When people think of popular filming locations, they don’t usually think of Alabama. They gravitate toward states like New York or California. Atlanta, Georgia usually makes the top of the list as the most popular Southern state in which to film. However, as one of the most geographically diverse states in the country, Alabama is home to many different famous productions—with more films on the horizon. Alabama is full of diverse landscapes, quaint small towns, and rich history, making it an excellent state for filming.
Based on research by the Alabama Film Office, some of the most popular filming locations within the state include Mobile, Birmingham, Montgomery, and Huntsville. Each city offers unique elements and human connection that are hard to recreate on a movie set or generate by a computer. With all the advancements in technology and graphics, there is still something to be valued in real places with real personalities and histories.
To the average person, Mobile may find its way onto their list of places to travel due to its scenic location and Southern charm. With its oak-lined streets, historic neighborhoods, and antebellum architecture, the city exudes a unique allure that captures the essence of the Deep South. “Mobile is a geographical goldmine for film production,” Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson explained. “At any location, you are within an hour’s drive of beaches, swamps, rivers, rural and urban settings, historic and modern buildings, and more. Other than snow, you can film pretty much any setting in Mobile easily, and with state-of-the-art digital production companies like 3rd Realm Creations operating here, you can create pretty convincing digital snow in Mobile, too.” And for filmmakers, the draw to Mobile goes beyond just its visual appeal. Mobile is one of—if not the—most popular places to film in Alabama due to its diverse settings as well as its film-friendly community. “We have really worked to embrace the film industry in general, as well as the locals who work in the industry and other supporting industries,” said Mayor Stimpson.
Mobile has cultivated a film-friendly atmosphere with supportive local government policies and a community that is receptive to film productions. Mayor Stimpson’s admiration for his city and its citizens was evident with every answer he provided. “There’s a willingness among residents, businesses, and local governments to assist productions whenever we reasonably can,” Mayor Stimpson explained. “When a film needs to use a local house, extras, or a business, Mobilians are excited to step up and get involved.” The city has the necessary infrastructure, such as sound stages and production facilities, to accommodate film projects. And it also has the necessary people. Over the years, Mobile has developed a pool of skilled film industry professionals, including crew members, set designers, technical experts, and excited locals. “Having major productions come here helps keep Mobilians in the industry work at home while also opening new and better opportunities for their careers. I think for citizens, it’s also just exciting to know major productions are filming here. There’s nothing like seeing your downtown, your neighborhood, your city on the big screen.”
One of the most recent stories filmed in Mobile was “Jesus Revolution,” which hit the screens just last year. Although this story is about the spiritual awakening in the 1970s in Southern California, the filmmakers borrow the sun and sand from Mobile instead. The idyllic atmosphere of Mobile was part of something more haunting in the 2017 horror film “Get Out.” In this film, the primary focus was not the sunset skyline but instead featured elements of the historic districts in Mobile and a few suburban houses in Fairhope. Mayor Stimpson himself has even been involved in a few projects over the years. “I’ve been able to play a small role in some films, particularly documentaries that have focused on the story and history of Mobile. One time, I did get to meet Nicolas Cage and present him with a Key to the City while he was filming his 3rd major project here. That was exciting, and it’s great to see stars like him coming back to Mobile to film again and again. I hope that Mobile continues to grow its reputation as a great place to film, and because of the work the Mobile Film Office does every day, I am confident it will.”
Birmingham, Alabama’s largest city, is host to a mix of modern urban landscapes and historic sites. The unique blend of the old and the new provides versatile settings for both contemporary and period pieces. For example, in 2012, the story of Jackie Robinson and his historic moment breaking the Major League Baseball’s color barrier was retold through the film 42. Locals may recognize locations like the Tutwiler masquerading as Philadelphia’s Ben Franklin Hotel or Rickwood Field playing the role of several different major and minor league ballparks from the 1940s and 50s.
Last summer, Birmingham buzzed with excitement as Matthew McConaughey was frequently spotted filming his newest project, “The Rivals of Amziah King.” Despite being set in rural Oklahoma, Birmingham’s urban and rural landscapes became the backdrop for the upcoming crime thriller as McConaughey was seen road-tripping across parts of Alabama. Now, locals eagerly await a release date for the film (which has not yet been announced) in hopes of glimpsing some familiar spots around Birmingham on the big screen.
Within Birmingham, there is even one particular neighborhood that has seen its fair share of film crews commandeering its streets. Crestwood North, a neighborhood located close to downtown, has been the perfect suburban backdrop for several films. The first was “Mom’s Night Out,” a comedy with Patricia Heaton, Sean Astin, and Trace Atkins. The directors, the Erwin brothers, are originally from Alabama and do mostly Christian-based films. Another movie of theirs, “Woodlawn” was filmed just around the corner from Crestwood North in the town of Woodlawn.
A more recent movie filmed in Crestwood North is called “Nowhere Men” starring Jeffrey Morgan Dean and Jack Quaid. “We heard it’s a kidnapping/crime type movie, but don’t know many other details,” claimed one of the residents who witnessed some of the filming. While IMDB lacks details about the movie, it does have a brief synopsis posted: “When a mentally ill young man thinks he witnesses an abduction and the police refuse to believe him, he reluctantly turns to his next-door neighbor—a bitter, retired security guard—to help him find the missing woman.” So whether it’s history, comedy, sports, or crime, Birmingham has been the backdrop for it to unfold on the big screen.
The state capital is no stranger to drama, both in reality and on the screen. Many scripts filmed in Montgomery retell real-life stories. For example, “The Rosa Parks Story” documentary by CBS was filmed in Montgomery in 2001, and Bryan Stevenson’s true story about the Equal Justice Initiative “Just Mercy” by Warner Bros. Studio was filmed there in 2019. Filming and retelling historical events in the places where they occurred adds a deep connection to the story that is hard to replicate.
However, Montgomery has seen its fair share of fiction—even some fantasy—as well as history. Tim Burton’s 2003 fantasy adventure “Big Fish” was filmed around Montgomery and Wetumpka. In fact, the small fictional town of Spectre was custom-built for the movie on a small private island called Jackson Lake Island in Millbrook, Alabama, which is just a quick fifteen or twenty-minute drive from Montgomery and Wetumpka. The set is still there to this day, where people can visit or go camping.
Home to the U.S. Space and Rocket Center, Huntsville offers a futuristic and scientifically captivating backdrop for filmmakers. The iconic rocket structures and space-themed exhibits have been featured in documentaries and films that explore the wonders of space and science, bringing a unique and educational element to cinematic productions.
Over the years, Huntsville has been host to many movies centered around space exploration. “Space Warriors” and “Smile As Big As the Moon” both revolve around space camp and space cadets. Going back even further, 20th Century Fox filmed a movie titled “Space Camp” in Huntsville in 1986.
Sadly, one of the main attractions for these films was officially dismantled last year. The Saturn IB rocket at the North Alabama welcome center in Huntsville on Interstate 65 was deteriorating beyond repair and had to come down before it became a safety hazard. The rumor is that Huntsville plans to replace the rocket with another icon representing the city and all that it stands for.
The list doesn’t end there. Many more cities have hosted Hollywood, bringing their special personalities to productions and representing our state. Fairhope, like Mobile, has been a popular location to film in South Alabama. Meanwhile, in the northern reaches of the state, the musical legacy of Muscle Shoals and Florence has extended beyond the recording studios and into the cinemas. From the tranquil coastal landscapes to the soulful settings along the Tennessee River, Alabama continues to be a dynamic and multifaceted backdrop for Hollywood productions, showcasing the breadth of the state’s scenic beauty and cultural richness.
At the end of the day, no movie set can truly replicate some of the breathtaking landscapes we find ourselves surrounded by every day, which is perhaps why more and more filmmakers are finding themselves drawn to locations like Alabama that can offer natural beauty and rich history. With more stories to be told, the Alabama Film Office is ready to help bring more filmmakers to the state and to help locals with resources like tax incentive forms to save filmmakers money and guides to help location owners.