The same attributes that make the Black Hills a vacation mecca — beautiful landscapes, clear, smog-free skies and one-of-a-kind features like Mount Rushmore, the Badlands, huge bison herds and wide open spaces — also attract movie producers.
You’ve seen many movies filmed in the Black Hills and Badlands…. Titles like “Mercury Rising,” “Thunderheart,” “A Man Called Horse,” “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” “How The West Was Won” and more. For a list of 46 movies filmed on-location here, go to the South Dakota Film Office website. Here’s the fun part. You can visit many of these movie locations and movie sets during your vacation.
National Treasure: Book of Secrets
Released in December 2007, the Nicolas Cage adventure film National Treasure: Book of Secrets is the latest hit movie filmed here. The treasure hunt plot leads a team of history detectives to Mount Rushmore and shows aerial views of the Memorial and the little-known Hall of Records behind The Faces, and the same viewing plazas you’ll use. The action then leads to a mountain lake (Sylvan Lake in Custer State Park) and on to the film’s climax.
Dances With Wolves
Possibly the most famous of all Dakota location movies, Orion Pictures’ Dances With Wolves was shot in South Dakota between June and November 1989. The movie was nominated for 12 Academy Awards and took home Oscars for Best Cinematography, Director, Film Editing, Original Score, Sound, Original Screenplay and Best Picture. It spotlights the beauty of western South Dakota’s vast grasslands, one of the largest herds of bison in the world and the Lakota Sioux culture. The movie was shot entirely in South Dakota.
A simple road sign marks the location of the movie’s winter camp climax. The site is just west of Roughlock Falls in Spearfish Canyon in the Black Hills National Forest. It’s located on Forest Road 222, about 3 miles upstream from Spearfish Canyon Resort. Movie set buildings left over from “Dances” can be visited at Ft. Hays Chuckwagon, just five miles south of Rapid City on US 16.
North By Northwest
The 1950’s Alfred Hitchcock spy thriller North by Northwest also featured Rushmore. Stars Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint clambered down the faces (not really) to escape espionage killers. (The airstrip on top of Mt. Rushmore is totally fictional.) It’s a movie classic and it’s shown nightly to guests at Mt. Rushmore KOA.
Once you’ve become acquainted with South Dakota’s savage Badlands, you’ll come to recognize them in the background of many automaker TV commercials. The landscapes are so striking that TV spot producers love to show their new models of vehicles in this awesome locale. Are you beginning to get the idea that you simply must bring your camera when you come to South Dakota? The pros do!
If you’re a professional film producer, you need to contact the South Dakota Film Office for scouting, technical assistance and tax breaks.