The List: 10 Mountains Misrepresented In Movies

an avalanche of thrills 660

Sometimes, the actors aren’t the only ones acting in feature films — those glorious mountain backdrops often aren’t quite where they say they are. Lots of mountainous locales in Montana, Wyoming, Colorado and other places are completely Hollywood film-worthy — we just use shots of places in Canada or Italy to represent them. Here are a few for the “Wait — that wasn’t K2?” file:

1. Legends of the Fall

Didn’t Brad Pitt look soooooo dreamy as Tristan Ludlow, the mysterious, wild middle brother who fought in the war, hunted a bear, seduced his late brother’s fiancee (and his other brother’s future wife) and herded cattle on horseback with those Montana mountains as his backdrop? Sure he did, but his family’s Montana ranch was in Alberta, making the Canadian Rockies his backdrop. But his hair was still fabulous.

2. Brokeback Mountain

When this 2006 movie about two secretly gay cowboys hit the big screen, the Wyoming Business Council received tons of calls from folks interested in the scenic backdrop of the movie. Problem was, it wasn’t filmed in Wyoming.

“When we tell them it was shot in Canada, they’re still interested in Wyoming,” Michell Howard, manager of the council’s film, arts and entertainment office told USA Today. “They don’t hang up and call Alberta. They’re intrigued in the story.”

Also, there’s actually no mountain called Brokeback Mountain in Wyoming.

3. An Unfinished Life

Maybe you didn’t see this 2005 film with Robert Redford, Morgan Freeman, and Jennifer Lopez, set on a ranch near Ishawooa, Wyoming. It’s actually not half-bad, if just for the smack-talking between Redford and Freeman’s characters, a cranky old rancher and his pal who now lives in chronic pain after being attacked by a grizzly bear. The scenery is great, too, but it was filmed in British Columbia, not Wyoming, where the fictional town of Ishawooa does not exist anyway.

4. Vertical Limit

Long made a punching bag for its errors/falsehoods in depicting high-altitude climbing, the fact that Vertical Limit wasn’t actually filmed on K2 is far down the list of things that aren’t quite right about it. And hey, who could really expect anyone to safely film anything on K2? It’s hard enough just climbing it and not dying. Anyway, most of the climbing scenes depicting action on “K2” were filmed in the Southern Alps of New Zealand.

5. K2

K2’s action climbing scenes were also not filmed on K2, for reasons stated above. Directors chose a mountain that is still pretty dangerous and unpredictable for the location — Mount Waddington — and set up a real-live base camp 150 miles from civilization. Which is no K2, but it’s a pretty legit place to climb, let alone film.

6. Rocky IV

In the legendary training montage, villain Ivan Drago is hooked up to all sorts of high-tech machinery and watched over by an entire team to ensure proper shaping of the man into a Cold-War-era Rocky-smashing machine. Rocky gets rustic accommodations somewhere in Russia, and Pauly. So he hauls sleds of wood and climbs mountains for training. Except the mountains are: The Tetons, located in Wyoming, on the other side of the planet from Russia.

7. Cold Mountain

Renee Zellweger won a Best Supporting Actress for her role in this 2003 Civil War drama. The scenery in Romania did a pretty good acting job as well, playing Appalachia — the real Cold Mountain, 6,030 feet, is in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains, pretty far away.

7. Dumb and Dumber

Should we really expect this film, where Lloyd and Harry make asses out of themselves on the slopes of Aspen’s ski resorts, to be filmed in Aspen? It’s not exactly A River Runs Through It. The film was shot in a bunch of locations (including Aspen), but the actual skiing was not shot at Aspen resorts — it was two hours away at Copper Mountain.

8. Seven Years in Tibet

Another Brad Pitt movie, Seven Years in Tibet is the story of Austrian mountaineer Heinrich Harrer’s escape from a WWII British prison camp in India, and journey into Tibet, where Harrer befriends the Dalai Lama. Although the film’s director admitted to secretly shooting a small amount of footage of the film in Tibet, it was mostly filmed in Argentina.

9. Cliffhanger

Another film that became the butt of jokes for many climbers (the “bolt gun”?), the words “Rocky Mountain National Park” flash on the screen during the opening scene where Sylvester Stallone is seen free-soloing (with a rack of gear), which is actually filmed in the Dolomites, as were most of the high-action scenes in the film. (Note: Friend of AJ Ace Kvale contributor quite a few Dolos images that were used as backdrops.)

10. Touching the Void

When you’re making a documentary about one of the most miraculous mountaineering survival stories of all time, you can’t really get back on the actual climb to film. So many of the re-enactment shots for Touching the Void, the 2003 film based on Joe Simpson’s 1988 book of the same name, were filmed in the Alps, not on the wicked and rarely climbed West Face of 20,813-foot Siula Grande (although the climbers did return with the crew to the base camp and glacier below the Peruvian Peak to film some re-enactment scenes).

{ 2 comments…read them below or write one }

  • MK

    Add the Shinning to the list.
    The movie begins with the Torrance family driving on the Peak to Peak highway to the Overlook Hotel, which relative to the story line is acceptably accurate. However the balance of the film (exterior shorts of the hotel with the mountain backdrop) is shot at Mount Hood.

  • Matt

    I’d put A River Runs Through It on the list too. When my uncle first saw the movie, he told my mom, “That’s where I’m living when I grow up.” Of course he didn’t realize that the movie was filmed in Alberta, not in Missoula, but he went anyway.

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