A Walk Through Wilmington: Discover North Carolina’s Film Hub

Wilmywood, Hollywood East or whatever name you want to call it – Wilmington is a mecca for film and TV production with hundreds of blockbuster and indie films, plus a couple of cult teen dramas, filming here since the early 1980s. Set your own pace with a self-guided tour, enjoy a meal like the stars did and see how many local sites you can spot.

Dawson’s Creek

Exterior of Hell's Kitchen at night with bike in front
Hell's Kitchen

Dawson’s Creek

Thanks to the classic teen drama Dawson’s Creek being produced in Wilmington for years, dozens of locations throughout the city and its island beaches where scenes were shot or where the stars visited during the show’s run can still be visited today. Restaurants (like Hell’s Kitchen), inns, characters’ homes, schools, shops (like The Black Cat Shoppe), marinas and more featured in the show can be explored with self-guided maps from the Wilmington and Beaches Convention and Visitors Bureau or online. Make a day of it by walking around and reliving the drama.

 

I Know What You Did Last Summer

Colorful buildings across Intracoastal Waterway in Southport
Fishy Fish Cafe

I Know What You Did Last Summer

Similar to Wilmington, Southport has proven to be a popular spot for filmmakers because of its gorgeous oak trees, Victorian homes and picturesque river. In 1997, locations all over this coastal city were used to film I Know What You Did Last Summer, a thriller based loosely off the book of the same name. See where Helen (Sarah Michelle Gellar) was crowned Croaker Queen – and where Barry (Ryan Phillippe) met his fate – when you catch a live show at Amuzu Theatre. Or grab a bite to eat at Fishy Fish Café, which served as Barry’s gym. To see sites from this film and dozens of others, take a Southport Fun Tour. Reservations are strongly encouraged.

 

Empire Records

Empire Records

Pull up a seat at Rebellion in downtown Wilmington and enjoy a decidedly different view of a cult classic. In the 1995 film, the exterior of the building stood in for Empire Records, the eponymous record store (back when record stores were a thing), where this coming-of-age film took place. Starring Liv Tyler and Renee Zellweger near the start of their careers, Empire Records follows a day in the lives of a group of teens as they try to save their independent store from being sold to a chain. For the ultimate tribute to this Gen X classic, put together a playlist of your favorite ‘90s hits and recreate the final dance scene in front of the bar.

 

One Tree Hill

View of Wilmington Riverwalk at dusk across Cape Fear River
Wilmington Riverwalk

One Tree Hill

Like Dawson’s Creek, this teen drama shot mostly in Wilmington and the surrounding beaches during its nine-season run. See all the locations on a One Tree Hill walking tour: Sit on the bench along the Riverwalk where Nathan (James Lafferty) gave Haley (Bethany Joy Lenz) a Cracker Jack bracelet, shoot hoops where some of the outdoor basketball games were played, visit the nightlife hotspot where Lucas (Chad Michael Murray) and Brooke (Sophia Bush) went on their tattoo date (must be 21 to enter), buy a Keith Scott Body Shop T-shirt at The Black Cat Shoppe and so much more.

 

The Choice

Two colorful bikes parked on the grass in Southport
Hungry Town Tours bikes

The Choice

One of a number of Nicholas Sparks films shot in our state throughout the years, The Choice – the story of two neighbors falling in love then being faced with a powerful dilemma – was mainly filmed in Wilmington and the scenic seaport town of Beaufort. Pay homage to characters in the film by dining at Dockside Restaurant and Bar and Brasserie du Soleil, by visiting Masonboro Island via boat or strolling through the 67-acre Airlie Gardens. And with the “A Ride to Remember Tour” courtesy of Hungry Town Tours, you can take a leisurely bike ride through Beaufort and see all the spots that brought the film to life. Splurge and upgrade your tour to receive a signed copy of the novel.

 

Safe Haven

Sun rising across ocean at Fort Fisher State Recreation Area
Fort Fisher State Recreation Area

Safe Haven

Filmed in Southport and Wilmington, Safe Haven hit the big screens on Valentine’s Day 2013. See where Katie (Julianne Hough) attempted to flee from her past when you start your day on the Wilmington Riverwalk, where you can see sites from countless other TV shows and movies, as well. Head to Fort Fisher State Recreation Area, where Katie and Alex (Josh Duhamel) share a kiss, then catch a boat to Southport for more sites including the Southport ferry terminal, Fishy Fish Café (served as the general store) and American Fish Co. (stood in as Ivan’s Fish Shack, where Katie worked as a waitress).

 

The Longest Ride

Graystone Inn lit up in Wilmington at night
Graystone Inn

The Longest Ride

This Nicholas Sparks film adaptation that combines bull riding, art and love was shot all over our state, including Asheville and Winston-Salem in addition to Wilmington. You can begin your exploration in Wilmington’s historic district where you’ll see the Temple of Israel, the Union Station Building and St. Mary’s Catholic School, all of which are locations in the film. For an elegant and romantic overnight stay, book a room at Graystone Inn, where a young Ira (Jack Huston) and Ruth (Oona Chaplin) attended a party.

 

Iron Man 3

Battleship North Carolina with sunset in background
Battleship North Carolina

Iron Man 3

Much of the filming of this superhero flick was done at sites with limited public access, but you can still admire the stately architecture of Cape Fear Club on Chestnut Street, observe the towering cranes at the state port and drive past New Hanover Regional Medical Center. If you’d like to walk where the actors and actresses did, there’s quite a list to pick from: Various stars were sure to check out Battleship North Carolina (Sir Ben Kingsley took a private tour), Roko Italian Cuisine, Catch (Gwyneth Paltrow was impressed enough to request a private cooking lesson from chef Keith Rhodes), Boca Bay Seafood Restaurant and Oyster Bar, and Brasserie du Soleil.

 

We're the Millers

We're the Millers

Join the fake-but-fun Miller family when you spot sites from this 2013 comedy starring Jennifer Aniston that filmed in Wilmington, which stood in as Denver on the big screen. Grab a cup of joe at Port City Java, which represented Burklyn Coffee in the movie – or choose to get your caffeine fix at Folks Café, where the coffee ice cubes prompted Emma Roberts to tweet it was the best coffee she’s ever had. For lunch, you’ll feel nostalgic at Penders Café, which looks much as it did when it opened more than 40 years ago. In the film, David (Jason Sudeikis) is abducted right outside the café after dining at the counter. Other sites include the apartments on Market Street and Brunswick Forest.

 

Under the Dome

Under the Dome

Get acquainted with Chester’s Mill, the rural town covered in a mysterious dome, when you visit downtown Burgaw (a half hour north of Wilmington). Here you’ll find the Pender County Courthouse square, familiar storefronts and the diner, all of which stood in flawlessly for Stephen King’s fictional town. In Wilmington, enjoy Southern cuisine at Rx and an expertly crafted cocktail at manna – actress Rachelle LeFevre frequented both restaurants while filming. Continue farther south to Southport, where the Southport ferry landing, Southport Motorcars (Big Jim’s Auto Sales in the show), the Pilot Tower (WYSB radio station) and Southport Post Office should all look familiar.

 

More TV shows and movies filmed in the area:

  • Blue Velvet
  • The Conjuring
  • Crimes of the Heart
  • Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood
  • Firestarter
  • The Secret Life of Bees
  • Summer Catch
  • Swamp Thing
  • Tammy

For a full listing of films shot in our state since 1950, visit filmnc.com.

Updated July 31, 2020
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