Iconic films shot in the Mid-Willamette Valley
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Salem and the Mid-Willamette Valley are no strangers to Hollywood: The likes of Cate Blanchett, Tommy Lee Jones, and Jack Nicholson have all shot big-budget films in our backyard over the years. But in reality, the star of most of those films happens to be the Willamette Valley itself.
Silver Falls State Park is the dramatic backdrop for memorable scenes in “Twilight," for instance, while the Oregon State Hospital played an integral role in the acclaimed film “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest." (Both films are honored with placards on the broader Oregon Film Trail, which honors the state’s history with Hollywood and its crucial role in numerous movies going back decades.)
It doesn’t end there, either: Over the years, more than a dozen other films have been shot in Salem and throughout the Mid-Willamette Valley. So here’s a rundown of some of our favorite locally shot movies—along with where they were filmed and how to watch.
Silver Falls State Park
Over the years, several movies have been filmed in Silver Falls State Park’s lush forests and bucolic canyon: Portions of the 2003 action-thriller film “The Hunted” were shot in the park, as were scenes for the 1981 horror flick “Just Before Dawn” and the 2010 movie “Yogi Bear.”
But none have achieved the fame and devotion of the 2008 film “Twilight," based on Stephenie Meyer's novel of the same name, which shot a few scenes within the park’s verdant confines. The opening deer-hunting scene was filmed in the park, as was the climbing scene where Edward (played by Robert Pattinson) tells Bella (played by Kristen Stewart), "You'd better hold on tight, spider monkey." (The line has since become one of the film’s most quoted.)
Today, an Oregon Film Trail sign sits at the Howard Creek Trailhead parking lot, near where the deer-hunting scene was shot. Silver Falls State Park is open, but please remember to wear a mask and maintain social distance. And if you can’t make it to the park, “Twilight” is available to rent on major streaming services (such as Redbox, Amazon, YouTube, and Vudu) and can be streamed via Showtime and DIRECTV (with a paid subscription).
Oregon State Hospital Museum of Mental Health
Perhaps no film has closer roots to its Oregon-based location than “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” The 1975 drama starred Jack Nicholson and was based on Oregon author Ken Kesey’s novel of the same name. The award-winning film was set in an Oregon mental institution and follows a group of patients fighting back against the authoritarian Nurse Ratched.
The movie was shot at the Oregon State Hospital in Salem, and the location was almost as much a character itself as the actors and actresses on screen. Residents were given the chance to vote on whether the hospital should be used for filming, for instance. And even before shooting commenced, the cast spent time at the hospital, getting to know residents and understanding their daily routines; later on, those same residents (and staff members) were enlisted as extras for various scenes. Today, the stories of the film shoot—and the hospital’s larger history—are told through exhibits at the Oregon State Hospital Museum of Mental Health (currently closed due to COVID-19).
An Oregon Film Trail marker sits outside the museum today, and those wanting to see inside can rent the film on most major streaming services—including Amazon, YouTube, Redbox, and Apple.
“One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” and “Twilight” might have been the most famous movies shot in the Salem area, but they’re far from the region’s only appearances on the silver screen.
Salem, for instance, was a filming location for the 1999 thriller "Double Jeopardy" (starring Ashley Judd and Tommy Lee Jones). The film can be streamed on Netflix (with a paid subscription) and is available for rent on most major streaming services—including Amazon, YouTube, Vudu, and Redbox.
Other films shot in and around Salem include the 2006 movie "Dark Horizon" (currently unavailable on streaming services) and the 2008 drama "Wendy and Lucy", which stars Michelle Williams as a homeless woman searching for her lost dog. Amazon Prime members can stream "Wendy and Lucy" with a paid subscription, Kanopy members can stream the film for free, and all others can rent the film via Apple, Amazon, YouTube, and FandangoNow.
The 2001 comedy-drama "Bandits" wasn't just shot in the Silverton area—it was partially set in the region, as well. The film, starring Bruce Willis, Billy Bob Thornton, and Cate Blanchett, follows two convicts who break out of the Oregon State Penitentiary and go on a bank-robbing spree. The film’s prison break was shot in the maximum-security Oregon State Penitentiary, and its first bank robbery and car chase was shot in downtown Silverton. “Bandits” is available for rent via Apple, Amazon, YouTube, and Vudu.
The 1986 made-for-television film “Promise” was shot around Salem and Dallas. The acclaimed movie stars James Garner as a man who inherits his late mother's estate and custody of his younger brother (played by James Woods). The historic Polk County Courthouse, the now-shuttered Blue Garden restaurant, and the broader downtown Dallas area all make appearances at pivotal moments in the film, which is not currently available on any streaming services.
Mount Jefferson Wilderness
The 2014 drama “Wild” starred Reese Witherspoon as Cheryl Strayed, a woman who hikes the Pacific Crest Trail following the death of her mother. Several scenes from the film were shot around Oregon. Hikers today can follow in Strayed’s footsteps and enjoy a day hike or overnight trip on the Pacific Crest Trail in the Mt. Jefferson Wilderness. Just keep in mind that the trail is generally accessible June-Oct., and that sections of the Trail may be inaccessible due to wildfire damage that occurred in September 2020. Before heading out, visit the Pacific Crest Trail Association website and the Detroit Ranger Station site for up-to-date information about closures.
If you’d rather see all that beauty and wonder from the comfort of your own home, “Wild” is available to rent through Apple, Amazon, YouTube, Vudu, and Redbox.