What Are The Best Movies Shot In Michigan?

Fact Checked by Peter Mooney

For many, seeing your hometown up on the big screen evokes a feeling of pride, whether the movie is actually set there or not. To celebrate Michigan’s long history as a filming location, GreatLakesStakes took a break from Michigan online casinos to rank the best movies ever shot in the state.

But how do you decide which movies are the best?

To start, BetMichigan needed to find the 30 highest-ranked movies shot in Michigan. But how? To do so, we assigned a score of each film by utilizing the following data points – IMDB rating, Rotten Tomatoes Audience score, Rotten Tomatoes Critic score, Box Office and Oscars recognition.

After running the numbers, here are the results. 

Gran Torino Takes The Crown

Topping the list is 2008’s "Gran Torino," starring and directed by Clint Eastwood. "Gran Torino" follows a grumbling, retired auto worker named Walt, who takes a troubled teenager from the Detroit-area Hmong community under his wing after he catches him trying to jack his prized car — the titular Gran Torino. The pair develop an unlikely father-son bond, despite Walt’s penchant for barking racial slurs at his new teenage pal.

Viewed from a modern context, your mileage may vary on Gran Torino, but when it was released nearly fifteen years ago, the film was praised as a sincere character study about overcoming generational and cultural differences — made all the better by the audiences longstanding relationship to the gruff, hyper-masculine Eastwood. 

In fact, you could say he’s almost too convincing as the cranky, racist grandpa. Bringing home nearly $150 million at the domestic box office, "Gran Torino" was a big hit with audiences and critics in 2008, despite being snubbed at the Oscars.

Best Movies Shot In Michigan

Overall Rank Movie Primary Location Average Ranking (across all categories)
1 Gran Torino (2008) Detroit10
2 Only Lovers Left Alive (2013) Detroit9.75
3 The Ides of March (2011) Detroit/Ann Arbor8.5
4 Whip It (2009) Detroit8.25
T5Dreamgirls (2006) Detroit8
T5 Presumed Innocent (1990) Detroit8
6Transformers (2007) Detroit7.75
T78 Mile (2002) Highland Park6.5
T7 Buzzard (2014) Detroit6.5
T8 RoboCop (2014) Detroit5.25
T8Evil Dead (2013) Unspecified5.25
9The Karate Kid (2010) Unspecified5
10 A Very Harold and Kumar Christmas (2011) Detroit4
11 Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) Detroit3.75
12 Scream 4 (2011) Ann Arbor2.75


Other Top Michigan Movies

Next on the list is prolific indie filmmaker Jim Jarmusch’s "Only Lovers Left Alive" about a pair of vampires named Adam and Eve, played by Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton, respectively. It is also set in Detroit — mostly. 

When the film begins, Hiddleston is holed up in his grimy Victorian-style Detroit home, separated from his estranged lover of several centuries, Swinton, who is living on the other side of the world in Morocco. Sensing her lover’s discontent, Eve arrives stateside, and much of the remaining film follows the two vampires as they sulk through Detroit in the middle of the night.

Like many of Jarmusch’s films, vibes trump plot in "Only Lovers Left Alive." Nevertheless, critics dug it, and it cemented itself a loyal cult following. Number two seems a little high to me, but this movie certainly has its ardent supporters.

Unlike "Gran Torino" and "Only Lovers Left Alive," the next two films on the list are not set in Michigan. 

At number 3 is "The Ides of March," a taut — and deeply underrated — political thriller starring Ryan Gosling as the campaign manager for a presidential candidate (played by George Clooney, also the film’s director) who becomes embroiled in a sex scandal. Set mostly on the campaign trail, Michigan stands in for Anywhere, USA in this film.

Coming in at number 4 is "Whip It," the Drew Barrymore-helmed roller derby movie starring Elliot Page — which is set in Austin, Texas. While it was a box office flop, it got good reviews and has been generally well regarded amongst those who, for the most part, discovered the movie after it left theatres.

That said, it’s surprising to see "Whip It" ranked over the next film on the list, 2006’s "Dreamgirls," which stars a veritable who’s who of Black excellence, including Beyoncé, Jennifer Hudson, Jamie Foxx, and Eddie Murphy. This Motown-inspired musical, fittingly shot and set in Detroit, brought in over $150 million during its holiday release. Despite a lukewarm critical reception, Dreamgirls scored 8 Oscar nominations, and two wins — including a trophy for "American Idol" star Hudson in a breakout role.

Tied with Dreamgirls on our list of the best movies shot in Michigan is 1990’s "Presumed Innocent," starring Harrison Ford as a Detroit city prosecutor accused of murdering his colleague and ex-lover. Wedged firmly within the Venn Diagram of beloved 90s genres — that is, the erotic thriller and the legal procedural — "Presumed Innocent" is the kind of original, adult-oriented movie that rarely hits theaters these days. 

The only film on the list released before the new millennium, it certainly stands out here.

Best Of The Rest

For the most part, the latter half of our list consists of movies released between 2009 and 2016.

That’s because, following the financial crisis that ravaged the state in 2008, Michigan instituted a film incentive program to boost its gloomy economic picture. In place until 2015, during this period the Great Lake State was mostly churning out today’s standard Hollywood fare — reboots and sequels of existing IP.

In that vein, number 6 on our list, "Transformers," was a massive blockbuster when it was released in summer 2007 — earning over $700 million worldwide and spawning five sequels — with a sixth, "Transformers: Rise of the Beasts," hitting theaters this summer.

Of course another franchise film shot in Michigan, "Batman Vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice," would also make a box office smash to the tune of $873 million worldwide. However, despite its ardent defenders, "Dawn of Justice" was widely panned amongst critics and audiences alike. There’s a reason it’s at number 11 here.

Where's Eminem?

Less seen, but definitely worth checking out, is 2014’s "Evil Dead," which is tied at 8 on the list. A remake of the low-budget cult horror film from the 1980s, "Evil Dead" (2014) takes the “cabin in the woods” premise to terrifying, and blood-soaked, new heights.

At number 7, "Buzzard," is another peculiar addition to this list. A small indie that premiered at 2014’s SXSW Film Festival, "Buzzard" follows a disgruntled employee who begins scamming the mortgage brokerage where he works. It was described by critics at the time as a punk rock "Office Space."

Of course, no conversation about the best Michigan films would be complete without calling attention the seminal Detroit movie, "8 Mile." Tied with Buzzard at 7, this semi-biographical origin story of superstar rapper Eminem, released at the height of his popularity in 2002, brought the track “Lose Yourself” to the world. For that reason alone "8 Mile" probably deserves to be higher on this list.

If you enjoyed this list, look for more entertainment on GreatLakesStakes, also home to the best Michigan casino apps

Author

Joss has over a decade of experience in the US online gambling market. His analysis and writing cover every aspect of the business. After a career as an Army officer, he spent time in business, then took up online poker. Joss lives in Peru with his family. Joss is globally considered one of the leading voices in the gambling industry, especially North American sports betting.

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