12 Southern Classics Filmed in North Carolina

From Dawson’s Creek to Forrest Gump to Cold Mountain, North Carolina has hosted quite the collection of timeless television shows and films.
by Kevin Thomas

There’s nothing quite like a good Southern story. The people and places of the South have their own unique personality, from social customs to just the general vibe of day-to-day life. Another thing the South has provided is a bevvy of classic films distinctly centered in and around it at various times in history, some of them filmed in the great state of North Carolina! Without further ado, here are some Southern Classics filmed in and around North Carolina to kick off your new year.

Forrest Gump (1994)

Look for… Grandfather Mountain

Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get. That immortal line as well as many others helped make Forrest Gump a beloved Southern story. One of the film’s most memorable sequences sees Forrest running across the United States with an ever-increasing number of people inspired to follow him. Among the locations Forrest runs is Grandfather Mountain near Asheville, part of which has been dubbed “Forrest Gump Curve.” If you so wish, you can recplicate part of Forrest’s run, regardless of how many people follow you. The film is currently streaming on Netflix.

Nell (1994)

Look for… Fontana Lake, Nantahala National Forest

This drama starring Jodie Foster, Liam Neeson and Natasha Richardson follows two researchers who find a woman raised in an isolated cabin and seek to rehabilitate her into society. The cabin Nell stays in and the surrounding lake is Fontana Lake, while other NC locations used for the film include Robbinsville, Charlotte, Nantahala National Forest, the Cheoah Ranger District, and the Angel Medical Center and other areas in Franklin. The film is currently available for rent across various services.

The Green Mile (1999)

Look for… Moses Cone Memorial Park

Based on a Stephen King novella, this Oscar-winning classic stars Tom Hanks as a prison guard who encounters an inmate with supernatural powers played by Michael Clarke Duncan. Filming locations in NC include Moses Cone Memorial Park on the Blue Ridge Parkway at Blowing Rock. The location was used as lead character Paul Edgecomb’s home in his older years. The film is currently available for rent across various services.

The Color Purple (1985)

Look for… locations across Salisbury, Charlotte, Wadesboro and Lilesville

Steven Spielberg’s coming-of-age slavery drama launched the career of Oprah Winfrey. Filming locations are all over NC: Salisbury, Charlotte, Wadesboro, Lilesville, Marshville, Union County, Anson County and Ansonville. The film is known as one of Spielberg’s most emotional outings and is currently available to stream on Apple TV and rentable across other streaming services.

Cold Mountain (2003)

Look for… Pisgah National Forest

Nicole Kidman, Jude Law, and Renée Zellweger headline this war drama about a devoted woman waiting for her husband to return home from the Civil War. Filming primarily took place in Romania, but North Carolina was also visited, along with South Carolina and Virginia. It’s a romantic epic with a grand scope. The film is currently available to rent across various streaming services.

Dirty Dancing (1987)

Look for… Lake Lure, Rumbling Bald Resort Golf Course and the Esmeralda Inn

A classic of the 1980s, the Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey movie Dirty Dancing utilized Lake Lure (the resort itself), the Rumbling Bald Resort Golf Course (the scene where Grey asks her dad for money) and the Esmeralda Inn (interior dance shots). To celebrate the film’s legacy and close ties with the location, Lake Lure began hosting the Dirty Dancing Festival in 2010, leading countless fans to Rutherford County each August and donating money for pancreatic cancer research. It’s cheesy, romantic and an iconic film of the era. Check it out. The film is currently available to stream on Apple TV.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017)

Look for… Sylva, Black Mountain and Cullowhee Valley Elementary, Clyde and Dillsboro

Frances McDormand demands justice in her small town after the police force fails to solve a murder. Sylva was used for the town of Ebbing, Black Mountain was used for the billboards on North Fork Left Fork Road, Maggie Valley was used for the restaurant scene, Dillsboro was used for the gift shop, Clyde was used for the hospital scenes at Haywood Regional Medical Center, and Cullowhee Valley Elementary doubled as Ebbing High School. The film received critical acclaim and won a few Oscars along the way for McDormand and Sam Rockwell. It is currently available to rent across several services.

Bull Durham (1988)

Look for… Asheville, Durham Athletic Park and Duke University

Kevin Costner plays a baseball veteran who falls in love with Susan Sarandon’s baseball groupie whilst training a rookie pitcher played by Tim Robbins. Filming took place in Asheville, Durham Athletic Park, Burlington, Greensboro, Wilson, Raleigh, Duke University and even Mitch’s Tavern. It’s a sweet and funny romance film equally entertaining for baseball fans and novices. The film is currently available to stream and rent across various streaming services.

Dawson’s Creek (1998)

Look for… Airlie Gardens, Jungle Rapids Family Fun Park, Wilmington

This iconic teen drama followed the ups and downs of adolescents for a group of high schoolers trying to find love, meaning and direction in their lives. The series was filmed primarily in Wilmington and utilized many recognizable locations across its 128 episodes. Eagle-eyed viewers will recognize Elijah’s Restaurant, Airlie Gardens, Jungle Rapids Family Fun Park, UNC Wilmington and many, many more locations across North Carolina. The entire series is currently available to stream on HBO Max. There’s a treasure trove of “notice that landmark.”

Dear John (2010)

Look for… Oak Island

This romantic drama is based upon a novel by Nicholas Sparks and stars Channing Tatum and Amanda Seyfried as lovers torn apart by the former’s duty to fight in war. While most of the film was shot in South Carolina, North Carolina’s own Oak Island was used for some sequences as well. If you’re looking for a swoony, soapy date night film, then Dear John should suit your needs nicely. The film is currently available to stream on Apple TV and other streaming services.

One Tree Hill (2003)

Look for… areas all around downtown Wilmington

Essentially Dawson’s Creek for the early 2000’s, this teen drama spanned nine seasons and followed the lives of two estranged brothers bonded by the game of basketball. NC residents will be able to spot areas all around Wilmington, from Eugene Ashley High School to Bellevue Cemetery, Johnnie Mercers Fishing Pier and more. Carried by solid acting and a good soundtrack, this series is worth checking out to get your soap opera fix. It’s currently available to stream on HBO Max.

Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood (2002)

Look for… Wrightsville Beach, Winnabow, Burgaw, Chadbourn, Faison and Wilmington

Last, but certainly not least, this drama sees a young playwright (Sandra Bullock) kidnapped by her mother’s eccentric friends who inform her that her mother had more going on in her life than she realized. Eagle-eyed viewers may recognize Silver Gull Motel on Wrightsville Beach and Orton Plantation in Winnabow. But that’s not all. The production also journeyed to Burgaw, Chadbourn, Faison and Wilmington throughout the shoot, so gather your friends and keep an eye out for them. The film is currently available to rent across various streaming services.

This article was originally published in February 2023 on waltermagazine.com