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The United States of Movies
Movies have touched almost every aspect of the American experience — and just about every square inch of land. EW picks the one film that best captures the spirit and story of each state.
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Ava DuVernay's drama about Martin Luther King Jr. (David Oyelowo) and his famed protest march uses historic locations, including the Edmund Pettus Bridge.
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Into the Wild (2007)
Christopher McCandless (Emile Hirsch) abandons his urban life for one in nature — with tragic results. The beautiful, brutal Alaskan landscape takes center stage.
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Raising Arizona (1987)
The Coen brothers' kidnapping comedy transforms the Southwestern desert into a cartoonish world of bizarre dialects, manic chases, and a bounty hunter from hell.
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True Grit (1969)
This Western, partially set in Fort Smith, follows crotchety U.S. Marshal Rooster Cogburn (John Wayne) and headstrong teenager Mattie Ross (Kim Darby) as they pursue her father's killer.
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In Roman Polanski's inky noir, Jack Nicholson investigates dark deeds and darker secrets in 1930s Los Angeles. A hard-boiled masterpiece.
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A psychotic fan (Kathy Bates) nurses an injured novelist (James Caan) in the snowy confines and rural disquiet of her Rocky Mountains home.
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The Ice Storm (1997)
Ang Lee's glimpse into the bleak heart of WASPs in moneyed Fairfield County reveals a spiritual funk that no amount of Scotch, self-help, or key parties can cure.
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Fight Club (1999)
Sometimes called "the Chemical Capital of the World," Wilmington (unnamed in the film) provides the setting for this antisocial opera that rhapsodizes about explosive violence and soap products.
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All the President's Men (1976)
Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman play Washington Post muckrakers Woodward and Bernstein in this riveting procedural about speaking truth to power.
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Say hello to director Brian De Palma's Miami-set tale of gangsters and cocaine (and cocaine). Al Pacino stars as Cuban refugee-turned-criminal overlord Tony Montana.
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More than just a nightmare of backwoods banjo players, this film suggests that within every upright Atlanta businessman hides a wild Appalachian hunter.
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Lilo & Stitch (2002)
An alien crash-lands on rainy Kauai and learns valuable lessons about ohana and Elvis in a film that explores the meaning of sisterhood.
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Napoleon Dynamite (2004)
This cult classic is so Idaho, it sparked a flippin' festival there, complete with tetherball and a tater-tot-eating contest.
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The Blues Brothers (1980)
John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd bring the cool (and the shades) as bluesmen who burn serious rubber around the Prairie State to save their old orphanage.
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Breaking Away (1979)
Beneath the surface of this tale of a blue-collar teen and his dream of being a world-class cyclist beats the heart of a life-affirming epic about us versus them.
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Field of Dreams (1989)
When a farmer (Kevin Costner) replaces his cornfield with a baseball diamond, the town assumes he's lost his mind. But it tees up a tearjerker about fathers, sons, and the magic of the game.
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The Wizard of Oz (1939)
Dorothy Gale might go over the rainbow but she discovers that there's no place like the Sunflower State.
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Coal Miner's Daughter (1980)
This rags-to-riches biopic tracks how country-music legend Loretta Lynn (Sissy Spacek) became the voice of her ol' Kentucky home.
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A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)
New Orleans is a city eternally preserved in the liquidy black-and-white lust of Tennessee Williams' pinnacle drama.
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The Cider House Rules (1999)
Lasse Hallström directs the John Irving novel, where "princes of Maine and kings of New England" come of age in apple orchards beneath Yankee blue skies.
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Perky, plus-size Tracy Turnblad (Nikki Blonsky) fights for acceptance (and dance fame) in this song-filled redo of John Waters' 1988 homage to his beloved Baltimore.
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The Departed (2006)
Martin Scorsese's Oscar winner dives into Boston's underbelly. Matt Damon stars as a police department mole, Leonardo DiCaprio as a cop undercover in the local Mob.
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Set against Detroit's Motown scene, this adaptation of the Broadway musical follows the Dreams as they navigate the highs and lows of stardom.
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Despite bearing the name of a North Dakota city, the Coen brothers' northerly noir is quirky Minnesota to its core. Yah.
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In the Heat of the Night (1967)
Norman Jewison's tinderbox Best Picture winner centers on a black Northern police detective (Sidney Poitier) investigating a murder in Sparta, Miss.
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Gone Girl (2014)
David Fincher's exquisite adaptation of Gillian Flynn's thriller captures a landscape so expansive, a woman could vanish into it.
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A River Runs Through It (1992)
Director Robert Redford makes the big skies and clear waters of 1920s Missoula, Mont., every bit as striking as a young Brad Pitt.
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A delusional father, a depressive son, a road trip to Lincoln: What could go wrong? Alexander Payne's meditation on the past offers an unlikely vision for the future.
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The Hangover (2009)
What happens in Vegas doesn't stay in Vegas after three friends awake with no memory of the world's wildest bachelor party.
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Our Town (1940)
The film of Thornton Wilder's American classic visits Grovers Corners, where a young couple and their families face love, life, and loss.
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Garden State (2004)
No mobsters or housewives here: South Orange son Zach Braff showcases Joisey's eclectic spirit in this offbeat comedy about an actor's unconventional homecoming.
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Gas Food Lodging (1992)
The dusty streets and striated skies of a small desert town provide the backdrop for this tale of two lonely girls and their waitress mother.
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Do the Right Thing (1989)
On a hot day in Brooklyn, tensions simmer, boil, and explode. Spike Lee's masterpiece is a panoramic portrait of New York City at its best and worst: every neighborhood a city, every block a universe.
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This beguiling drama glows with precise local details and mysterious characters, and Amy Adams' gentle star-making performance.
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Three Faces West (1940)
This Dust Bowl saga was overshadowed by The Grapes of Wrath, but star John Wayne, playing a proud farmer, delivers flag-waving sermons worthy of this state.
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From slushies at the convenience store to explosives in the school gym, this jet-black comedy exposes the horror lurking under the surface of suburban Sherwood.
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Take a ride in your surrey with the fringe on top for this adaptation of Rodgers and Hammerstein's 1943 musical, featuring the catchiest anthem for a state ever written.
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Stand by Me (1986)
The Stephen King story was set in Maine, but Rob Reiner's adventure about four friends searching for a dead body finds wonder in Oregon's green woods and wild rivers.
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Few visitors can resist sprinting up the 72 steps outside the Philadelphia Museum of Art because of Sylvester Stallone's testament to a blue-collar state that stands tall.
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The Witches of Eastwick (1987)
Director George Miller brings demented mayhem to RI's pastoral estates and historic churches — with an assist from a devilish Jack Nicholson.
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The Big Chill (1983)
In Lawrence Kasdan's baby-boomer classic, seven college friends reunite in an antebellum mansion for a funeral, and to examine what happened to their 1960s ideals.
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Terrence Malick's films are steeped in nature, telling stories born from the land. The same is true of his first film: a hazy, bleak rehashing of the American dream.
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In his epic latticework set in the state's capital, director Robert Altman celebrates Nashville as the essence of America's thumping, generous, crazy heart.
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As big and wide as the state it portrays, George Stevens' generation-spanning family saga strides across a Lone Star landscape of cattle barons and oil tycoons.
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127 Hours (2010)
Amid a topography so gorgeously spooky and remote it might as well be Mars, Aron Ralston (James Franco) must save himself when his arm is trapped by a boulder — a testament to nerve and endurance.
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Dead Poets Society (1989)
Although shot in Delaware, the Robin Williams gem about a passionate teacher at a prestigious prep school captures the rebellious nature of this New England state.
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Jimmy Stewart stars as a widower who wants nothing to do with the Civil War, until his son is apprehended by Union troops and he's forced to battle his conscience.
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The supernatural teen romance put the town of Forks on the map. Under perpetually gloomy Pacific Northwest skies, Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) finds forbidden love with gentleman vampire Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson).
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October Sky (1999)
You can almost taste the coal dust in this story of future NASA engineer Homer Hickam Jr. (Jake Gyllenhaal), who grew up in a mining town in the state's lower cradle — and discovered the only way out was up.
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Friendships are tested when down-on-her-luck Milwaukee baker Annie (Kristen Wiig) is drafted to be the maid of honor for lifelong bestie Lillian (Maya Rudolph). Cue the Wilson Phillips.
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Brokeback Mountain (2005)
Director Ang Lee's gut-wrenching love story may have been shot in the towering Canadian Rockies, but the rugged hearts of its heroes — two ranch hands (Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal) who embark on a doomed romance — are pure Wyoming.