Throughout our state’s history, New Mexico has served as a popular backdrop for Hollywood films. Our high desert environments have been replaced by alien landscapes, Wild West vistas and apocalyptic hellish landscapes. Many of these film productions have taken place in movie studios like those at the new Netflix and NBCUniversal facilities in Albuquerque. Even more were shot in private Western movie sets such as Bonanza Creek Ranch and Eaves Movie Ranch. Over the years, however, countless well-known locations in New Mexico have been featured on movie screens around the world.
So here is a sample of some great New Mexico destinations and the movies they can be seen in. Why not watch one of them for homework and then go on a little adventure?
Sky City of Acoma
Watch: Roger Corman’s 1970 counter-culture sci-fi film Gas-sss. Corman’s “trippy” post-apocalyptic comedy chronicles a military experience that accidentally kills everyone over the age of 21. Naturally (given the period), hippie kids take over the world. The 1973 comedy Henry Fonda / Terrence Hill spaghetti western My name is nobody about an infamous shooter who wants to quietly retreat and the eccentric wanderer who won’t allow him to get out without a fight.
Visit: Gas-sss was shot in and around Soccorro, employing Socorro General Hospital and New Mexico Tech Golf Course for key scenes. At one point, our group of wandering heroes drives a backhoe to Acoma Pueblo to visit a groovy commune. The Acoma Lookout, Acoma Church, and many historic streets of the pueblo are sighted. My name is nobody uses a surprising number of real New Mexico locations for an Italian-made film, including Mogollon, White Sands, and Acoma’s Cemetery for a memorable one-on-one between Fonda and Hill. Acoma Sky City Cultural Center and Haak’u Museum (like many pueblos in New Mexico) are currently closed to the public. Admission is normally 25 $ for adults, $ 22 for students / seniors and $ 17 for kids. Go to acomaskycity.org for the most recent information.
White Sands National Monument
Watch: The 1976 Science Fiction Allegory The man who fell to earth, in which alien David Bowie lands on Earth in search of water and ends up being seduced by our capitalist society. Also, the obscure western of 1975 Bite the bullet starring Gene Hackman and James Coburn as two old Rough Riders competing in a 700 mile horse race through the southwestern desert circa 1908.
Visit: Flashbacks to David Bowie’s arid home planet take place in White Sands. And a particularly grueling section of Bite the bullet finds his enemies Hackman and Coburn trying to cross the shifting gypsum dunes on horseback. White Sands National Monument is in a “gradual reopening” which means that some facilities (like campsites) may not yet be open. The barriers for the hiking trails, the dune area and the picnic areas open to 7h00 and close at 9 p.m.. Visitor center and gift shop are open 9h at 6 p.m. every day. Entrance fees are 25 $ per vehicle. To plan a trip, go to nps.gov/whsa.
Watch: Maze Runner: Trials of Scorch. The 2015 film is based on James Dashner’s young adult book series. The series follows a group of “special” teens immune to an alien virus and trying to outrun tyrannical government types in the ruins of post-apocalyptic America. Tunnels also feature prominently in the 2007 Western 3:10 to Yuma with Russell Crowe and Christian Bale.
Visit: The middle film in the Labyrinth trilogy was filmed in and around Albuquerque. Burn tests uses a number of recognizable NM locations, including the Albuquerque Rail Yard (as the abandoned headquarters of Giancarlo Esposito) and the now demolished Winrock Mall Yard (for a memorable monster attack). The climax of the film, which takes place in the outpost of a rebel group rescue camp, takes place in and around the historic Gilman Tunnels, north of Jemez Pueblo. The tunnels were dug in the Jemez Mountains in 1924 for the Santa Fe Northwestern Railroad. However, the railroad never recovered from the Great Depression and the tunnels were quickly pulled out. For 3:10 at Yuma, the tunnels were sent back in time and staged like a real railway line with dozens of Chinese workers building a track across the mountain. Crowe and Bale make a memorable horseback ride through the historic tunnels. Forest path 376 go straight through the tunnels. They are open to the public all year round. (Although they can be difficult to negotiate in winter.)
Watch: The 1984 chauvinist action drama Red Dawn, in which small town teens Patrick Swayze, Charlie Sheen, C. Thomas Howell, Lea Thompson and Jennifer Gray fight a Commie invasion of the United States. The classic drama of the “bikers” of the counter-culture Easy rider.
Visit: The historic northern New Mexico city of Las Vegas has a long cinematic history. This story goes back to the silent movie era (when cowboy star Tom Mix shot between 20 and 30 mugwort sagas in the dusty railroad town) to today’s world of television by cable (in which the city replaced the fictional Absaroka County, Wyoming through six seasons of A&E’s rural crime drama “Longmire”). Red Dawn takes place in the fictional town of Calumet, Colorado. the Wall painting “Calument says hello” is still visible at the corner of Sixth and Large (directly above electronic cigarettes and vaper liquid). In one of the film’s most memorable scenes, Swayze and Howell’s father (Harry Dean Stanton) is abandoned in a Soviet re-education camp. This was built on the basis of the still active Fort Union Drive-In. The Fort Union is located at 3300 Seventh Street. It’s open on weekends only. Admission is $ 20 per car. For Easy rider Dennis Hopper (who directed, co-wrote and co-starred with Peter Fonda) directed the iconic sequence of the film “Parade Without a Permit” around Historic Las Vegas Square. Dozens of actual inhabitants can be seen speechless at the outrageously clad Hopper and Fonda as they roll their bikes through a high school marching band (and are subsequently arrested).
The very large painting
Watch: the 2001: A Space Odyssey after 2010: The year we made contact, released in 1984. While not as popular as Stanley Kubrick’s mind-boggling 1968 film, The year we make contact offers some down-to-earth answers to those who are baffled by A space odysseythe psychedelic ending. The 1987 sci-fi drama Jodie Foster Contact, based on Carl Sagan’s book about a SETI scientist chosen for “first contact” by an alien species.
Visit: the Very large array radiotelescope observatory (located 50 miles west of Socorro on NM-166) was used by astronomers to make key observations of black holes, to trace complex gas motions at the center of the Milky Way, and to provide new knowledge on the physical mechanisms that produce radio emissions. It’s no wonder, then, that the installation served as the inspiration for stories of extraterrestrial contact. In 2010: The year we made contact, the VLA is where Dr. Floyd (Roy Scheider) and Dimitri Moiseyevich (Dana Elcar) discuss their next mission to Jupiter. In Contact Dr. Ellie Arroway (Jodie Foster) first detects the alien signal at the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico. But after a grant from secret billionaire SR Hadden (John Hurt), she continues her work at VLA in New Mexico. The VLA Visitor Center and Gift Shop is currently closed to tourists to reduce the risk of the spread of COVID to staff and visitors. (Which is a shame, because Jodie Foster narrates the documentary film in the lobby.) Normally the site is open 8:30 am to sunset every day. Admission is $ 6 for adults, $ 5 for seniors and free for children under 17. For updates on opening dates, watch public.nrao.edu/visit/very-large-array.
To learn even more about the history and locations of cinema in New Mexico, visit the New Mexico Film Office website (nmfilm.com/for-fans/film-tourism/) for information and interactive maps.