Home Arts Friday list: exploring the films set in Wisconsin

Friday list: exploring the films set in Wisconsin


The Friday List is a recurring feature in which we jog memories, spark thoughts and perhaps generate debate in one of the grandest formats devised by man … the almighty list. Are we missing something? Are we dead wrong? Offer your thoughts on the list du jour by heading to the Valley Review’s Twitter or Facebook pages.

With Covid-19 keeping folks indoors, the television now ranks among the top entertainment choices even among those who’d otherwise clamor for a night on the town.

We’re doing the best we can with what we have, and for many, “Safer At Home” has offered an opportunity to catch up on films that previously passed them by.

Those of us in Wisconsin know we have a picturesque state with a diversity of landscapes from urban skylines to rolling hills, farmland as far as the eye can see, deep forests, sparkling lakes and more. 

We’re not among the top sites as a setting in the world of film, though the Badger State has had its share of movie credits.

It’s Friday, so let’s explore some of the films set in Wisconsin — and let’s do it in list form.

American Movie: It’s a documentary movie about the making of a movie. It’s a film about passion and family, creativity and struggles. And it introduced us to some Milwaukee guys whose real life personas were quite the characters. The 1999 film follows independent filmmaker Mark Borchardt through the production of his horror film, Coven. 

The Great Outdoors: The John Hughes favorite starring John Candy and Dan Aykroyd follows the comedic adventures of two families vacationing at a Wisconsin resort. Never mind that it was filmed in California.

BASEketball: The 1998 comedy starring Trey Parker and Matt Stone of South Park fame followed the history of the new sport they created and developed into a nationally followed league. The protagonists play for the Milwaukee Beers. Director David Zucker, better known for Airplane!, is a Milwaukee native.

Mr. 3000: The 2004 sports comedy starring Bernie Mac centers on a Milwaukee Brewers player who retired upon achieving his 3,000th career hit. He returns to the team at age 47 when it’s found there was a clerical error and he was three hits short of the milestone.

Dawn of the Dead: No, we’re not talking about the 1978 George A. Romero zombie classic. We’re still happy to get the nod in the 2004 remake, set in fictional Everett, Wisconsin.

Our Vines Have Tender Grapes: The 1945 drama featuring Edward G. Robinson and Margaret O’Brien focuses on the Norwegian-American residents of a small, Wisconsin farming community.

Starman: The 1984 romance science fiction film was directed by John Carpenter and tells the tale of a humanoid alien who was shot down and crashed in northern Wisconsin. The film led to a television series.

Wayne’s World: Sure, the majority of the movie is set in Illinois, but it makes the list as the best scene is set north of the border. Wayne and Garth receive backstage passes to an Alice Cooper concert, where the classic shock rocker shows his love for and historical knowledge of Milwaukee.

The Blues Brothers: We’ll use similar rationale here, as the climax of the film takes place “up north” at the fictional Palace Hotel Ballroom. Featuring shots of Milwaukee, it’s clear Wisconsin was the site of the epic return of the Blues Brothers after their three-year tour of Europe, Scandinavia and the subcontinent. Not to mention, we’re the site of the front stages of the most epic police chase in film history.

The Great Spider Invasion: It’s by no means a blockbuster. It lacks much of what people would consider in rating a movie as “good.” Still, The Great Spider Invasion, filmed and set in and around Merrill, Wisconsin, is considered a classic in the realm of B movies. It received treatment from Mystery Science Theater 3000. And it didn’t do too badly at the box office, gaining wide distribution and ranking among the top 50 grossing films of 1975.