The Single Movie That Defines Your State

The road may be long, but I'll always be a Jersey girl. When I listen to Bruce Springsteen or hear, once again, that Meryl Streep's from my home state, I'll inevitably feel a surge of pride. And when I see a movie that, in some way, pays homage to that tiny, tough state that's far more than just the "armpit of New York," I feel recognized.
The Florida Project will do for Floridians what movies about New Jersey have done for me. Sean Baker's latest film, in theaters October 6, is set in the outskirts of Walt Disney World. Knock-off souvenir shops, strip malls, and motels decorated like castles line the wide highways. In that eco-system of tourist rip-offs and foreclosed housing complexes live six-year-old Moonee (Brooklyn Prince) and Halley (Bria Vinaite), her struggling single mother. While The Florida Project is certainly grounded in character — Prince's mischievous Moonee, and Willem Dafoe's weary yet loving motel manager are particularly unforgettable — those characters and their situations would not be possible without the state.
In that way, The Florida Project is the quintessential movie about Florida. It's a movie that couldn't be set anywhere else. Here are 50 movies that capture some sliver of each state's personalities. Keeping clicking to find yours.
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Alabama: Big Fish (2003)

Technically, Big Fish takes place in Alabama. More symbolically, though, Big Fish takes place in the borderlands between American tall tales and stark realism. Edward Bloom's (Albert Finney) life story consists of epic, Odyssean adventures through unmarked country-roads, fortune-tellers who predict the exact moment of a person's death, and idyllic southern towns that never change (literally). Yet Edward's son (Billy Crudup) chalks his father's stories up to be outright lies. Now that Edward's on his deathbed, his son returns to his Alabama home to really hear, for the first time, his father's stories for what they are.
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Alaska: The Grey (2011)

Here's what's so great about The Grey: You can't help but shiver while watching it. Shiver with cold, and shiver with dread, because the wolves are stalking John Ottway (Liam Neeson) and his group of fellow plane-crash survivors, and it's only a matter of time before they catch up. The Grey is a survival movie that alters the meaning of victory. The question isn't whether you'll last in the elements — you won't. The question is for how long you'll live.
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Arizona: Raising Arizona (1987)

In this Coen brothers comedy, a trailer park couple (Nicolas Cage and Holly Hunter) decide to snatch one child of another family's quintuplets. Lightening the load, so to speak. While Raising Arizona is often considered the Coen brothers' funniest movie, Native Arizonans weren't thrilled with the depiction of their state. In response, Joel Coen said that Raising Arizona, with its unique dialect and shots of chaise lounges in the desert, takes place in an "Arizona of the mind," not the actual state.
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Arkansas: True Grit (2010)

The 1968 novel True Grit by Charles Portis, upon which this Coen brothers film is based, starts its action in Fort Smith, Arkansas. Though Arkansas is integral to True Grit, the 2010 movie was shot in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and Texas. Still, the movie, starring Hailee Steinfeld and Jeff Bridges, captures the spirit of a lawless frontier. It was also adapted for the screen in 1969.
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California: Clueless (1995)

Cher Horowitz (Alicia Silverstone), poster child of Valley Girls, gave us an intimate tour through Beverly Hills long before the Kardashians were there to do it for us. Clueless introduced a whole new vocabulary of catchphrases to the '90s and early aughts — all pronounced with distinct uptalk, of course. As if we'd choose any other movie to define the state of California.
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Colorado: Misery (1990)

What happens with a member of the New York intelligentsia is faced with a fierce Colorado winter? It's not pretty. In Misery, author Paul Sheldon (James Caan) gets into a car accident, and is rescued by Annie Wilkes (Cathy Bates), an intense woman who happens to be his self-proclaimed "number one fan." With her venomously sweet voice, Annie agrees to nurse Paul back to health — so long as he agrees to write a novel that will bring her favorite character back to life. The storm outside rages. Paul has no choice of escape.

No matter where he goes after his time held captive in a cabin during a storm, Paul will take that feeling of confinement with him. And so will you.
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Connecticut: Mystic Pizza (1988)

For Daisy (Julia Roberts), Kat (Annabeth Gish), and Jojo (Lili Taylor), Mystic, Connecticut, is where dreams brew. The little town by the sea is the waiting room before life really gets started. The three girls spend their adolescence working at the family pizza shop and sketching out the shape of the rest of their lives. The best part? You can visit Mystic Pizza and get a slice.
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Delaware: Fight Club (1999)

Little known fact: Fight Club is actually set in Wilmington, Delaware. Looks like the second-smallest state in the country also contains an underbelly of grim fight clubs and David Fincher-directed rants. Wilmington's city officials didn't let filmmakers actually film the movie in Delaware, though.
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Florida: The Florida Project (2017)

Six-year-old Moonee (Brooklynn Prince) and her young mother, Halley (Bria Vinaite), live in the bustling ecosystem of ticket scams, castle-themed motels, and knock-off souvenir shops that exists around Disney World in Orlando, Florida. The setting is quintessentially Floridian, with its foreclosed, pastel-colored housing development projects that went bust during the great recession. On special occasions, Halley and Moonee sit in a sprawling field and watch the Magic Kingdom fireworks. The Florida Project shows the humanity and grit that borders the Disney bubble.
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Georgia: Baby Driver (2017)

Sure, we could be like everyone else and choose the gruesome, Oscar-nominated drama Deliverance, about four Atlanta "city boys" who take a canoe trip down a river and are brutalized by country bumpkins. But we're going to go with the far more enjoyable, high-octane Baby Driver. Baby (Ansel Elgort) is a getaway car driver who masters the fixture of Atlanta's landscape: Highways. In movie-land, there's never any traffic, so all of Baby's drives can be choreographed to a pulsing, electric soundtrack of classic rock and soul.
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Hawaii: The Descendants (2011)

From Jurassic Park to The Hunger Games, countless memorable movies have been filmed in Hawaii. But instead of using Hawaii as a beautiful backdrop, The Descendants places the state of Hawaii as the film's focal point. These are the people who actually wear Hawaiian shirts, go surfing after work, and decorate their houses with oil paintings of Hawaiian volcanos. In the movie, George Clooney plays a Hawaiian man whose wife falls into a coma just as he has to figure out what to do with his family land.
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Idaho: Napoleon Dynamite (2004)

Napoleon Dynamite: The movie that spurred a million catchphrases. This indie didn't just affect the way an entire generation thought of high school ennui, misfits, and school elections. It changed the town of Preston, Idaho (population: 5,000), forever, too. Every year, the town holds a "Napoleon Dynamite Festival," which features a Tater Tot Eating Contest and a Lookalike Contest, too.
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Illinois: Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986)

Ferris Bueller (Matthew Broderick) skips school, and uses the city of Chicago as his hall of wonders for the day. He winds through streets in a Ferrari. He goes sightseeing, bouncing from Wrigley Field to the Art Institute of Chicago. He crashes the Von Steuben Day parade. It's a far more wonderful day than what most of us do on our days off — Netflix and chill.
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Indiana: Breaking Away (1979)

In Breaking Away, four recent high school grads languish in their hometown of Bloomington, Indiana, hyperaware of the divide between Bloomington's huge college student population and them, the "townies." Since Dave (Dennis Christopher) is such a maniac for cycling, the boys decide to enter in the town's annual Little 500 race, which, if you don't know, consists of riding 200 laps around a quarter mile track.

The triumphant coming-of-age movie was filmed entirely on location in Bloomington, Indiana.
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Iowa: What's Eating Gilbert Grape (1993)

Do we love this movie for its stunning, wide-open landscapes, or because we see Johnny Depp with long, flowing hair and soulful eyes? Must we choose? Depp plays Gilbert Grape, a teenager who takes care of his developmentally disabled younger brother (Leonardo DiCaprio) since their obese mother, Bonnie (Darlene Cates), is unable to. When he meets a charming outsider, Becky (Juliette Lewis), he realizes that his slow town is connected to roads that are connected to cities that have bigger, better opportunities.
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Kansas: The Wizard of Oz (1939)

You knew it had to be The Wizard of Oz. At the beginning of The Wizard of Oz, sepia-toned Kansas stands for everything dull, oppressive, and conventional. Yet the place that we journey to in order to get away from home — or from Kansas — is often not what we hope it'll be. That's what Dorothy (Judy Garland) realizes, after her fantastical trek down the Yellow Brick Road with the Tin Man, the Cowardly Lion, and the Scarecrow. Ultimately, there's no place like home/Kansas.
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Kentucky: The Coal Miner's Daughter (1980)

This biographical film tells the story of the unbelievable Loretta Lynn, played by Sissy Spacek, who went from being one of eight in an impoverished Kentucky family to a renowned country star. At 15, Lynn married her 22-year-old boyfriend, leaving her seven siblings behind. With the support of her husband, Lynn began recording music in her 20s, setting off a string of events that would take her up, up, and away — though not always with happy consequences.
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Louisiana: Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012)

Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis) lives in Bathtub, a place she calls "the prettiest place on earth." Bathtub is not a place you could find on any map of Louisiana, even though it's modeled on Isle de Jean Charles. "It's a mix of New Orleans culture, South Louisiana culture, and the aesthetic is taken from the Bayou," said director Benh Zeitlin in The Atlantic. Entirely cut off from the mainland, the community lives on its own terms, lacking in both money and social restraints. Consequently, Hushpuppy, her father, and their neighbors are also completely on their own to face the coming storm.
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Maine: The Cider House Rules (1999)

The Cider House Rules will make you nostalgic for Maine summers, even if you've never been to Maine in your life. That's what happens when you combine the narrative ambition of a John Irving novel with the heart of a Lasse Hallstrom film. The movie tells the story of Homer Wells (Tobey Maguire), an orphan who grows up in a Maine orphanage under the care of Dr. Wilbur Larch (Michael Caine). With subtle and memorable lessons, Dr. Larch grooms Homer to take over the orphanage after he's gone.

After watching The Cider House Rules, you'll have a new way of saying ta-ta before turning in for the evening: "Good night, you princes of Maine. You kings of New England," Dr. Larch's catchphrase.
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Maryland: Hairspray (2007)

John Waters, the writer of Hairspray, is from Baltimore, Maryland. Consequently, this delightful musical about a plus-size ball of enthusiasm, Tracy Turnblad, becoming the star of a ‘60s teen variety show, is infused with the authentic Baltimore (and Waters) spirit. In Hairspray, "Good Morning, Baltimore" is belted out and sung by its varied citizens. You couldn't stop the beat if you tried.
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Massachusetts: Good Will Hunting (1997)

Matt Damon began the screenplay for Good Will Hunting while he was an undergrad at Harvard. Consequently, the script is infused with Cambridge. In fact, the park featured in the film has now become a tribute to Robin Williams. Good Will Hunting is set at the crossroads between Cambridge's crisp, collegiate atmosphere, and the working class neighborhoods of South Boston.
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Michigan: 8 Mile (2002)

Eminem stars in the story of his life. The movie begins in 1995 in Detroit, just as Jimmy "B-Rabbit" Smith Jr. (Eminem) has moved back into his family's trailer on 8 Mile Road. A rapper scrambles his ascent against the backdrop of a city in decline.
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Minnesota: Fargo (1996)

Yes, yes, yes, we know Fargo is the name of a town in North Dakota. But the majority of the Coen brothers' film is set, and filmed, in Minnesota. Frances McDormand plays a pregnant detective who, after investigating a murder, unearths a whole slew of crimes.
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Mississippi: In the Heat of the Night (1967)

What In the Heat of the Night lacks in special effects and high-definition footage, it makes up for tenfold in a powerful, unforgettable narrative about race in the United States. After a murder occurs in a small Mississippi town, local police chief Bill Gillespie (Rod Stieger) decides that Virgil Tibbs (Sidney Poitier), a Black man at the train depot, must have committed the crime, because Bill is a raging racist. As it turns out, Virgil's a high-ranking police detective from Philadelphia — and is the only man who can help Gillespie solve the murder.
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Missouri: Gone Girl (2014)

Amy (Rosamund Pike) doesn't want to move to Missouri from New York. Not at all. But she goes, because everyone thinks she's a "cool girl," and a perfect wife. Gone Girl exposes the dark, seedy underbelly lurking beneath marriages, and behind the uniformly sprawling McMansions of the Midwest.
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Montana: A River Runs Through It (1992)

For Paul (Brad Pitt) and Norman Macleans's (Craig Sheffer) stern father, fly fishing is a manual for how to live a good life. He imparts his philosophies on people's relationship to the natural world to his sons, and each handles it differently. As Paul Maclean, Brad Pitt in all his dimpled glory roams around the rivers and forests of Montana. Paul's rebellious, and he’s intrepid, and he’s also, in his words, “never leaving Montana.” A River Runs Through It preserves pristine, untouched wilderness, and the people who lived in it.
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Nebraska: Election (1999)

Filmed in a real high school in Nebraska, this cult classic follows a tense high school election between a Claire Underwood-in-training, Tracy Flick (Reese Witherspoon), and a classmate (Chris Klein) who was put up to the task by a social studies teacher (Matthew Broderick) tired of Tracy's conniving ways.
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Nevada: The Hangover (2009)

As the saying goes, "What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas." With The Hangover, we get to see "what happens" — the story the four protagonists will probably tell their wives and girlfriends.

Two days before his wedding, Doug (Justin Bartha) and his three friends, Phil (Bradley Cooper), Stu (Ed Helms), and Alan (Zach Galifianaki), drive to Vegas. The next day, Phil, Stu, and Alan can't remember a thing, and Doug is missing. Memories of a night that could only happen in Vegas slowly drip back to them.
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New Hampshire: What About Bob (1991)

In New York in the summertime, everyone aches to get away. Everyone except Bob (Bill Murray), who's an acute agoraphobe, that is. When Bob's new psychiatrist, Dr. Leo Marvin (Richard Dreyfuss) goes to New Hampshire with his family, Bob feels absolutely unmoored. Drawing on the catchphrases Dr. Marvin taught him, Bob pushes himself to his limits and finds the doctor at his idyllic lakefront house in New Hampshire.

With quintessential activities like jumping off the dock and biking into the small town, Bob experiences his very first pastoral summer. Dr. Marvin's wife and kids have a blast, too. The only miserable one of the bunch is Dr. Marvin.
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New Jersey: Clerks (1994)

Say "New Jersey," and people conjure up images of interlocking highways, Snooki of Jersey Shore, and a Zach Braff movie we won't talk about. Or, they think a day in the life of Dante (Brian O'Halloran) and Randal (Jeff Anderson), two convenience store workers in Kevin Smith's breakthrough black comedy, Clerks. Cleverly, Clerks is separated into nine distinct sections that mimic Dante's Inferno, to show the seemingly never-ending toil of wasting away in a convenience store in Jersey. But this day, as you'll see, is unlike the days that have drudged on before for Dante and Randal.
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New Mexico: The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly (1966)

The Man With No Name (Clint Eastwood), Angel Eyes (Lee Van Cleef), and Tuco (Eli Wallach) live their lives in the wide-open Southwest according to a moral code of their own making. While the rest of the country's engaged in the civil war, these three team up to pursue a stash of $200,000 in Confederate gold. If you're only going to watch one Western movie over the course of your lifetime, let it be The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, set in the barren, red-tinted landscape that would one day become New Mexico.
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New York: 25th Hour (2002)

Tomorrow, life as Monty Brogan (Edward Norton) knows it will end, forever. He’s turning himself in for a seven-year prison sentence. Monty spends his last day in Manhattan orbiting around his friends, a morally ambiguous Wall Street trader (Barry Pepper) and an English teacher (Phillip Seymour Hoffman), his girlfriend, Naturelle (Rosario Dawsno), and the gangsters and mafiosos for whom he worked — and the reason why he’s going to jail.

This Spike Lee movie is set in the days after 9/11. Monty’s saying goodbye to his old life, just as the city is going through its own metamorphosis. So even though this is Monty Brogan’s story, it’s caught up in a history that many New Yorkers lived through, and still feel every day.
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North Carolina: Cold Mountain (2003)

While watching Cold Mountain, the story of Civil War deserter Inman (Jude Law) making his way back to his love, Ada (Nicole Kidman), you might think you're seeing North Carolina's Blue Ridge Mountains in all their not-so-blue glory. Actually, though, the film's scenery and battles were filmed in the Carpathian Mountains of Romania. All Hollywood inauthenticity aside, Cold Mountain is a sweeping epic based entirely around an Odyssean homecoming to North Carolina, not Ithaca.
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North Dakota: Leprechaun (1993)

Sorry to do this to you, North Dakota, but we have to go with this strange, utterly singular B-horror movie about a leprechaun stranded in the northern reaches of the United States. Thanks to Leprechaun, we have scenes of Jennifer Aniston pulling water from a well, and a leprechaun driving a tractor maniacally around a farm. You almost pity the movie's villain, because he clearly doesn't appreciate North Dakota's charm. He just wants to go home.
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Ohio: Heathers (1998)

In a high school in Sherwood, Ohio, standard mean-girl fare escalates into murder. The Heathers — consisting of Veronica Sawyer (Winona Ryder) and three girls named Heather — rule Westburg High School. Then, after becoming involved with a gun-toting student of questionable character (Christian Slater), Veronica covertly starts working against the Heathers.
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Oklahoma: Oklahoma! (1955)

Not every state gets its own musical. In fact, Oklahoma is the only one. By now, the Rodgers and Hammerstein song "Oklahoma" has become a cultural touchpoint. Granted, the movie musical was filmed in Arizona, but its wide-open landscapes and grasses passed for Oklahoma for those of who didn't know better.
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Oregon: One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975)

Charismatic and rebellious Randle McMurphy (Jack Nicholson) thinks he'll be able to serve out his time in the relative ease of a mental institution, as opposed to a prison. That's not what happens, though, when he arrives to the hospital, presided over by the authoritarian Nurse Ratched (Louise Fletcher). In each other, Ratched and McMurphy recognize what they hate the most. McMurphy spearheads triumphant insurrections against Ratched. Ratched, with the system on her side, responds with quietly brutal acts of subjugation.

The film is set in the Oregon State Hospital, which has since been turned into a museum.
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Pennsylvania: Rocky (1976)

Rocky (Sylvester Stallone) ran around the entirety of Philadelphia while training for his big boxing match, and left a cinematic stain on the city that has yet to be wiped off. The 72 steps in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art are now called the "Rocky Steps" because of their appearance in all but one of the Rocky movies. There are even Rocky-themed tours of Philly, run by Rocky impersonators.
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Rhode Island: The Witches of Eastwick (1987)

In a quaint, uptight, New England town, three women (Cher, Susan Sarandon, and Michelle Pfeiffer) unlock their magical powers following their respective divorces. They don't know the extent of their magic until Daryl Van Horne (Jack Nicholson), a stranger, moves in next door and seduces each of them. Also, Daryl may or may not be the devil. Who knows what your sleepy New England town is concealing?
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South Carolina: Slither (2006)

The town of Wheelsy, South Carolina, becomes inundated by a population of mutant slugs. Once you're bitten, you become a disgusting slug-human hybrid that resembles a guest villain on Doctor Who. In this horror comedy, Elizabeth Banks' husband catches the slug fever, and she has to rally around the town's limited resources to find a solution.
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South Dakota: Dances With Wolves (1990)

It's 1863, and after retiring from the war front, Union soldier John Dunbar (Kevin Costner) requests to man the furthest outpost on the western frontier. There, he comes in contact with local Sioux tribes, and eventually comes to be accepted as one of their own. The Sioux give John Dunbar a new name: Dances With Wolves. This three-hour-long epic film is a snapshot of Great Plains tribes' final years of freedom, before the American government intervened and changed their way of life forever.
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Tennessee: Walk the Line (2005)

Even if you're not a country music fan, you'll walk away from Walk the Line, the Johnny Cash biopic, with a newfound appreciation for the genre. Johnny Cash (Joaquin Phoenix), a farm boy from Arkansas, travels to Memphis to begin his music career. There, he meets June (Reese Witherspoon), the love of his life — and he'll have her, even if they're both married. Johnny Cash is music's most lovable outlaw.
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Texas: Boyhood (2014)

Boyhood is the coming-of-age movie to end all coming-of-age movies. Snapshots of Mason's (Ellar Coltrane) life, filmed over a 12-year span, are all so sharply observed you'll forget, at times, you're not watching a documentary. With filming locations throughout the Lone Star state, from Houston to the Big Bend Ranch State Park, director Richard Linklater called Boyhood “my ultimate Texas movie.”
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Utah: 127 Hours (2010)

127 Hours is one of these movies you desperately hope isn't based on a true story but actually is. In the film, Aron Ralston's (James Franco) hand gets stuck while traversing Utah's Canyonlands National Park. After futile efforts chipping the rockface and constructing a makeshift pulley system to life the boulder, Aron faces the grim truth. The only way out of the cave will be without his hand. Aside from all the gruesome amputation bits, 127 Hours also showcase's Utah's natural beauty during flashback scenes.
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Vermont: Dead Poets Society (1989)

May we all have a moment as inspiring as Robin Williams, on a chair, transmitting poetry into the supple young minds of high-schoolers. Dead Poets Society is set in an austere, conservative New England boarding academy, where students are supposedly molded upright citizens. But John Keating (Robin Williams) has a different idea — a bright, wonderful idea – of what constitutes an "upright citizen." No other film set in Vermont quite captures the state's principled, independent, and rebellious streak.
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Virginia: The New World (2005)

Terrance Malick's sprawling, beautiful retelling of the Pocahontas legend has a devoted, cult-like following. When watching, put down your phone, and reel yourself into a Eden-like vision of America as it once was. Let Malick's Pocahontas myth, not Disney's, be the one that lingers.
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Washington: Singles (1992)

Singles promised us that our twenties would be, at the very least, filled with fun and filled with friends. The group in Singles lives in the same apartment complex, and each navigates the same '90s Seattle dating scene, with its faint whiff of grunge. Featuring musicians from the era, including the late Chris Cornell, Singles is a snapshot of Seattle as a a city of coffee stands and flannel-clad rockers.
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Washington, D.C.: All The President's Men (1976)

The message of All the President's Men is simple, and comforting in these times. When the executive branch of the government is rotten, as it had been under Richard Nixon's administration, reporters can, and should, bring its crime to the public's attention. All the President's Men is the story of Bob Woodward (Robert Redford) and Carl Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman), two Washington Post reporters who followed a thread of corruption and ended up discovering the Republican party's breaking into the Democratic Party Headquarters — a.k.a. Watergate.
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West Virginia: Logan Lucky (2017)

Move over, Ocean's 11: The best heist movie is now set in West Virginia. Jimmy Logan (Channing Tatum) ropes his brother (Adam Driver) and sister (Riley Keough) into a scheme with improbably lofty ambitions. His plan is to rob the NASCAR stadium in nearby North Carolina on the busiest day of the year.
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Wisconsin: Bridesmaids (2011)

As this raunchy, hilarious movie shows, there's no city like Milwaukee for bridesmaid drama. And, unforgettably, there's no city like Milwaukee to cross the street with raging stomach problems following a lunch gone awry. In Bridesmaids, Kristin Wiig plays Annie, a long-suffering, broke baker who flails in her role as her best friend's maid of honor.
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Wyoming: Brokeback Mountain (2005)

In the middle of this big rectangle of a state, two cowboys fell in love. After they come down from the mountain, their love persists in wrenching, grueling fashion, even as they get married to other people. To borrow from the movie's language, Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger) and Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal) just "can't quit" the sprawling plains and rocky ledges of Brokeback Mountain — or each other.
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