Movies filmed in Colorado

Historic art deco-style Paramount Theatre in Denver
The historic Paramount Theater, an outstanding example of art deco style architecture by Temple Buell, opened in 1930. It was the city’s top movie theater and today hosts concerts. | Photo by writRHET / flickr.com

By Sue Deans

In the 21st Century, Colorado may again become a center for film production, thanks to new incentives adopted in 2012 that double the tax break for producers, from 10 percent to 20 percent.

The measure was approved by the Legislature after seven defeats, through the support of Gov. John Hickenlooper. It helps filmmakers cover the expenses of shooting on location. Other states, such as Kansas and Oklahoma, have even higher incentives. Although the original “True Grit,” starring John Wayne, was filmed in Colorado, the 2010 remake was shot in New Mexico, where financial incentives were more lucrative for the filmmakers.

In earlier times, literally dozens of short and, as time went on, longer films were shot in Colorado because of its dramatic scenery that figured in popular Westerns. The first known production to have been filmed here was “Festival of the Mountain & Plain” in 1897, shot mainly in a Denver studio.

By the time the talkies debuted, longer features with more elaborate productions were the norm, and they began to use larger casts, including actors whose names any filmgoer might recognize. “Wells Fargo,” in 1937, featured Joel McCrea, Lloyd Nolan, Henry O’Neill, Ralph Morgan and Johnny Mack Brown.

At the same time, though, the major studios were less likely to take a large production on location because of the costs. Studios were almost all located in California, and the hills outside Los Angeles provided Western scenery that worked well enough for the producers.

One iconic spot for movie production in Colorado was Buckskin Joe, a Western-town theme park eight miles west of Canon City. It was built in 1957 as a movie set by an MGM director, using old buildings from around central Colorado to form an old-time town. Its name came from a ghost town, Buckskin Joe, west of Fairplay. One of the buildings from that town, originally owned by Horace Tabor, became a general store in the theme park.

Buckskin Joe became a sort of theme park starting in 1958, when its owners began allowing tourists to explore during inervals between films. Movies filmed there included “Cat Ballou,” “The Cowboys” and “The Sacketts.”

In 2010 the park closed; later it was revealed that Florida billionaire William Koch had bought it and planned to move the town to his ranch near Gunnison. The last filming done there was for “Cactus Creek,” which concluded just before the sale of the town was announced.

In 2012, filming of “The Lone Ranger,” starring Johnny Depp as Tonto, took over a narrow canyon north of Creede. Set construction of 11 weeks preceded the start of filming. Creede has a year-round
population of about 300 people, but experiences an influx of tourists in the summer, with the Fourth of July its busiest time. “The Lone Ranger” is expected in theaters around the Fourth of July in 2013.

A filmography on Wikipedia provides a lengthy and exhaustive list of dozens of movies that were filmed in the state.

For our part, we are going to offer two lists of the top movies filmed in Colorado.

We’ll call the first list the “Best movies filmed in Colorado.” These are the 20 highest-rated movies filmed at least partly in the state, though perhaps as little as a few scenes.

Later, we’ll offer the “Top Colorado movies.” These will be our favorites among the movies extensively filmed in the state.

Related article: Best movies filmed in Colorado