Films that Make you Want to Visit Kansas City
When you take a seat in the theater or in the comfort of your home, you’ll find that many of Hollywood’s most beloved stories and figures have roots in Kansas City. Some motion pictures were filmed here and some set here, while others are inspired by events whose memories live on here. Either way, there’s a stellar lineup of award-winning movies that inspire film-lovers to visit Kansas City and experience the thrill of the big screen themselves.
Here are some of the best films that make you want to visit Kansas City:
Follow in the Steps of All-Time Greats
From the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum to the Kansas City Monarchs, the history of the Negro Leagues is well chronicled in KC. Before the integration of Major League Baseball, black players faced off against one another in games that showcased the talent and skill of some of the game’s all-time greats. One of those players—Jackie Robinson, the individual who broke the color barrier in 1947—is the main subject of 42 (2013), a film that follows the significant transition for the game and, more importantly, the country. While most of the movie covers Robinson’s journey after his time in the Negro Leagues, the icon got his start right here in Kansas City as a star player for the Monarchs. With this much history, it’s hard to deny the desire to come learn more about this boundary-breaking period in American history.
Track Down the Infamous Outlaw
Native to nearby Kearney, Mo., outlaw Jesse James made a name for himself in the 19th Century by robbing banks, stagecoaches and trains. The bandit has been portrayed on the big screen many times but most recently by Brad Pitt in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007). The Oscar-nominated film details the unraveling of the James Gang as one of James’ own, Robert Ford, struggles with the decision to assassinate him to collect the bounty on his head. While SPOILERS can’t be avoided (considering the film’s title), visitors to Kansas City can explore the Jesse James Birthplace Museum, which still stands in Kearney. Less than an hour’s drive north brings you to the Jesse James Home Museum, where he was gunned down in 1882.
A Homegrown Jazz Legend
Kansas City’s history of jazz music is heavily rooted in the musicians who got their start in town. One of the most notable and influential was saxophonist Charlie “Bird” Parker, the subject of Clint Eastwood’s eponymous film, Bird (1988). Parker, played by Forest Whitaker, was born and raised in Kansas City, where he earned his stripes in the now-historic 18th and Vine District before moving to New York City. Eastwood weaves together scenes from Parker’s hard-living life in order to tell a story that is faithful to the jazz innovator’s legend. Much of that history is told at the American Jazz Museum in KC, as well as the history of many of the other great musicians both past and present.
Hollywood’s Harrowing Warning
A television movie changed the complexion of The Cold War. The Day After (1983), filmed in Lawrence, Kan., and Kansas City, follows several families the day after a devastating nuclear holocaust hits the United States. Its harrowing depiction of this potential reality was so striking that, according to his autobiography, then-President Ronald Reagan said the film was "very effective and left me greatly depressed." This reaction later led to a change in policy on the arms buildup and standoff with the Soviet Union. More than 30 years (and no nuclear devastation) later, the picture is still the most watched television movie of all time (more than 100 million viewers on initial broadcast!), all while showcasing the beauty of Kansas City, most notably the Liberty Memorial, which figures prominently into the plot (and is eventually destroyed).
Revisiting the KC of Old
Legendary industry figure and film auteur Robert Altman was born and raised right here in town, which provided the inspiration for Kansas City (1996), a crime film he directed that was set in KC during the jazz age of the 1930s. The movie—which is said to be his love letter to Kansas City—features Jennifer Jason Leigh as a scheming criminal caught up in a plot to free her husband from the nefarious grip of major players in the city’s political machine. Major scenes take place in Union Station and many of the film’s building facades still remain in the 18th & Vine Historic Jazz District. After the film’s release, the city launched a campaign to renovate the train station, reestablishing it as an architectural and cultural icon.
Remembering the Great War in Film
One is on the shortlist of the greatest films of all time while the other is helmed by one of the greatest directors of all time. Academy Award Best Picture winner Lawrence of Arabia (1962) depicts the oft-overlooked Middle Eastern theatre of World War I as Peter O’Toole plays the titular character. Meanwhile, Steven Spielberg's War Horse (2011) follows a young man and his beloved horse on a journey through Great Britain and France during the Great War. These portions of the war, plus so many more, are covered in great detail at the National WWI Museum and Memorial in Kansas City. Inspired by these films about WWI, history buffs and those looking to pay tribute to the men and women who gave their lives for the cause will appreciate the attention to detail and compelling exhibits that the museum offers.