Featured image – Forrest Gump (1994): Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

A fun look at Moab (and Utah) as seen on the big screen!

By Redtail Air Adventures

When you come to Moab, the sheer rock faces, breathtaking golden color scheme, and towering red rock pinnacles will have you constantly pulling out your camera. The same can be said about the film directors making their way to our sweeping landscapes! 

Moab is no stranger to the big screen. From some of the very first Westerns ever created to exciting projects that haven’t been announced yet, you can find Moab in the credits of many independent and Hollywood films. When you need a really good desert setting, a fake background and wind machine just won’t do.

Here is everything you need to know about Moab on the big screen!

History of Film in Moab

Moab has been a heavy hitter in film, thanks to the rugged landscapes unaltered by civilization. Filmmakers have been exploring these horizons since 1925. In the several decades since, nearly 200 feature-length films have been made in the “Moab to Monument Valley region” of Southeastern Utah. Pull up any old Western, and there’s a chance that Moab makes a cameo in at least a couple of scenes. 

Movies Filmed in Utah

The first film ever shot in Moab was “Wagonmaster” in 1949. This film was a classic black-and-white Western following a group of Mormon families searching for safe passage to the San Juan River in Utah in a classic tale of pioneering across the American Frontier. 

As this film introduced other filmmakers to the wonders of moviemaking in Moab, the idea of shooting movies in the Red Rocks exploded. In the era of Westerns, Moab became a main character. The 50s and 60s were full of Moab-based Westerns, including “Rio Grande” (1950), “Son of Cochise” (1954), “Warlock” (1959), “The Comancheros” (1961), and “Cheyenne Autumn” (1964).  

Later on, another wave of Western movies emerged with “City Slickers” (1991) and “Geronimo” (1993). 

While many of the above movies fall into the “cult films” category, there are also some big box office hits in our red rocks. “Thelma and Louise” (1991) has the iconic scene of a 1966 Ford Thunderbird driving off the cliff in the last moments of the film. “Mission: Impossible II” (2000) has a somewhat dubious opening scene depicting Tom Cruise climbing thousands of feet in the air for fun (without a rope, of course). Even “Austin Powers in Goldmember” got in on the fun with an over-the-top car chase scene on the winding roads of Southeast Utah. 

thelma and louise driving down a dirt road at the filming location in moab
"Thelma & Louise" (1991): Courtesy of Pathe Entertainment
thelma and louise movie scene in utah
Photo of a scene from "Thelma & Louise" being held in front of the filming location: © Andrea David @filmtourismus

Movies Filmed in Monument Valley

Monument Valley is an incredibly popular area for film near Moab. This tribal park has an incredibly unique horizon line, with towering needles, mitten-shaped rock formations, and no man-made features in sight. The vistas around Monument Valley have been a fantastic setting for feature films. 

“Stagecoach” (1939) was the first official film shot in Monument Valley, featuring the one and only John Wayne at the start of his long reign of fame. Across the decades, other films featuring big names like Henry Fonda, John Ford, Stanley Kubrick, and, of course, Micheal J. Fox as Marty McFly in “Back to the Future III.”

thelma and Louise filming location in moab at dead horse state park
"Thelma & Louise" (1991): Courtesy of Pathe Entertainment

Filming Locations in Moab

Where can you find these iconic Moab sights from the movies we discussed? Here are some of the popular filming locations in Moab.

Thelma and Louise

Several scenes were filmed with Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park, and the La Sal Mountains in the background. And of course, there’s the iconic final scene that takes place in Dead Horse Point State Park.


This Western-themed TV show was an instant success for everyone who loves HBO dramas. A lot of b-roll was filmed in Dead Horse Point State Park to capture its unparalleled sweeping horizons. 

view of the Westworld filming crew filming near moab
Behind the Scenes of "Westworld" season 1 (2016): Courtesy of HBO

Mission: Impossible II

The iconic first scene, in which Tom Cruise climbed the giant rock face, was filmed in Dead Horse Point State Park, with the winding Colorado River visible in the distance. 

127 Hours

The unbelievable story of a man trapped under a boulder for 127 hours was truly hard to watch, but it was well-reenacted right where the true story unfolded. The hard-to-reach area of Blue John Canyon where the accident happened is exactly where they shot the critically-acclaimed film.

Hollywood Takes Flight with Redtail Air

There is a rich history of film crews, actors, and future icons walking across our red-rock sand to create the next big box office hit. Redtail Air has had the opportunity to be involved in the process, helping directors and film crews find the perfect setting for Moab scenes.

Location Scouting with Kevin Costner

Kevin Costner & Film Commission Director Bega Metzner (above): Courtesy of Mark Gillard (2021)

Scout Your Own Moab Film Experience!

This year marks the 75th anniversary (1949–2024) of the Moab to Monument Valley Film Commission—the longest ongoing film commission in the world! If you’re hoping to get inspired by the diverse and unique Moab scenery for your next film, reach out to our very own local film commission director, and she can help facilitate any of your production needs.

Redtail Air can help you scout the best spots to shoot some incredibly inspiring scenes. From Western-themed movies to out-of-this-world landscapes, there are so many film directions that can be enhanced by Moab’s stunning horizons. And an aerial tour is the perfect way to survey them all! Plan a scouting mission by airplane or helicopter to kick off your film journey in Moab. 

From planning your own film to reliving your favorite flicks in real life, Moab is an underrated movie set—much better than the cardboard mountains of Hollywood. If you don’t know where to start, reach out to our team for help planning the film tour of Moab!

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