When Tucson once thrived as a top Hollywood filming location

TUCSON, Arizona (KGUN) – There was a time when the city of Tucson was the setting for a number of major feature films.

From Nerds’ Revenge to Major League, Tucson played a prominent role in 1980s films.

But it was a famous line in the film Alice Doesn’t Live Here that introduced moviegoers to Tucson.

“Strange, very strange,” said a young Jodie Foster who played Audrey. “It’s strange even to Tucson, and Tucson is the strange capital of the world.”

Warner Bros.

Alice No Longer Lives Anymore was filmed throughout the Old Pueblo and helped Hollywood realize that Tucson was more than just a place for westerns.

In the 1970s, the Tucson Film Commission played a huge role in selling Tucson to filmmakers.

“We went to Hollywood and turned it up,” said local filmmaker Mark Headley. “We hit it really hard. It really started in the 70s and 80s.”

Headley and the late Bob Shelton, who founded Old Tucson, formed the Tucson Film Commission. They got to work pulling big films around the area.

In the 1980s, Tucson was full of movie productions.

“They felt like they were part of Hollywood,” said Phil Villarreal, KGUN 9 film critic and native of Tucson. “You could somehow grow up and hope that someday you could be an extra in a movie. Or at least see something of Tucson on screen.”

Hi Corbett Field is one of those well-known locations that featured prominently in the Major League movie.

Major League movie poster

Paramount Pictures

Thousands of Tucsonans were extras in the stands for some of the spring training scenes.

“People were given a hot dog and a Coke to sit in the stands if they waited for hours,” said Villarreal. “It’s almost impossible to meet someone who doesn’t know someone who was in the stands in spring training at the beginning of the film.”

Many of the opposing players in those Hi Corbett scenes were actually University of Arizona baseball players.

One of the greatest films of the 1980s shot in Tucson almost wasn’t.

The nerds’ revenge was rejected by the University of Arizona because it was deemed too raunchy.

Revenge of the Nerds Movie Poster

20th century FOX

“The film committee, Bob and I and a few others, really stood up for the film team.” Headley remembered. “We went over the script, it was a fun script. They got rejected by a lot of universities who were nervous, but we convinced the University of Arizona that this is the first fun movie and the second economic impact on Tucson . ”

University officials gave the go-ahead and an estimated $ 4 million has been pumped into the Tucson economy.

While the campus is easily recognizable to Tucsonans, moviegoers across the country had no idea that Adams College was, in fact, the University of Arizona.

The 1986 film Three Amigos! had the most star power.

Three amigos!  Movie poster

Orion pictures

“That was probably the biggest movie from the ’80s shot in Old Tucson, with big stars like Steve Martin, Martin Short and Chevy Chase,” said Villarreal. “Iconic comedy westerns and that’s all Tucson.”

While the majority of the three amigos! was shot around Old Tucson using Sabino Canyon as a backdrop.

But the film that best showcased Tucson was the 1987 film Can’t Buy Me Love.

I can't buy a love movie poster

Touchstone pictures

“They just wanted the uniqueness of southern Arizona,” Headley said. “You definitely found it.”

That uniqueness included a trip to the boneyard and scenes filmed in a brand new Tucson Mall. The main setting was Tucson High School.

“Seeing How You Can’t Buy Me Love is really a time machine to get back to Tucson in the 1980s,” said Villarreal. “You could just see how things were then. A lot of things are the same, still like in this movie. It treats Tucson with respect, with dignity, and you can see the pages. Basically, it’s a movie in the Grown up in Tucson in the 80s. ”

A little secret about Cindy Mancini’s house where Ronald Miller – played by Patrick Dempsey – cut her grass. It’s not even a home.

It’s actually the Hill Farm Community Clubhouse.

You can see for yourself. It’s right in front of Fort Lowell near Craycroft.

Here is an interactive map of several Tucson filming locations:

Unfortunately, the film industry is now bypassing Tucson for tax credits for filming in New Mexico.

But Headley is still confident that Hollywood will one day return to Tucson to film like they did in the 80s.

“Someone has to knock on some doors in Hollywood and say we’re open to business.”

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