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35 Movies That Take Place in South Dakota

When it comes to South Dakota and Hollywood, we've seen our fair share of films that have used our state as the backdrop for a number of productions over the years. They may not have always filmed here, but movie folk love to set stories here.

We're all familiar with the blockbusters like 1990's Dances With Wolves, 1959's North By Northwest, and more recently, 2007's National Treasure: Book of Secrets. But our state's life on the big screen goes back nearly 100 years.

According to IMDb, it all started with Courtin' Wildcats, a 1929 film which, like so many of the 29 films on this list, is a Western set in the time before South Dakota became a state in 1889.

Food Network Shows That Have Been To South Dakota

Living here in the upper midwest we are don't end up on national TV shows very often. That's probably a good thing in the long run.

But it is pretty cool when something from South Dakota is on TV. Three shows from the Food Network family of shows have showcased South Dakota restaurants.

You may remember when Guy Fieri and Diners Drive-ins and Dives was in Sioux Falls in June of 2020 to visit some of our city's unique establishments.

A few years ago the Travel Channel Show Food Paradise visited Deadwood.

If you remember the 'golden age' of Foot Network, back when Rachel Ray was the queen of the channel, she took her show $40 a Day to Rapid City in 2005.

What Did South Dakota's License Plate Look Like the Year You Were Born?

The first number on a South Dakota license plate is the county that the car is registered. For example, Pennington county where Rapid City is has a '2' starting its plates. In Sioux Falls you have either a '1' or a '44' depending on your relationship to 57th street.

When established in 1956 (and revised in 1987) the first nine counties were ordered by population. Starting with 10 they are in alphabetical order through Ziebach, with Oglala Lakota County (65) and Todd (67) rounding out the list.

Today the top 10 plate numbers and populations don't correlate anymore. 1 and 2 are still 1 and 2, but Lincoln (44) is now 3rd in population. Beadle is 4 but it's now 11th in population. See the list by population here.

On January 1, 2023, South Dakota started issuing a new license plate design for license plates.

So, let's take a look back at what South Dakota license plates looked like over the last 100 years.


When it comes to South Dakota and Hollywood, we've seen our fair share of films that have used our state as the backdrop for a number of productions over the years. They may not have always filmed here, but movie folk love to set stories here.

We're all familiar with the blockbusters like 1990's Dances With Wolves, 1959's North By Northwest, and more recently, 2007's National Treasure: Book of Secrets. But our state's life on the big screen goes back nearly 100 years.

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According to IMDb, it all started with Courtin' Wildcats, a 1929 film which, like so many of the 29 films on this list, is a Western set in the time before South Dakota became a state in 1889.

  • Courtin' Wildcats (1929)

IMDB description:

College boy Clarence Butts has been sent west by the Doctor to join McKenzie's circus. There he finds Calamity Jane running roughshod over everyone. So the dude decides to tame her.

  • The Exile (1931)

IMDB description:

A young man named Jean in post-World War I Chicago falls in love with a beautiful girl named Edith. He proposes to her, but realizes that she's involved in the rackets and won't leave them, so he goes back home to South Dakota, where he becomes a successful rancher. 

  • The Purchase Price (1932)

IMDB description:

A torch singer becomes a mail-order bride for a farmer.

  • Custer's Last Stand (1936)

IMDB description:

When some men are attacked by Indians, a survivor obtains an Indian medicine arrow. An Indian tells Blade he has found gold but will not tell him where until he has that arrow. So Blade starts killing the survivors of the attack but fails to get the arrow. One of the men he kills is John Cardigan and Kit Cardigan, a Scout for Custer, now starts looking for the killer of his father.

  • The Plainsman (1936)

Legendary director Cecil B. Demille uses South Dakota as a backdrop for this film which featured big-time movie star Gary Cooper in the role of Wild Bill Hickok.

IMDB description:

Wild Bill Hickok attempts to stop an Indian uprising that was started by white gun-runners.

Director: Cecil B. DeMille | Stars: Gary Cooper, Jean Arthur, James Ellison, Charles Bickford

  • Bad Man of Deadwood (1941)

Everybody's favorite cowboy Roy Rogers starred in this one.

IMDB description:

Roy and Gabby have to establish fair business practices in the town of Deadwood, currently dominated by entrepreneurs who scare off potential competitors.

  • Black Hills Express (1943)

IMDB description:

Lon Walker is an outlaw with a price on his head, but the manager, Raymond Harper, of the Black Hills Division of Wells Fargo is sure Lon is the only man tough enough to stop the holdups that are ruining the company's business.


  • The Paleface (1948)

South Dakota finally got the comedy treatment thanks to Bob Hope and Jane Russell.

IMDB description:

Calamity Jane is dispatched to find out who's smuggling rifles to the Indians and winds up married to a hapless correspondence-school dentist as part of her cover.

  • Calamity Jane and The Texan (1950)

IMDB description:

Calamity Jane (Evelyn Ankers), learning that her ownership of the "Prairie Queen" saloon, bequeathed to her by the late unseen Frank Mullen, is going to be disputed by Frank's niece, Cecelia Mullen(Ruth Whitney) and her lawyer, Gordon Hastings (James Ellison), the latter brought to town by her rival saloon owner Matt Baker(Jac Ingram). Calamity and her aide, Colorado Charley Lee 'Lasses' White) try to run Gordon out of town, but he outwits them.

  • Calamity Jane (1953)

Doris Day, as Calamity Jane, sings her way through the Old West in this one.

IMDB description:

The story of Calamity Jane, her saloon, and her romance with Wild Bill Hickok.

  • The Iron Sheriff (1957)

IMDB description:

When the sheriff's son is placed on trial for murdering a stagecoach driver, the sheriff desperately searches for the real killer - and finds the trail leads back to his boy.

  • North by Northwest (1959)

Who can forget all of the drama in, around, and even on top of Mount Rushmore in this Alfred Hitchcock thriller, starring Cary Grant?

IMDB description:

A New York City advertising executive goes on the run after being mistaken for a government agent by a group of foreign spies and falls for a woman whose loyalties he begins to doubt.

  • Beast from Haunted Cave (1959)

South Dakota was included in the wave of B-Movie horror flicks that were so popular in the 1950s.

IMDB description:

A group of gold thieves pull off a heist and flee into the snowy wilderness, only to be pursued by a horrible, spider-like monster.

  • The Sons of Great Bear (1966)

IMDB description:

Although the Indians were assured their lands adjacent to the Black Hills by contract, the Whites want to expel them. Meanwhile, gold has been discovered there and the unscrupulous settler, Red Fox, demands of Mattotaupa, chief of the Bears Clan belonging to the Dakota tribe, to reveal to him the location of a cave with gold deposits.

  • The One and Only, Genuine, Original Family Band (1968)

Buddy Ebsen took a break from playing Jed Clampett on The Beverly Hillbillies to make this one, which, according to a comment from Grant Albrecht on IMDb's website, premiered in Rapid City in May of 1968.

IMDB description:

The eleven members of the Bower family move to Dakota Territory.

  • Trail of the Falcon (1968)

IMDB description:

In the latter half of the 19th century, gold is discovered in the Black Hills, an area which has already been allocated to the Dakota Indians as a winter reservation in a treaty. Nevertheless, gold diggers, profiteers, and adventurers flock to the region. 

  • Weisse Wölfe (1969)

IMDB description:

Farsighted Falcon, the Dakota chief, seeks refuge in the Black Hills with his wife Blue Hair and two warriors, the sole survivors of his tribe, in order to join part of the Cheyenne headed by Chief Little Wolf. 

  • Little Big Man (1970)

This one features Dustin Hoffman and Faye Dunaway in the lead roles.

IMDB description:

Jack Crabb, looking back from extreme old age, tells of his life being raised by Native Americans and fighting with General Custer.

  • Badlands (1973)

Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek star in this film which is loosely based on the real-life 1958 murder spree of Charles Starkweather and his girlfriend, Caril Ann Fugate.

IMDB description:

An impressionable teenage girl from a dead-end town and her older greaser boyfriend embark on a killing spree in the South Dakota badlands.

  • Powwow Highway (1988)

IMDB description:

Two Northern Cheyenne men take a road trip from Montana to New Mexico to bail out the sister of one of them who has been framed and arrested in Santa Fe. On the way, they begin to reconnect to their spiritual heritage.

  • Dances with Wolves (1990)

The iconic film was nominated for 12 Academy Awards and won seven, including Best Picture, Best Director for Costner, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Film Editing, Best Cinematography, Best Original Score, and Best Sound Mixing.

It provided a huge boost to tourism in South Dakota.

IMDB description:

Lieutenant John Dunbar, assigned to a remote western Civil War outpost, befriends wolves and Native Americans, making him an intolerable aberration in the military.

  • Thunderheart (1992)

Val Kilmer plays the role of FBI Agent Ray Levoi in this film which is loosely based on events relating to the Wounded Knee occupation by followers of the American Indian Movement in 1973

IMDB description:

A young mixed-blood FBI agent is assigned to work with a cynical veteran investigator on a murder on a poverty-stricken Sioux reservation.

  • Son in Law (1993)

Pauly Shore comes to the Mount Rushmore State in this one.

IMDB description:

Having gotten a taste of college life, a drastically changed farm girl returns home for Thanksgiving break with her best friend, a flamboyant party animal who is clearly a fish out of water in a small farm town.

  • Buffalo Girls (1995)

These aren't just any girls. This is Melanie Griffith and Anjelica Huston.

IMDB description:

Wild. Untamed. Legendary. Buffalo Girls celebrates the bold escapades of tough-talking Calamity Jane Canary and her illustrious cohorts. It's the waning days of the Wild West and Jane, the rough 'n' rugged cowgirl, is searching not only for her long-lost daughter but the Wild West she once knew. Jane traverses plains, mountains, and continents until she finally discovers the answer to her problems: Dora, the vivacious, gold-hearted madam who's been her one true friend all along.

  • Wild Bill (1995)

This one features a cast of heavy hitters including Jeff Bridges, John Hurt, Ellen Barkin,  and Diane Lane.

IMDB description:

The early career of legendary lawman Wild Bill Hickock is telescoped and culminates in his relocation in Deadwood and a reunion with Calamity Jane.

  • Team America: World Police (2004)

South Dakota got the animation treatment thanks to the creative forces behind South Park - Trey Parker and Matt Stone.

IMDB description:

Popular Broadway actor Gary Johnston is recruited by the elite counter-terrorism organization Team America: World Police. As the world begins to crumble around him, he must battle with terrorists, celebrities, and falling in love.

  • Imprint (2007)

This film was set on the Pine Ridge reservation.

IMDB description:

Shayla Stonefeather, a Native American attorney prosecuting a Lakota teen in a controversial murder trial, returns to the reservation to say goodbye to her dying father. After the teen is killed, she hears ghostly voices and sees strange visions that cause her to re-examine the beliefs she thought she left behind.

  • National Treasure: Book of Secrets (2007)

Part two of the National Treasure trilogy brings Nicolas Cage and his conspiracy theory-loving treasure hunters to South Dakota.

Be honest, do you find yourself looking for that 'secret' entrance when you go to Mount Rushmore these days?

IMDB description:

Benjamin Gates must follow a clue left in John Wilkes Booth's diary to prove his ancestor's innocence in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.

  • Woman City (2008)

IMDB description:

Some Midwest women start a new city in a ghost town in western South Dakota. Local rednecks come to harass them and a war begins between the local sheriff, the state police, the rednecks, and the women.




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