The 12 best movies filmed in Minnesota


The movies filmed in Minnesota are both a blessing and curse for our fair state. They introduce outsiders to settings familiar to us, like a frozen lake or downtown cityscape. They also showcase some of the subtle humor to be found underneath our generally reserved exterior. At the same time, however, they can contribute to the impression that Minnesota is a frozen wasteland of passive-aggression and bland food.

Though the 12 movies on this list get their fair share of laughs at the expense of tried-and-true stereotypes, they also do a good job showing off what our state has to offer, whether through the obscene barbs of ice-fishing grandpas or the musical gifts of a certain purple-clad god among men.

Here they are, in no particular order.

See Also:
Five Minnesota Movies from the '90s that would make marvelous musicals
Top 15 books set in Minnesota

[jump] Jingle All the Way (1996) Do you want to see Arnold Schwarzenegger fight Sinbad inside Mickey's diner? Of course you do. But unless you have the money and connections to make that happen yourself, Jingle All the Way is pretty much your only option. This silly family holiday flick follows mattress salesman Howard Langston (Schwarzenegger) as he attempts to make up for not paying enough attention to his son by getting him TurboMan, the hot new toy of the season.

Of course, he waits until the last minute, and along the way he runs into zany obstacles at a variety of Twin Cities locations, including the Mall of America and downtown St. Paul (check out the skyways in the above pic of Schwarzenegger's futile chase). Ironically, the climax of the film, a mock-up of the Holidazzle parade re-named the Wintertainment parade, is one of the few scenes not filmed in Minnesota.

Grumpy Old Men (1993)
Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau star in this comedy about two aging Minnesota neighbors with a long history of animosity. The comedic veterans feud over everything, from ice fishing to the women next door, trading barbs laced with profanity and pranks one might not expect from either the elderly or rural Minnesotans. The ice fishing scenes, including the disaster of John Gustafson's (Lemmon) ice house, were filmed on Lake Rebecca in Rockford, and the hometown of the two curmudgeons is a fictionalized version of Wabasha. The town still hosts a Grumpy Old Men festival every February with ice fishing, cribbage, and a pet pageant.

Young Adult (2011)


The film stars Charlize Theron as Mavis Gray, a recently divorced writer of young-adult fiction who leaves her apartment in Minneapolis for the fictional Minnesota town of Mercury to try to break up her high-school sweetheart's marriage. It does not go well, to put it mildly, and her attempts to win back her adolescent love reveal a host of character flaws. Did we mention this is comedy?

Though some of screenwriter (and City Pages alumna) Diablo Cody's films are set in Minnesota, Young Adult is the only one to be filmed here -- or, the location shots at least. You can see City Hall and the Metrodome from the view out of Mavis's apartment.

A Prairie Home Companion (2006)

For those who live in St. Paul, it's not a particularly strange occurrence to see Garrison Keillor in the flesh, red shoes and all. Those unlucky souls who don't share the joy of living in the most livable city in America will have to make do with the silver screen version of the broadcast legend. A Prairie Home Companion, director Robert Altman's last film, is a comedy centered on the production of the long-running radio variety show featuring such luminaries as Merryl Streep, Woody Harrelson, and the always professional Lindsey Lohan. All but one of the scenes -- an epilogue filmed in Mickey's diner -- were staged in St. Paul's Fitzgerald Theater, from which the radio show is broadcast and performed weekly from now into the foreseeable eternity.

Fargo (1996)
Ah, Fargo. The bane of every Minnesotan's existence when out-of-staters first hear where we live. No, we don't all talk like that. No, we won't say "you betcha" for you. As much as the film may have popularized the more ridiculous iterations of our beautiful accent, it's still one of the greatest movies to be filmed and set in Minnesota. The bloody comedy of embezzlement, murder, and dogged police work stars William H. Macy, Steve Buscemi, and Frances McDormand. Native sons the Coen brothers used locations all over Minnesota in the making of the film. The scene shown above was shot in Hallock, population 981, at the corner of 3rd Street and Byran Avenue.

Beautiful Girls (1996)

Beautiful Girls is set during a 10-year high-school reunion, a time in a man's life when he has to acknowledge his impending death while re-examining what he needs to do to better guide the course of his life. The ensemble comedy follows New York piano man Willie Conway (Timothy Hutton) as he returns to his childhood home in small-town Massachusetts, where he and his old friends (who never left) all face similar crossroads in their lives, love, and careers. Following her breakout performance in The Professional, Natalie Portman starred in this film as Marty, a 13-year-old girl who is wise beyond her years (and has a complicated friendship with Willie).

Though Beautiful Girls is set on the East Coast, it was filmed almost entirely in Minnesota. The reunion happens in Hopkins, and one of the gang's hangout spots is Bryant-Lake Bowl in Minneapolis.

Drop Dead Gorgeous (1999)

If you think Toddlers and Tiaras presents a bleak vision of the world of beauty pageants, wait until you check out the mockumentary/dark comedy Drop Dead Gorgeous. The film stars Kirsten Dunst as Amber Atkins, a funeral-home beautician auditioning in the Sarah Rose Cosmetics Mount Rose American Teen Princess Pageant held in her fictional hometown of Mount Rose, Minnesota. Along the way, several contestants -- along with their Minnesotan accents -- are murdered, and the town ineptly searches for the culprit. Though Mount Rose doesn't really exist, the film's many locations across the state do, including Farmington, Chaska, and Waconia, where the classic gigantic burning swan parade float scene was filmed on First street.

Angus (1995)

It's possible that this coming-of-age comedy is the most '90s film of all time. Look no further than the trailer, which boasts music from the Goo Goo Dolls, Weezer, Green Day, and Ash. The movie follows Angus (Charlie Talbert), a put-upon fat kid who is good at science and fair at football, in his journey through his freshman year of high school. He gets set up to embarrass himself in a dance with Melissa Lefevre (Ariana Richards), his crush and the prettiest girl in school, by evil jock Rick Sanford (James Van Der Beek in his film debut). The movie has everything you could want from a high school underdog tale: a climactic dance/fight scene, a training montage, and snappy dialogue between kids and parental figures. Proving that not all kids go to school in California, the film features Owatonna High School and its actual marching band.

A Serious Man (2009)
The second entry from the Coen brothers on this list, A Serious Man may be their most personal work, set in an unnamed Twin Cities suburb meant to mimic the look and feel of the brothers' St. Louis Park childhood. The man in question is Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg), a physics professor who faces a series of trials akin to Job's within his family and professional life. He seeks the help of his Jewish faith only to encounter more confusion. The comedy was a huge hit with fans of the Coen brothers' dark and existential humor, and was nominated for a Best Picture Oscar. Most of the suburban landscapes of the film were shot in Bloomington, and the synagogue scenes were shot in the B'nai Emet Synagogue in St. Louis Park.

Purple Rain (1984)

Ladies and gentlemen...the Revolution! Purple Rain tells the love story of the Kid (Prince) and Apollonia (Apollonia Kotero), and takes place in the midst of a feud between Prince's the Revolution and Morris Day's the Time. It launched one of the most successful soundtracks of all time, and is one of the greatest displays of Prince's majesty ever recorded. Most of the film was shot in Minneapolis, and the production shut down First Avenue for almost a month to film its incredible performance scenes. One famous Minnesota location mentioned in the movie is notably absent, however. As the Kid says: "That ain't Lake Minnetonka."

A Simple Plan (1998)

Picture Fargo, then strip away the silly accents and bumbling henchmen, and leave behind the desperation, violence, and bleak rural setting. A Simple Plan is a Sam Raimi thriller starring Bill Paxton, Billy Bob Thorton, and Bridget Fonda. After Hank Mitchell (Paxton), his brother Jacob (Thorton), and their friend Lou Chambers (Brent Briscoe) find a downed plane with $4.4 million inside, their plan to secretly split the money soon spirals into deception and murder. The movie's rural Minnesotan snowscape was primarily shot in and around Delano, though some filming took place in Ashland, Wisconsin.

The Mighty Ducks (1992)

No list of anything Minnesotan would be complete without at least one tribute to hockey, and The Mighty Ducks is a classic of the sports-film genre. When big-shot defense attorney Gordon Bombay (Emilio Estevez) is brought down on a DUI, a judge forces him to coach a hockey team of unorganized youth from Minneapolis. The team, who become the Mighty Ducks after a sponsorship from Bombay's boss Gerald Ducksworth (Josef Summer), compete for a championship against their arch rivals, the Hawks (a team hailing from, of all places, Edina). Inspiration is had by all. The scene shown above was shot in Minneapolis's Elliot Park, and the film was produced entirely in Minnesota.