We decided to find the best sci-fi (or, if that wasn’t available, fantasy or horror) movie set in each state. The rules were that it had to be more than one scene. It had to either be the majority of the story or at least very central to the plot. So, for instance, Alaska was used for one scene in Pacific Rim but it really wasn’t set there. Some states have very few genre movies set there (Utah, Montana) while others (California, New York) have many. So the quality of the movie from state to state can vary pretty wildly. If the location was important to the story or characters, that earned it extra points for this list. With that said, here’s our big list!
Alabama: Big Fish
Big Fish is more of a gothic fantasy type of a movie but Alabama doesn’t offer many options. Ewan MacGregor’s character tries to reconcile with his dying father who tells him about his childhood which is pretty crazy. Visually amazing.
Alaska: 30 Days of Night
Sure, it isn’t a fantastic movie but it certainly makes use of the state. You couldn’t have a vampire movie where they can freely move about for a month in any other state. Barrow, Alaska gets no sun for 30 days in the winter. A great idea for a vampire story.
Arizona: Fire in the Sky
This movie is based on a true story. Well, true in the sense that a lumberjack in Arizona claimed he was abducted by aliens. All I know is that as a teenager, it terrified me. It makes Arizona’s tree-filled White Mountains very, very scary.
Arkansas: The Legend of Boggy Creek
A 1972 (fake) documentary/horror movie about a Bigfoot-type of creature from Fouke, Arkansas. Based on a real urban legend, anyway. And it brought a ton of (shitty) sequels. It’s about the only movie set in Arkansas that counts for this list.
California: Back to the Future
This was a tough one. Terminator 2 is also a fantastic movie set in California. But I think that Hill Valley’s California setting is more important to the story than Los Angeles is to the Terminator franchise.
Colorado: The Shining
This state was tricky. Interstellar and Stargate start out in Colorado but it’s not quite fair to say they are primarily set there. The Prestige has a great scene set there where Hugh Jackman’s turn-of-the-century illusionist meets David Bowie’s Nikolai Tesla, who has invented a teleporter. But that’s just a scene. And movies like Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem, Battlefield Earth, and Phantoms all suck. But The Shining, while primarily horror, absolutely has sci-fi elements. Telepathy, a type of sentient hotel, ghosts. But most importantly, it’s a fantastic movie.
Easy win for Beetlejuice. It’s all about how the afterlife works. And it’s about a WASPy couple that dies before they can finish decorating their dream home in Connecticut. It’s the perfect state to set it in.
Delaware: Survival of the Dead
Ugh. I’d love to choose Fight Club but it really doesn’t quite count, does it? The movie Seeking a Friend for the End of the World is a good movie about the final days of Earth and a new pair of friends heading TO Delaware but it’s more of a road movie. So Survival of the Dead sort of wins by default. It’s a zombie movie but at least it’s by George A. Romero. It involves feuding families on an island just off the coast of Delaware, living in a post-apocalyptic world.
Florida: Men in Black III
Men in Black III is a good movie. A lot better than the first sequel. It involves aliens, time travel and technologically advanced weapons and vehicles. The plot involves the agents needing to deploy a type of shield over Earth during the Apollo 11 launch in 1969 Cape Canaveral, Florida.
Georgia: The Gift
Underrated Sam Raimi film about a widow (Cate Blanchett) in a small Georgia town who has ESP and her investigation into a missing lady. Creepy and featuring a terrific cast.
Hawaii: Lilo & Stitch
One of Disney’s last hand-drawn animated movies, it’s all about a monstrous but cute alien that lands in Hawaii and is adopted by an orphaned local as her pet. He begins to learn about family. It’s terrific.
Idaho: Idaho Transfer
There are not many sci-fi movies set in Idaho. So Idaho Transfer wins by default. The movie is about time travel, discovered by accident. The world is ecologically in danger and young people are sent 56 years into the future in an attempt to start a new society. Not too bad.
Illinois: Weird Science
Hilarious 1985 movie based on a classic 1950s EC Comics story (and comic title). Two nerds create a perfect woman and she teaches them how to not be such losers.
Turbo is a fairly good animated movie about a snail who wishes he could be fast. He gets his DNA fused with some supercharged nitrous oxide and becomes a racer in the Indy 500. So it’s got sci-fi and it’s important that it’s set in Indiana. Can’t say much else.
Iowa: Field of Dreams
Iowa farmer builds a baseball diamond in his backyard and dead baseball greats show up to play, including his father. They’re not zombies or scary ghosts. They just came to play ball.
A fantastic time travel movie about Joe, a ganster, going back in time to save his future wife but going up against his past self by trying to kill a kid that his past self has now met and befriended. Bruce Willis and Joseph Gordon Levitt play the same character at different ages, at odds with one another.
An argument can be made that James Bond is not sci-fi but I think that his gadgets and his enemies’ high-tech weapons do make it sci-fi. Just not as its primary genre. But it’s there. In this one, Bond is working to stop Auric Goldfinger from stealing the gold from Fort Knox, Kentucky. It involves lasers, killer hats, and a flying circus with nerve gas. Because of course it does.
Louisiana: The Green Mile
I came close to selecting Angel Heart because it’s a fantastic mystery involving the devil but The Green Mile is slightly better. It’s about a prisoner on death row in 1935 Louisiana who can heal sickness by touching people. One of Stephen King and Frank Darabont’s best (though Shawshank Redemption is THE best).
The original Brian DePalma movie doesn’t explicitly state that it’s set in Maine but the novel and remake do. If you’re going to disqualify Carrie for that, there’s a long list of Stephen King movies in line after it: The Mist, Salem’s Lot, Pet Sematary, The Tommyknockers, etc. But Carrie is the best. It’s about an abused teenage girl who develops telekinesis.
Maryland: 12 Monkeys
A cool, confusing time-travel story by Terry Gilliam about a prisoner sent back in time to stop a plague, but he can’t figure out if his memories are all real or if he’s crazy.
Pretty dope movie about a mad scientist, played by Jeffrey Combs, who creates a formula that brings people back to life, no matter their physical condition. But they come back psychotic. Funny and gross.
Robocop is a fantastic near-future sci-fi/action/satire. When officer Alex Murphy is gunned down in the line of duty, OCP brings him back as an obedient cyborg. The future of law enforcement. But he slowly starts to remember his past life. A near-perfect movie.
Minnesota: Jennifer’s Body
Another state without many options. Jennifer’s Body is a Diablo Cody movie about a cheerleader, Megan Fox, possessed by a demon that starts killing classmates. Jennifer’s best friend tries to save her. It’s okay.
There are literally no sci-fi movies set primarily in Mississippi. X-Men has an early scene where we meet Rogue, who lives in Mississippi. She’s our viewpoint character, a young Southern girl who is ostracized when her mutant powers develop. So she goes on the run. That’s about it.
Missouri: Deep Impact
When Earth is faced with a comet on a collision course that could cause an extinction level event, the U.S. begins a lottery to put 800,000 in Missouri’s deep limestone caves, where they are most likely to survive. A portion of the film follows astronauts who are trying to divert the comet but a lot is set with characters trying to get to Missouri in hopes of surviving.
Montana: Star Trek: First Contact
Believe it or not, Star Trek: First Contact is set in Montana. Specifically, Bozeman, Montana. That’s where Zefram Cochrane creates mankind’s first warp drive which begins Earth’s first contact with other species. The Borg travel back in time to interrupt this meeting so that mankind can’t pose a threat to them in the future. It isn’t the best Star Trek movie but it’s pretty good and Montana has to take what it can get!
Nebraska: Children of the Corn
A young couple gets lost in a remote Nebraskan town where a cult has developed. It’s ruled by young children who believe they worship God, or as they call him, He Who Walks Behind the Rows. They sacrifice each other when they leave their teens as well as any visitors. It is implied the power in the cornfields is actually the Devil.
Tremors makes fantastic use of Nevada’s wide open rocky plains and small, isolated towns. It’s about giant worms that live underground in the rocks. It’s a blast.
New Hampshire: The Dead Zone
Christopher Walken is in a car accident that puts him in a coma. When he wakes up his fiance has married someone else. And he realizes that he can see people’s future. He moves to a small New Hampshire town and gets a job as a private tutor but is haunted by visions of a presidential candidate becoming the new Hitler.
New Jersey: The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension
The original version of this article had Hellboy here. But it was pointed out that Buckaroo’s think tank is in Jersey. Duh! That’s a fantastic sci-fi movie. Very underrated. Great cast.
New Mexico: Thor
The majority of Thor takes place in a remote New Mexico desert and small town, when Odin banishes Thor for not being worthy of ruling Asgard. In the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Thor explains that what mankind thinks of as magic is to him, science. The Asgardians aren’t so much gods as highly advanced aliens. Fun movie.
New York: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
There’s a lot of strong contenders for best sci-fi movie set in New York. Almost all the Marvel superhero movies from Spider-Man to Avengers to X-Men, It’s a Wonderful Life, The Man Who Fell to Earth, Escape from New York. The list goes on. But Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind wins. It’s just a beautiful romantic story that also happens to involve a service that can eliminate your memories. To say any more would spoil things.
North Carolina: The Descent
A group of ladyballers go spelunking, get lost deep in the caves and encounter creatures that live down there. So good.
North Dakota: The Messengers
No great options for this state. The Messengers was kind of like The Shining but set on a sunflower farm instead of a hotel.
Ohio: A Nightmare on Elm Street
Super 8 was a decent sci-fi movie set in Ohio but even though A Nightmare on Elm Street is a horror movie, it’s also got a really amazing idea behind it: a killer that invades your dreams and can kill you in them.
Oklahoma: Near Dark
Near Dark is a fantastic vampire movie where a pack of vampires act like outlaw cowboys and family. An early movie by Katheryn Bigelow who would go on to direct amazing stuff like Zero Dark Thirty and The Hurt Locker which won her an Oscar.
Oregon: Short Circuit
A self-aware cute robot. Made for war but all he wants is to have friends. It’s delightful!
Pennsylvania: Dawn of the Dead
M. Night Shyamalan’s early films The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable were contenders but the original Dawn of the Dead is so influential. Sure, it’s a zombie movie but it also examines our consumer-driven society by having everyone go to the mall. Survivors to wall up inside and zombies just because they remember going there when they were alive.
Rhode Island: The Conjuring
Not many choices. Osmosis Jones is set inside someone’s body, following blood cells fighting a virus. But it’s kinda boring and not very funny. At least The Conjuring is tense and engaging. It claims to be based on a true story of a family dealing with a haunting. Your mileage may vary.
South Carolina: Slither
A meteorite housing a hive-mind extraterrestrial parasite lands in the small town of Wheelsy, South Carolina. It begins infecting the populace and it’s up to the police chief (Nathan Fillion) to save the day.
South Dakota: Star Trek V
I know. Star Trek V isn’t even that great a Star Trek movie. And it’s not primarily set there. But there’s hardly any options on this one. There’s a deleted scene on the DVD of Sulu and Chekov hiking and in the background there’s a fifth president’s face etched into Mount Rushmore – an African-American woman. I really don’t know what else counts for this. National Treasure 2?
Tennessee: Iron Man 3
Tennessee is more of a state for lawyer dramas and musicals. But a good chunk of Iron Man 3 takes place in Tennessee where Tony Stark investigates why soldiers are exploding and works on repairing his armor.
Fantastic indie movie where inventors accidentally create a type of time travel – by getting in a box you can go backwards by waiting the amount of time you want to go back. You can’t go further than when the machine was turned on and you have to be patient. But they find they can get rich with same day stock market trades. Eventually, they begin to contaminate the timeline and things get bad.
Utah: Carnival of Souls
It’s a cult classic. Kind of like a Twilight Zone episode. Mary and her friends are in a drag race when they crash into a river. She emerges but can’t figure out how she survived. She wanders to Utah’s Great Salt Lake where she finds a strange carnival full of ghouls. Things get weird.
Vermont: Sucker Punch
The only sci-fi film I could find that’s entirely set in Vermont was Sucker Punch so it wins by default. A girl unjustly locked up in an asylum retreats into elaborate fantasies in her mind where she works out clues on how to escape.
Virginia: Donnie Darko
Donnie is warned by a man-sized rabbit that the world will end in 28 days. Donnie is given powers to understand what’s going on and affect things so that he can create a closed loop to a paradox. It’s pretty rad.
Washington: Safety Not Guaranteed
We were tempted to use Harry and the Hendersons because Bigfoot is such a Washington thing. But Safety Not Guaranteed is a better movie, arguably. It follows Aubrey Plaza, a writer, investigating Mark Duplass, who placed an ad in the classifieds that he wants someone to travel in time with him.
West Virginia: The X-Files: I Want to Believe
The second X-Files movie is only about as good as a solid two-parter episode but in and of itself it is not bad. Agents Mulder and Scully investigate the disappearance of an FBI agent and other women in West Virginia. There’s also some Frankenstein-esque body horror and a pedophile priest in jail who has visions of the kidnapped victims.
A peaceful alien crashes to Earth and creates a body by cloning a widow’s late husband. He begins to communicate and learn what it is to be human with her and her family. Good movie!
Wyoming: Close Encounters of the Third Kind
Not everything is set in Wyoming, but the most important part is. Everything converges on Devil’s Tower near Moorcroft, Wyoming. That’s where extraterrestrials plan to land and make contact with humanity. Richard Dreyfuss’ everyman, the U.S. military, and scientists all race to figure out the aliens’ message and meet them.
Washington, D.C.: The Day the Earth Stood Still
A sci-fi classic.