Header image by Katie Leimbach
What makes an Oregon movie an Oregon movie? Does it need to be shot here? Must there be mist? In our attempt to piece together the Beaver State's cinematic canon, we've run across a few through lines: Oregon movies love a kidnapping, lean harder on our gloomy autumns than our lush summers, and tend to poke holes in the egos of self-styled individualists. They're worshipful of Douglas firs and skeptical of painting us as a Portlandia-informed paradise. Jack Nicholson and Keanu Reeves are in a lot of them, for some reason.
Really, though, there's no bulletproof formula. We could work ourselves up trying to draw a line from The Goonies to Paint Your Wagon, but the truth is, like the Supreme Court sniffing out obscenity, we know an Oregon movie when we see one. Below, we've pulled together what we consider the 50 titles that best represent Oregon's silver screen footprint. Some were shot here, some are set here, many are objectively terrible, but all contribute something crucial to our onscreen legacy.
A pair of disclaimers: first, we made some difficult calls in compiling this list, and have certainly missed many gems. Feel free to yell at us on Twitter about that, but be gentle. Second, we are not endorsing the quality nor subject matter of every film on this list; plenty have aged poorly, and we've elected to note our moral dissonance rather than strike problematic flicks from the record.
For ease of navigation, our selections are presented in chronological order by release year (meaning wide release, not festival premiere). Each title sports a "most Oregon moment," arguing for its place in the pantheon. Many are available to stream, but streaming rights change so rapidly that we've elected to let you track down their locations on your own—JustWatch is a reliable resource. If you'd like to go the old-school route, nearly every item on the list is available to rent at Movie Madness.
The General (1926, dir. Clyde Bruckman and Buster Keaton)
Disclaimer: this silent film is based on a real Civil War battle, and our protagonist, played by Buster Keaton, is unfortunately a wannabe Confederate soldier. Filming took place in Oregon rather than in its historical setting of Marietta, Georgia, whose residents couldn’t stomach the thought of a wartime comedy; the film premiered at a now-demolished Portland theater. The impressive locomotive stunts, including the shot of a train falling into the river from a burning bridge (the most expensive stunt in silent film history), are set against the stunning rivers, canyons, and trees of Lane County. The crew even took a break in filming due to forest fire smoke—cue major flashbacks to fall 2020. —Katherine Chew Hamilton
Most Oregon moment: Keaton steals a wooden bicycle with a flying leap, riding it along the river to chase a train.
Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954, dir. Stanley Donen)
Set in “Oregon Territory, 1850,” Stanley Donen’s CinemaScope musical spectacular was filmed mostly on the MGM lot, with painted mountain backdrops and fuzzy fake forest projections. The wee bit of on-location shooting happened in Idaho. Still, the end-of-the-Oregon-Trail vibes are thick. Seven backwoodsmen/farmers who lost their parents (did mom die from dysentery or complications from all that childbirth?) have largely been raised by the oldest brother, Adam. On a visit into town, Adam sweet-talks local gal Millie (Portland native Jane Powell) into marrying him on the spot, and then talks his brothers into kidnapping wives of their own, inspired by Plutarch’s account of the “Rape of the Sabine Women.” There are, um, consent issues, and good luck explaining to the kids that “rape” can also mean a not-too-violent kidnapping. —Margaret Seiler
Most Oregon moment: When you realize the prop master bought a bunch of Pendleton blankets to wrap around the brothers when Millie washes their union suits, and to throw over the heads of the village girls who are kidnapped
Paint Your Wagon (1969, dir. Joshua Logan)
Underrated Halloween costume: Lee Marvin’s Ben Rumson, the salty, sage prospector prone to being muddy drunk and melancholy until he lands in a “happily married triple” with Jean Seberg and Clint Eastwood in this Lerner & Loewe gold-rush musical set in California but filmed in and around the Wallowas. You'll just need a union suit, a battered top hat, and a few barroom speeches that alternate between Joni Mitchell and Deadwood (“They civilize what’s pretty by puttin’ up a city,” “I can’t think of one commandment I ain’t shot at regular”). The rest of the movie? There’s a lovely moment with a Dave Bautista-esque strongman begging to hold a baby, and at least the production was a boon for the Baker County economy, but oh my: Seberg should not have had to endure this in her already tragic life. Who thought Eastwood should sing? And why is it almost three hours long? —MS
Most Oregon moment: The endless rain that that keeps all the men in their tents drinking, singing, or baring their souls to one another
Five Easy Pieces (1970, dir. Bob Rafelson)
My late older sister suggested Five Easy Pieces to me while I was at U of O, and it hooked me five minutes in. As a child of mid-’70s Oregon, I immediately connected with the imagery—those California oil fields could easily be clear-cuts in the Coast Range, and the bowling alley where Bobby (Jack Nicholson) drinks could be in the shadow of any extractive industry between Bakersfield and Port Angeles. His road trip north to Canada has priceless shots of Oregon highway. Somehow the travelers take a right in Newport and end up in the Eugene Denny’s (still there and open) for the legendary diner scene—geographic accuracy is the last thing anyone cares about while watching Bobby demand they “hold the chicken.” The term “failson” was still a couple of decades in the future, so I felt more awe toward the theme of drifting privileged genius than was maybe deserved. Was Bobby a Nixon-era Ferris Bueller of boomtowns and Lucky Lager? —Rich Reece
Most Oregon moment: When the group picks up a pair hitchhikers (one of whom is played by Toni Basil) bound for “clean” Alaska—we’ve all met characters like those two, whose defects only get worse as their grandiose expectations aren’t met.
Sometimes a Great Notion (1971, dir. Paul Newman)
Behind-the-scenes drama landed Paul Newman in the director's chair for this unhurried adaptation of Ken Kesey's sprawling family epic, which Newman spun into a New Hollywood poison pill about the dangers of rugged individualism. Set in the fictional town of Wakonda, Oregon (not lying), and shot in Lincoln County, Sometimes a Great Notion zeroes in on a logging family, helmed by Henry Fonda, who juggle local ridicule for strike-breaking with the return of their prodigal son (Michael Sarrazin) from the East Coast. Lee Remick smolders, Newman dedicates significant runtime to involving footage of men at work, and the third act houses a hair-raising logging accident that laces the gorgeous photography of Oregon's forests with a proper amount of menace. It’s very well-made and very strangely paced, but must pacing be “elegant”? Is it not enough to watch hot Paul Newman chop up logs, huge? —Conner Reed
Most Oregon moment: The Stampers' dedicated mailbox for issues of the Oregonian
Closed Mondays (1974, dir. Will Vinton)
Still the only Portland-made flick to win an Academy Award (for best animated short, despite its initial rejection on the festival circuit), this psychedelic stop-motion oddity launched Will Vinton from local hobbyist to animation legend. It's a proto-Night at the Museum on acid, following a sloshed art admirer on an illicit trip through a gallery come to life, with a freaky conclusion that ranks with the grimmest of Grimm. The real draw, of course, is Vinton's wildly imaginative clay work, and it's a real treat to see the primordial ooze from which the likes of Coraline have sprung. —CR
Most Oregon moment: The way this film anticipated the pandemic's impact on anything in Portland being open on Mondays
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975, dir. Miloš Forman)
Based on the novel by Oregon writer Ken Kesey, this Academy darling famed for giving electro convulsive therapy a bad rap was shot for the most part at the Oregon State Hospital. Jack Nicholson gives it socks as prison dodger Randle McMurphy, who stirs up a hullabaloo in the psychiatric hospital where his mental health is being assessed. (He’s been convicted of statutory rape for sex with a 15-year-old—he’s 38—and the psych evaluation appears to be a ruse to get out of jail time.) Almost every performance is Oscar-worthy, though Nicholson and Louise Fletcher as McMurphy’s nemesis Nurse Ratched were the two actors who took home a statue that year—but the whole hero’s journey vibe feels a little sullied almost 50 years on, McMurphy's arc from remorseless rapist to attempted murderer more on the nose, while Ratched, long considered the archetypal villain, is at least partially redeemed. That said, the film is still a surprisingly pacy powerhouse of performance, tipping from the comic to the tragic with the hell-raising, conformist-bucking McMurphy as its rebel heart. —Fiona McCann
Most Oregon moment: White male misogynist preaches anarchism and breaks everything.
Animal House (1978, dir. John Landis)
There's plenty to say about Animal House’s compromised morals (Bluto being a peeping Tom, Larry deciding whether or not to sexually assault a passed-out woman who later turns out to be 13, etc., etc.), but for better or worse its cultural imprint is firm. Animal House changed film comedy and earned itself spot in AFI's 100 greatest comedies, plus preservation in the Library of Congress. The movie's hedonistic bent led the University of Oregon to hide for 30 years that it was the primary filming location, but now it’s a staple in U of O culture, with plaques around campus dedicated to important scenes and school chants inspired by the movie. —Cami Hughes
Most Oregon moment: The whole unfettered glimpse into the frat houses at University of Oregon
The Shining (1980, dir. Stanley Kubrick)
A writer works on his novel in isolation. A creepy child with an imaginary friend possesses a special gift. An unseen horror haunts a hotel. It’s all the makings of cliché, but that's because Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, "based upon" the 1977 Stephen King novel of the same name, invented the clichés. For every five people you ask about The Shining, you’ll get 10 interpretations, but here’s the lowdown: Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) brings his wife (Shelley Duvall) and son (Danny Lloyd) to the Overlook Hotel, where he’ll spend the winter as its caretaker and plug away at his novel. Turns out a previous caretaker went mad and killed his entire family. No big deal, Jack says, my wife will love it. It is, in fact, a big deal, and she does not love it. Film buffs are quick to point out that the opening aerial shots are unused takes from Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, and the interiors are the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado, but Oregonians know where the Overlook exteriors were filmed: Timberline Lodge. —Gabriel Granillo
Most Oregon moment: When Jack tells a ghost he’s “the best damn bartender from Timbuktu to Portland, Maine—or Portland, Oregon, for that matter.”
Quarterback Princess (1983, dir. Noel Black)
Based on the true story of Tami Maida, a freshman quarterback on Philomath High’s JV football team in 1981, this McMinnville-shot TV movie stars Helen Hunt (in the movie, she’s a little older and on the varsity team) and a host of TV character actors, with very-early-career roles for Daphne Zuniga, Tim Robbins, and Kathleen Wilhoite. The town is called “Minnville” in the movie (“We don’t want women’s lib in Minnville—we want our daughters to be ladies!”), but the real Oregon comes through in muddy football fields, a high school logging sports showdown, and the great care taken with a homecoming dress that must be transported in the rain. —MS
Most Oregon moment: Bigoted adults piping up a school board meeting in Yamhill County with their concerns about the erosion of “traditional” values, the natural order, and their oh so precious gender binary? You don’t say.
The Goonies (1985, dir. Richard Donner)
While it’s hard to imagine a residential hillside in Astoria being razed for a golf course—that’s why the old gang is about to be broken up and lose their homes at the start of the film—it’s definitely true that places change, Walmarts get built, and friends grow apart. But when you’re watching Mikey, Data, Chunk, Mouth (Corey Feldman, who also starred in the darker take on “Oregon band of boys going to find something” in Stand by Me), Brand, Stef, and Andy evade the Fratellis and hunt for the rich stuff in this 1985 classic adventure tale, it’s always our time down here. —MS
Most Oregon moment: When Mikey lines up the rock formation at Ecola State Park with the holes in a medallion
Stand by Me (1986, dir. Rob Reiner)
With a star-making turn from a young River Phoenix and rock-solid source material from Stephen King in wistful mode, Stand by Me is one of the Beaver State’s most enduring classics. Lucky for us, it’s also good: a rousing adventure about bewildered boys wielding their youth as a shield against the unbearable darkness of growing up, as told by a bewildered adult fumbling for the purity of boyhood. The set pieces—leeches, vomit, trains, pistols—linger longest in the cultural memory, but the real secret to the film's success is Rob Reiner’s tender attention to his young characters’ desires. —CR
Most Oregon moment: The ill-advised adolescent wade through a swamp in pursuit of "hometown glory"
Short Circuit (1986, dir. John Badham)
The sun might rise from the wrong direction in this Astoria-shot cross between Splash and Wall-E, but Short Circuit does get some things right about Oregon—like Ally Sheedy’s character, the owner of a food truck who has cats, dogs, a goat, a raccoon, geese, chickens, sheep, and a skunk at her house. In this John Badham Cold War techie adventure (he also directed Sheedy in the Northwest in WarGames), a lightning strike makes a battle-ready killer robot think it’s a real boy. It soon parachutes off the Astoria-Megler Bridge, learns modern culture by watching TV (including the Badham-directed Saturday Night Fever), and morals from Sheedy, before military scientists (Steve Guttenberg and an unwatchable Fisher Stevens in brownface, delivering malapropisms and namastes in an Indian accent) come to take it home. —MS
Most Oregon moment: When an old farm wife turns to her husband, after security forces have surrounded their pickup, and says, “I hope you took the grass out of the glove compartment.”
Overboard (1987, dir. Garry Marshall)
Mostly filmed in Mendocino, California, but set in the fictional Oregon town of Elk Cove—“population 5,300, home of the Tillamook County Crab Feed”—Overboard is, on paper, horrible. A widowed father of four kidnaps an amnesiac who owes him money so she can unknowingly work off the debt by cooking, cleaning, and taking care of his children. He tells her her mother is dead, her father’s in jail, and that she was a short, fat slut. And he deceives her into having sex. But real-life couple Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell (Netflix youngsters of today know them as Mrs. Claus and Santa himself), the non-cloying child actors, Edward Herrmann, and Roddy McDowall make it work, and the movie has aged much better than a lot of ’80s rom-coms. While it’s certainly West Coast, and there’s a mention of Portland being the only place in the state to rent a limo, it could be set anywhere locals scrape by on multiple jobs and megarich yacht owners treat them as subhuman. There’s nothing specifically Oregon about either this movie or its 2018 gender-switch remake (a perfectly respectable thing to watch on an airplane, but no classic), but we also can’t imagine them happening anywhere else. —MS
Most Oregon moment: Roy’s (I mean sweet Trav’s) ’80s Blazers shirt and cap, and the Coast Guard having to abandon a love errand to go after some salmon poachers
Permanent Record (1988, dir. Marisa Silver)
What if Portland’s gray asphalt jungle and rumbling MAX trains were a stone’s throw from Yaquina Head, so kids could hang out on dramatic sea cliffs right before the bell rings at Benson High, as they stare at the ocean while processing a friend’s suicide? That’s the wishful geography of Permanent Record, directed with an after-school special vibe by 27-year-old Marisa Silver (now a fiction writer) and released a few months before her mother Joan Micklin Silver’s Crossing Delancey. There’s a pre-Bill and Ted Keanu Reeves feeling pressured to live up to his full potential, a Joe Strummer soundtrack, and a Lou Reed cameo. —MS
Most Oregon moment: Keanu drowning his feelings with cheap beer at the seaside
Drugstore Cowboy (1989, dir. Gus Van Sant)
The Portland of Drugstore Cowboy is one of hustlers and dope fiends, wastoids and working stiffs, disgraced priests and detectives with a grudge. There’s a matter-of-fact gloom to the pill-fueled lives of Bob (Matt Dillon) and his band of small-fry criminals as they bumble toward their next fix. Flourishes like double exposures and Super 8 collages from cinematographer Robert Yeoman (later a career-long collaborator of Wes Anderson) and a cameo from a decrepit William S. Burroughs offer dreamlike punctuations to one of the only films ever to perfectly capture the gray-blue light of PNW winter. —Karly Quadros
Most Oregon moment: Hazy snapshots of Old Portland, from the Pearl District when it was an industrial zone to the now-demolished St. Francis Hotel to the Lovejoy columns in their original location on the west side of the Broadway Bridge
Breaking In (1989, dir. Bill Forsyth)
Sex workers, safe-crackers, and small-time criminals whose idea of dreaming big is clearing out all the cash that accumulates at Oaks Park over Fourth of July weekend—that’s the Portland of Breaking In, penned by John Sayles and directed by Bill Forsyth. A subdued Burt Reynolds plays a safe-cracker who lives by the airport and uses the rumble of planes overhead to mask the sounds of his work, but his flashy young protegé (Casey Siemaszko, playing Jesse Pinkman to Reynolds’s Walter White) gets a little too excited about each windfall and starts to attract attention. It’s one of Forsyth’s few works not set in his native Scotland (along with his adaptation of Marilyn Robinson’s Housekeeping, also set in the Northwest), suggesting a link between the two gray, rainy climes. —MS
Most Oregon moment: The giant-produce-sign cameo when the pair break into Corno’s Food Market, a since-demolished Central Eastside landmark
Kindergarten Cop (1990, dir. Ivan Reitman)
Fish-out-of-water Arnold Schwarzenegger. In Astoria. With little kids. That’s the gist of this 1990 Ivan Reitman cute comedy/grisly crime drama, which sends Schwarzenegger’s LA cop to Small Town, USA, to find the estranged wife and son of a drug kingpin and bring them back to the Big City to testify against the no-goodnik. When his partner (Pamela Reed, who also earned Oregon cred when she starred in Clan of the Cave Bear, based on the novel by Jean Auel), is felled by norovirus, he takes on her planned undercover gig as a kindergarten teacher. Filmed in and around John Jacob Astor Elementary, the film presents Astoria as it exists in the mind of many Portlanders: as an innocent, scenic escape from the woes of the modern world—until Schwarzenegger punches out a child abuser. —MS
Most Oregon moment: It came after the film’s release, when the Astor Elementary principal previewed the film and declared it not suitable for a field trip for her young charges, many of whom were extras in the movie. Oregon loves sheltering kids from the real world. (But we get it—that locker room shootout is pretty bloody.)
My Own Private Idaho (1991, dir. Gus Van Sant)
“It’s a one-of-a-kind place, like a fucked-up face,” muses River Phoenix, stranded somewhere in the Oregon desert. The connection between place and body is undeniable in this road movie/romance/Shakespeare adaptation, starring Phoenix as Mike, a shy narcoleptic street hustler, and Keanu Reeves as Scott, the beautiful trust-fund kid slumming it with him. Floating along on the margins of society and consciousness, Mike is consumed by a desire for a body or a landscape to finally shelter him. While much of the action is set in Portland, the film floats all around the Northwest, and the tenderly constructed mishmash just adds to the film’s breathless disorientation, like waking up somewhere and not knowing how you got there—in Portland, in Italy, or in love. —KQ
Most Oregon moment: The punk-rock wild rumpus in Cathedral Park that perfectly captures the blend of high and low, safety and destruction, and community and marginalization that makes Portland such a tricky place to capture.
Point Break (1991, dir. Kathryn Bigelow)
Although most of it is set and filmed in California, this surfing-obsessed, homoerotic-as-hell, cat-and-mouse action flick has plenty of PNW energy. Centering on the mutual fascination between all-American FBI rookie Johnny Utah (Keanu Reeves) and culty-but-charming beach boy/bank robber Bodhi (Patrick Swayze), the characters in Point Break love the natural world—and would rather die than surrender to the 9-to-5. Swayze, with his shag haircut and ambiguously Buddhist philosophy, screams Oregon, but what really lands Point Break on this list is its unforgettable conclusion at Cannon Beach's Ecola State Park, inexplicably standing in for Australia. —KQ
Most Oregon moment: Bodhi giving in to the sea and Johnny giving up the law, all on the shores of Cannon Beach (I mean, ahem, Australia.)
Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey (1993, dir. Duwayne Dunham)
So, in this movie, Sally Field voices a talking Himalayan cat named Sassy who teams up with two other vocally prolific animals to make their way home to their human family—in a climactic scene, special effects make it seem as though the cat plunges over Central Oregon's Sahalie Falls, a must-see stop along the McKenzie River. Spoiler alert: The cat lives. What did you expect? This is a G-rated Disney flick with the requisite happily-ever-after ending, and absolutely zero irony. Watch it for Michael J. Fox's extremely earnest voiceover as a needy American bulldog, the breathtaking scenery of the Eagle Cap Wilderness, and the picture-perfect bygone-Portland exterior of the Reed College neighborhood home where the final reunion was shot. —Julia Silverman
Most Oregon moment: That Sahalie Falls cat rescue takes it.
Free Willy (1993, dir. Simon Wincer)
When we first meet Jesse (Jason James Richter), he’s living the hard-knock life on the streets of Portland after being abandoned by his mother several years earlier: asking ladies in Pioneer Courthouse Square to replace the bus money his mom never gave him, stealing sheet cakes and eating them with his friends at Burnside Skatepark before being chased off by the cops. But as any Oregonian will tell you, nature has the power to be transformative. He befriends Willy, the resident orca whale at an aquatic park that looks suspiciously similar to Oaks Park, and, with the help of a foster family, upgrades to a bedroom with an Oregon Coast view. —KCH
Most Oregon moment: When Jesse ponders escaping to sunny California with his buddy Perry, but decides the Beaver State has everything he needs.
Mr. Holland’s Opus (1995, dir. Stephen Herek)
The summer before my senior year at Jefferson High, I got a phone call from a talent agent: “We were given your name and number by another student who told us you play the saxophone.” “That is correct. I play the Alto,” I told her. “That’s perfect!” she said. “We need high school band students for a movie we’re filming here in Portland.” She soon sent me to a tailor to be fitted for a tuxedo. “Are you the saxophonist we hired?” I was asked when I showed up on the Grant High set. “Here’s your oboe and sheet music.” An oboe??? What do you want me to do with this? “We need you to learn this music today. You can do this.” So I did. Just like Mr. Holland (Richard Dreyfus) teaches us, through hard work and perseverance you can achieve harmony. My brief Hollywood experience taught me the same thing Mr. Holland taught his students: that I could do what I thought I could not. —Jacob P.
Most Oregon moment: The heated debate over arts funding in public schools—we're on board for a remake set in the era of the arts tax.
Foxfire (1996, dir. Annette Haywood-Carter)
Back when recording artist Jenny Lewis was still an actor, and before Angelina Jolie was a megastar, they were part of a band of high schoolers having some intense moments on the Broadway Bridge, in a Lincoln High bathroom, and at an abandoned house down by the river in this adaptation of a Joyce Carol Oates novel about girls fighting back against a sexually and emotionally abusive teacher. The intensity is turned up to 11 from the get-go, with excessive close-ups, a frog dissection, that ’90s movie trend of communicating a teenage girl is a nonconformist by having her not wear a bra, and Jolie’s every line sounding like an inspirational quote in punk-rock cross-stitch, but with the most depressing delivery. So it’s no surprise when things escalate from suspension to grand theft auto, incarceration, drug abuse, kidnapping, etc. —MS
Most Oregon moment: That carpet of ivy under the Vista Bridge, and the end credits with onetime-Portlander Kristin Hersh singing as the camera pulls up from the Broadway Bridge
The Postman (1997, dir. Kevin Costner)
It takes a special kind of failure to lose $60 million at the box office, and a special kind of ego to direct that failure hot on the heels of Waterworld. Lucky(?) for us, "special ego" is Kevin Costner's middle name. The Postman, based on the novel by David Brin, is a numbing three-hour postapocalyptic "epic" about what would happen if there weren't a USPS anymore, shot largely in Oregon's high desert. It was, of course, briefly exhumed for memeing in 2020 when all of us were buying stickers and beanies to save the mail, but really, this ultra-earnest flop is best buried: it's a dusty bore with howler dialogue like "You give out hope like candy in your pocket, Postman," and no one's going to argue against its Worst Picture Razzie win anytime soon. —CR
Most Oregon moment: The third-act unveiling of a monument honoring a man whose contributions to the republic are dubious, at best
Without Limits (1998, dir. Robert Towne)
The tale of Steve Prefontaine’s University of Oregon years and untimely death, Without Limits is a generic piece of Oscar bait that dashes out of your memory at world-record speed. Hot on the heels of another Prefontaine biopic starring Jared Leto, the film's hothead athlete (Billy Crudup) vs. cool and collected coach (Donald Sutherland) dynamic was already played out by the time Without Limits raced down the box office charts, but it edges out the Leto flick with its veritable who’s-who of late-’90s character actors, from Dean Norris to Matthew Lillard, and even a cameo from New Hollywood virtuoso William Friedkin. —KQ
Most Oregon moment: Donald Sutherland’s redeeming performance as Bill Bowerman, track coach and later cofounder of Nike
Halloweentown (1998, dir. Duwayne Dunham)
When you were younger, did you ever want to be a witch or warlock? So did Marnie Piper (Kimberly J. Brown), but she actually got to become one after she found out she came from a family of powerful witches. Halloweentown, the name of both this made-for-TV movie and the town Marnie flees to on a magic bus ride with her grandma (Debbie Reynolds(!)), follows her and her family's fight against an evil jilted boyfriend-turned-warlock named Kalabar. The majority of this Disney Channel original was filmed in St. Helens, which now hosts an annual celebration called “Spirit of Halloween,” where you’ll find the Halloweentown taxi and its iconic skeleton driver, Benny, and the “Great Pumpkin” in the plaza square for the whole month of October. —CH
Most Oregon moment: A small town making a successful film their whole personality after it was filmed there
Zero Effect (1998, dir. Jake Kasdan)
Private detective, socially inept loner, and wannabe singer-songwriter Daryl Zero (Bill Pullman), who lives off canned tuna and Tab, is on the job in Portland, helping a rich timber tycoon (Ryan O'Neal) find his mystery blackmailer. In the search, Zero sends his client all over the Rose City: over the St. Johns Bridge, through Pioneer Place mall, and up to the Vista House, which in the Zero Effect world is actually a planetarium. Things get really Portland as the film progresses: Zero’s sidekick, Arlo (Ben Stiller), questions the morals behind their money-making, and the deeply guarded Zero gets vulnerable for his pixie cut–sporting love interest. —KCH
Most Oregon moment: Zero and his beloved sharing their life’s biggest secrets over a milkshake—because Portlanders love to get real over a meal.
Bandits (2001, dir. Barry Levinson)
After busting out of the Oregon State Pen in a Ross Island Sand and Gravel truck to rob Silverton Fidelity Bank, hypochondriac Billy Bob Thornton and cool-cat Bruce Willis kill time between heists in some of western Oregon’s loveliest spots: Willamette Falls, Crown Point, a moss-topped lakeside cabin, the coast. Actually, by the time they get to the coast they’re in California, but the puddle-pocked parking lots and full bodysuits on the surfers make it feel like home. The whole movie—a clever caper comedy with hilarious wigs and a Bonnie Tyler–obsessed Cate Blanchett—gets Pacific Northwest moisture just right, from the wet pavement after a fall rain in Portland to the the mist between the trees. —MS
Most Oregon moment: Billy Bob Thornton waking abruptly, as if from a bad dream, and shouting, “Beavers and ducks!”
The Ring (2002, dir. Gore Verbinski)
Let’s get this out of the way: yes, The Ring is set in Seattle (its inferior sequel, though, is actually set in Oregon). Rachel Keller (Naomi Watts) is a journalist for an Emerald City rag digging into a juicy lead: a videotape that kills people, including her niece, seven days after they watch it. Some modest sleuthing brings her to a cabin where she finds an unmarked tape, watches it, and, surprise, has a week to unravel the mystery of its creation and save her own life. So how’s this movie, set mostly in Seattle following around a Seattleite, an essential Oregon movie? Easy: The Ring uses the Yaquina Head Lighthouse in Newport as a huge plot device, effectively setting the course for the film’s third act. Washington can claim The Ring, but we know the truth. Drenched in atmosphere, desaturated colors, and unsettling imagery, The Ring is grim supernatural horror at its best: mostly reserved, until it isn’t, and it’s crawling out of your TV—literally. —GG
Most Oregon moment: The overwhelming supremacy of the color gray
Elephant (2003, dir. Gus Van Sant)
The center cannot (and does not) hold in this divisive Palme D’Or winner from Portland’s celluloid prince, forged in the aftershocks of the Columbine massacre. Set over the course of an eerie day at an Oregon high school that explodes into near-unwatchable violence, Elephant is a far cry from the glossy warmth of Van Sant crowd-pleasers Good Will Hunting or Finding Forrester. Instead, it’s part ice-veined look at the banality of evil and part elegy for a generation subject to regular brutality. Filmed at Whitaker Middle School after it was closed, it can be a frustratingly elliptical watch, but it’s also an unforgettable one, and its misty Oregon autumn atmosphere goes a long way toward helping it stick. —CR
Most Oregon moment: Photographer Eli, with spiky hair and a waist chain, asking a pair of punks in Fernhill Park to pose for his budding portfolio
Mean Creek (2004, dir. Jacob Aaron Estes)
Filmed throughout Clackamas County, Mean Creek follows Sam Merric (Rory Culkin) after he gets beat up by the school bully (Josh Peck), and he, his brother, and his brother’s friends devise a plan to get revenge. Nothing goes as planned, and they end up making the worst mistake of their lives. Amongst the emotional chaos of the film, you can still see the beauty of Oregon’s wilderness, as the group traverses through the towns and forests of Boring, Sandy, and Estacada, and down the Clackamas River or southern Washington's Lewis River. —CH
Most Oregon moment: The group having to track through thick forests filled with ferns
Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (2006, dir. Scott Glosserman)
An aspiring serial killer (Nathan Baesel) agrees to let a documentary crew track his process, from stakeout to stalking to slashing. A twist on the slasher genre, Behind the Mask plays with horror conventions and pokes fun of tropes like the virgin, the lone survivor, and the “Ahab,” a person who will stop at nothing to thwart an evil serial killer. The Ahab this time around is played by Robert Englund, who, in one of the film’s winks, is famed for playing Freddy Krueger. Most of the movie is shot mockumentary style behind the shoulder of a young journalist (Angela Goethals) as she and her crew dig deeper into Leslie Vernon’s unorthodox lifestyle, with moments of morbid humor and bloody terror throughout. Though the movie takes place in small-town Maryland, Behind the Mask hops around Portland-area locations, from downtown's Central Library, to St. Helens, Troutdale, Estacada, Banks, and Sauvie Island, where the climax takes place. —GG
Most Oregon moment: The first onscreen death is at downtown's Multnomah County Central Library.
Old Joy (2006, dir. Kelly Reichardt)
Every Portlander has that friend who can’t get their shit together but somehow drops just the right philosophical truth bomb when you're sitting by the campfire or are naked in the hot spring together. In Old Joy, a forest mumblecore flick that was the first collaboration between local writer Jon Raymond and honorary Oregonian Kelly Reichardt, that friend is Kurt (played by Will Oldham, the singer-songwriter known over the years as the Palace Brothers and Bonnie Prince Billy), who pops up after a long absence for a just-like-old-times Bagby Hot Springs camping trip with Mark (Daniel London), who’s transitioned to the house/job/wife/baby-on-the-way part of life. —MS
Most Oregon moment: Mark’s dog Lucy (Reichardt’s dog in real life, and also a star of Wendy and Lucy) darting back and forth in the unthinkably lush and green Mt Hood National Forest.
Into the Wild (2007, dir. Sean Penn)
Chris McCandless graduated at the top of his class, but instead of going into the workforce, he donated his savings to charity, rid himself of all possessions, and hoofed it to Alaska. In this adaptation of Jon Krakauer's McCandless biography, you track Chris's (Emile Hirsch) growth through the people he meets along the way, and eventually through the harsh realizations he comes to in the final days of his life in his “magic bus” deep in the wilds of Alaska. Some of the film's most important scenes were shot around here: Reed College and George Fox University stand in at times for Atlanta's Emory University, the mountain McCandless climbs in "Alaska" is Mount Hood, the restaurant where he sits down with his family after graduation is Beaverton’s now-closed McCormick’s Fish House, and the euphoric scene of McCandless and his road buddy Jan Burres (Catherine Keener) splashing in the ocean takes place at Cape Disappointment, just across the Columbia from Astoria. (Watch for a Paul Knauls cameo as a building manager, too.) —CH
Most Oregon moment: A reckless young man with fierce beliefs tracking his way through the wilderness to find himself
Twilight (2008, dir. Catherine Hardwicke)
Later entries in the YA vampire saga would swap Oregon for British Columbia and this movie's fevered aesthetic for studio gloss, but it’s a trip to step back inside Catherine Hardwicke’s original vision for the franchise: she shoots a PNW soaked in pallid blue (often sans tripod), and pierces to the horny, horny heart of Stephenie Meyer's sophomoric source material. In Hardwicke's hands, this slice of Mormon-gothic pulp becomes possibly the wildest film to ever gross $400 million, and in an era where "blockbuster" usually means "frictionless corporate slop," its stubborn singularity feels like a small miracle. (Alas, Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart, who would go on to have fascinating careers, are as bad as you remember here.) —CR
Most Oregon moment: Hot vampires playing baseball in full view of Multnomah Falls
Wendy and Lucy (2008, dir. Kelly Reichardt)
Rain, TriMet buses, Mattress World radio ads, drifters’ campfires down by the tracks—Kelly Reichardt nails Portland in Wendy and Lucy, based on a short story by Jon Raymond and filmed in what was then the writer’s neighborhood along N Lombard Street. Parsing out her limited cash to get her all the way to Alaska (“I hear they need people”) for a fresh start with dog Lucy, Wendy (Michelle Williams) has followed the highlighted line on her map all the way from Indiana in her aging Honda before everything goes slowly, quietly wrong in Portland. —MS
Most Oregon moment: Wendy picking up cans in a park to take for deposit and then deciding the wait at the bottle return isn’t worth it
Coraline (2009, dir. Henry Selick)
It’s no secret that Portland is a stop-motion mecca, and Coraline is probably its highest-profile feature-length production to date. Henry Selick’s harrowing, psychedelic adaptation of the Neil Gaiman novella—brought to life by the folks at Laika—has become a bona fide classic in the years since its 2009 release, and it’s not hard to see why. It’s scary as hell, stunning to look at, and talks to younger viewers at eye level without alienating their parents. —CR
Most Oregon moment: A supernatural disaster being set in motion because an Oregon kid was bored on a rainy day
Meek's Cutoff (2010, dir. Kelly Reichardt)
As the reigning auteur of the Pacific Northwest, Reichardt delivers a sliver of quiet desperation on a microbudget in the vastness of the Oregon high desert. Blustery con man/pioneer Stephen Meek (Bruce Greenwood) leads a band of travelers (including Michelle Williams, Will Patton, and Paul Dano) astray in an early settler expedition to Oregon. But the journey’s momentous place in history is disregarded in favor of a collection of charged moments: the silent glances of wives who have no say in the group’s decisions, the inscrutable face of a Cayuse man who knows communication can only fail, and the loaded barrel of a rifle wielded by the unlikeliest of people. —KQ
Most Oregon moment: For better or for worse, Oregon is still a mostly wild state, ruled by a frontier spirit, embodied in the fortunes and follies of Stephen Meek.
How to Die in Oregon (2011, dir. Peter Richardson)
With a 1994 ballot measure, Oregon became the first state to pass a Death with Dignity Act, which protects people’s right to end their own life when they are suffering from a terminal illness. How to Die in Oregon explores the impacts Death with Dignity had in the 15 years following its passage. It follows the people who embrace the right for the terminally ill to take control of their lives, including volunteers who guide people through this process, a doctor who prescribes lethal medication to a patient she has grown close to, a widow who worked to pass this act in honor of her late husband, and multiple people who have chosen to end their lives in accordance with the act. —CH
Most Oregon moment: The Curtis family's coastal vacation (We're pretty sure it's to Cannon Beach.)
ParaNorman (2012, dir. Sam Fell and Chris Butler)
Zombie invasions, an underdog hero, and a surprise gay character—what else could you want from a film? Laika puts all of this and a bit more in ParaNorman, which tells the story of a misfit kid (Kodi Smit-McPhee) who can talk to the dead and is tasked with saving his small town from an angry but misunderstood ghost. Like all of Laika's output, the film is a genuine work of art, with a crew of more than 320 designers, artists, animators, and technicians helping to bring the adventure to life. In fact, it's one of the most technically advanced stop motion films of all time, due to its use of 3-D printing to create the millions of faces seen throughout the film—Norman alone has nearly 1.5 million facial combinations. —CH
Most Oregon moment: An Oregon-based studio making a creepy but captivating Claymation film
C.O.G. (2013, dir. Kyle Patrick Alvarez)
This dark, funny, underseen gem has all the satisfying ambiguity of a good short story—no wonder, since it was adapted from an essay by the same name in David Sedaris’s Naked. Jonathan Groff stars as the Sedaris stand-in, who takes a bus to Oregon and starts working in an orchard to flee his homophobic family. He falls in with an uber-religious clockmaker played by Dennis O’Hare, and, slowly, the signature Sedaris whimsy starts to give way to something squirmier. —CR
Most Oregon moment: The fact that this is the only(?) major motion picture to feature downtown Forest Grove’s Theatre in the Grove, where this writer once played Mowgli in The Jungle Book in a violently unflattering wig.
Night Moves (2014, dir. Kelly Reichardt)
If you're tired of the Kelly Reichardt entries, amazing news: this won't be the last. Despite (or maybe because of) her outsider status—raised in Florida, based in New York—Reichardt's work has captured so many permutations of our mercurial state's essence that to leave any of her Oregon projects off this list would render it incomplete. In Night Moves, she takes on the pitfalls of ideological purity with the story of Josh (Jesse Eisenberg), an environmentalist-turned-terrorist whose plans to stop construction on a Southern Oregon dam go terribly awry. Night Moves is plottier than your average Reichardt, but it doesn’t come at the expense of her sensitivity, brilliantly economical framing, or trademark gut-punch ending—and her takedown of a righteous man convinced his single-mindedness is a virtue rings, shall we say, especially true in the Portland of 2021. —CR
Most Oregon moment: Alia Shawkat playing a commune member named Surprise
Wild (2014, dir. Jean-Marc Vallée)
Nearly all of Wild, Canadian auteur Jean-Marc Valleé's breakthrough adaptation of Cheryl Strayed's memoir, is pure Oregon. Even the Joshua trees in an early scene were filmed not in their namesake park in California but in an unsung grove just outside of Bend. For pure bang-for-your-buck, it's hard to beat Reese Witherspoon as Cheryl Strayed atop a ridge on Tom Dick and Harry Mountain on the flank of Mount Hood, screaming in primal pain as one of her toenails peels clean off. (Snaps to the hikers who later discovered the size-6.5 Danner boot Witherspoon flings off the side of the trail in fury, buried among the ferns and the muck of the Cascades.) —JS
Most Oregon moment: Witherspoon celebrating the end of her Pacific Crest Trail trek of self-discovery at Cascade Locks' iconic Eastwind Drive-In with the most towering of ice cream cones
Green Room (2016, dir. Jeremy Saulnier)
While white supremacists these days are more likely to sport a greasy fade than a buzzcut, most Oregonians will instantly recognize the elemental showdown between scrappy punk band the Ain’t Rights (Anton Yelchin, Alia Shawkat, Joe Cole, and Callum Turner) and the fascist boneheads helmed by ice-cold Darcy Banker (Patrick Stewart) in this tense slasher. Both the characters and filmmakers make the most of a limited budget with a single-location set so claustrophobic that each newly introduced element—be it boxcutter, sound system, or attack dog—holds the intensity of a full arsenal of Chekov’s guns. —KQ
Most Oregon moment: The Ain't Rights launching into a righteous cover of the Dead Kennedys' "Nazi Punks Fuck Off" despite imminent danger
I, Tonya (2017, dir. Craig Gillespie)
Like a real-life-adjacent Christopher Guest movie, this 2017 genre-buster is based on the truly bonkers shenanigans of the infamous champion figure skater and onetime Portlander Tonya Harding (Margot Robbie like you wouldn’t believe), her couldn’t-make-it-up-mother (an Oscar-winning tour de force in the form of Allison Janney), bumbling and brutal husband, and various delightful secondary characters (the self-congratulatory bodyguard is a wonder). Ultimately, it becomes a kind of zany, often brilliant j’accuse—we, the viewers, are all Nancy Kerrigan’s knee-cappers, turns out. —FM
Most Oregon moment: 4-year-old Tonya, skating out onto a shopping mall skating rink. Sure, we know it’s not actually the Lloyd Center (the movie was mostly filmed in Georgia, alas), but it’s all we are picturing as she glides out to infamy.
Lean on Pete (2018, dir. Andrew Haigh)
Brit Andrew Haigh, beloved for the gay rom-dram Weekend and fresh off HBO's Looking, took a sharp left turn with this gutting adaptation of Willy Vlautin’s novel. Charlie Plummer plays Charley, a sensitive youth with an equine passion who, after a sudden tragedy, treks from Portland to Wyoming with the titular horse in search of his estranged aunt. Steve Buscemi, Chloë Sevigny, Steve Zahn, and others turn up as characters of varying scrupulousness whom Plummer encounters on his journey. Lean on Pete is a bleak, bleak movie (only the hardest-hearted horse girls need apply), but it’s also an unforgettable one: it captures the sweeping, alienating expanse of the West like few movies in the past decade have, and its (very) occasional moments of gentleness ring louder for their presence among the surrounding blackness. —CR
Most Oregon moment: Charley's brief stint as a houseless youth in Pioneer Courthouse Square, being ignored by a throng of Nordstrom shoppers
Leave No Trace (2018, dir. Debra Granik)
Dripping in the lush greens of the Pacific Northwest, this 2018 critical hit, directed by Debra Granik of Winter's Bone fame, was inspired by a Pete Rock book, which in turn was inspired by the real-life discovery in 2008 of a father and daughter living in Forest Park. It’s a careful, profound, and heart-gripping meditation on isolation, community, and the tension between social life and the ills that come with it. At the film's center are a staggering performance from New Zealander Thomasin McKenzie and some glorious cameos from Portland bridges. —FM
Most Oregon moment: The jogger in Forest Park. That rarely ends well.
First Cow (2020, dir. Kelly Reichardt)
Kelly Reichardt’s gossamer fable about friendship, industry, and America’s emergent brutality—set in 1820 Oregon—is the crowning achievement of an exceptional career. She and cowriter Jon Raymond balance tone like Olympians: funny one moment, tense the next, constantly toggling between threat and tenderness while the dormant force simmers in the background. It’s political but not preachy, literary without being dense. A small miracle from one of the giants of the American cinema, who (lucky for us) has chosen Oregon as her muse. —CR
Most Oregon moment: The hubbub around our heroes' first oily cake sale at a trading post, which portends Portland's doughnut fever two centuries later
Pig (2021, dir. Michael Sarnoski)
On paper, Pig sounds like a classic slice of loopy Nic Cage pulp fiction: “An Oregon forager descends into Portland’s criminal underbelly when his beloved truffle pig goes missing.” What first-time writer-director Michael Sarnoski delivers, though, is softer, stranger, and altogether more memorable. Cage is fragile, funny, and human beneath cakes of blood and a very scraggly beard; Alex Wolff, as a faux-menacing truffle supplier, is his hilarious, heartbreaking foil. The movie thrives on their dynamic and its own gonzo structure, which sometimes crams several tones into a single scene, and harnesses Portland’s present identity crisis to paint a mythic portrait of the Rose City as a place of brutal contradictions. —CR
Most Oregon moment: When a murderous truffle tycoon is moved to tears by a well-prepared game hen and a bottle of pinot