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Must-Visit Small-Town Movie Sets Across America

Explore movie sets and locations and discover the magic of famous films made in small American towns.

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Photo: Jackson County Tourism Authority/Nick Breedlove

Discover the Charm of Movies Set in Small Towns

Filmmakers know small towns make great movie locations because they feel authentic. Fans who don't live in big cities like L.A. can identify with small town settings and often snap up tickets, turning movies about small-town life into blockbuster hits.

Movies set in small towns also hold down production costs for filmmakers, although some spend money to revitalize flagging downtowns. Residents benefit even more when the movies debut, tourism picks up and the local economy gets a boost.

Other small towns make great movie sets simply because studios can't rival their picturesque settings, like the coastal scenes in "Jaws," made in Edgartown, Massachusetts, or the desert landscape in Creede, Colorado, a backdrop for 2013's "The Lone Ranger."

The Jackson County Historic Courthouse, shown here, was used in 2017's "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri." Visit Sylva, North Carolina (pop. 2,500) to see the courthouse and other locations and props from the movie.

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Photo: Jackson County Tourism Authority/Nick Breedlove

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri: Sylva, North Carolina

Ebbing, Missouri, isn’t a real place, but "Three Billboards in Ebbing, Missouri" is based on a real crime. Oscar-winning actress Frances McDormand, pictured here, portrayed a mother who rents the signs to demand help when the police can’t catch her daughter's killer. The real billboards were erected in Vidor, Texas, in 1991. Despite the tragic premise, the movie has elements of dark comedy. Think the billboards made a difference? Watch this critically acclaimed film to find out.

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Photo: Photo by Merrick Morton. Provided by Jackson County Tourism Authority/Nick Breedlove ©

More to See and Do in Sylva, North Carolina

In this scene from "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri," McDormand confronts Sam Rockwell, who plays a deputy sheriff. The movie, which also starred Woody Haralson, John Hawkes and Peter Dinklage, won an Oscar for Best Motion Picture in 2018.

Explore Sylva, about an hour's drive from Asheville, for its charming galleries, shops and restaurants, or come for the annual Greening Up the Mountains Festival that celebrates spring. In 2018, Forbes called Sylva's Main Street one of the cutest in small-town America. Look for some of the movie's sets and locations at Jackson's General Store and click here for more.

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Photo: City of St. Helens

Twilight: St. Helens, Oregon

With its small-town feel, natural beauty and quaint parks, boutiques and eateries, St. Helens, Oregon, was a perfect stand-in for Forks, Washington, where fictional characters Bella and Charlie Swan lived in "Twilight," released in 2008. You can rent the Swan House, shown here, as an Airbnb, see costumes and decor from the movie, eat at the same dining table the actors used and sleep in a bedroom furnished with a lifesize cut-out of Jacob, Bella or Edward. St. Helens, where much of the movie was shot, is about 29 miles from Portland.

You'll find more locations from this film about small town life with vampires around the Pacific Northwest. Ramble through Silver Falls State Park, the setting for Bella's "spider monkey" ride on Edward's back, or look for the signs in town that remind you to keep a respectful distance when photographing the home used as the Cullen house, now a private residence.

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