Last summer, my daughter and I traveled to Atlanta to see John Mulaney perform.
We had a little time to burn and decided to swing by the Marriott Marquis downtown, which was used as one of the main locations for the Marvel TV show “Loki”.
The strange interior architecture of the place was certainly the perfect location to serve as the headquarters of the Time Variance Authority.
It was cool to be in the same place Owen Wilson and Tom Hiddleston filmed.
At any rate, it got me thinking about movies that were filmed closer to home and other spots we could visit.
The mountains of East Tennessee and Western North Carolina have been home to a few forgettable movies and a handful of classics and box office hits.
In some places, locations remain fairly untouched and recognizable. And it can be a fun diversion to take a picture in a spot from our favorite movies as we did in Atlanta.
And so here is our list of a movie buff’s guide to the Smoky Mountains.
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“Nell” is a 1994 drama starring Jodie Foster, Liam Neeson and Natasha Richardson.
Although the story was reportedly inspired by the Cascade Mountains, production took place in North Carolina near Robbinsville. This area is essentially between Fontana Dam and the Nantahala National Forest.
17. The Clearing
This 2004 film has a star-studded cast including Robert Redford, Willem Dafoe and Helen Mirren.
Even though the film is based in Pittsburgh and partly filmed there, some wooded scenes were done in the Asheville area.
16. The Evil Dead
A 1981 cult classic horror film, written and directed by Sam Raimi, “The Evil Dead” stars Bruce Campbell.
The movie focuses on five college students vacationing in a remote cabin deep in the woods – which honestly was bad planning on their part.
In other words, they find and play an audiotape and, as happens from time to time, accidentally release a legion of evil spirits and demons. Of course, most of the group ends up possessed, leaving Campbell to fend for himself.
The cabin is located in Morristown, Tennessee. But today, all that’s left is the chimney in the woods.
Word of warning, I’ve heard from multiple sources that the current owners of the land DO NOT appreciate fans showing up on the property and will not react favorably.
You can, however, come into town and eat at The Little Dutch Restaurant which has hosted a fair few celebrities with local ties.
The list includes Harrison Ford and Calista Flockhart, whose parents settled in Morristown, and Lily Tomlin whose wife Jane Wagner is from Morristown.
Among the pictures in the photo gallery is a locally famous image of the cast and crew eating at the restaurant in 1981. It’s a deep cut but a must-see for real horror fans.
You can view the trailer via this link.
15. Davy Crockett: King of the Wild Frontier
It’s hard to overstate how big this was in the middle of the 1900s.
Fess Parker was a major star thanks to a pair of Disney movies which were edited together from a three-part mini-series and the song that multiple singers used to chart in 1955.
Parker’s version of the song – which I believe is the best known now – peaked at No. 6 on the weekly chart and No. 31 for the year.
Tennessee Ernie Ford’s version hit No. 5 on the weekly chart and No. 37 for the year. The Bill Hayes version was first to market, peaking at No. 1 on the weekly chart and No. 7 for the year. Interestingly, Hayes’s version was on the charts from March into April.
A bluegrass singer named Mac Wiseman hit No. 10 on the country charts in May. Another version, The Voices of Walter Schumann, topped out at No. 14.
However, none of these versions were actually used on the show. A group called The Wellingtons handled those duties.
Parts of the series were filmed on the reservation in Cherokee, North Carolina as well as in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. View an excerpt of the show here.
14. October Sky
The movie that launched Jake Gyllenhall’s career in the late 90s is a personal favorite of mine.
A group of West Virginia teenagers known as the Rocket Boys used a science fair project to make rockets during the early years of the space race to earn college scholarships. And also to get out of their failing coal town.
The main set for the town of Coalwood was in Petros, Tennessee, which is also home to the fascinating Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary that jailed some of the most infamous criminals in Tennessee history. Make your trip a twofer.
Other filming locations were in Harriman, Fountain City, Chattanooga and Oliver Springs.
You can view the trailer here.
A television mini-series starring Kellie Martin of “Life Goes On” and, later, “ER” is the story of a young school teacher in a remote mountain town very much like Cades Cove.
This is nice because that’s where it was actually filmed.
The mini-series developed a cult following, and for years, “Christy” fans would gather annually in the Cove for a convention-type event.
It was a convention before conventions were cool. View the “Christy” pilot here.
12. My Fellow Americans
This James Garner/Jack Lemon vehicle was about a pair of former POTUS who get on the wrong side of a plot by shadow agents in the government operating outside the bounds of the law.
Much of the film was done at the Biltmore Estate and in other sites in Asheville, including a gay pride period.
The movie is almost utterly forgettable except for when the two former presidents share made up lyrics for “Hail to the Chief.”
Those lyrics have been stuck in my brain since 1996.
You can view the clips, if you dare.
11. A Walk in the Spring Rain
If you were taking in the loop in Cades Cove in 1970, you might have run across Ingrid Bergman and Tony Quinn, which is certainly a wild thought.
The movie itself is about a woman and her law professor husband who move from New York to a small house in the Tennessee backwoods during a snowy winter which, again, seems like a really bad idea.
Luckily, they are no demonic possessions.
However, things still get pretty heavy. Bergman loves mountain life while Quinn’s distracted husband works on his book. Bergman has an affair with a married local, and disturbing events follow.
At any rate, it’s all a bummer. But you can view a promo here.
10. The Hunger Games
The mountains of Western North Carolina apparently make for the perfect setting for a dystopian future.
In 2012, “The Hunger Games” was filmed in multiple locations in North Carolina, including Asheville, which also served as the location for the arena scenes.
The Pisgah National Forest was the District 12 location where Gail and Katniss hunt as well as the rocky creek surrounding Katniss and Peeta’s shelter.
You can view the District 12 scene here.
9. Dirty Dancing
Nobody puts Baby in a corner. They can, however, put her in Western North Carolina.
“Dirty Dancing” is set at a summer resort in the Catskills but was filmed chiefly in Southwest Virginia and at Lake Lure, North Carolina.
In fact, it appears the classic “lift scene” was filmed in Virginia, according to the New York Times.
But apparently, a dilapidated boys camp at Lake Lure was a perfect spot to recreate the Catskills resort without having to worry about extra expense or actual tourists getting in the way.
You can view a dance scene from the movie here.
8. Cold Mountain
Ha! Just kidding.
Where did they, in fact, actually film this classic tale of a Civil War soldier desperately trying to get home to his wife in the Blue Ridge Mountains?
I think it’s cosmic payback for “The Fugitive.”
While this one doesn’t actually belong on the list, it should.
Still, Rene Zellweger was delightful.
7. Days of Thunder
Kidman. Cruise. Duval. The guy who played Yondu in “The Guardians of the Galaxy” movies.
Some of the racing scenes for the “Days of Thunder” movie were filmed at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Always remember Rubbin,’ son, is Racin’.
View a scene here.
6. Dolly Parton’s Mountain Magic Christmas
Dolly Parton’s 2022 Christmas special was just one of the many movies she has filmed in Pigeon Forge, near her hometown of Sevierville.
She brought several musicians and star-studded performers to Dollywood, including Jimmy Fallon, Billy Ray Crus, Willie Nelson and Miley Cyrus.
Of course, this wasn’t the first time she made a movie at Dollywood.
“Christmas at Dollywood” was also, not surprisingly, filmed at the theme park.
5. Patch Adams
This Robin Williams 1998 movie is based on a real-life doctor who used “humor and pathos” with his patients.
It was filmed in part at the Biltmore house in Asheville.
4. Last of the Mohicans
Speaking of Biltmore, the Biltmore grounds provided the old-growth forest that served as the Catskill Mountains of the 19th Century.
This movie is based on the classic novel and stars Daniel Day-Lewis.
The magnificent Biltmore Estate grounds – designed by Frederick Law Olmsted – make for a perfect location.
3. Forrest Gump
Gump is certainly not my favorite movie, but it is still a classic.
Much of the film was done in South Carolina, but there are a few iconic scenes of Forrest running along the Blue Ridge Parkway around Grandfather Mountain.
The sequel to the popular “Silence of the Lambs” film isn’t particularly good, in my opinion.
The movie is about Dr. Hannibal Lector trying to reconnect with disgraced FBI agent Clarice Starling – now played by Julianne Moore – and finds himself a target for revenge.
Parts of this film were also done at Biltmore in Asheville.
1. The Fugitive
Tommy Lee Jones and Harrison Ford’s perfect movie from 1993 is where the mountains of Western North Carolina serve as a substitute for rural Illinois.
Because it seems Illinois is not the most mountainous place.
You can go to the dam where Dr. Richard Kimble did his famous “Peter Pan” dive. You can also travel on the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad, where the train scene was filmed.
The wreckage remains on private land owned by the railroad and is viewable on the Tuckasegee River Excursion. But be forewarned. The train does not stop for you to check out the rusting remnants.
You can also park near the Jackson County Green Energy Park in Sylva, North Carolina and look down the slope to view the hollowed-out train used to ram the actual bus in the famous train vs. bus crash. Other parts were filmed around Bryson City and Dillsboro.
But the most iconic scene, in fact, led to one of the all-time best soliloquies ever committed to film and you can view it here. Whenever we lose something around the house, I still order a hard target search.
Do you have a movie to add to our list that was filmed around the Smoky Mountains? Let us know in the comments!