Set and produced in Albuquerque, the phenomenally popular AMC series Breaking Bad, which aired its final episode in September of 2013, has filmed on Indian territory numerous times. The most recent notable episode to feature Native land was “To’hajiilee,” which was shot in an area of the same name that is a non-contiguous part of the Navajo Nation.
Big and memorable cinematic productions have frequently graced the Navajo Nation — particularly Monument Valley, which, thanks to director John Ford, became the familiar backdrop for the American western genre. Yet Monument Valley isn’t only for dusty cowboy movies — it’s also appeared in science-fiction flicks, contemporary action movies, and even comedies. Here are 12 movies that filmed memorable scenes in the iconic Navajo landscape.
John Ford was a veteran director who had worked in many genres, but Stagecoach was the beginning of the career for which he is remembered. It was the first of 10 films Ford shot in Monument Valley, Ford’s first western since the introduction of sound in films, and featured John Wayne in his breakthrough role.
My Darling Clementine (1946)
Henry Fonda starred as Wyatt Earp in this Ford-directed western. The story is said to take place in and around Tombstone, Arizona, which is actually some 500 miles to the south of Monument Valley.
She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949)
The structure used for the exterior of Captain Brittles’ headquarters is still standing; it was actually a storehouse for vegetables and is now part of the museum attached to Goulding’s Lodge. She Wore a Yellow Ribbon was another John Ford-John Wayne collaboration.
The Searchers (1956)
The only Western made by Ford during the ’50s, The Searchers was named the greatest western of all time by the American Film Institute in 2008.
How the West Was Won (1962)
John Ford was one of three directors who worked on this five-part epic — but not, ironically, the segment that used Monument Valley. Henry Hathaway shot that one; Ford helmed the chapter dedicated to the Civil War.
Easy Rider (1968)
Billy (Dennis Hopper), Wyatt (Peter Fonda) and a hitchhiker cruise into Monument Valley at dusk, and spend the night in the ruins at Wapatke.
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
When Dave (Keir Dullea) goes through the stargate during the film’s enigmatic final segment “Jupiter and Beyond the Infinite,” shots of Monument Valley (among other places) are used to create a trippy extraterrestrial landscape.
The Eiger Sanction (1975)
Star/director Clint Eastwood and co-star George Kennedy shot a memorable scene atop the “Totem Pole” rock formation — and were among the last people allowed on it. It’s now off limits to climbers.
National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983)
Family man Clark W. Griswold (Chevy Chase) and his brood are lost in the desert when he blows through a ROAD CLOSED sign and the Family Truckster launches off a ramp. “Dad, you must have jumped this thing about 50 yards!” his son Rusty (Anthony Michael Hall) says. Clark replies, “That’s nothing to be proud of, Rusty,” then mutters under his breath, proudly, “…50 yards…”
Back to the Future Part III (1990)
A full-scale drive-in theater used in the movie was built solely for the filming, and demolished after the movie wrapped. No films were ever shown there.
Forrest Gump (1994)
After a three-year, coast-to-coast run, the titular character (played by Tom Hanks) stops running in Monument Valley, leaving a pack of followers stranded and befuddled.
The Lone Ranger (2013)
Johnny Depp… Tonto… bird on the head… perhaps you heard of it?
This story was originally published September 29, 2013.