The state’s film history begins with Indian Day School (1898), a 50-second strip created by the Edison Manufacturing Company when New Mexico was still a territory. The simple film shows Native American children walking in and out of the schoolhouse at Isleta Pueblo, but it sparked a tradition of filmmaking that has become part of the state’s identity as a first-rate location.
Best known for The Birth of a Nation, seminal filmmaker D. W. Griffith created this silent-era classic, set at Isleta Pueblo. Significant for its status as one of the first films made in New Mexico after it became a state (though not for its cultural sensitivity), the film explores the mysticism then associated with Native America, and stars “America’s Sweetheart,” Mary Pickford, as “The Indian Girl” who falls in love with a handsome brave.
In this Western directed by Howard Hughes, Doc Holliday and Billy the Kid feud over Rio, played by screen vixen Jane Russell. At times scantily clad and always worth fighting for, Rio was one of the first sassy, rebellious female characters to appear in made-in-New-Mexico films; this role led the way to performances in a similar vein—by legendary actress Meryl Streep, in Silkwood (1983), and Charlize Theron, in North Country (2006).
This film has all the best of the Western genre: outlaws on the run, a posse, and a girl left behind. Add in buddy humor between stars Paul Newman (Butch) and Robert Redford (Sundance), and it earns its status as a classic. Filmed in Chama and Taos, the movie is also loosely based on actual bandits who hid out near Silver City in
The quintessential road-trip movie, Easy Rider captures the defiant and experimental spirit of the 1960s and early ’70s. Modern, antihero cowboys Wyatt and Billy (Peter Fonda and the film’s director, Dennis Hopper) ride their motorcycles across New Mexico—encountering a commune, and spending a night in jail with a drunk, George Hanson (Jack Nicholson), who utters the film’s message: Freedom is “what it’s all about, alright, but talkin’ about it and being it—that’s two different things.”
This film is New Mexican to the core—and not just because it’s based on the book of the same title by Taos author John Nichols. Directed by Robert Redford, the film centers on a real estate developer whose plans will drain the lifeblood from a rural village. Farmer Joe Mondragon (and his trusty pig, who is one of the most endearing characters in the film) begins illegally irrigating his bean field, bringing together the community in protest. This charming film should be required viewing for all New Mexicans.
Whether he’s considered an iconic rebel or a murderer, Billy the Kid’s legend is woven into the history and identity of New Mexico. This film celebrates that legend as only Hollywood can— with the glossy 1980s star power of Emilio Estevez (as the Kid), Kiefer Sutherland, Lou Diamond Phillips, Dermot Mulroney, and Charlie Sheen in a rollicking story.
Based on a novel by local author Max Evans, this film captures the beauty of the diminishing cowboy lifestyle after World War II. The narrative stars Woody Harrelson as Big Boy Matson and Billy Crudup as Pete Calder, two cowboys in love with Patricia Arquette’s Mona Birk. In this film, New Mexico’s stunning and desolate northeastern plains play just as big as a role as the actors.
In the 1970s, the Groden family lives off the grid in Taos (as many families did and still do) in a self-sufficient lifestyle that has become synonymous with the state. In this tender, slightly melancholy story, the family’s lifestyle is imperiled by an IRS audit. Both the auditor and the film’s father figure (played by Sam Elliot) experience depression, but are coaxed back to life by the love of their friends and family, and the curative properties of New Mexico’s landscapes.
This film counts four Academy Awards among its honors (including one for 2008 Motion Picture of the Year). It captures New Mexico’s raw, gritty qualities, which still pervade the frontier state today. The plot follows Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) after he stumbles on and steals $2 million. Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem) ruthlessly pursues the thief, just as lawman Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) chases them to a stunning finale.
OK, it’s not technically a movie, but this USA Network TV is one of the first to be both filmed and set in Albuquerque. In the series, Federal Marshal Mary Shannon (Mary McCormack), of the Witness Security Program, protects participants as they adapt to their new identities. Throughout its four seasons, the show has captured essential aspects of the New Mexican character: This is a place where you can reinvent yourself; life here is what you make of it.