10 Iconic Movies you Might Not Know Were Filmed in North Carolina

From a post-apocalyptic blockbuster to a retro summer romance, these iconic films have NC connections.
by Kevin Thomas

Did you know that more than 2,000 movies and television shows have been filmed in the Old North State, and they’ve generated over $6 billion in production revenue? (And no — not all of them are based on Nicholas Sparks novels.) With our mix of great mountains, wide open spaces, beaches, and retro neighborhoods, North Carolina has a lot to offer for movie sets. See if you recognize these parts of the Old North State while you watch these 10 pieces of classic movies filmed either partially or entirely in North Carolina.

Dirty Dancing (1987)  

Look for… Lake Lure and the Grove Park Inn in Asheville 

A young woman has a summer romance with an attractive dance instructor in this ‘80s classic. The film was primarily shot in two locations: Lake Lure in Western North Carolina and Virginia. While it has long been thought the  iconic “Lake Lift” scene in which Patrick Swayze lifts Jennifer Grey over his head was shot on Lake Lure in Western North Carolina, the production designer confirmed it was actually on their Virginia location. However, the area used for the camp itself is located in western North Carolina, and the walk that baby takes with the giant watermelon before her famous line was indeed along a boardwalk in Lake Lure. Rent it on Amazon Prime.    

 Last of the Mohicans (1992)

Look for… Chimney Rock State Park, the Blue Ridge Parkway and the bridge near Biltmore Estates

Three Indian trappers (led by Daniel Day Lewis) protect the daughter of a colonel during the French and Indian War.  Most of Last of the Mohicans was filmed in several North Carolina locations: the Blue Ridge Mountains, Lake James, Chimney Rock State Park, and the Biltmore EstateThe Bridal Veil Falls in DuPont State Forest are also on display. The film is currently available to rent across various streaming services.

The Fugitive (1993)

Look for… the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad and the Blue Ridge Parkway

This classic chase film starring stars Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones sees a doctor go on the run for a crime he did not commit. While much of the film is set in rural Illinois, most of it was shot in Jackson County in the Smokey Mountains, Bryson City, Blount County, and Dillsboro. The famous train scene was filmed along the Great Smoky Mountains railroad. The scenes after Ford escapes were shot at Harris Regional Hospital in Sylvia, and the train crash cost $1 million to film. The movie is available to rent across various services.

Empire Records (1995)

Look for… Rebellion in Wilmington

This cult classic follows a day in the lives of several employees in a record store. Wtih a cast full of recognizable supporting actors, including Debi Mazar, Anthony LaPaglia, Johnny Whitworth, Robin Tunney, Ethan Embry, Liv Tyler, and a young Renee Zellweger, the film was shot largely in Wilmington. Buzz’s Roost (now known as Rebellion) served as a major set for the film. Exteriors were filmed outside the bar in Wilmington, while a portion of the inside of said bar was used as the store set. The Rex Manning music video for Say No More, Mon Amour was shot in one day on Wrightsville Beach. While the film didn’t perform well with critics at the time of release, its impressive cast and catchy soundtrack have made it a classic in recent years. Rent it across various streaming services.

I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997)

Look for… various spots in Southport and Duke University

This much-loved ‘90s horror slasher follows a group of sexy 20-somethings playing teenagers as they are taken out one by one by a vengeful hook-handed assailant after hiding an accidental murder the summer prior.  Shot largely in the eastern part of the state along the coast of Southport, filming locations included Schoolhouse Beach, Portuguese Beach, the American Fish Company, the Fishy Fishy Café, the Fort Ross Store, the Historic Amuzu Theatre, and Duke University. It’s currently streaming for free on Amazon Prime and stars Sarah Michelle Gellar along with other 90s heartthrobs Freddie Prinze, Jr., Jennifer Love Hewitt, and Ryan Philippe.

Patch Adams (1998) 

Look for… Chapel Hill and Asheville

A man suffering from mental illness, played by Robin Williams, studies to be a doctor and uses humor to heal his patients. One of Williams’ most well-regarded films (by audience members at least), Patch Adams was largely shot around North Carolina and a few locations in California. The Biltmore Estate, town of Asheville, Chapel Hill, and the University of North Carolina were among the locations used, with the latter supplying exterior shots and the scene in the library. You can find it for rent across various streaming services.

Muppets From Space (1999) 

Look for… Fort Fisher State Recreation Area and Wilmington

The Muppet Gonzo discovers he is an alien and is captured by a government organization, leading Kermit and the other Muppets to rescue him. Filming occurred all throughout Wilmington, with the Fennell-Crump House being used as the exterior for the Muppet boarding house, the Ideal Cement Factory (an iconic North Carolina shooting location) serving as the villainous COVNET Facility, the Fort Fisher State Recreation Area being used for beach scenes, and several sound stages at Screen Gems Studios being used for the Muppet boarding house interior, several sections of the COVNET lab, and Cape Doom beach. It’s a cute, kid-appropriate family flick.  Human roles include Jeffry Tambor and Andie MacDowell.  It’s a mostly kid-oriented affair, but you can have fun spotting the locations. The film is available to rent across various streaming services.

Shallow Hal (2003)

Look for… Capital Grille in Charlotte

Hard-partying misanthrope Hal meets Tony Robbins and learns to see women’s inner beauty, unknowingly falling for the overweight Rosemary. Filmed across various states, the production spent some time in Charlotte, using the JPS Funds building for Hal’s workplace, an old Fuel Pizza location on North Tryon Street for one of Rosemary and Hal’s first dates, they share a soda at Pike’s Soda Shop, and the Capital Grille was used for the scene where Rosemary sees Hal eating with an ex. It’s a sweet, funny, and big-hearted rom-com that’s available to stream for rental across various streaming services.

Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby (2006)

Look for… the Charlotte Motor Speedway and Lake Norman

Will Ferrell stars as an egotistical NASCAR racer who must work his way up from the bottom after an embarrassing on-field incident. Most of the racing scenes in the film were shot at the Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord and The Rock, while scenes at Ricky Bobby’s home were filmed around Lake Norman. If you enjoy Ferrell’s goofy brand of humor and know the area, this is a good film to switch on once the kids are asleep. The film is available to rent across various other streaming services.

The Hunger Games (2012)

Look for… Pisgah National Forest

Based on the book by Suzanne Collins, this post-apocalyptic thriller sees a totalitarian society in which the world is split up into 12 districts, which must each sacrifice one boy and one girl every year in a gladiatorial battle to the death. The District 12 reaping scene was filmed in Shelby, the Pisgah National Forest was used for the District 12 forest where Gail and Katniss hunt, and Rock Creek for the area surrounding Katniss and Peeta’s shelter. The arena scenes were filmed in Asheville, the underground loading dock where Katniss becomes the Girl On Fire was filmed at the Charlotte Convention Center, Mellark’s bakery in District 12 was filmed in Henry River village, and even more locations.  The film stars Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, and Woody Harrelson, a is available across various streaming platforms for rental.

The Conjuring (2013)

Look for… various North Carolina landscapes

Director James Wan takes on the haunted house subgenre in this partially fact-based story surrounding a case of paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren played by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga. A replica of the real-life house was built in Currie (the actual house is located in Rhode Island), and while said replica was only used to shoot exterior shots, the indoor scenes were shot at EUE/Screen Gems Studios, a frequent soundstage house for films shot in North Carolina. The real-life house was listed for sale at $1.2 million dollars in September, 2021, with the owners citing several strange occurrences happening at the residence. If you enjoy atmospheric horror and don’t mind a good jump scare, The Conjuring should put you under its spooky spell. You can find it on Netflix and HBOMax for free.