What Are The Most Famous Movies Filmed In Virginia?
Everyone loves seeing their hometown pop up in a movie. Unfortunately for local film fans, the list of movies shot in Virginia pretty short — and the number of films shot entirely in Virginia is even shorter.
Nevertheless, Old Dominion has left its mark on Hollywood history. Today we recognize that by taking a break from Virginia sports betting coverage to rank the best films shot (or partially shot) in the state.
To make our list, BetVirginia.com started by considering all movies categorized as “shot in Virginia” on Wikipedia. We then created a ranking system based on IMDb rating, Rotten Tomatoes Audience score, Rotten Tomatoes Critic score and Academy Award nominations and wins.
Below you can find the results after we crunched the numbers.
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Ranking of Best and Most Famous Movies Filmed in Virginia
Oscar Winners In Top Spots
One of the greatest movies ever made, “The Silence of the Lambs” ranks No. 1. Released in 1991, it’s the most recent film to win the “Big Four” categories at the Oscars — that is, Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Director.
Starring Jodie Foster as an FBI agent who must consult with the cannibalistic murderer Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) to stop the serial killer Buffalo Bill, “Silence of the Lambs” was mostly shot in Pennsylvania. However, the filmmakers were able to get permission to shoot at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia.
The Quantico campus is featured in the opening scenes, and several of the sequences featuring Foster and Hopkins together. In addition to granting access to their facilities, the FBI also consulted on several aspects of the production. FBI agents reviewed the script, served as extras and even provided Foster with firearms training.
As for the next two films on the list, you’ve got to look real hard to find a glimpse of Virginia on display.
At No. 2 is “Forrest Gump,” the 1994 Tom Hanks classic about a dimwitted man stumbling through American history. It was shot across the country, with a great deal of filming taking place in North Carolina, South Carolina and especially Georgia. The only Virginian landmark of note is the Blue Ridge Parkway, which Forrest runs along during his impromptu cross country marathon.
Likewise, “The Coal Miner’s Daughter,” the third film on the list, was filmed almost entirely in Loretta Lynn’s home state of Kentucky. Only a handful of scenes, including the interiors of the Queen of Country Music’s childhood home, were filmed in Virginia.
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Other Top Virginia-Based Movies Fill Out Top 10
Virginia is easily recognizable in the fourth film on our list — but only if you don’t blink. An aerial establishing shot of the CIA headquarters in Langley appears for approximately four seconds during 2011’s “X-Men: First Class.” The interior shots, however, were filmed elsewhere.
The same is true of the ninth film on our list, “Mission: Impossible,” which features its own brief establisher of CIA HQ. The iconic scene of Tom Cruise infiltrating Langley, while dangling from the ceiling and dodging laser beams, was filmed on a soundstage.
No. 5 on our list definitely features Virginia prominently — though some locals probably wish it didn’t.
One of the most memorable scenes from 2005’s “Borat,” the satirical mockumentary about a fictitious reporter from Kazakhstan visiting America, features Sacha Baron Cohen attending a rodeo in Salem. Wearing an American flag button-up, Cohen’s Borat pumps the audience up by praising the war in Iraq before he butchers the American anthem.
Legend has it the stunt almost caused a riot and Cohen needed police escorts when he left the Salem Civic Center that night.
Finally, at No. 6, we have our first movie to be shot entirely in Virginia. “Harriet” the 2019 biopic about abolitionist Harriet Tubman, received two Academy Award nominations, both for the film’s star Cynthia Erivo. Not only did Erivo earn a nom for Best Actress, but she was also recognized in the Best Original Song category for co-writing and performing “Stand Up” from the “Harriet” soundtrack.
“Dirty Dancing” is seventh on the list. Though some scenes were filmed in Kentucky, the majority of the beloved Patrick Swayze flick was shot at the Mountain Lake Lodge in Pembroke, Virginia. Fans of the film can even book a “Dirty Dancing” themed weekend package that includes dance lessons, a trivia night, and even a scavenger hunt.
Further down the list are two more films shot entirely in-state — “Burning Sands” at No. 10, and “Lassie” at No. 11.
Filmed on location at Virginia State University, “Burning Sands” is a harrowing look at on-campus Greek-life and hazing culture. The critically acclaimed Netflix original premiered at Sundance in 2017.
Meanwhile, “Lassie” is a kids’ vehicle crafted around everyone’s favorite Collie. Filmed in and around Tazewell County, the film was a modest hit when it came out in 1994.
Finally, Steven Spielberg’s 2005 blockbuster “War of the Worlds” rounds out our top 12. Like most of the titles, the movie is primarily shot outside the state. However, the sequence near the end of the film, where Tom Cruise and his family happen upon a full-scale battle between the aliens and the U.S. Military, was filmed in the Shenandoah Valley near Lexington, Virginia.
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Honorable Mention For More Movies Filmed in Virginia
Considering the sparse connection to Virginia in many of these films, allow me to nominate three additional films, shot entirely in-state, for the next draft of this list:
“My Dinner With Andre” — Louis Malle’s celebrated film takes place entirely over the course of a meal as two old friends discuss philosophy, spirituality and art.
“What About Bob” — This Bill Murray-starring parody of self-help gurus might be more relevant today than when it was released in 1991.
“Major Payne” — A somewhat forgotten 90s comedy about a hardened soldier determined to toughen up a troop of prep school cadets and lead them to victory in the annual youth military games.
Ultimately, if this list of feels underwhelming, fear not. We may be seeing more of Virginia in Hollywood soon. There are currently several bills in front of the state senate and house assemblies aimed at bolstering the local film industry by offering more competitive production incentives.
Movies Filmed In Virginia FAQs
In a rating system created by BetVirginia.com, the top 5 best movies filmed in Virginia are, in order: The Silence of the Lambs (1991), Forrest Gump (1994), The Coal Miner's Daughter (1980), X-Men: First Class (2011), and Borat (2006).
Two of the most recognizable films not only from the 1990's but of all time had bits filmed in Virginia: Forrest Gump and The Silence of the Lambs. Lassie, which released in the same year (1994) as Forrest Gump, is one of the most famous films shot entirely in the state of Virginia.
Many films are shot all around the world but some of the top and most famous movies filmed entirely in Virginia include Harriet (2019), Burning Sands (2017), and Lassie (1994). Dirty Dancing (1987), while filming a few shots in Kentucky, was primarily filmed at the Mountain Lake Lodge in Pembroke, Virginia.