Wisconsin in the movies
Wisconsin may be a long way from Hollywood, but it's still no complete stranger to the big screen.
Whether it's a passing mention in a big blockbuster, an indie drama looking for some Midwest authenticity or even an entire action sequence taking place right in the middle of of Downtown Milwaukee, there's been a number of cinematic namedrops throughout the state of Wisconsin over the years – each one causing local audiences to break into a surprise smattering of applause because, oh hey, somebody noticed we exist!
So we rounded up as many Wisconsin shoutouts and movie shoots as we could remember into this list. From giant robots to giant spiders, oil men to anchormen, superheroes to rock-loving zeroes, this is Wisconsin at the cinema.
Movies filmed in Wisconsin
If you haven't seen this micro-budget documentary and its kooky Milwaukee stars, shame on you. Rent it off iTunes or Amazon, and see one of the funniest films ever made.
"The Amityville Horror"
This 2005 Ryan Reynolds-led remake of the classic horror tale starred Silver Lake as the infamous residence ... at least for the exterior shots. The interior was created in Buffalo Grove, Ill. in 2004.
"Back to School"
The classic Rodney Dangerfield college comedy filmed at UW-Madison.
"The Big One"
The excellent 1997 documentary by Michael Moore filmed in Madison and Milwaukee.
"The Blues Brothers"
Elwood and Jake spent some time filming in Milwaukee, with the then-Firstar Building easily spied as a car careens over the then-incomplete 794 freeway spur. Chicago? Who's kidding who?
Yes, this Oscar-nominated comedy mostly filmed in California. And yes, it was lame that Milwaukee was treated like a mildly podunk relative to Chicago with a dirt road connecting the two. But "Bridesmaids" did technically film in Milwaukee, grabbing some establishing shots of the Art Museum and the Public Market as well as shooting in Bay View.
This big budget 1996 action thriller starring Morgan Freeman and Keanu Reeves was filmed partly in Madison, Lake Geneva and the Yerkes Observatory in Williams Bay. Apparently eagle-eyed viewers can spot Sen. Tammy Baldwin and some other Madison colleagues as extras in the politics-tinged thriller.
"Damien: Omen II"
The first sequel to one of the finest horror films ever made were filmed in Lake Geneva, Eagle River and Delafield. St. John's Military Academy also got some screen time.
"The Deep End of the Ocean"
The 1999 big screen adaptation of Madison author Jacquelyn Mitchard's bestseller of the same name, starring Michelle Pfieffer and Whoopi Goldberg, was partly filmed in Madison – mostly just exteriors and roadways.
Starring Mark Harmon, this 1991 film about the legendary gangster was filmed in a number of Wisconsin sites, including in Milwaukee's Third Ward. It would be far from the gangster's first film-related visit to Wisconsin ...
The horror movie starring Mario Lopez of "Saved By the Bell" fame and Corey Haim was filmed at Carthage College in Kenosha and in Twin Lakes.
This '80s classic starring Molly Ringwald was shot partly in Madison.
"The Giant Spider Invasion"
A crap classic (that – true story – helped terrify OnMilwaukee pop culture editor Matt Mueller of spiders for the rest of his young life), this "Mystery Science Theater 3000"-approved B-movie from the 1975 not only takes place in Merrill, Wisconsin, but was actually filmed there and in some surrounding cities as well.
"Hemingway's Adventures of a Young Man"
This sprawling 1962 Hemingway adaptation features plenty of stars, including Paul Newman, Ricardo Montalban, Jessica Tandy, Eli Wallach and allegedly one of the first on-screen appearances from the late Sharon Tate. For Wisconsinites, however, the biggest star may be the setting for the first part of the movie, filmed in Mellen.
Steve James' iconic documentary – and Roger Ebert's favorite movie of the '90s – filmed partly in Milwaukee.
"I Love Trouble"
Julia Roberts and Nick Nolte starred in one of the most famous movies to be filmed in Wisconsin. The 1994 romantic comedy was filmed in Baraboo and Madison. According to Stanley Solheim at the Wisconsin Film Office, farmers picketed the film and tried to halt production – but that tension couldn't compare to the on-set drama between Roberts and Nolte, who notoriously did not get along during the shoot.
While mostly filming in Minnesota, this adventure drama – starring the now disgraced Kevin Spacey – also partially filmed in Superior.
"The Last Kiss"
Directed by President Fitzgerald Grant III, this Zach Braff-led romantic drama takes place around the UW-Madison campus – and actually filmed there as well.
The team in the movie is the Cleveland Indians, but it should have been the Brew Crew considering all of the stadium scenes were shot at our very own County Stadium. There were also outdoor scenes shot in the Third Ward, and a home on the corner of Kilbourn and Cass was used for interior shots.
"Meet the Applegates"
This 1991 dark comedy about a family of alien bugs living in surburbia, starring Ed Begley Jr. and Stockard Channing, was filmed in Appleton, Neenah and Oshkosh.
A tribute to Milwaukee it's not, but the indie dark comedy was filmed primarily in the Bay View area in Milwaukee. Kinnickinnic Avenue was a major part of the 2002 shoot, which wouldn't hit big screens until almost three years later in June 2005.
The late great comedian Bernie Mac starred in this baseball themed movie in 2003. Scenes were shot at the then-newly completed Miller Park, with several shots filmed in between innings at Brewers games. The Racing Sausages also got to make an appearance.
This 1984 Golden Globe-nominated drama – starring Diane Keaton and Mel Gibson in one of his first big post-"Mad Max" starring roles – briefly filmed in Freedom.
This 2001 black comedy starring Steve Martin, Kevin Bacon, Laura Dern and Helena Bonham Carter filmed in Cedarburg.
"The Paint Job"
The '90s comedy/thriller, about a painter falling in love with his boss' wife, was filmed in Milwaukee, Kenosha and Racine.
The biggest movie to land in Wisconsin during the state's brief tango with tax credits was this Johnny Depp John Dillinger action drama. Directed by Michael Mann – a student at UW-Madison – the production bounced across the state, from Columbus to Oshkosh, Beaver Dam to Madison, Milwaukee to Wisconsin Dells and more. The Milwaukee County Historical Society played host to one of the bank robbery sequences, while the production recreated a shootout between the gangster and the FBI at its actual location – Little Bohemia Lodge in Manitowish Waters.
While the movie was a big get for the then-freshly instated tax credits for Wisconsin film productions, it would quickly become a big reason for their demise just four years later in 2013, with "Public Enemies" barely spending as much as it received from the state.
This 2003 independent film about a murder set in the Midwest filmed across several Wisconsin cities including Milwaukee, Madison, Watertown, Jefferson and, the movie's title location, Reeseville.
According to the book "Lights, Camera, Action! ... In The Badger State," the "Rocky" of college football movies – starring "The Goonies" Sean Astin, who would return more than two decades later for a different film – was partly filmed in Milwaukee.
This 1977 Burt Reynolds football movie features some scenes fittingly filmed in Green Bay.
"A Simple Plan"
Director Sam Raimi ("Evil Dead," "Spider-Man") originally planned to film his 1998 masterpiece in Delano, Minnesota, but since there wasn't enough snow to match the script, much of the early shoot took place in Ashland and Saxon. Thanks El Niño!
"The Straight Story"
In 1999, David Lynch took a brief break from making batsh*t insane things to direct "The Straight Story," a road trip drama starring the late Richard Farnsworth as a real-life farmer who drove across the Midwest – including filming locations Mount Zion and Prarie du Chien – to make amends with his sick brother.
One of Roger Ebert's "Great Movies" – as well as "one of the oddest movies ever made," according to the iconic critic – Werner Herzog's 1977 drama "Stroszek" tells the story of three immigrants coming to Wisconsin to build better lives, filmed across Plainfield, Nekoosa and Madison with the help of many locals. Supposedly during filming, Herzog and fellow film great Errol Morris were going to dig up the grave of Ed Gein's mother to see if the notorious serial killer moved her, but Morris never showed.
Serving as the closing night selection of the 2014 Milwaukee Film Festival, this Sean Astin-led drama about two troubled men lost on a foreboding great lake filmed on the most foreboding of all the Great Lakes: our own Lake Michigan, as well as some Milwaukee locales on land.
"Transformers: Dark of the Moon"
Michael Bay is famous for destroying every city that lands in his path, but Milwaukee managed to go unscathed when the third "Transformers" film arrived in town to film at both the Milwaukee Art Museum and the former Tower Automotive site on Capitol Drive. However, if memory serves, the beautiful Milwaukee icon – playing the role of the evil Patrick Dempsey's office/vintage car garage – ends up implied as Chicago in the final product. That's fine; we wouldn't want our name attached to a "Transformers" movie anyways.
The late, great John Candy filmed parts of this John Hughes classic in Lake Geneva.
While not as popular as "Uncle Buck" – and also a complete different genre – this tense 2015 indie family drama, filmed in Prairie du Sac and Lodi, made a nice name for itself after its premiere at SXSW that year and later on both in limited release and at the Milwaukee Film Festival, scoring good write-ups from The New York Times and others. Here's looking forward to what director Steven Piet lines up next.
Some other movies filmed in Wisconsin include Clive Barker's classic horror flick "Hellraiser," Christopher Lambert's action pic "The Hunted," "Angus" and "The Cure." But note, although at least one scene in "This is Spinal Tap" purports to be in Milwaukee, it is not.
The John Cusack disaster movie makes quite a few random references to Wisconsin throughout its epic running time (over two and a half hours!) – most notably becoming the new location of the South Pole as a result of the planet's bombastic shifts. That has less to do with actual science (nothing in this movie has anything to do with science) and more about executive producer and friend of director Roland Emmerich, Michael Wimer, hailing from Neenah.
After Ron Burgandy (Will Ferrell) loses his precious dog Baxter, he gets a phone call that he thinks is from him and directs him to "Bark twice if you're in Milwaukee."
The now disgraced Woody Allen may be most famous for his work in postcard cities like Paris and especially New York, but for his most iconic film, he briefly dropped by Chippewa Falls (after a gig at UW-Madison) for Easter dinner with Annie's family – including Grammy Hall, who sees him as a Hasidic Jew, and her profoundly weird brother, played by Christopher Walken.
For some folks, the most famous team from Milwaukee isn't the Bucks or the Brewers, but the Milwaukee Beers from this Trey Parker/Matt Stone 1998 cult comedy – fittingly directed by Milwaukee native David Zucker.
"Bird on a Wire"
Mel Gibson and Goldie Hawn may pass through Racine in this 1990 action-comedy, but the actual movie was nowhere close to Wisconsin, instead filming the scene – like many Hollywood productions – in Vancouver, British Columbia.
"The Bye Bye Man"
While filmed in Cleveland – because where else better to film a scary movie? – this hilarious horror dud from January 2017 is actually based on an actual Sun Prairie ghost story.
"Captain America: The First Avenger"
Cap's tour punching Hitler across America makes a stop in Milwaukee during a fun mid-movie montage.
"Dawn of the Dead"
For his first film – and arguably still his best – Green Bay-born director Zack Snyder brought the George Romero zombie classic back to his home state ... kind of. While the movie takes place in the fictional Wisconsin town of "Everett," the remake was mostly shot in – you guessed it – Canada.
In Kevin Smith's dark religious comedy, two angels try to find a way back into heaven after getting exiled to Wisconsin. The late British great Alan Rickman plays Metranon, the voice of god, who hilariously explains that there's something worse than being exiled to hell: "Worse. Wisconsin. For the entire span of human history."
"Drop Dead Gorgeous"
This snappy satire about a beauty pageant in Minnesota finds itself playing host instead to a murder mystery – including one character who says that the pageant cannot rule out sabotage from neighboring state pagents including Iowa, North Dakota and Wisconsin.
"Good Night and Good Luck"
This 2005 Oscar-nominated drama makes numerous references to our home state since Sen. McCarthy was the Junior Sentator from Wisconsin.
"The Great Outdoors"
While the entire movie was shot on the West Coast in California and the story follows a bunch of Chicagoans (it is a John Hughes movie, after all) and the up north haven of Pechoggin is as much a work of fiction as Middle-earth, this classic John Candy/Dan Aykroyd comedy technically takes place in Wisconsin.
"The Incredible Hulk"
The most forgettable of all of the Marvel movies – so much so you probably forgot that this 2008 Edward Norton auctioneer features Stan Lee cameo-ing as a thirsty Milwaukeean who contracts gamma poisoning from a contaminated bottle of soda.
"Lars and the Real Girl"
An unnamed Wisconsin town politely goes along with a mustachioed Ryan Gosling and his romance with a sex doll in this better-than-it-sounds 2007 dramedy from future "I, Tonya" director Craig Gillespie. But while the kind manners are all Wisconsin, the film itself was shot in – one more time! – Canada.
Although most certainly not shot in Wisconsin, the beloved British romantic comedy "Love Actually" features one storyline in which doofus Colin dreams of traveling "to a fantastic place called Wisconsin" where the women will surely fall in love with his British accent. And he's proven correct, landing in a bar in "Cedarburg" and romancing four women almost immediately – including "Mad Men" star and girlfriend of actual Wisconsin native Nick Viall, January Jones.
A key scene in this George Clooney legal thriller takes place in Milwaukee, with Tom Wilkinson's Arthur Edens having a manic episode stripping down in a deposition room in the Cream City. And while we thankfully have no firsthand experience to prove whether or not its an actual Milwaukee deposition room, "Michael Clayton" filmed in New York and Iowa, not Wisconsin.
"The Night Listener"
One of Robin Williams' dalliances into drama, "The Night Listener" – based on Armistead Maupin's novel of the same name – follows a radio show host who ventures to a small Wisconsin town to find out the truth behind the supposedly abused young boy he's been communicating with. The movie was actually filmed, however, on the East Coast in New York and New Jersey.
"The Prince & Me"
In this 2004 romantic comedy, Julia Stiles plays a pre-med student at UW-Madison. You shouldn't be too surprised to find out that it's played by Canada. You might be surprised, however, to discover this mostly forgotten movie spawned THREE SEQUELS!
"The Shape of Water"
While the famous fish monster in Guillermo del Toro's 2017 Oscar-nominated oddball fantasy romance hails from South America, who we're concerned about is Michael Stuhlbarg's kind-hearted Dr. Hoffstetler, who originates from Madison, Wisconsin. That's clearly the exciting aspect of the movie.
Perhaps the oddest movie in John Carpenter's legendary resume, "Starman" didn't film in Wisconsin but Jeff Bridges' alien does crash land in Chequamegon Bay.
John Winger (Murrary) and Russell Ziskey (Harold Ramis) are talking in this Bill Murray-led war comedy when Wisconsin makes an appearance.
Winger: C'mon, it's Czechoslovakia. We zip in, we pick 'em up, we zip right out again. We're not going to Moscow. It's Czechoslovakia. It's like we're going into Wisconsin.
Ziskey: I once got my ass kicked in Wisconsin.
"That Thing You Do!"
Written and directed by Tom Hanks, the fictionally Beatle-mania-esque band in "That Thing You Do!" arrives in Wisconsin to a mob of frenzied fans. As a group of girls climbs onto their car, one band members says, "I like Wisconsin." Wait 'til they try cheese curds!
"There Will Be Blood"
Daniel Day-Lewis' Daniel Plainview is one of the most indelible cinematic characters of the 21st century – and he even hails from Fond Du Lac! That might help explain his affinity for milkshakes.
Before they all end up in the water, Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio) stops rich girl Rose (Kate Winslet) from jumping off the back of the boat to her death by talking about his youth growing up near Chippewa Falls, Wis., where he and his father would go ice fishing. However, the lake which he claims to have fished (and fallen through the ice) didn't exist at the time the Titanic actually sunk. Lake Wissota is a man-made lake which was made five years after the ship sunk. Still counts!
The dearly missed Chris Farley threw his alma mater a nice nod in his 1995 hit comedy, making Marquette University the site of his long, long, long, long in-the-works diploma. Unfortunately, it's a nod in name only as it's actually the University of Toronto playing the campus.
Slackers and public access cable show hosts Wayne and Garth get the chance of a lifetime to meet Alice Cooper at his Milwaukee show, where they have this now iconic conversation:
Wayne: So, do you come to Milwaukee often?
Alice Cooper: Well, I'm a regular visitor here, but Milwaukee has certainly had its share of visitors. The French missionaries and explorers began visiting here in the late 16th century.
Pete: Hey, isn't "Milwaukee" an Indian name?
Alice: Yes, Pete, it is. In fact, it's pronounced "mill-e-wah-que" which is Algonquin for "the good land."
Wayne: I was not aware of that.
If you know of other movies filmed in Wisconsin or quotes about Wisconsin, post them below.
In 1968 Paul Newman & Robert Wagner were seen by me having dinner at the Sky Garden restaurant in Sheboygan due to the fact that part of the film "Winning" was being filmed at Road America in Elkhart Lake, WI. Tasty tidbits from the past!!!!
I didn't see anyone mention this. The newer remake of dawn of the dead referenced racine wisconsin in the beginning of the movie when a woman on the radio metions the outbreak and racine's current condition Also the tv show gang land metion racine as being notorious for gang crime involving Folks and Vicelords in gandland's lords of the holy city and the Gansta deciple's episode. Not really positive advertising for the city of Racine, but it's true Racine is quite the @&%$hole these days from all the traffic coming from milwaukee ad chicago.Since Racine is right smack dab in the middle of the 2 giant metropolitan cities.
Newer Movies shot in Wisconsin consist of Johny Depps "Public Enemies" and "Transformers: The Dark of the Moon" starring Shia Lebouf and Megan Fox. Both movies were shot in Down Town Milwaukee, among some smaller towns and locations. Also, another movie includes 2000's "Ed Gein" which of course tells the story of one of Wisconsin's most infamous serial killers.
Don't forget probably the second worst movie of all time (after Plan 9 from outerspace) was "The Pit" filmed in Beaver Dam and Reeseville.
Stroszek, by Werner Herzog, is on Roger Ebert's list of great movies of all time. It was filmed in Berlin Germany and Wisconsin and featured many local Wisconsinites to tell the stories of three immigrants.
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