In every state we've been in this year, we’ve watched a film set in that state. For example, Wyoming was represented by Clint Eastwood in Unforgiven. Cary Grant represented South Dakota in North by Northwest. John Wayne was the poster child for Arkansas in True Grit. And Kevin Costner represented North Carolina, Iowa, and Illinois with Bull Durham, Field of Dreams, and The Untouchables. So I feel a tad apologetic to the state of Idaho when i admit that they are being represented by Jon Heder playing one of the greatest dweebs in the history of film as the title character in 2004’s Napoleon Dynamite.
Napoleon Dynamite was a low budget comedy that became a surprise hit, inspiring catch phrases and kids wearing “Vote for Pedro” shirts. Most of the film was shot in city of Preston, Idaho. Preston High School, Napoleon and Pedro’s school, has become a favorite tourist destination. The high school is also the alma mater of the film’s director, Jared Hess. For several years after the film was made, there was a Napoleon Festival in the town.
There is no Movie Church in the film, but it was written by a married couple, Jared and Jerusha Hess, who are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, which is rather unusual for a Hollywood film -- let alone one produced by MTV Films.
Of course, other films located and filmed in Idaho have had more conventional movie stars. 1980’s Bronco Billy was directed by Clint Eastwood and starred Clint Eastwood as a broken down rodeo star. It shares a quirky sense of humor (and a PG rating) with Napoleon Dynamite.
One of the most memorable of women stars, Marilyn Monroe, filmed 1956’s Bus Stop about a bus trip from Montana to Arizona. The bus stopped in Idaho along the way and did actually film in such locations as Ketchum and Sun Valley.
Another iconic movie star, Warren Beatty, starred in a film partially located and filmed in Idaho: 2001’s Town & Country. The film was widely known as a financial flop; it was a domestic comedy with a budget that ran to $90 million but took in only $10 million. (It fared even worse than Beatty’s previous famous flop, Ishtar, which was budgeted at $55 million but only took in $15 million.) The film had locations in New York and California -- and in Sun Valley.
Sun Valley has long been a favorite location for filmmakers. 1941’s Sun Valley Serenade, a musical featuring John Payne of Miracle on 34th Street, Glenn Miller and his orchestra, and Sonja Henie, the Olympic Skating Medalist turned movie star. The musical comedy was partially filmed in the ski resorts of Sun Valley, Idaho. Another athlete turned movie star, champion swimmer Esther Williams, starred in Duchess of Idaho, a musical comedy that also filmed on location in Sun Valley.
Some other rather unconventional films have been located and filmed in Idaho. Peter Fonda directed a 1973 science fiction film, Idaho Transfer, about scientists who try to preserve the human race from a coming apocalypse through the use of time travel. But only people under the age of 30 can travel through time, which is just as well since people at the time believed you couldn’t trust anyone over the age of 30. The film was shot primarily at Craters of the Moon National Park.
Napoleon Dynamite isn’t the only Idaho film about young nerds in love. In 2013’s The To Do List, 29 year old Aubrey Plaza (Parks and Recreation) played a high school senior pressured to experiment sexually before heading off to college. (I probably should note Jon Heder was 27 when he played high schooler Napoleon.) Most of the film was shot in California, but there was some location shooting in Boise.