At first glance, Connecticut doesn’t seem like the kind of place filmmakers would flock to. It’s a long way from Hollywood, and movies find substitute locations for shooting all the time. For example, the mediocre 2009 horror movie The Haunting in Connecticut was actually made in Canada.
But several directors, actors, and production teams come to the state each year to create new movies. Connecticut’s Office of Film, Television, and Digital Media promotes tax incentives for filmmakers as well as nearly 1,000 locations suitable for a variety of films.
If you’re interested in spotting southeastern Connecticut or the surrounding region on the silver screen, these are just some of the films that feature the area quite prominently:
The famous Amistad case began when the ship arrived in New London in 1839, and Steven Spielberg used some local sites for his 1997 film on the subject. The historic streetscapes of Mystic Seaport provide a backdrop for many scenes, including the offloading of the captives and a campaign rally of Martin Van Buren.
Sonalyst Studios, the Waterford business which has been used for several film and TV productions, also played a prominent role in the production of Amistad. Its sound stage was used to filim the climactic scenes where Anthony Hopkins, playing John Quincy Adams, gives an impassioned case for the captives’ freedom.
In Hope Springs, Stonington stands in for a quaint coastal Maine town, with Tommy Lee Jones grumbling that “the whole town looks like it was built by Hansel and Gretel.” Meryl Streep plays Jones’ wife who, feeling dissatisfied after many years of marriage, convinces her reluctant husband to see a renowned couples therapist played by Steve Carrell. Jones and Streep visited the Borough, filming scenes at local restaurants, the Old Lighthouse Museum, and other locations.
One set piece left over from the filming of Hope Springs is a mural for the nonexistent Nor’easter Diner. The mural, which shows a happy cartoon lobster’s journey from trap to dinner plate, was painted on the side of Noah’s Restaurant and has been preserved by the owners.
The Hunt for Red October
Naval Submarine Base New London has appeared in several movies about the Silent Service, but The Hunt for Red October is undoubtedly the most well-known. Tom Clancy’s thriller, about a Soviet captain seeking to defect to the United States with an advanced submarine, was adapted into a 1990 film starring Alec Baldwin and Sean Connery. Some scenes were shot at the Groton base.
Tourists with an affection for Julia Roberts have associated Mystic with the titular pizzeria ever since Mystic Pizza came out in 1988. Locals are quick to point out that no filming actually took place at the restaurant, but it did provide the inspiration for screenwriter Amy Holden Jones to write the story. Mystic is easily recognizable throughout the movie, of course, but several scenes were filmed in nearby towns as well. These include Ford’s Lobsters in Noank (renamed Ferriera Lobsters), Zack’s Bar and Grill in Stonington (serving as the Peg Leg Pub), and the St. Peter & Paul Polish National Catholic Church in New London.
Spike Lee used a wide range of filming locations for his biopic on black nationalist Malcolm X, including New York City and the Middle East. For a scene in which Denzel Washington portrays Malcolm X working as a porter on the New Haven Railroad, however, the film crew came to Connecticut. The Essex Steam Train was a perfect fit, and a collector had recently donated a Pullman parlor car dubbed “Great Republic” to the railroad; it is very likely that this was one of the very train cars Malcolm X used to work on.
Disaster on the Coastliner
Airing as a TV movie on ABC in 1979, Disaster on the Coastliner counts Lloyd Bridges and William Shatner among its stars. The plot involves a disgruntled railroad employee who tampers with the computer-guided equipment in an effort to run two passenger trains into each other.
Although the movie is set in California, Disaster on the Coastliner was filmed in southeastern Connecticut. In one prominent shot, two helicopters follow the runaway locomotive as it barrels down the railroad track along Niantic Bay; the town’s Main Street also features in the shot, as it is perfectly aligned for a tracking shot. Shatner reportedly did his own stunts for this scene, which involved climbing atop the train.
Stanley Kubrick directed this 1962 adaptation of Vladimir Nabakov’s story of a college professor who becomes obsessed with an underage girl. Although the film is set in the fictional town of Ramsdale, New Hampshire, it was chiefly filmed in England and New York. Westerly is also briefly visible for a couple of scenes showing the professor’s arrival in Ramsdale. These shots include the town’s train station as well as a cab heading through the downtown area.
The World According to Garp
The film adaptation of John Irving’s bestselling novel was released in 1982, with Robin Williams in the starring role and Glenn Close, John Lithgow, and Mary Beth Hurt in other major roles. A mansion on Equestrian Ave., built for Bethlehem Steel heir Robert Linderman, was used for scenes of a support center set up by Garp’s mother to assist transsexuals and abused women.
Mystic Nights and Pirate Fights
A family-friendly adventure film released in 1998, Mystic Nights and Pirate Fights follows two boys who find a treasure map suggesting Captain Kidd’s treasure lies buried in southeastern Connecticut. As the name suggests, Mystic’s downtown and shorefront areas are prominently featured. One lengthy scene also has the characters visit the USS Nautilus and its associated museum.
This 2012 Wes Anderson film about young love takes place on a fictional New England island, and Rhode Island provided the necessary settings. Westerly was one of the filming sites, although it appears only briefly. In a scene showing the aftermath of a violent storm that has struck the island, the undamaged Ocean House is visible in the background.
The Group was an early film by Sidney Lumet, who later received Oscar nominations for his directorial work in movies such as 12 Angry Men and Network. Following the stories of eight women from a fictional university, The Group was released in 1966; its cast included Candice Bergen, Jessica Walter, and Hal Holbrook.
Connecticut College for Women, just a few years away from going co-ed and shortening its name, was the setting for the college scenes in the movie. A screening of the film one year after its release helped raise funds for the Cummings Arts Center on campus.
Dan in Real Life
Steve Carrell stars in this 2007 film as an advice columnist and widower who falls in love with his younger brother’s girlfriend during a trip to the family’s Rhode Island vacation house. Some scenes were shot in Westerly, including a date scene set in Alley Katz Bowling Center and sequences shot on Misquamicut Beach and Napatree Point.
Wishin’ and Hopin’
It’s only fitting that the film adaptation of local author Wally Lamb’s amusing Christmas story would be set in eastern Connecticut. Norwich Free Academy was used for narrator Felix Funicello’s Catholic school. The film also used Charlene’s Diner in Jewett City to portray the eatery run by Felix’s family, as well as a home and theater in Willimantic.
The Missing Girl
The 2015 film The Missing Girl stars Robert Longstreet as Mort, the owner of a comic book store who mistakenly believes the young woman he’s hired has gone missing – and that an acquaintance from his high school days might be involved in her disappearance. The movie is set in New London, and a vacant storefront on Green Street was transformed into Mort’s shop. Several city locations, ranging from City Hall to an auto shop, also feature in the film.
Let’s Scare Jessica to Death
This cult 1971 horror film was shot in and around the town of Chester, where one of the film’s producers had a weekend home. The plot concerns a woman who has recently been released from a mental institution to live with her husband on a Connecticut island. After experiencing nightmarish visions there, she worries that she is again losing her sanity. The Chester-Hadlyme Ferry was used for scenes showing access to the island, and other filming locations included East Haddam, Essex, and Old Saybrook.