The Silver State on the Silver Screen
When it comes to places to visit, Nevada’s always been pretty great at stealing the scene. But as it turns out, it’s also good at setting the stage, including for some truly iconic and intriguing films.
Whether you’ve been here or not (yet), you’ve definitely seen our camera-hogging state in the movies. Las Vegas, for sure. But also, perhaps, far more places than you thought.
Out of the nearly 7,000 film productions that have been shot here, get our take on some of the most iconic films made in Nevada, as well as where to experience their settings in real life and what to do while you’re there.
Discover the real-life locations of some of the most must-watch, made-here movies.
- Genre: Biography | Crime | Drama
- Director: Martin Scorsese
- Stars: Robert De Niro, Sharon Stone, Joe Pesci
Plot: “In early-1970s Las Vegas, low-level mobster Sam “Ace” Rothstein (Robert De Niro) gets tapped by his bosses to head the Tangiers Casino. Eventually, problems with his loose-cannon enforcer, Nicky Santoro (Joe Pesci), his ex-hustler wife, Ginger (Sharon Stone), her con-artist ex, Lester Diamond (James Woods) and a handful of corrupt politicians put Sam in ever-increasing danger.” – Rotten Tomatoes.
OK, OK… fine, yes. The mob used to kinda run Las Vegas. (It doesn’t anymore, by the way. Seriously.) But the best film about those bad ol’ days is 1000% Casino by Martin Scorsese. By 1995, when the film was made and released, many of the “real” locations were already gone (including the Stardust, which was “fictionalized” as the “Tangiers”), and many of the other stand-ins have given way to new ventures—but there are plenty of still-standing spots you’ll recognize.
Including the Plaza, the old-school Vegas joint that’s still home to every filmmaker’s go-to blinky-light rotunda and what is now Oscar’s Steakhouse—named after and owned by a famous mob lawyer. And Fremont Street in Downtown Las Vegas, shown back in the days before it closed to vehicle traffic to become the spectacular Fremont Street Experience. And the Main Street Station parking lot, where Rosenthal’s car exploded. As well as Atomic Liquors (Las Vegas’ oldest freestanding bar), where Joe Pesci “sentenced” a guy with a pen.
For a fascinating look inside the real-deal mobster era, head for Las Vegas’ unparalleled Mob Museum. Located in the heart of downtown, it showcases both sides of the notorious battle between organized crime and law enforcement in Las Vegas and around the U.S. See and hear the stories of infamous mob bosses including Al Capone, Lucky Luciano, Whitey Bulger, Bugsy Siegel, and many of the actual people who inspired this film and plenty of others.
Bonus Features: Although there are far too many Vegas movies to list here—there are literally thousands, going back to the 1940s—some of our favorites are always 1995’s Leaving Las Vegas (for which Nicolas Cage won an Oscar) and 1997’s Con Air (for which he definitely did not); the seventh Bond flick, Diamonds Are Forever (1971), starring Sean Connery; the Ocean’s heist series (the old ones and the new ones); and the ultimate classic, Viva Las Vegas (1964), starring the King himself, Elvis Presley—which was so fun, it didn’t even need an actual script.
- Genre: Action | Adventure | Sci-Fi
- Director: Roland Emmerich
- Stars: Will Smith, Bill Pulman, Jeff Goldblum
Plot: “Strange phenomena surface around the globe. The skies ignite. Terror races through the world’s cities. It becomes clear that a force of incredible magnitude has arrived; its mission: total annihilation—over Fourth of July weekend. The last hope to stop the destruction is an unlikely group of people united by fate and unimaginable circumstances.” – Rotten Tomatoes
Nevada’s state Route 375 is the long, wide-open stretch of road that skirts Area 51 through country known for countless UFO sightings and mysterious occurrences. Back in 1996, we somehow convinced the Nevada Department of Transportation to embrace the hype and officially rename it the Extraterrestrial Highway.
When that news popped up on Twentieth Century Fox’s radar, they seized the opportunity to promote their upcoming blockbuster alien invasion flick, parts of which they’d filmed in Rachel, Nevada—the only community along the route, and the closest one to the top secret base portrayed in the film (although those interior military base shots were done in West Wendover, NV, for obvious reasons). How did the movie studio decide to make a big splash? With a public dedication ceremony at the kooky Little A’Le’Inn café, motel, and popular gathering place for paranormal enthusiasts.
In attendance were studio execs, stars Bill Pullman and Jeff Goldblum, and Nevada’s governor, who presided over the unveiling of new signs and a large “ID4” monument, complete with a plaque and a time capsule within, set to be open on July 4, 2050. While two Extraterrestrial Highway signs still mark the route, the DOT thought better of the ones indicating “Speed Limit Warp 7” and later removed them. You can check them all out, along with the Alien Research Center and an alien-themed jerky shop, on our Extraterrestrial Highway road trip.
BONUS FEATURES: Rachel’s Little A’Le’Inn also makes an appearance in Paul (2011), as a photo-op stop before the main characters meet the titular extraterrestrial (voiced by Seth Rogen), who’s been hanging out at Area 51 for the past 60 years.
In the A-list actor-packed Tim Burton creature feature Mars Attacks! (1996), the martians make first contact in Pahrump—a nod to Art Bell, radio broadcaster of Coast to Coast AM fame, who lived there. Later, the spot where Jack Nicholson and Tom Jones evade their alien assailants is the one-and-only Neon Boneyard at Downtown Las Vegas’ Neon Museum.
Meanwhile, the less secret military base featured in both Top Gun (1986) and Top Gun 2 (2022) is located in Fallon, a location that treats viewers to aerial stunts around central Nevada, including through stunning Kingston Canyon.
The Godfather: Part II
- Genre: Crime | Drama
- Director: Francis Ford Coppola
- Stars: Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Robert Duvall, Diane Keaton
Plot: “The compelling sequel to “The Godfather,” contrasting the life of Corleone father and son traces the problems of Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) in 1958 and that of young immigrant Vito Corleone (Robert De Niro) in 1917’s Hell’s Kitchen. Michael survives many misfortunes and Vito is introduced to a life of crime.” – Rotten Tomatoes
About 25 miles beyond our border by road—or 6-ish miles by boat across fabulous Lake Tahoe—in the Fleur de Lac Estates stands a 4,200-square-foot mansion, built in 1938 by shipbuilding tycoon Henry Kaiser, complete with four en suite bedrooms, soaking tubs, mirrored walls, and a steam shower. It’s also the villa where Michael Corleone hosted the bash for his son’s first communion. The property, which listed for $5.5 million in 2020, is a picture-perfect setting—and not simply because of the rumors of real-life bad guys sending rivals and delinquent debtors to a watery grave at the bottom of North America’s biggest and deepest alpine lake, back in Nevada’s mobster days.
BONUS FEATURES: Back over on the Nevada side, some of the same Stateline casinos that arose during one of Lake Tahoe’s more infamous chapters provided the setting for the action-packed, star-studded, glorious mess that was Smokin’ Aces (2006), starring Ben Affleck, Ryan Reynolds, Ray Liotta, and Alicia Keys. Less nefariously, the long-running hit western TV show and movie series Bonanza (1959–1973) was filmed at North Lake Tahoe’s Ponderosa Ranch, even though it portrayed life in rootin’-tootin’ Virginia City. Fans can check out a gallery dedicated to it at the Incline Village Crystal Bay Visitors Bureau.
- Genre: Comedy | Sports | Road Trip
- Director: The Farrelly Brothers
- Stars: Woody Harrelson, Bill Murray, Randy Quaid
Plot: “Roy Munson (Woody Harrelson) is a young bowler with a promising career ahead of him until a disreputable colleague, Ernie McCracken (Bill Murray), tricks him into a con game that ends with Roy losing his hand. Roy ekes out a hardscrabble existence until he discovers Amish bowling phenom Ishmael (Randy Quaid). With the help of a gangster’s girlfriend (Vanessa Angel), he plots to take Ishmael to the top of the bowling world.” – Rotten Tomatoes
“I wanna go to RE-no!” We agree with Ishmael. But not just to see the “Taj Mahal of tenpins,” AKA the 363,000-square-foot, 80-foot-tall, bowling ball-shaped geodesic dome that houses the 78-lane National Bowling Stadium. Or the also-ball-shaped extension of the 42-story-tall Silver Legacy, which houses a 120-foot-tall automated mining machine, a hat tip to the Silver Legacy’s hat tip to the Silver State. However, both of those are also awesome—and great places to check out when hoofing it around Downtown Reno—as well as the settings for the third act of this cult-classic screwball comedy, made during the Farrely Brothers’ comedic zenith.
Fun Facts from the Nevada Film Office: “As is the case with most of his films, Bill Murray ad-libbed virtually every line he spoke… He was also a very good bowler and actually DID roll the 3 strikes needed to win the tournament. The reaction from the crowd was real.”
BONUS FEATURE: Eleven-time Oscar-nominated P.T. Anderson’s directorial debut, the gritty yet heartwarming Hard Eight (1996)—starring Phillip Baker Hall, young John C. Reilly, younger Phillip Seymour Hoffman, and even younger Gwyneth Paltrow—was entirely filmed in Reno and Sparks, including at Jack’s Coffee Shop, Peppermill Resort Spa Casino, Eldorado Resort Casino, and some funky old-school motor lodges.
- Genre: Drama | Western
- Director: Don Siegel
- Stars: John Wayne, Lauren Bacall, Ron Howard
Plot: “An aging gunfighter, J.B. Books (John Wayne), diagnosed with cancer, comes to Nevada at the turn of the 20th century. Renting a room from widowed Bond Rogers (Lauren Bacall) and her son Gillom (young Ron Howard), Books is confronted by several people of questionable motives. Not wanting to die a quiet, painful death, Books devises a plan to go out with a bang.” – Rotten Tomatoes
Stroll along the lovely, self-guided Kit Carson Trail walking tour to immerse yourself in our capital city’s West Side Historic district, home to 50 landmarks, including dozens of beautifully preserved residences. Among them, you’ll find the 1914 Krebs-Peterson house on 500 Mountain Street (near the Governor’s Mansion), where a sidewalk plaque commemorates western icon John Wayne’s final film. Evidently, Wayne was quite warm to locals during his time in Carson City, signing autographs (and sharing smokes) daily. Moreover, the iconic and charming buggy ride scene was filmed just up the highway in beautiful, wildlife-filled Washoe Lake State Park.
BONUS FEATURES: As Nevadans (and nerds), we’re obviously bigger fans of Nevada-born-and-raised author (and architect of alt-country outfit Richmond Fontaine—check ‘em out!) Willy Vlautin’s incredible first novel, The Motel Life. However, we’re also glad that the award-winning film adaptation—starring Emile Hirsch, Stephen Dorff, Dakota Fanning, and country music legend Kris Kirstofferson—was filmed in Carson City, Carson Valley, and Reno, for the sake of authenticity.
A little less authentically, Genoa, Nevada played the part of Silver Creek, Colorado in the Rob Reiner / Stephen King collaboration, Misery (1990). Kathy Bates won an Oscar for Best Actress in a Leading Role as Paul Sheldon’s (James Caan) terrifying fangirl caretaker/abductor, Annie. Located about 20 minutes south of Carson City, Genoa is “Nevada’s oldest permanent settlement” and home to the 1853-built Genoa Bar & Saloon (“Nevada’s Oldest Thirst Parlor”), which was featured in both Misery and The Shootist. Even off-screen, the classic elixir emporium has served as the go-to hangout for dozens of actors who’ve been filming in the area. While visiting Genoa Bar & Saloon, ask about the former safe, its pile of bras, and why there’s only a single leopard-print one hanging from the rafters. (Hint, Raquel Welch had something to do with it.)
Valley of Fire State Park in Moapa Valley
- Genre: Action | Adventure | Western
- Director: Richard Brooks
- Stars: Burt Lancaster, Lee Marvin, Robert Ryan
Plot: “A rich Texan invites three men to his private train to hire them to rescue his wife who has been kidnapped by a Mexican revolutionary. They later add on an explosives expert. However, on the trail, they discover some interesting facts that lead them to wonder: Has Mrs. Grant ‘really’ been kidnapped?” – IMDB
Wander a ways up the White Domes Trail in Valley of Fire—Nevada’s oldest and largest state park—and watch for a plaque that marks the exact spot where the set of The Professionals once stood. It reads: “The main movie set, a Mexican hacienda, was located where the parking lot is now. Railroad ties can still be seen sticking out of the rocks.”
BONUS FEATURES: Valley of Fire’s red sandstone vistas provided movie backdrops before the area became a state park in 1935—meaning before filmgoers could even see its stunning hues. Since then, the otherworldly rock formations and wild striations (including of the famous Fire Wave) have set the scene for the Autobots’ convoy back to Mission City in Transformers (2007), the moment Captain Kirk passes the reins to Jean-Luc Picard on planet Viridian 3 (in reality, Silica Dome) in Star Trek: Generations (1994), and the titular character’s spring-fed homestead in Sam Peckinpah’s western hobo comedy The Ballad of Cable Hogue (1970).
Lost in America
Hoover Dam & Las Vegas
- Genre: Comedy
- Director: Albert Brooks
- Stars: Albert Brooks, Julie Hagerty, Sylvia Farrel
Plot: “After being snubbed at his advertising job, a Los Angeles yuppie (Albert Brooks) convinces his wife (Julie Hagerty) to quit her job and join him on a cross-country road trip in a Winnebago. But during a stop in Las Vegas, the couple begins to see that their idealized notion of the American experience is terribly misguided.” – Rotten Tomatoes
This Rotten Tomatoes-rated 97% fresh flick flows from the work-a-day world of Los Angeles to the high energy of New York City via Las Vegas. Pivotal scenes were filmed at the Desert Inn, the casino-resort where Legendary Nevadan Howard Hughes lived for years—without ever leaving his room—as depicted in Martin Scorsese’s The Aviator, starring Leonardo DiCaprio.
While the Desert Inn has since been supplanted by the Wynn and Encore mega-resorts (some of the largest hotels on Earth), Hoover Dam—where the on-screen couple famously argues over what their next chapter will be—can still be toured and, nowadays, gazed down upon from the second-highest bridge in the country. For the more adventurous, it can also be admired from the water on a trip down the Black Canyon Water Trail.
BONUS FEATURE: Emma Stone acted and sang her way to one of La La Land’s six Academy Awards (Best Actress in a Leading Role)—for portraying a young woman who left her home town of Boulder City, Nevada to seek fame in Hollywood. However, we think she and Ryan Gosling’s character, Sebastian, would’ve come right on back, had the two of them known about some of Nevada’s best antique shops, awesome food, close proximity to far better stars than any L.A. observatory planetarium can project on a ceiling, and far more.
3000 Miles to Graceland
Nelson Ghost Town
- Genre: Action | Comedy | Crime
- Director: Demian Lichtenstein
- Stars: Kurt Russell, Kevin Costner, Courteney Cox
Plot: “It’s International Elvis Week in Las Vegas, but five of the impersonators swaggering into the Riviera are toting heavy weaponry in their guitar cases. It’s the heist of a lifetime, orchestrated by ex-cons Michael (Kurt Russell) and Murphy (Kevin Costner). The crooked Elvises steal $3.2 million, leaving the hotel in ruins and a high body count in their wake.” – Rotten Tomatoes
The Las Vegas part is obvious, but the real star of this show, setting-wise, is Nelson Ghost Town. Seven scenes were shot here, including the ones in which the Elvis-impersonating ex-cons drop a body out of a helicopter and later blow up an airplane at a gas station. Like many things in the movie itself, 3000 Miles to Graceland went down in flames (hard), but if there are Nevada ghost towns and Elvises involved, we tend to give things a free pass.
Today, Nelson Ghost Town is a photographer’s paradise, thanks to hundreds of leftover props and set pieces, including from this film. (Ironically, the exploded plane is still there, but the gas station has since burned down.) It’s also the site of the tourable Techatticup Mine, the site of Nevada’s first gold strike by Spaniards in the 1700s, and Eldorado Canyon, which was legitimately a hideout for real-life outlaws in our Wild Western days.
BONUS FEATURES: Kurt Russel was already familiar with Nelson Ghost Town from when the same “living ghost town” stood in for the patch of New Mexico desert where he and Kathleen Quinlan found themselves stranded in Breakdown (1997).
A few hours north along the Free-Range Art Highway lies one of the West’s best-preserved (and most photographed) ghost towns. Rhyolite provides the backdrop for the massive-budget Michael Bay sci-fi/thriller The Island (2005), starring Scarlett Johansson and Ewan McGregor, and appears prominently in the post-apocalyptic cult indie film Six-String Samurai (1998), in which an evil Elvis is literally a king. Although the Weird Nevada wonder that is the adjacent, fascinating Goldwell Open Air Museum wasn’t in either film, both are bizarre enough that it probably should have been.
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