Production in Oregon: A Retrospective

Oregon State boasts a long, rich, and storied history of film.
For more than a century, productions have sought out the state’s vastly diverse landscape as a filming destination, from Oregon’s first-ever film, The Fisherman’s Bride (filmed in Astoria in 1908), to Animal House (which commandeered the University of Oregon campus in 1978), to the myriad television shows and indie films shooting in Portland in 2011.

To commemorate a selection of these wonderful productions, and to coincide with Media Inc.’s 30th anniversary, here is a look back at the last three decades of Oregon film.

Goonies (1984) – Produced by Steven Spielberg and directed by Richard Donner, Goonies is one of the most celebrated films in Oregon’s history. The cult classic has had a lasting impact on Astoria, as thousands of  fans continually flock to the coastal town to see filming locations and experience the adventures of “Mikey,” “Mouth,” “Chunk,” and the rest of the gang. The film marked its 25th anniversary in 2010 with a weekend-long celebration in Astoria, coinciding with the grand opening of the Oregon Film Museum.

Stand By Me (1985) – A classic coming-of-age tale, Stand By Me stars Wil Wheaton, River Phoenix, Jerry O’Connell and Corey Feldman (who also appears in Goonies) as 12-year-old best friends searching for adventure in a small town. Set in the fictional town of Castle Rock, Oregon, the film was actually shot in Eugene, Cottage Grove, and Brownsville, among other locations.

Stand By Me filmed in Eugene, Cottage Grove, and Brownsville, Oregon.








Drugstore Cowboy (1988) – Hailed as Portland-based director Gus Van Sant’s breakthrough film, Drugstore Cowboy poignantly tracks a “family” of prescription drug-addled criminals, led by Matt Dillon’s character, as they rob drugstores to fuel their addictions. Roger Ebert’s review lauded the production as “one of the best films in the long tradition of American outlaw road movies—a tradition that includes Bonnie and Clyde, Easy Rider, Midnight Cowboy and Badlands.”

Gus Van Sant gives direction to actor Matt Dillon on Drugstore Cowboy set.








My Own Private Idaho (1990) – Another Van Sant classic and another “road” flick, My Own Private Idaho is a powerful, provocative film about two very different street hustlers—“Mike” (River Phoenix), a desperate and lonely male prostitute, and “Scott” (Keanu Reeves), who hustles only to rebel against his wealthy father—and their journey together. Many consider this to be Phoenix’s best performance ever, in a career—and life—cut short at the age of 23.

Kindergarten Cop (1990) – This much-loved action-comedy stars Arnold Schwarzenegger as a brawny detective who goes undercover as a kindergarten teacher to locate the ex-wife and son of a murderous drug dealer. Astoria serves as the backdrop—a small-town “safe haven” for a family in hiding from its vicious patriarch—and John Jacob Astor Elementary School portrays the fictitious Astoria Elementary School. Other local locations include the Bayview Motel, Commercial Street in downtown Astoria, and Ecola State Park.

Arnold Schwarzenegger in Kindergarten Cop

Free Willy (1992) – This feel-good family-oriented film centers on the friendship between a young orphan and an orca whale (played by the infamous Keiko). Much of the production was shot in and around Portland, while the climax of the film—where Willy jumps over the boy and out of captivity—was filmed at Hammond Mooring Basin, near Astoria. Parts of 1994’s Free Willy 2: The Adventure Home were also filmed in Astoria.

Mr. Holland’s Opus (1994) – Richard Dreyfuss stars as the title character, “Glenn Holland,” a composer-turned-high school music teacher who inspires hundreds of students throughout his 30-year career at the fictitious John F. Kennedy High School (portrayed by Ulysses S. Grant High School in Portland). The uplifting drama was so inspirational that it spawned a non-profit, “Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation,” that donates musical instruments to under-funded school music programs.

Men of Honor (1999) – Based on a true story, Men of Honor is about Carl Brashear, who overcomes discrimination to become the first African-American master diver in the United States Navy. The gripping film—starring Cuba Gooding, Jr. as Brashear and Robert De Niro as his caustic trainer, Master Chief Billy Sunday—was shot in Rainier, Portland, and North Plains. The production even built a naval base set from scratch on the Oregon side of the Columbia River.

Thumbsucker    (2003) –    A character-driven indie comedy from director Mike Mills, Thumbsucker explores a whole new level of teen-angst as it tells the tale of “Justin” (played by Lou Taylor Pucci), a high schooler who compulsively sucks his thumb. The film also stars Tilda Swinton, Vincent D’Onofrio, Keanu Reeves, Vince Vaughn, and Benjamin Bratt. Set in the fictional town of Beaverwood, Oregon, the production actually shot all over the state, including in Beaverton, Vernonia, Sherwood, the Portland International Airport, and several other locations.

Wendy & Lucy (2007) – This award-winning film features Michelle Williams’ heartrending performance as “Wendy,” a penniless drifter struggling to start anew with her beloved dog (played by director Kelly Reichardt’s own pet). Shot in just under three weeks in and around Portland, Wendy & Lucy premiered at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival and appeared on many critics’ lists of the best films of that year.

Twilight (2008) – The ever-popular vampire series’ first film was shot in dozens of Oregon locations, including Portland, Oxbow Park, and St. Helens, among many others. Like Goonies, Twilight is another tourist draw for fans wanting to see various locations used for the movie—like the historic View Point Inn, where cast and crew filmed the momentous prom night scene.

The stop-motion animated film Coraline was produced in Portland.

Coraline (2008) – The first feature from Portland-based animation powerhouse Laika, Coraline is a stop-motion animated film aimed at children and adults alike. The production hired hundreds of animators, designers and technicians to make the characters’ world—the story is set in Ashland, Oregon—come to life, and staged hundreds of miniature handmade sets in a 140,000-square-foot warehouse in Hillsboro. The film grossed over $120 million in the U.S. and internationally.




Meek’s Cutoff (2009) – Director Kelly Reichardt and actress Michelle Williams team up again for this pioneer-era Western, filmed in the Harney County desert near Burns, Oregon. Set in 1845, Meek’s Cutoff follows three families’ perilous journey as they trek the Oregon Trail and become lost under the direction of the title character, the caravan’s blustering hired guide. Acquired at the Toronoto International Film Festival by Oscilloscope, the film is scheduled to screen in theaters throughout the U.S. this spring.

These are just a few of the hundreds of Oregon-filmed productions that have helped shape the local industry into what it is today—an undeniable powerhouse in the national scope thanks to a host of local talent and crew, vital infrastructure, incomparable locations, and a sterling incentive package. And it seems Oregon is showing no signs of slowing down. In fact, 2011 is poised to be the biggest production year ever for the state in terms of dollars, with the return of television series like Leverage and Portlandia, and a number of other films slated to shoot in-state.

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