Take a Totally ‘90s Film Tour of North Carolina

About 50 movies and TV shows from the decade were filmed across North Carolina, many of which have still left their mark today by attracting visitors with tours, experiences and attractions.

Start at North Carolina’s southern coast for sites from teen classics, work your way to the Triangle for locations from several dramas and then finish in the mountains, where gorgeous peaks have shown they’re ready for their close-up.

Dawson’s Creek

Dawson’s Creek

With the classic teen drama Dawson’s Creek being produced in Wilmington for years, there are dozens of locations throughout the city and its island beaches where scenes were shot or where the stars visited during the show’s run. 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 available at the Wilmington and Beaches Convention and Visitors Bureau or online. Put on your walking shoes and see where the action took place all over town, find out how to get there and learn what role each location had in the show. (Bonus: One Tree Hill had many similar filming locations over its nine-season run.)

 

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.

 

I Know What You Did Last Summer

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.

 

Patch Adams

Patch Adams

In this 1998 semibiographical film starring the late Robin Williams, Asheville (including Biltmore) and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill played major roles in production. Stroll the grounds in front of Manning Hall and through the campus of the country’s oldest public university, where Patch and Carin (Monica Potter) often conversed, and then grab lunch at Top of the Hill Restaurant and Brewery on Franklin Street. Locally inspired eclectic fare, such as TOPO Whiskey and Coke Braised Beef or Wild Mushroom Grit Cakes, has made it a popular spot since 1996.

 

Kiss the Girls

Kiss the Girls

Based on James Patterson’s best-selling novel set in Chapel Hill, Kiss the Girls moves the setting of this psychological thriller to Duke University and Durham. The film follows forensic psychologist Alex Cross (Morgan Freeman) and Kate Mctiernan (Ashley Judd) as they track down a serial kidnapper known only as Casanova (Cary Elwes). As you explore the university's campus, be sure to check out Duke Chapel, one of Alex and Kate’s many stops on their search for the killer. The chapel is one of the most widely recognized symbols of the university and features a Flentrop Organ with 5,200 pipes, a 50-bell carillon and stained-glass windows. Check the chapel’s website for a calendar of events before your visit to make sure it’s not closed for a private event.

 

The Handmaid’s Tale

The Handmaid’s Tale

Before the recent TV show became popular, there was the 1990 adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale based on Margaret Atwood’s 1985 novel of the same name. Most of the film’s scenes were shot in Durham, including on Duke University’s campus where a handmaid was hanged right in front of Duke Chapel, and the American Tobacco Campus, whose exterior served as the Red Center where handmaids-to-be were trained. Shop and dine in the tobacco campus today, or catch a game at Durham Bulls Athletic Park (a bonus for Bull Durham fans).

 

Mr. Destiny

Mr. Destiny

Looking to take a trip to an alternate reality? Head to Winston-Salem to see where Larry Burrows (Jim Belushi) had the strangest day of his life in Mr. Destiny and was transported back to a high school baseball game that changed everything. Among several locations around Winston-Salem, the baseball team from Richard J. Reynolds High School and the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Headquarters (now the R.J. Reynolds Building) are featured during the movie. Stop downtown to admire that building, where stunning gold and silver leaf ceilings, beautiful brass doors and St. Genevieve golden vein marble in the lobby are a hallmark, and then enjoy an intimate meal at The Katharine Brasserie and Bar.

 

Days of Thunder

Days of Thunder

With Charlotte and surrounding areas being hubs for NASCAR fans and professionals, it’s no surprise producers would find the region perfect for racing movies. Days of Thunder portrays Cole Trickle (Tom Cruise) as a young stock-car driver trying to make it big on the racetrack, and both Charlotte Motor Speedway (formerly Lowe's Motor Speedway) and North Wilkesboro Speedway (which closed in 1996) were used in filming. Time your visit well and catch one of the Charlotte Motor Speedway’s biggest races of the year: The Coca-Cola 600 over Memorial Day Weekend or the Bank of America ROVAL 400 in October.

 

The Fugitive

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The Fugitive

A couple of the most dramatic scenes from the 1993 action thriller were filmed southwest of Asheville near North Carolina’s Great Smoky Mountains. In Robbinsville, you get a view of the Cheoah Dam from which Harrison Ford's character leaped in The Fugitive. About an hour east is the site of the train wreck during Ford's character's prison transport. It was filmed on a stretch of the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad, and the best way to see the carnage is by parking on Haywood Road near Jackson County Green Energy Park and looking down the slope.

 

Nell

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Nell

Fontana Lake and its surrounding unspoiled land were the perfect locations to tell the story of Nell (Jodie Foster), a feral child discovered to be living in the North Carolina mountains. Though Nell’s cabin no longer stands, you can still fish, boat and stand-up paddleboard on the 11,700-acre lake today. Or get your blood pumping and hike part of the Appalachian Trail, which passes over Fontana Dam. Robbinsville, located about 20 minutes south of Fontana Lake, also makes an important appearance when Dr. Jerry Lovell (Liam Neeson) and Dr. Paula Olsen (Natasha Richardson) bring Nell into town to offer her a first real taste of civilization.

 

Heavyweights

Heavyweights

Hi, hi, hiyah! In this 1995 film, a group of overweight adolescents travel to Camp Hope for the summer to get active and make memories. Until an eccentric Tony Perkis (Ben Stiller) turns their worlds upside down, that is. Camp scenes were filmed at Camp Ton-a-Wandah and Camp Pinnacle in Hendersonville, today both serving as overnight camps a mile down the road from each other. Pro tip: Just 20 minutes away sits DuPont State Recreational Forest, where three momentous scenes from The Hunger Games filmed in 2012. The young adults in your life will be pleased with this trip.

 

Richie Rich

Richie Rich

Biltmore, the largest private residence in the country, stands in as the home of the richest kid in the world in this 1994 family comedy starring Macaulay Culkin. Today, the estate in Asheville is a popular stop for visitors. Take a self-guided tour of the house, grounds and gardens while keeping an eye out for other film sites (Forrest Gump, Hannibal, The Last of the Mohicans, Patch Adams and several others also filmed here); sip a glass of sparkling wine at Biltmore Winery (daytime admission to Biltmore includes a complimentary wine tasting); and shop and dine at Antler Hill Village.

 

The Last of the Mohicans

The Last of the Mohicans

Some of the most intense scenes of the 1992 adventure The Last of the Mohicans were shot on and around Chimney Rock, a 315-foot-long jutting rock formation, about 40 minutes east of Asheville. Hike to panoramic views of forests before trekking the Hickory Nut Falls Trail to the 404-foot falls (one of the tallest in the East). For a less demanding hike, follow the Great Woodland Adventure Trail, which winds past 12 Discovery Stations.

 

The Hunt for Red October

The Hunt for Red October

Based off the Tom Clancy novel of the same name, the 1990 spy thriller The Hunt for Red October filmed its final scene on what was supposed to be Penobscot River in Maine. But Marko Ramius (Sean Connery) and Jack Ryan’s (Alec Baldwin) conversation actually took place on Lake James in western North Carolina. Today, you can boat, kayak, swim and fish in the beautiful 6,812-acre lake, or mountain bike on Lake James State Park’s 25 miles of trails.

 

Forrest Gump

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Forrest Gump

Home to the Mile High Swinging Bridge, hiking trails, wildlife habitats, a nature museum and stunning views, Grandfather Mountain in Linville also boasts the “Forrest Gump Curve” – a section of road where Tom Hanks’ famous character actually ran during his cross-country trip in the film. Get your camera ready – you’ll pass it as you leave the wildlife habitats and head up to the bridge.

 

The Green Mile

The Green Mile

In this 1999 drama, the gorgeous Flat Top Manor in Moses H. Cone Memorial Park in Blowing Rock serves as the nursing home where 108-year-old Paul Edgecomb tells the story of his time as a death row corrections officer with inmate John Coffey years before. Hop off the Blue Ridge Parkway at Milepost 294 and explore the 3,600-acre grounds, where Southern Highland Craft Guild operates out of the main floor of the manor from April through November. Plus, learn about the Cone family’s history when you tour the top floor for free May through October.

 

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

Updated September 21, 2020
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