For as long as Hollywood has sought arresting vistas and tax incentives, Oregon has beckoned.
But when renowned auteurs have ventured one state north, the results often end up bizarre or as beautiful B-sides in their careers. From William Friedkin to Frank Capra, filmmaking stalwarts have tended to work in Oregon when ascending or descending. That, or they're Steven Spielberg, and they can shoot anything they want, anywhere they damn well please.
Note that you won't find any Oregon directors on this list, nor any quintessential Oregon films, like Stand by Me or One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest—this is a tribute to Hollywood heavyweights and their Oregon curios.
Lost Horizon (1937), dir. Frank Capra
Largely remembered as a studio flop and for 40 minutes of (once) missing footage, Lost Horizon was filmed partly in Oregon, though it's difficult to say exactly how much. Production notes cite Mount Hood as a location, and certainly, the picturesque peak is visible in this strange fable of a hidden Himalayan utopia. Coming off It Happened One Night earlier in the '30s, Frank Capra's beautifully assured directing shines through a script bordering on the nonsensical in Lost Horizon. In retrospect, the film's most fascinating and damning feature is what passed for post-colonial utopia in 1935. (It's still insanely colonial.)
1941 (1979) and A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001), dir. Steven Spielberg
First, there's 1941—a sprawling World War II comedy widely considered to be Spielberg's worst movie. Its Jaws-spoofing prologue employed Cannon Beach to portray Northern California, where a Japanese submarine surfaces. That's it for 1941 and Oregon, which leaves the rest of this blurb to celebrate the couple scenes in A.I. Artificial Intelligence filmed in Oxbow Park. Those woods provided the backdrop where android child David (Haley Joel Osment) gets abandoned by his mother and encounters robo-gigolo Joe (Jude Law). If perhaps you haven't seen the 2001 film since being disturbed by it as a child, definitely revisit: It's profoundly painful and well-imagined science fiction—among Spielberg's very best work.
The Hunted (2004), dir. William Friedkin
Nobody does "two corrupted souls duel through the muck of their expertise" quite like William Friedkin, director of The French Connection, The Exorcist and numerous other gripping crime dramas. 2004's The Hunted stands as one of Friedkin's many attempts to reclaim his '70s mojo. Filmed at Silver Falls State Park and in downtown Portland, this fugitive procedural stars Tommy Lee Jones and Benicio del Toro as two—what can really only be called—stabbing experts? The hand-to-hand violence is brutally simple and naturebound, which suggests a far more rugged film than the basic cable-destined cop story that resulted. That said, The Hunted does settle any debate over whether a 57-year-old Tommy Lee Jones could catch a MAX train on foot.
The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid (1972), dir. Philip Kaufman
It's somewhat forgotten these days that Hollywood Swiss Army knife Philip Kaufman directed acclaimed works as divergent as The Right Stuff (1983) and Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978). A few years earlier, The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid found Kaufman on the ascent, shooting Jacksonville, Ore., for Eastern Minnesota. While Southern Oregon's hills and fir trees are distinctly not Midwestern, the difference hardly dents this thoughtful yarn about a harebrained heist. Forgotten stickup artist Cole Younger (Cliff Robertson) rides alongside Jesse James (Robert Duvall) in a Western fascinated by the difference between making a memory and becoming one.
Bandits (2001), dir. Barry Levinson
While his award rakers Rain Man and Bugsy haven't aged particularly well, Barry Levinson's films of the 1980s and early '90s are still a fascinating run: Diner; The Natural; Good Morning, Vietnam; Sleepers. Soon after, Levinson turned studio journeyman, which is when Bandits brought him to Oregon circa 2001. While the film ends in a Los Angeles bank robbery gone awry, the Sleepover Bandits (Bruce Willis and Billy Bob Thornton) hone their craft in Oregon City and Silverton, leafy towns where the robberies seem politer and more manageable. The Broadway Bridge and West Linn make cameos as well. Overwrought and overcaffeinated, Bandits is, let's say, almost fun. Certainly, it's an all-timer for movie stars wearing wigs on top of their wigs.