A bevy of stars—including Jeremy Piven, Ben Affleck, Ryan Reynolds and Alicia Keys—descended upon Lake Tahoe’s South Shore in 2005 to film the 2006 release “Smokin’ Aces.” The film was primarily shot at Stateline’s MontBleu Resort (then Caesars Tahoe), which the script rechristened as the Nomad Hotel. Piven plays a sleazy Las Vegas magician who goes into hiding at the Nomad, where mobsters and hitmen converge amid plenty of gunfire, murder and mayhem. While the A-list cast was certainly a welcome surprise to unsuspecting tourists, according to Universal’s production notes, some hotel guests were given a memo that read: “Chosen windows on the seventh floor of Caesars Hotel and 10th floor of Horizon will be breaking on cue with gunfire. Please note that some of this gunfire may be quite loud...”
Though casino shoot-outs are not be the norm, the Reno-Tahoe area has played host to many film productions over the past century. One of the most prominent early movies was Charlie Chaplin’s “The Gold Rush” (1925). For two weeks, the production was staged on Truckee’s Donner Summit in the snowy Sierra Nevada, which was supposed to be Alaska’s Chilkoot Pass. Chaplin recreated the look of prospectors struggling up the pass with some 600 extras, many reported to be the vagrants of Sacramento who were transported by train to the set.
Reno-Tahoe has provided the dramatic scenery for plenty of notable movies, including “Lightnin’” (1930), “Rose Marie” (1936) and “A Place in the Sun” (1951). In “The Misfits” (1961), a drama about breaking horses, Marilyn Monroe plays a recent divorcee in Reno alongside Clark Gable and Montgomery Clift. In one famous scene, Monroe throws her wedding ring into the Truckee River, following local tradition. The crew, which included Monroe’s writer husband Arthur Miller, stayed at the now-gone Mapes Hotel, where Clift was supposedly found naked in an elevator one morning after a night on the town.
Perhaps one of Lake Tahoe’s most famous cameos is in Francis Ford Coppola’s “The Godfather II” (1974). It was filmed at Fleur du Lac, on the lake’s West Shore. Michael Corleone, played by Al Pacino, gives his big brother Fredo the kiss of death, telling him “I know it was you, Fredo. You broke my heart.” Fredo later goes fishing on Lake Tahoe where, as he says a Hail Mary (his secret to catching fish), he’s shot in the back of the head and his body goes into the deep.
Vice is a prominent theme for the area. “Pink Cadillac” (1989) follows Clint Eastwood and Bernadette Peters as they run from bad guys on a journey that takes them around Northern Nevada. The world premiere of the film was held at Harrah’s Reno.
In the thriller “Misery” (1990), based on a Stephen King novel with the same title, Truckee’s Donner Summit fills in as the Colorado Rockies, where famed novelist Paul Sheldon, played by James Caan, is caught in a blizzard. Sheldon is kept hostage in his home (portrayed in the film by Genoa’s Silver Creek Lodge) by Annie, Kathy Bates’ character, and Sheldon’s “number one fan,” while he finishes his novel.
The ’90s saw multiple hits with cameos from the Biggest Little City. In “Sister Act” (1992), Whoopi Goldberg is a Reno nightclub singer forced to go into hiding at a convent as part of the Witness Protection Program, while in “Kingpin” (1996), Woody Harrelson plays a washed-up bowler who discovers an Amish bowling phenomenon (Randy Quaid), whom he brings to Reno’s National Bowling Stadium for the final showdown. Scenes were shot at Fallen Leaf Lake, southwest of Lake Tahoe, for both “The Bodyguard” (1992), starring Whitney Houston and Kevin Costner, and “City of Angels” (1998), starring Nicholas Cage and Meg Ryan.
“The Cooler” (2003), with Alec Baldwin and William H. Macy, was shot in Reno over the course of three weeks at what used to be Reno’s Golden Phoenix and is now a high-rise condo tower called the Montage. It follows the unlucky gambler Macy as his luck finally changes.
The 2011 hit “The Muppets” includes a scene at a Reno casino with Fozzie Bear, who’s assembled a tribute band act called the Moopets. While the human stars—Amy Adams and Jason Segel—didn’t make the trip to Reno, several of the Muppets were onsite as shooting commenced at the Bonanza Casino. The movie also includes shots of the Reno Arch and the Muppets’ van driving over old Highway 40 with Truckee’s Donner Lake in the background. More recently, the area has appeared in “Into the Wild” (2007) and “Her” (2013).
With Tahoe’s rugged mountains and massive lake and Reno’s bright lights and dramatic desert, the region continues to attract visitors from all over the world and Hollywood’s leading moviemakers, who have the scenery playing its international-destination self or standing in for Alaska, Colorado or even Antarctica—as it did in “Total Recall” (1990).
Lights, camera, action!