By Timothy Rawles/NewsBreak Pinal County, AZ
(Pinal County, AZ) As they paved paradise to create the entertainment capital of the world, Hollywood had to expand its reach. Some of these routes included Arizona; Pinal County to be exact. Some of these filming locations still exist and are only a day trip away.
Movie lovers will find countless locations in LA where their favorite films were filmed. Still, a trip to Arizona also offers a chance to see how Tinseltown’s influence spread beyond the California border.
In the ’50s, when the western genre was born, theatergoers were transported to old west towns thanks to carefully constructed Hollywood backlots and retrofitted indoor studios.
As the genre evolved, producers poured their money into locations outside of the backlot, sometimes building entire cities in remote locations across America. Arizona became a frequent favorite of theirs. Apacheland Movie Ranch in Apache Junction is a prime example.
Apacheland Studios has been the filming location for TV shows like Gunsmoke and Bonanza. It was also used in the films “Charro!”. and “Shootout in the OK Corral”.
Unfortunately, the massive ranch burned down in 2004, but the chapel and barn were saved – you can see these at the Superstition Mountain Museum.
The studios didn’t have to build an entire city to set the scene. Location scouts have found other spots around Pinal to hang out at. A number of films left their mark on celluloid in Pinal County, some of which are still accessible to intrepid film buffs.
stir crazy (1980): This comedy was considered raunchy. With the late Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor as two fugitives, “Stir Crazy” was a box office hit. Although much of the film was shot in Tucson, the famous prison scene was captured in Florence, where the comedy duo uttered the infamous lines, “That’s right, we’re evil!” through the cell block. The same location was later used in the Coen brothers’ film “Raising Arizona.”
Murphy’s romance (1985): This romantic comedy starring James Garner and Sally Field was nominated for an Oscar. Although the film is set in fictional Eunice, Arizona, it’s actually Florence, and you can see groundbreaking clues throughout the film.
Eight-legged freaks (2002) Six years after the success of “Scream,” David Arquette stars in this ’50s-style throwback. After ingesting toxic waste, spiders mutate into giant monsters that terrorize an Arizona town called Prosperity. As with Murphy’s romance, Prosperity is fictional and Superior is used as a substitute. The main street is probably the most prominent location in the film. One scene includes the monstrous arachnids descending the side of the Magma Hotel, which has now been restored and is available for guests.
The glove (1977) Clint Eastwood wasn’t always an Oscar-winning director; he was the quintessential 1970s action star. In “The Gauntlet” he plays a police officer who is assigned to escort a woman to Phoenix to testify against a crime boss. The main location was Phoenix, but portions of the film were shot in Superior.
turn u (1997): Major Hollywood directors such as Oliver Stone have cast Pinal in their films. His thriller U Turn does not change Superior’s name and uses landmarks throughout. Some of these structures still exist today. It follows Sean Penn as a traveler who becomes involved in an assassination attempt involving an incestuous couple. The film had moderate success but was mainly panned by critics.
The Prophecy (1995): This horror thriller achieved cult classic status in 1995. Christopher Walken stars as Archangel Gabriel, who is sent from Hell to find a “dark soul” on earth with the help of a mortal. There is a scene in the film where Gabriel is interviewing students at Taft Municipal School, Old Superior High School.
The mischief (2020) Recently, Hollywood came to Apache Junction for the horror film The Unhealer. In this film, a bullied teenager gains superpowers and uses them against his tormentors. Apache Junction was used as the backdrop and you can see the Superstition Mountains in many shots.
From romantic comedy to western to horror to sci-fi, Pinal County has done a lot for Hollywood. Whether they change the names of places or leave them intact, these places are now a part of film history and fun to visit as a reminder of just how close Hollywood really is.