What2Watch: Spotlight on National Park Week

While I could regale you with a list of movies from many different genres to have watched on Earth Day, there are a multitude of resources out there where you could find lists not at all unlike mine. However, there is another celebration that takes place this time of year, every year, that I can give you an inside scoop on the movie front: National Park Week. Taking place from Saturday, April 20 through Sunday, April 28 (and yes, for those who are counting, you get two extra days beyond a typical “week” to celebrate!), you should take the opportunity to go out and see a national park in person!

However, you can also celebrate from the comfort of your own home with a good movie on your television. Sure, there are documentaries you could watch as well to get the actual history of this grand places, and there are some great ones out there, but this list is for bucket-of-popcorn-good-time movies.

You won’t find many lists online telling you about movies “starring” national parks. Technically any movie showing you the area around the Golden Gate Bridge or the outside of the White House is showing you a national park. Most of them use stock footage and stages instead of actually shooting at those iconic locations, something that should surprise no one.

There are also a lot of movies filmed at national parks filling in for other locations such as Russia, Isla Nublar, Panem, and Endor, to name a few. Here, I’m focusing on four movies where National Parks actually have a starring role and will conclude with a brief list of honorable mentions.

MOVIE: National Treasure (PG, 2004, 131 min) and National Treasure 2: Book Of Secrets

(PG, 2007, 125 min)

While it will feel like you’re learning something as you watch these movies, they’ll actually ridiculously far-fetched plots. In both movies, Nicolas Cage’s character contemplates his actions at the Lincoln Memorial (an NPS site), though the scene was deleted from the theatrical release of the second movie. In the first movie, Cage runs across Independence Hall in Philadelphia (another NPS site). Some of it was filmed at a recreation of the Hall, but the production crew did go to the real thing as well. Also prominent in the second movie is Mount Rushmore (yet another NPS site), though don’t expect to find any secret entrances on your visit to the actual monument. Both of these movies are a fun romp through historic-tangential themes that will hopefully get you interested in the actual history as well as visiting some of these great locations.

MOVIE: Shooter

(R, 2007, 125 min)

Mark Wahlberg stars as Bob Lee Swagger who is brought in to consult on the safety of the US President, only to be framed for the assassination of a foreign dignitary. There are several locations Swagger scouts and suggests the most likely location for an assassination attempt is in Philadelphia, outside Independence Hall. The movie takes off with high octane action from there as Swagger is not only on the run from authorities, but also trying to figure out who the actual assassin was. Though the time with the national park is short, the importance is undeniable and will surely be on your “to visit” list now that it has had a prominent role in two movies!

MOVIE: The Rock

(R, 1996, 136min)

Another fast-paced action movie, and another starring Nicolas Cage, this stellar, intense, often over-the-top but undeniably fun story almost exclusively takes place on Alcatraz Island which stopped being a prison in 1963 and became part of the National Park System in 1972. A surprising amount of the movie was actually filmed on location on Alcatraz, however the portrayal of a National Park Service employee should be taken as a comical, tongue-in-cheek version. Anyone who has made the trip to the island would surely agree the integrity of those tours are top notch and becoming a hostage is highly unlikely.

MOVIE: Close Encounters Of The Third Kind

(PG, 1977, 137 min)

An early Steven Spielberg movie starring Richard Dreyfuss, this movie portrays a tense but not-too-scary look at a possible alien encounter. Several people have seen things they can’t explain and can’t get past, then start to have visions of a location they might not have ever been to themselves. There is a famous and oft parodied scene where Dreyfuss mounts mashed potatoes onto his plate to sculpt them with his fork. He does a pretty decent rendition of the real-life Devils Tower National Monument. They did a lot of filming on location at the monument as well.


• North By Northwest (NR, 1959, 136 min) is a wonderful Alfred Hitchcock movie starring Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint. The thrilling conclusion of the movie was shot at Mount Rushmore National Monument (South Dakota), though when Grant is crawling around on the presidents’ faces, that is a set piece.

• Forrest Gump (PG-13, 1994, 142 min) has several national parks, with the most iconic and memorable being Gump seeing Jenny when he stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and they subsequently run toward one another through the reflecting pool. During Gump’s long run, you’ll also catch glimpses of the Blue Ridge Parkway (which runs through North Carolina and Virginia) and Glacier National Park (which is in Montana).

• Thelma & Louise (R, 1991, 130 min) is a movie that is simultaneously heartwarming and heart-wrenching, but it features gorgeous views of both Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park (both in Utah) while the women are running from the law.

• Ghostbusters II (PG, 1989, 108 min) is one I hesitate to mention, but they did utilize the Statue of Liberty quite thoroughly in the movie, having it walk around downtown New York City in the climactic ending of the movie, and she is definitely part of the NPS!

It is worth noting that there are a variety of National Park Service sites located right here in the UP of Michigan, including Keweenaw National Historical Park, Isle Royale National Park, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore and part of the North Country National Scenic Trail. Go out and enjoy them if you’re able. But, don’t hesitate to invite some friends, pop the popcorn, grab a drink, cuddle up on the couch and bring some of the NPS wonderfulness into your living room through a good movie.

Kent Kraft is someone who has always loved movies and the worlds they can transport you to if you’re willing. More than 20 years ago, he married this love of movies with his love of writing and has a personal archive of more than 700 reviews of movies and their special features. Now living in Laurium, he looks forward to bringing his movie thoughts to a local discourse.


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