10 Memorable Movies Set In Indiana

Photo of Carley Lanich
10 January 2017

As home to the fictional towns of popular American sitcoms like Amy Poehler’s Parks and Recreation and Patricia Heaton’s The Middle, Indiana has gained a lot of big media attention in recent years. With its endless cornfields and ‘Hoosier Hospitality,’ Indiana makes an easy setting for non-metropolitan pictures.


This sports classic has been ingrained in Indiana’s culture from the date of its 1986 release. Based on the real life events of Indiana’s historically favorite pastime — single-class high-school basketball — Hoosiers stars Gene Hackman as the coach of an unlikely Cinderella team in the Indiana High School Athletic Association’s 1954 state basketball tournament.

Set in the fictional southwest Indiana town of Hickory, the movie was filmed in several parts of the state, including New Richmond, Knightstown, and on location in Broad Ripple’s Hinkle Fieldhouse. The movie is so rooted in the state’s identity that former American presidential candidate Ted Cruz held a campaign rally in the historic Knightstown Gym in April. Hoosiers has stood the test of time and remains an Indiana favorite, with framed movie posters to be found in many homes across the state.

© Orion Pictures

A Christmas Story

This 1983 Christmas classic follows an Indiana family in the days leading up to Christmas. Based on a collection of short stories by writer Jean Shepherd, A Christmas Story is set in Hohman, Indiana, a fictional Northwest Indiana town loosely based on Hammond, Indiana, where Shepherd was raised. The comedy follows the path of nine-year-old Ralphie Parker in his quest to secure a Red Ryder BB Gun for Christmas in 1940.

Narrated by Shepherd, the movie was shot in Cleveland, Ohio, and Toronto, Canada. Turner Broadcasting airs A Christmas Story on a 24-hour loop on its TBS and TNT channels beginning on Christmas Eve. Due to the movie’s continuous success, many props of A Christmas Story, such as the Old Man’s lamp and Ralphie’s bunny costume, have become synonymous with the holiday season.

© Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

The Fault in Our Stars

Perhaps the most famous of recent movies set in Indiana, The Fault in Our Stars is based on a novel of the same name by Indianapolis-based author, John Green. The movie, which took America by storm in 2014, tells the story of two teenage cancer patients growing up in suburban Indianapolis and the relationships they develop throughout their illnesses.

Starring Ansel Elgort and Shailene Woodley, the film references recognizable locations like the Indianapolis Museum of Art’s ‘Funky Bones’ sculpture in the Virginia B. Fairbanks Art & Nature Park: 100 Acres. However, much of the movie was actually filmed in Pennsylvania, with slight references to Indiana, such as the Indiana Pacers jersey worn by Elgort as lead character Augustus Waters, incorporated to build Hoosier authenticity.

© Temple Hill Productions


Another well-known sports flick, Rudy tells the true story of Daniel ‘Rudy’ Ruettiger, a small high schooler with low grades who dreamt of playing college football at the academically rigorous University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana. Released in 1993, Rudy quickly became known as one of the most inspirational sports movies of all time, having won the Indiana-based Heartland Film Festival’s Studio Crystal Heart Award in 1994. It was filmed on location in South Bend and on the Notre Dame campus, as well as in several parts of Illinois where Rudy grew up. Ruettiger now works as a public speaker.

© TriStar Pictures

Breaking Away

Another college-town favorite, Breaking Away is about as accurate to the environment of 1960s and 1970s Bloomington, Indiana, as a movie can get. Exploring the dynamics of working-class Bloomington ‘townies’ versus the generally more privileged students of Indiana University, the 1979 Oscar and Golden Globe-winning film tells the story of four underdog ‘townies’ in their attempt to compete in the university’s Little 500 endurance bicycle race.

Inspired by the results of an actual Little 500 race in 1962, the film was shot entirely on location in Bloomington and the Indiana University campus. Starring the young Dennis Quaid, the film has helped shape Bloomington and Indiana University culture, leading many to recreate scenes like the famous quarry-jump and inspiring the creation of the highly successful ‘Cutters’ racing team which still races today.

© Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

Close Encounters of the Third Kind

This 1977 Steven Spielberg science-fiction thriller features deep Indiana ties. With almost the entire first half set in the state, the movie features a scene in Indianapolis, as well as many references to Muncie, Indiana, where characters Roy Neary, Jillian Guiler and her three-year-old son, Barry, live.

Starring Richard Dreyfuss, François Truffaut, and Melinda Dillon, the movie follows the unusual extraterrestrial encounters of the Muncie natives and others, leading the characters to follow their impulses to Devils Tower near Moorcroft, Wyoming, where major alien contact is believed to have taken place. Although no actual filming took place in Indiana, Close Encounters of the Third Kind makes an effort to incorporate proper Indiana culture by referencing the Muncie Police Department and including Ball State University memorabilia.

© Columbia Pictures Corporation

The Ryan White Story

The Ryan White Story, a made-for-TV-movie, tells the real-life story of Indiana teenager Ryan White, who, as a hemophiliac, developed AIDS in the mid-1980s following a blood transfusion. Centered around White’s childhood in Kokomo, Indiana, the movie refers to this location extensively, featuring likenesses to the town and schools he attended, even though the movie was filmed predominantly in North Carolina.

White’s illness sparked national attention and effectively shaped how Americans viewed AIDS, which at the time was looked down upon as an uncontrollable epidemic. Now shown frequently throughout American schools, The Ryan White Story allows White’s legacy to live on, teaching lessons of compassion and equality.

© Landsburg Company

Public Enemies

The 2009 Public Enemies follows infamous American gangster John Dillinger through his bank-robbing crime sprees of the early 1930s. Inspired by real-life events, the movie portrays Dillinger from his time in Lake County Jail in Crown Point, Indiana, to the height of his crime spree in Chicago.

Filmed in more than 100 locations across the country, the movie features scenes shot in Crown Point, as well as an actual 1932 Studebaker used by Dillinger in a robbery in Greencastle, Indiana. Starring Johnny Depp, Christian Bale, and Channing Tatum, the movie brought attention to Indiana at a time when authorities were laughed at and bank robbers were seen as the real heroes.

© Universal Pictures


This 2004 bio-drama, starring Liam Neeson, Laura Linney, and Chris O’Donnell, traces the life of sexual behavior scientist Alfred Kinsey. As a professor at Indiana University, Kinsey challenged popular beliefs on human sexuality, often sparking controversy among his financial backers.

Collaborating with Indiana University’s Kinsey Institute, Neeson, along with the film’s writer-producer and set designer, visited the university before filming to learn more about the movie’s namesake character. While no filming of the movie occurred in Indiana, Kinsey is frequently referred to in various gender studies and human sexuality classes at Indiana University.

© Fox Searchlight Pictures

The Judge

The Judge, which stars Robert Downey, Jr., Robert Duvall, Vera Farmiga, and Billy Bob Thornton, tells the story of Chicago defense attorney Hank Palmer as he returns to his hometown, the fictional Carlinville, Indiana, to attend his mother’s funeral and visit his estranged family. With most of the movie filmed in Massachusetts, just a few scenes were shot in Jackson County, Indiana. Although it received mixed reviews, The Judge received the Heartland Film Festival’s Truly Moving Picture Award in 2014.

© Warner Bros.

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