The legendary John Denver sang, “Almost heaven, West Virginia,” and he knew what he was talking about. The state, nestled within the heart of the Appalachian Mountains, boasts a unique blend of breathtaking landscapes, rich culture, and a colorful history. West Virginia provides the evocative backdrop for great stories, some real-life and others imagined, that have made it to the big screen.
From tales of determination and triumph to spine-tingling encounters with the supernatural, West Virginia’s diverse terrain and community keep bringing moviegoers what they want. Celebrate the magic of storytelling in this wild and wonderful place when you watch some of West Virginia’s best films. Here are the must-see titles you should add to your list.
October Sky (1999)
Inspired by real-life events and a book by Homer Hickam, October Sky tells the story of a young boy who dreamed a remarkable dream: building rockets. Directed by Joe Johnston and released in 1999, this film captures the essence of Hickam’s wish to reach for the stars amidst the challenges and expectations of his small mining town. Set against the rugged backdrop of Coalwood, West Virginia, October Sky beautifully portrays the struggle and determination of Hickam and his friends as they face the odds stacked against them.
It is particularly remarkable in how it captures a unique sense of place with breathtaking mountain landscapes, tight-knit communities, and a palpable sense of hope amidst adversity. The film showcases the indomitable spirit of West Virginia while reminding us that dreams can take flight from even the unlikeliest of places. It is a testament to the power of determination and the boundless potential that can emerge from the state.
The Mothman Prophecies (2002)
This one is a spine chiller. Based on John A. Keel’s book of the same name, The Mothman Prophecies tells the story of a winged creature that terrorizes the town of Point Pleasant.
Directed by Mark Pellington and released in 2002, this thriller film stars Richard Gere as John Klein, a Washington Post journalist who becomes entangled in a series of unsettling events involving supernatural phenomena and bizarre sightings.
Based on Keel’s investigations into strange occurrences in Point Pleasant during the 1960s, the film weaves a web of suspense as Klein delves deeper into the enigmatic world of the Mothman—a red-eyed creature with a foreboding presence. As he encounters witnesses played by actors Laura Linney and Will Patton, Klein becomes consumed by a quest for answers, all set against the hauntingly atmospheric backdrop of Point Pleasant, West Virginia.
The Mothman Prophecies captures the chilling essence of Keel’s book while adding an eerie cinematic layer. Richard Gere’s portrayal of a man pursuing the unexplainable, combined with the atmospheric West Virginian setting, creates a gripping experience that lingers long after the credits roll. It’s a prime example of how West Virginia’s mysterious and haunting beauty can be used to craft unforgettable cinematic tales.
Logan Lucky (2017)
Logan Lucky tells the story of a family man and construction worker named Jimmy Logan (played by Channing Tatum) from West Virginia who partners up with his brother, Clyde (Adam Driver), and sister, Mellie (Farrah Mackenzie), to rob a NASCAR speedway in North Carolina. Along the way, they team up with several other characters, including a safecracker by the name of Joe Bang, who they bust out of prison to help execute their plan. But as is usually the case with heist films, things don’t quite go according to plan, and the trio are soon forced to pull off the robbery during a big race event at the speedway.
Directed by Steven Soderbergh, who emerged from retirement because of how much he enjoyed reading the script, Logan Lucky is slick, energetic, tense, and funny all at the same time. If you enjoyed the casino heist films reviewed at casinos.com, including Soderbergh’s own Ocean’s Eleven, Ocean’s Twelve, and Ocean’s Thirteen, you will likely love this fun and critically acclaimed film.
The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia (2009)
Much like its title, this one is a wild ride. A documentary film directed by Julien Nitzberg that delves deep into the tumultuous lives of a legendary WV family, it’s controversial and shocking. The Whites are a notorious group living in Boone County who have made quite the name for themselves. This doc is an unfiltered and raw glimpse into their unconventional and chaotic existence.
The White family, known for their criminal activities, drug abuse, and confrontational encounters with the law, are infamous in West Virginia and beyond. The film paints a vivid portrait of their struggles, showcasing a mix of despair, humor, and outrageous behavior.
It captures the complexities of a community plagued by poverty, addiction, and a sense of lawlessness, all while shedding light on the challenges faced by many in this region. For a gritty, no-holds-barred exploration of a world you’ve never seen before, look no further than The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia. Though this subculture might be hard to comprehend, it’s insanely interesting, and the movie is well made.
As a testament to the power of documentary filmmaking, this movie sheds light on marginalized communities and provides a platform for unheard voices. This movie contains explicit content and troubling situations, all while offering a thought-provoking look at the socio-economic issues that exist in rural America.
Notable Mention: The Sting (1973)
This one may not be fully set in West Virginia, but fans of the state will recognize scenes filmed in Wheeling, WV. This timeless masterpiece from George Roy Hill is a true gem in the world of cinema. Paul Newman and Robert Redford hatch an intricate scheme to take down a corrupt and ruthless racketeer. Intricate plot twists, humor, suspense, brilliant storytelling, and plenty of fun and dangerous games combine to create an enduring classic rich with stunning period details and unforgettable performances that left their mark on film culture.