The Pacific Northwest is full of picture-perfect landscapes, so it’s no surprise some of them wind up as scene settings for major motion pictures. Over the years, a handful of films have been shot, at least in part, in Skagit, Whatcom, Island and San Juan counties. If you’re looking for a fun day trip, why not visit a few of the shoot locations from movies filmed in Skagit County and surrounding areas. Or have a movie night with friends or family and watch these locally-shot films to see if you can spot our landmarks on the screen.
“The Deer Hunter”
One of the most critically-acclaimed and controversial movies of the late 1970s, “The Deer Hunter” boasts an all-star cast featuring Robert De Niro, Christopher Walken, John Savage, the late John Cazale, and Meryl Streep. The 1978 film focuses on a tight-knit group of steelworkers whose lives are forever changed by the horrors of the Vietnam War.
After one of the main characters is married, and before several of the men go off to war, they band together one last time for a deer hunt. It’s supposed to take place in the Allegany Mountains of Pennsylvania, yet this section of the film features multiple glaciated backdrops. Several sequences, prominently featuring Mount Baker in the background, were filmed in the Heather Meadows area of Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest. Another scene shows the men’s car driving across the Skagit River’s Diablo Dam in North Cascades National Park.
In another scene, De Niro and another man get out of their car to pee at a bend in the North Cascades Highway, just across from what’s now Colonial Creek Campground. I think of this moment every time I pass that spot. Maybe there should be a commemorative plaque or something.
2002 horror flick “The Ring” filmed mostly in Western Washington, including scenes shot in both Whatcom and Skagit Counties. The movie stars Naomi Watts as an investigative journalist looking into an urban legend about a videotape that means death for whoever watches it.
During the film, Watts’s character is shown driving across the Deception Pass Bridge, as well as past Fidalgo Island’s Pass Lake. Several scenes at the fictitious “Shelter Mountain Inn” were actually shot at Bellingham’s Camp Firwood, located near Lake Whatcom.
“This Boy’s Life”
“This Boy’s Life” is a 1993 coming-of-age drama is based on the memoir by Tobias Wolff, and stars Robert De Niro, Ellen Barkin and – in one of his first films – Leonardo DiCaprio. The film chronicles the journey of an adolescent Wolff and his mother, who wind up living with her new boyfriend (De Niro) and his children in the small hamlet of Concrete.
Shot primarily on-location, the film features scenes of a Concrete transformed to mimic the 1950s time period in which it takes place. There are images of the iconic concrete structure reading “Welcome to Concrete,” as well as downtown storefronts, the historic downtown movie theatre, and local school buildings.
The most recent film on this list, “Captain Fantastic” stars Viggo Mortensen in an Oscar-nominated performance as a father trying to raise six children in isolation from mainstream society. In this case, that isolation takes place in our state’s wilderness. Among the scenic Washington backdrops used in the film are cliffs near Deception Pass State Park, as well as a gorgeous shot of Mount Shuksan, filmed at Artist Point in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest.
The 2016 film is a poignant family dramedy that also stars Frank Langella, Steve Zahn and Kathryn Hahn, and is well-worth a watch.
“The Call of the Wild”
Based very loosely on Jack London’s iconic novel, 1935’s “The Call of the Wild” brought Hollywood stars Clark Gable and Loretta Young up to the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, and what’s now the Mount Baker Ski Area, for location shooting. The film follows Gable’s character in what is supposed to be gold rush-era Alaska. Filming took several weeks, and production delays included a blizzard, sick actors and a power outage. In the end, the film was successful, and was also a huge boon for local tourism to the area.
Last but not least, there’s “The Postman” – a post-apocalyptic Kevin Costner flick that features an odd movie role for singer Tom Petty. The 1997 movie was one of Costner’s largest box office bombs, receiving mostly negative reviews and losing nearly $60 million. In the year 2013, Costner’s character is a drifter who finds an old U.S. Postal Service uniform and proceeds to travels remnants of the Western U.S., bringing hope to everyone that the future may not be as crappy as the present.
The movie’s final scene was shot on the Fidalgo Island waterfront, although I’m not exactly sure where. Other than seeing Tom Petty and local scenery, there isn’t much reason to watch this film outside of amusing 1990s-era nostalgia.