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Boulder for Film Buffs

Against the cinematic backdrop of the Flatirons, and with a thriving film studies program at the University of Colorado, the art of movie-making has long been nurtured in Boulder. From the groundbreaking poetic cinema of legendary filmmaker Stan Brakhage to adventure films by Warren Miller Entertainment and environmental films like “The Cove” and “Chasing Ice,” Boulder’s cinema history is inspiring for both serious film buffs and casual moviegoers. 

Dive into our film history below, then plan a visit around one of our landmark film festivals or see where a TV show or movie was made in Boulder!

Boulder's Film History Timeline

Take a stroll through the highlights of filmmaking and movie watching in Boulder.

1898: First moving images in Boulder

Chautauqua Auditorium opens and is the first Boulder venue to show moving images through a kinetoscope, an early motion picture device invented by Thomas Edison.

1906: Boulder's first projected film shown

“Hooligans of the Far West” is shown at the Temple Theatre for 25 cents.

1913: Boulder earliest movie theaters

The Curran Opera House (built in 1906 and later becoming the Boulder Theater) shifts from live performances to movie screenings, becoming what is likely the first dedicated cinema in Boulder. A neighboring theater, called The Isis, also began showing films regularly around this time.

Boulder Theater

1924-25: Dalton Trumbo attends CU

Trumbo goes on to become a world-famous screenwriter, composing “Roman Holiday,” “Exodus,” “Spartacus” and other films.

1929: Talkies arrive in Boulder

The Curran and Isis theaters add sound equipment to be able to show movies with sound.

1935: "Dinky" is cowritten by John Fante

"Dinky" was the first in a long line of movie and show writing credits by the Boulder author John Fante, who has been cited as a precursor to Beat writers. Fante also cowrote "The Golden Fleecing" (1940) and "Wait Until Spring, Bandini" (1989), which was inspired by Boulder and executive produced by Francis Ford Coppola.

The film "Dinky"

1941: CU’s film series is founded

CU professor James Sandoe creates the University Film Series (today called the International Film Series). He also staged the first play at CU’s Mary Rippon Theater in 1944, which led to the founding of the Colorado Shakespeare Festival in 1958.

1948: Boulder’s first drive-in opens

The Moterena Drive-In opens on Boulder’s eastern outskirts. The Holiday Drive-in Theater opened in 1953. Its old marquee can still be seen at the site of its second location.

The Holiday Drive-In Theater sign

1954: Glenn Miller film wins Oscar

Anthony Mann’s film “The Glenn Miller Story,” about the famous American musician and conductor who was a student at CU in 1923, wins an Oscar.

1955: A future star comes to Boulder

Robert Redford works as a janitor at The Sink while attending CU Boulder. He goes on to become one of America’s best-known actors and filmmakers and helps establish the Sundance Film Festival.

Photo by Gwen Gray

The Sink

1970: Robert Ebert comes to the CWA

The Conference on World Affairs (CWA) welcomes the film critic Roger Ebert. He becomes a fixture of CWA, showing and discussing a film each year in his now-famous “cinema interuptus” style. CWA's Ebertus Interuptus tradition is carried on to this day. 

1973: Woody Allen’s “Sleeper” filmed in Boulder

The production shoots scenes at Boulder’s National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and other locations.

Tour of NCAR, where scenes from “Sleeper” were filmed

1973: Boulder music legend directs a critical success

Boulder native James William Guercio (who owned the nearby Caribou Ranch recording studio and produced stars including Elton John, John Lennon and The Beach Boys) directs “Electra Glide In Blue,” which premieres at Cannes.

1975: Fiske Planetarium opens

Opening shows included short films, and the state-of-the-art planetarium continues to show films "under the dome" today.

Fiske Planetarium

1978: "Mork and Mindy" is set in Boulder

Boulder becomes the fictional backdrop for the TV show “Mork and Mindy,” starring Robin Williams and Pam Dawber. The couple's fictional home can be seen today at 1619 Pine Street (please stay on the sidewalk and respect the privacy of the current residents).

The Mork and Mindy House

1980: “The Shining” movie is released

Stanley Kubricks’ film adaptation of Stephen King’s book has become a horror classic. King was inspired by The Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, about an hour from Boulder, and a few shots of Boulder are included in the film.

1981: Stan Brakhage begins teaching at CU

Considered one of the great pioneers of experimental filmmaking and cinematography, Brakhage created nearly 400 films in his lifetime and influenced many other filmmakers including Martin Scorsese. He taught in the University of Colorado's film department from 1981 to 2003, retiring as a distinguished professor. Brakhage created a highly personal, poetic style of film and was famous for holding weekly Sunday salons in which he viewed films and held discussions. Today at CU, the Celebrating Stan film series honors his legacy with monthly film screenings followed by discussions.

1985: Boulder’s bike culture on screen

The 1985 cycling movie “American Flyers” features Boulder’s now-famous Morgul Bismark bike race.

1990: Sheryl Lee cast in “Twin Peaks”

Boulder high school student Sheryl Lee becomes an icon as the dead Laura Palmer in the television series “Twin Peaks.”

1992: Trey Parker and Matt Stone meet at CU Boulder as students

They make the film “Cannibal! The Musical” and later develop the hit animated sitcom “South Park.”

1994: "Everything Has a Spirit" Debuts

Longtime Boulderite and Arapaho filmmaker Ava Hamilton produced and directed the award-winning “Everything Has a Spirit,” which debuted at Sundance in 1994. She also wrote, produced and directed “Indians for Indians” for PBS and has been instrumental in establishing Indigenous Peoples Day in Boulder, which takes place every October. 

1993: Allen Ginsberg film nominated at Sundance

Local filmmaker Jerry Aronson’s “The Life and Times of Allen Ginsberg” is nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival. Ginsberg lived in Boulder and cofounded the still-operating Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Boulder’s Naropa University.

1997: Jessica Biel wins Young Artist Award

The Boulder-raised actress was honored for one of her first film roles at 15 in the critically acclaimed “Ulee’s Gold.”

2004: IFS earns national acclaim

CU’s International Film Series (IFS) is recognized among a dozen programs as part of Sundance Art House Project.

2005: Boulder International Film Festival is founded

Boulder filmmakers Kathy and Robin Beeck found the Boulder International Film Festival, which brings high-caliber films and stars from around the world to Boulder each winter.

2006: “Catch and Release” hits theaters

The city of Boulder plays a leading role in the feature film "Catch and Release," which also stars Jennifer Garner, Kevin Smith and Timothy Olyphant.

2009: “The Cove” wins at Sundance

Made by Boulder documentary filmmaker Louie Psihoyos, this film about dolphin hunting in Japan wins the 2009 Audience Award at Sundance.

2010: Boedecker Cinema opens

The Boedecker Cinema (or "The Boe") shows art house films and has ongoing series like Friday Night Weird. It's inside the beautiful Dairy Arts Center, Boulder's hub for performing and visual arts.

The Boedecker Cinema

2020: “The Social Dilemma” wins Emmy

The documentary about the perils of social media was written and directed by Boulder-based Jeff Orlowski-Yang.

2021: Outside Media comes to Boulder

Boulder’s Pocket Outdoor Media purchases Outside Integrated Media, the publisher of Outside magazine, making Boulder the headquarters for the adventure media and streaming company. Along with it comes Warren Miller Entertainment, pioneers of the ski film.

Boulder's Film Festivals & Series

For a town of just over 100,000 people, Boulder has a striking number of film festivals and ongoing film series — over a dozen! You can catch cutting-edge cinema screenings pretty much any time of year, whether for the celebrity-studded Boulder International Film Festival in winter to the Sans Souci Festival of Dance Cinema in fall. For details read our complete guide to film festivals and series.

Photo by Gwen Gray

Boulder International Film Festival

Movies and TV Shows Made in Boulder

A number of films and television programs were made in or have connections to Boulder.  

The Shining (1980)

The film version of Stephen King's novel, inspired by Estes Park's Stanley Hotel with a few scenes in Boulder.

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