinematography in 1993 and has since secured its place in the film canon as an American classic.
The story is centered around the Maclean brothers, sons of a Presbyterian minister who are trying to find their place within the wider world through the lens of their Montanan home. While one of them has just returned home from the lofty halls of Dartmouth and aches to see the world, the other is convinced he will never leave the state, owing his life to the bounty of western Montana.
Both the book and the movie are set in and around Missoula, though principal photography took place in Yellowstone Country, around Bozeman and Livingston. The rivers shown in the movie are actually several different ones, but chiefly the upper Yellowstone, Gallatin, and Boulder Rivers.
4. The Revenant
A film based on true events, The Revenant is about the life of Hugh Glass, a fur trapper from the early 1800s. After being left for dead by his companions in his hunting party after being mauled by a bear, he strives to survive in the snowy wilderness of Dakota territory.
The film was met with immense critical acclaim, and among other awards, won three Oscars of the twelve it was nominated for, including best cinematography, best director, and best actor for Leonardo DiCaprio.
To capture the desolate, freezing temperates of the Dakota’s wild winter, much of principal photography was shot in Glacier Country in Northern Montana during the winter. In one scene, a waterfall shown is actually Kootenai Falls, in the National Forest near the border with the Idaho Panhandle.
5. Continental Divide
The very first film to come from Stephen Spielberg’s production company Amblin Entertainment, Continental Divide is a 1981 romantic comedy starring Jim Belushi and Blair Brown. The plot follows a Chicago newspaper reporter as he trades city life for the Wyoming Rockies in pursuit of a story.
Though all of the scenes depicting Chicago were shot there, almost none of the movie was actually filmed in Wyoming. Shooting locations included North Bend and Mt. Rainier in Washington State, but it was none other than Glacier National Park that established most of the snowy landscape of the Wyoming Rockies in the film.
6. The River Wild
This 1994 adventure thriller starring Meryl Streep and David Strathairn is about a family on a white water rafting vacation. Things begin to take a turn when they realize that their three companions, who were at first seemingly friendly, are in fact criminals who have murdered their previous guide.
Though the production took many precautions to ensure the safety of the cast, there was a mishap on set that resulted in Streep being whisked from her raft and away into the rapids. She was rescued largely unharmed by the production’s river rescue team. Ironically, Streep did have a stunt double, but this incident was the result of performing one of the handful of scenes in the movie where she did her own stunts.
Many of the film’s iconic rafting scenes were filmed on the Kootenai River, long known for its legendary white water. They also utilized the middle fork of the Flathead River as a shooting location.
7. The Thing From Another World
The tale of a group of scientists sent to the remote Antarctic to study something they couldn’t yet explain is the basic premise of the 1951 film, The Thing From Another World, or simply The Thing. What they find in the frozen northern tundra is a spaceship and an alien that reanimates once unfrozen.
Interestingly, there is some debate over who directed this film. While it is credited to Christian Nyby, it is speculated that this was merely done to assure that he would gain membership to the directors guild. Cast members who were interviewed had conflicting stories, with some saying that Nyby was indeed the director, and others claiming it was in fact Howard Hawks.
As the film was set in the Arctic, it was crucial that it be shot in a snowy, icy landscape. Beyond the soundstage they built at a Los Angeles ice storage facility, the film was shot inside Glacier National Park.
8. Call of the Wild
Though there have been several adaptations of Jack London’s classic 1903 novel over the years, to date, 2009’s Call of the Wild was the only one shot in 3D. This version also takes the most liberties with the original text: it is set in the present day, and several elements have been changed and updated from the original story.
Kind of an outlier on this list, the movie was both set and shot in Montana. Lincoln and Philipsburg were the primary shooting locations, and it premiered at a handful of theaters in Montana as part of a limited release.
9. The Horse Whisperer
This 1998 modern Western stars Robert Redford, as well as both Scarlett Johansson and Kate Bosworth in very early career roles for both of them. The story follows the recovery of a teenaged girl named Grace (played by Johansson) after she was severely injured in an accident riding her horse.
The fictional Double Divide Ranch from the movie was created on a real, working ranch about an hour north of Livingston. The largest change to the existing property was the construction of a new ranch house that was made specifically for production.
10. Montana Story
Premiered at the 2021 Toronto Film Festival, Montana Story is an independent drama about a brother and sister who come home to the ranch in Montana where they were raised to take care of their father. When these siblings reunite on the ranch, they haven’t spoken in seven years, and are tasked with taking the reigns of the ranch’s operations and finances together.
It was shot in Paradise Valley, in Yellowstone Country south of Livingston. Categorized as a ‘Neo-Western,’ this film is much less concerned with the typical themes of a classic Western and is more about the fraught relationships within their small family. It premiered to critical acclaim and is seeking wide distribution.