A local movie buff offers a list (and commentary) of movies filmed in and around the Smoky Mountains
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 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, I thought it would be fun to offer a list of movies filmed in and around the Smoky Mountains.
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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.
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, like so many others, were also done at Biltmore in Asheville.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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’.
8. 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. However, the ironic “lift scene” was filmed in Virginia, according to the New York Times.
9. 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.
10. 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.
11. 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.
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.
13. 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.
14. 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. Parts of the series were filmed on the reservation in Cherokee, North Carolina as well as in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
15. 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.
“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. Mr. Destiny
Several scenes from Mr. Destiny were filmed at the Biltmore Estate in Asheville. In this movie, Jim Belushi plays an umpire given the “Wonderful Life” esque chance to see what his life could have been like if he’d made that winning home run as a teenager. Michael Caine was also in this movie as was a pre-“Friends” Courtney Cox.
18. The Swan
This qualifies as the first movie shot at Biltmore. This Grace Kelly film stars the future Obi-Wan Kenobi, Sir Alec Guinness. The romantic comedy is set in Europe in the early 1900s. Kelly plays a minor princess pressured to wed so she can win back the family’s throne which was taken by Napoleon.
19. The Private Eyes
Don Knotts and Tim Conway play a pair of Scotland Yard detectives sent to investigate foul play at a mansion outside 1920s London. Many scenes were filmed at Biltmore in Asheville. You can even spot the Biltmore in the movie poster (pictured above).
20. Being There
Yet another film shot on-site at Biltmore, many say this Peter Sellars classic is a true work of genius. But I’ve never really gotten it if I’m being honest. Sellars’ “Chance the Gardner” is truly one of his all-time classic characters, but honestly, the whole thing is over my head. It won or was nominated for dozens of awards.
21. Richie Rich
Filmed at Biltmore Estate, they made this Macaulay Culkin vehicle a couple of years too late. “Home Alone” era Mac was growing up and he couldn’t save this horrible, horrible effort based on the comic about the richest kid in the world that also featured Edward Herrmann and John Larroquette.
22. The Odd Life of Timothy Green
Yet another movie filmed, in part, at Biltmore, The Odd Life of Timothy Green is a tear-jerker about a couple who yearn for a child and are given the gift of a young boy who seems to be part plant but learn their time with him may be short. Spoiler alert: This is not based on a true story.
23. A Breed Apart
Filmed in Asheville, this movie starring Rutger Hauer, Powers Boothe and Kathleen Turner was made in 1984 at the height of their collective powers and yet was not good. How is that possible? Oh, wait. The plot summary says a conservationist and a widow meet a mountain climber hired to steal bald eagle eggs. So there’s your answer.
24. A Biltmore Christmas
Finally, we have the newest movie to make this list, Hallmark’s “A Biltmore Christmas”, which debuted in 2023. Spoiler alert – it’s the classic Hallmark tale of a writer who doesn’t believe in love, ya know, falling in love. It’s Hallmark predictable. However, it appears the vast majority of the film was shot on-site or nearby. And before you ask, “His Merry Wife!” is not a real film. It’s a piece of fiction created for the purposes of storytelling in “A Biltmore Christmas”.
Do you have a movie to add to our list that was filmed around the Smoky Mountains? Let us know in the comments!