When people talk about movies filmed in Utah, the conversation quickly turns to the Monument Valley vistas in John Ford’s Westerns, or the red rocks around Moab as seen in “Thelma and Louise,” or Will Smith battling aliens on the Bonneville Salt Flats in “Independence Day.”
But Utah has provided the backdrop for movies that veer from the slightly off-kilter to the downright bizarre.
In honor of two filmed-in-Utah movies — the crime thriller “Wind River” and the oddball comedy “Brigsby Bear” — arriving in theaters this week, here (arranged chronologically) are seven lesser-known movies shot in the Beehive State.
1. “Carnival of Souls” (1962)
A young woman (Candace Hillgloss) survives a car crash, then moves to Utah for a job as a church organist — but her arrival includes encounters with a ghostlike figure and a mysterious pavilion that draws her like a magnet. The pavilion was the then-dilapidated main building at Saltair, where some of this low-budget horror movie was filmed. (The rest was filmed in Lawrence, Kansas.) Director Herk Harvey had a long career making industrial and educational films, but his one feature became a cult classic that influenced the likes of George A. Romero and David Lynch.
2. “Airport 1975” (1974)
The disaster-movie boom may have reached its outlandish heights with this airborne sequel. A businessman (Dana Andrews) has a heart attack while flying his Beechcraft, and the small plane collides into the cockpit window of a 747 flying from Washington to Los Angeles. Most of the crew dies, and it’s up to the lead flight attendant, Nancy Pryor (Karen Black), to land the plane — aided via radio by the airline’s chief flight instructor, Al Murdock (Charlton Heston), who is also Nancy’s estranged boyfriend. Can Al guide Nancy to land the plane safely in Salt Lake City without crashing into the Wasatch Mountains, killing an all-star cast that includes Helen Reddy, Sid Caesar, Linda Blair and Gloria Swanson?
3. “Chilly Scenes of Winter” (1979)
The American independent film movement got a boost from Utah before Robert Redford founded the Sundance Institute with this adaptation of Ann Beattie’s romantic novel. John Heard (who died last month at 71) plays Charles, a Salt Lake City civil servant who falls in love with Laura (Mary Beth Hurt), who’s recently separated from her husband, Ox (Mark Metcalf), and trying to find herself. A relationship begins, but Laura chafes at Charles’ idealized view of her and returns to Ox — leaving Charles to figure out if he can win her back, or if he should even try. Director-screenwriter Joan Micklin Silver’s movie bombed on its initial release under the boring title “Head Over Heels,” but had more success in 1982 — with the tacked-on happy ending removed and the title restored to Beattie’s original.
4. “Rubin & Ed” (1991)
Utah maverick Trent Harris’ feature debut ranks as one of the oddest things ever released by a major movie studio. Ed (Howard Hesseman) is a luckless salesman who finds a likely sucker, er, customer in Rubin (Crispin Glover), a loner in platform shoes. Rubin is willing to listen to Ed’s spiel if Ed first will help bury Rubin’s cat — which is frozen in a Coleman cooler — out in the Utah desert (namely, Goblin Valley). The movie was a critical and box-office failure at the time, but is now considered a cult classic, particularly around these parts.
5. “A Life Less Ordinary” (1997)
Director Danny Boyle and screenwriter John Hodge came to Utah for their follow-up to “Trainspotting,” and the results were a hyperkinetic mess. A fired janitor (Ewan McGregor) kidnaps the heiress (Cameron Diaz) of the owner (Ian Holm) of his former company, but she’s into it — both for the adventure and as a way to get back at Daddy. Their on-again, off-again romance is prodded along by angels (Holly Hunter and Delroy Lindo) who act like characters from a buddy-cop movie as they use gunplay and other tactics to steer the leads toward true love. Luckily, Boyle loved shooting in Utah so much that he returned to make “127 Hours.”
6. “The Way of the Gun” (2000)
After receiving an Oscar for writing “The Usual Suspects,” Christopher McQuarrie came to Utah to film his directorial debut, a loopy crime thriller about two lowlifes (Ryan Phillippe and Benicio Del Toro) who try for a big score by kidnapping a woman (Juliette Lewis) who’s carrying the baby of a money launderer (Scott Wilson). Plenty violent and rather full of itself (McQuarrie gave Phillippe‘s and Del Toro’s characters the last names Parker and Longbaugh, the last names of the real Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid), the movie did deploy some interesting Salt Lake City locations, including a slow-speed car chase on Regent Street and a confrontation in the Salt Lake Hardware building.
7. “Unaccompanied Minors” (2006)
Before “Bridesmaids” and “The Heat” made him a go-to comic director, Paul Feig cut his comic chops with this holiday family comedy shot in Salt Lake City. Loosely based on a “This American Life” story about children of divorce flying without chaperones during the holidays, the story follows a group of kids stuck in a Chicago airport holding area during a snowstorm, and how the kids make life miserable for the airport’s mean passenger-relations boss (Lewis Black). The movie has some good laughs, especially for locals wondering how the filmmakers decided to use the atrium of the Salt Lake City Library’s main branch as an airport concourse.