15 great films shot on location in rural and wide-open landscapes

Published 10:00 pm Monday, June 27, 2022

Michael Ochs Archives // Getty Images

15 great films shot on location in rural and wide-open landscapes

Farms and open ranges have long offered bountiful possibilities for cinematic storytelling. There’s something mesmerizing about films set among nature’s wild and wide-open terrains, which not only can lend meaning and context to a movie but also position its narrative within a precise moment in history.

To illustrate great storytelling that takes place on farms, Giggster compiled a list of 15 films highly rated by audiences and/or critics and listed them chronologically.  Significant parts of the movie had to be shot on rural landscapes, ranches, or open ranges fashioned as farms for the project to qualify. The films had to have either a 7.0 IMDb user rating with at least 15,000 votes from audiences or an 80 Metascore with at least seven reviews by critics.

So many elements go into planning a film’s location—framing, cinematography, and, yes, even deciding the perfect cast—especially if it involves braving unchartered terrain or shooting in environments prone to extreme or unfavorable conditions.

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For 1985’s Amish neo-noir drama “Witness,” for instance, director Peter Weir opted to shoot among an actual—albeit disgruntled—Pennsylvania Amish community to set the tone for his eight-time Oscar-nominated picture. And to capture a 16th-century narrative of Japanese villagers fending off a legion of bandits in “Seven Samurai,” Akira Kurosawa positioned his period piece against the vast and scenic mountainous regions of Japan’s Tagata District.

Keep reading to discover more pastures that served as the backdrop for 15 fantastic films.

A wide shot scene from "Seven Samurai"

Toho Company

Seven Samurai (1954)

– Director: Akira Kurosawa
– IMDb user rating: 8.6
– Metascore: 98
– Runtime: 207 minutes

Set in 16th-century Japan, “Seven Samurai” tells the story of a samurai who has fallen on hard times and responds to one village’s request for protection against outlaws, teaching the villagers self-defense. A set was built for the film in Japan’s Tagata District, a rural location in Shizuoka prefecture, just a few hours away from Tokyo. Home to the iconic national symbol of Mt. Fuji, the Shizuoka prefecture is filled with picturesque mountains and green tea farms.

Elizabeth Taylor and Rock Hudson in a scene from "Giant"

George Stevens Productions

Giant (1956)

– Director: George Stevens
– IMDb user rating: 7.6
– Metascore: 84
– Runtime: 201 minutes

“Giant” tells the story of Texan rancher Jordan “Bick” Benedict Jr. (Rock Hudson), who goes to a farm in Maryland to buy a horse. He ends up falling in love with the owner’s daughter, Leslie (Elizabeth Taylor), who moves to West Texas to be with him. The movie was filmed on the sprawling Ryan Ranch, just west of Marfa, Texas. With its vast plains near the Davis Mountains, the isolated terrain is a film director’s playground. At the time of shooting, director George Stevens paid the family who owned the ranch $20,000 for access to the ranch, which included its horses and cattle.

S. William Hinzman and Russell Streiner in a scene from "Night of the Living Dead"

Image Ten

Night of the Living Dead (1968)

– Director: George A. Romero
– IMDb user rating: 7.8
– Metascore: 89
– Runtime: 96 minutes

In “Night of the Living Dead,” a group of Pennsylvanians takes refuge in an old farmhouse to keep themselves safe from flesh-eating creatures set on ravaging everything that falls into their path. Located in Evans City, Pennsylvania, the farmhouse used in the film was demolished upon the movie’s completion and is now considered private property. Evans City is known for its quiet, small-town atmosphere and the director returned to the area to film another horror movie, “The Crazies,” a few years later. 

Paul Newman and Katharine Ross in a scene from "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid"

Campanile Productions

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)

– Director: George Roy Hill
– IMDb user rating: 8.0
– Metascore: 66
– Runtime: 110 minutes

“Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” is a Western that tells the story of Butch Cassidy (Paul Newman), the head honcho of the Hole-in-the-Wall Gang, and his friend, the Sundance Kid (Robert Redford), who robs trains for a living. A majority of the filming was done at Zion National Park in Utah, but viewers can see glimpses of other areas from around the country.

The scene where Butch faces off with Harvey Logan (Ted Cassidy) to determine his authoritative position in the gang, for instance, was shot in Cave Valley, Nevada. Grafton, a renowned ghost town in Utah, was also among the filming locations and has served as a backdrop for several other Westerns.

Dustin Hoffman and Susan George in a scene from "Straw Dogs"

Amerbroco Productions

Straw Dogs (1971)

– Director: Sam Peckinpah
– IMDb user rating: 7.4
– Metascore: 73
– Runtime: 113 minutes

In this psychological thriller, mathematician David Sumner (Dustin Hoffman) moves with his British wife (Susan George) into her childhood town. Their lives are threatened when the local men David hired to fix their home become menacing. Among the filming locations used in “Straw Dogs” included Trencher’s Farm, a private property in Cornwall, England. The farmhouse where the final scene was filmed still exists to this day, in a cottage called Soloman’s Island.

Margarita Terekhova in a scene from "Mirror"


Mirror (1975)

– Director: Andrei Tarkovsky
– IMDb user rating: 8.0C
– Metascore: 80
– Runtime: 107 minutes

“Mirror” tells a nonlinear story based on the childhood memories of Aleksei, a man in his forties who is dying. The outdoor scenes for this retrospective movie were filmed in Tuchkovo, a small town near Moscow. Despite a sluggish filming process, Andrei Tarkovsky “spent every possible moment” with production designer Nikolay Dvigubskiy to build sets reminiscent of his youth in Tuchkovo. The recreation of Tarkovsky’s childhood home during the film’s summer location shots, for example, was drawn from old photos taken in the 1930s by his godfather.

Marie Kean in a scene from "Barry Lyndon"


Barry Lyndon (1975)

– Director: Stanley Kubrick
– IMDb user rating: 8.1
– Metascore: 89
– Runtime: 185 minutes

“Barry Lyndon” is a period drama about a farm boy, Redmond Barry (Ryan O’Neal), who joins the British Army and ends up falling in love with his cousin Nora (Gay Hamilton). Nora, however, ends up getting engaged to a British captain. The production of the film began in Ireland and later England, Germany, and Scotland. Some locations of the film include Tithe Barn of Glastonbury, known today as the Somerset Rural Life Museum. Filming also took place at Abbey Farm.

Sam Shepard and Robert J. Wilke in a scene from "Days of Heaven"

Paramount Pictures

Days of Heaven (1978)

– Director: Terrence Malick
– IMDb user rating: 7.8
– Metascore: 93
– Runtime: 94 minutes

“Days of Heaven” is a romantic drama about a short-tempered farmer named  Bill (Richard Gere) who convinces the woman he’s in love with to marry their wealthy boss, who is close to dying. The plan is once their boss dies they can claim his fortune. The film is set in 1916 rural Texas but filming took place in Alberta, Canada, in a ghost town called Whiskey Gap. When production came to town in 1976, old-fashioned vehicles and wagons were used during filming, and hundreds of townspeople dressed in period clothing for the occasion as well.

Harrison Ford and Kelly McGillis in a scene from "Witness"

Paramount Pictures

Witness (1985)

– Director: Peter Weir
– IMDb user rating: 7.4
– Metascore: 76
– Runtime: 112 minutes

In “Witness,” an Amish woman and her son are targeted after the young boy becomes a sole witness of a murder in Philadelphia. For the movie, filming was done on an 82-acre farm in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, which happens to be one of the world’s largest Amish settlements. At the time of filming, Paramount Pictures scouted 350 Pennsylvania farms that were secluded for production.

James Cromwell and the pig who played Babe in a scene from "Babe"

Universal Pictures

Babe (1995)

– Director: Chris Noonan
– IMDb user rating: 6.9
– Metascore: 83
– Runtime: 91 minutes

A farmer named Arthur (James Cromwell) guesses the correct weight of an orphaned piglet named Babe at a fair and wins the animal as a prize. Arthur takes Babe to Fly, a border collie who adopts the piglet with her partner, Rex. The entire movie is told from the perspective of the various animals on the farm as the piglet tries to fit in.

For filming, a set was built to create the fictional Hoggett’s Farm in Roberton, a village in New South Wales, Australia, abound with lush fields. After earning an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor, Cromwell was inspired to adopt a fully vegan diet following his work on the film.

George Clooney, John Turturro, and Tim Blake Nelson in a scene from "O Brother, Where Art Thou?"

Touchstone Pictures

O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000)

– Directors: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
– IMDb user rating: 7.7
– Metascore: 69
– Runtime: 107 minutes

This comedy, starring George Clooney and set during the Great Depression of the 1930s, follows three convicts on the run hunting for treasure in rural Mississippi. They cross paths with various characters such as bank robbers and evangelical Christians at a big tent revival. The movie was shot in Canton, Mississippi, and Florence, South Carolina, with scenes filmed at Hogwallop Farm. There are also scenes filmed on Alligator Lake, named after the many local reptile residents that live in its waters.

Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal in a scene from "Brokeback Mountain"

Focus Features

Brokeback Mountain (2005)

– Director: Ang Lee
– IMDb user rating: 7.7
– Metascore: 87
– Runtime: 134 minutes

“Brokeback Mountain” tells the story of two cowboys who fall in love and try to navigate the social conventions of the American West. The story is set in a real town called Rivington, located in central Wyoming. Filming took place mostly in southern Alberta in Canada as well as the Kananaskis Range of the Canadian Rockies. Goat Creek, Canyon Creek, and Elbow Falls were also among the locations used to shoot the film’s campsite scenes. Despite the vast terrain, director Ang Lee has revealed that some of the landscapes and clouds in the film were made with CGI, or computer-generated imaging.

Anya Taylor-Joy in a scene from "The Witch"

Parts and Labor

The Witch (2015)

– Director: Robert Eggers
– IMDb user rating: 6.9
– Metascore: 83
– Runtime: 92 minutes

In this horror film set in the 1630s, a Puritan farmer named William (Ralph Ineson) and his family in New England are banished from their pilgrim community controlled by their church due to differences in religious views. Many might assume “The Witch” takes place in Massachusetts, as the film is inspired by real accounts of the Salem Witch Trials that occurred from 1692 to 1693. The film was actually shot in Kiosk, a small town in Ontario, Canada. The crew shot in a secluded forest with white pine to capture the appearance of New England.

Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tim Roth, and Kurt Russell in a scene from "The Hateful Eight"

Visiona Romantica

The Hateful Eight (2015)

– Director: Quentin Tarantino
– IMDb user rating: 7.8
– Metascore: 68
– Runtime: 168 minutes

In “The Hateful Eight,” bounty hunters and fugitives end up being snowbound in a Wyoming cabin. For the film, Quentin Tarantino needed a location that could pull off an authentic-looking post-Civil War scene, so he chose a destination with a lot of snow and frigid temperatures. The set was designed on the Schmid Family Ranch, a Centennial farm in Colorado. The ranch, built in 1908, is still operated and owned by the Schmid family today.

Jack Reynor and Florence Pugh in a scene from "Midsommar"


Midsommar (2019)

– Director: Ari Aster
– IMDb user rating: 7.1
– Metascore: 72
– Runtime: 148 minutes

“Midsommar” is a horror film about a couple who travels to their friend’s rural hometown in Sweden, well-known for its midsummer festival. Although most of the film is set in Sweden, actual locations were filmed outside of Budapest in Hungary. The opening scene was filmed in the U.S. Due to Sweden’s filming restrictions, the crew found a village outside of Budapest where a majority of the movie was shot, including the maypole dancing scene. There, the set designers built the farmhouse-like structure where the group of friends depicted in the film stayed.

This story originally appeared on Giggster and was produced and
distributed in partnership with Stacker Studio.