Lights, camera...Wisconsin! While most movies come to life on the sets and sidewalks of Hollywood, for years film crews have scouted Wisconsin as the ideal setting for stories of famous gangsters, college hijinks, baseball blunders and more.
From the wooded depths of our state parks to the peaks of our most iconic architecture, sights of the Badger State on the big screen have been bringing unexpected delight to movie fans of all stripes – action, comedy, classics and beyond – for decades. Here are a few recommendations for your next movie night!
Sounds of gunshots and screeching tires filled the woods around Mirror Lake State Park for the filming of “Public Enemies,” a 2009 crime drama about one of America’s most legendary gangsters, John Dillinger. Starring Johnny Depp and Christian Bale, the cast of “Public Enemies” traveled around the state to capture different shots for the film, from the forest at Mirror Lake to Columbus’ downtown district and the steps of the Wisconsin State Capitol.
Fun fact: Little Bohemia Lodge in Manitowish Waters plays a role in the film and in real life, too: featured in the movie as the site of a shootout between Dillinger’s gang and the F.B.I., it was, in reality, the location of a botched F.B.I.raid to capture infamous Chicago gangster George “Baby Face” Nelson. Today, Little Bohemia is open for business as a popular Northwoods restaurant.
Back to School
In the mid-80’s, the University of Wisconsin-Madison transformed into Grand Lakes University for the filming of “Back To School,” starring Rodney Dangerfield. Folks familiar with downtown Madison and the UW campus will see plenty of recognizable sights – Lake Mendota, Bascom Hill, Library Mall, and a very retro Memorial Union Terrace – all awash in the crisp colors of fall that Badgers still enjoy today.
Fun fact: Catch another shout out to UW-Madison in the 2004 rom-com “The Prince & Me.” Julia Stiles’ character starts the movie as a UW pre-med student, though the campus scenes were actually filmed at the University of Toronto.
We’re ready to “PARTYYYY,” and by party, we mean kick back with a Spotted Cow and rewatch “Bridesmaids” for the hundredth time. Kristin Wiig’s character hails from Milwaukee, and the opening shots of this blockbuster comedy show off the downtown lakefront and Milwaukee Art Museum Calatrava in all their summer glory.
Fun fact: “Bridesmaids” wasn’t the only big-budget film to scout the Milwaukee Art Museum as a show-stopping location – in 2010, “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” chose the museum as the site of billionaire Dylan Gould’s (Patrick Dempsey) automobile gallery. But unlike “Bridesmaids,” whose cast shot their scenes in Los Angeles, the stars and director of “Transformers” were spotted by fans on location in Milwaukee.
Are classic films more your style? Travel back to the 1960’s to see Paul Newman shine in “Winning,” a sports drama about one race car driver’s quest to win the Indy 500. Wisconsin’s own Road America in Elkhart Lake served as a racetrack for the film’s fictional “Redburne 200” race, and crowd shots from the track feature over 100 extras recruited locally from Sheboygan and Milwaukee.
Fun fact: in addition to Road America, the production filmed at a handful of other Wisconsin locations, including the Kettle Moraine State Forest and outside the Kohler Co.
Home to the Milwaukee Brewers, American Family Field (formerly known as Miller Park) got its moment in the spotlight in the 2004 baseball flick “Mr. 3000,” in which Bernie Mac plays a retired Brewers star returning to the game to score his 3,000th base hit. The film shot scenes in between innings of actual Brewers games, which drew in record crowds and allowed fans to appear as extras.
Fun fact: Another baseball film, “Major League,” used the Brewers’ home base as a shooting location – but we’re not talking about American Family Field. Prior to then-Miller Park’s construction, the Brewers played at the old Milwaukee County Stadium, which was used for scenes in “Major League” before its demolition in 2001.
There's more to be discovered in Wisconsin – order your free travel guide to start planning your next adventure!
Public Enemies: Left- Brown, G. M. (Producer), & Mann, P. S. (Director). (2009). Public Enemies [Motion picture]. United States: Universal Studios.
Bridesmaids: Middle- Apatow, J. (Producer), & Feig, D. D. (Director). (2011). Bridesmaids [Motion picture]. United States: Universal Studios.
Back to School: Right- Endler, E. (Producer), Endler, M. (Producer), Ramis, H. (Producer), & Metter, A. D. (Director). (1986). Back to School [Motion picture]. United States: Paper Clip Productions.