‘The Wizard’ filming locations

OK, so I’m a huge fan of The Wizard, the 1989 film starring Fred Savage (otherwise known as that kid from The Wonder Years and The Princess Bride) where he takes his younger brother across the country to participate in an epic video-game tournament.

The Wizard Movie Poster

You’re probably thinking OK, what millennial isn’t a huge fan of ‘The Wizard’? If you grew up in the late ’80s and early ’90s, then it’s likely you: (a.) owned the original Nintendo and played it obsessively; (b.) watched The Wizard and pissed yourself when they unveiled Super Mario Brothers 3 at the end, and; (c.) begged your parents afterwards to buy you a Power Glove. Because, as the villainous character Lucas proclaimed, “it’s so bad.” (Which turned out to be an accurate description for many a disappointed Power Glove owner.)

Arguably, The Wizard’s not so much a feature film as it is a 90-minute commercial for Nintendo. Nevertheless, its awesomeness remains unparalleled. And by “awesomeness,” I mean its cheesy nostalgic factor, its threadbare plot, and its random insertion of video gameplay in a blatant attempt to sell Nintendo consoles.

But The Wizard holds a special place in my heart, because at its core, it’s all about me.

Seriously? No, not really. But my life does share a lot of eerie connections to the film, starting with the obvious:

  1. I’m about the same age of the main characters, Corey (Fred Savage) and Jimmy (Luke Edwards).
  2. I grew up playing Nintendo obsessively.
  3. Corey and Jimmy’s dad (Beau Bridges) is a landscaper. My grandpa and uncle are landscapers.
  4. The movie was filmed in various locations around Northern Nevada. I grew up in Northern Nevada. 
  5. In one scene, there’s a poster of Tom Pretty’s “Full Moon Fever” album. I owned “Full Moon Fever” growing up.
  6. Four minutes into the movie, Jimmy is shown in a playroom that contains a blue elephant slide. I owned that exact type of slide when I was a kid.

OK, I admit: No. 5 is sketchy, and No. 6 is borderline obsessive. Maybe it’s best to scratch those from the list, to preserve some semblance of sanity.

But No. 4 is cool, because I can watch the film and point out to other viewers where most of the scenes take place. (Which I know is disruptive and annoying, but it’s not like you’re going to miss out on the plot, so bear with me.)

Speaking of the plot, I wont go into a synopsis here. The Angry Video Game Nerd and The Nostalgia Critic have already done stellar reviews. What I want to do is to mention a couple of the filming locations I instantly recognized when I first watched the film.

Some of the locations are obvious, including downtown Reno. (Las Vegas may be the marriage capital of the world, but Reno’s where you go to undo the damage.) The film features the famous Reno Arch, which also makes a prominent appearance in such cinematic masterpieces as Sister Act and Father’s Day.

Other scenes are more memorable to me, because when I first saw them and recognized the location, it was like getting a double dose of pure awesomeness. Not only was I watching a movie about Nintendo, but it had been filmed in my very own hometown. (And coming from a rural hometown, we had very few things to get excited about … except for maybe the prospect of leaving one day.)

During the “Send Me An Angel” music montage, for example, there’s a quick shot of a black Volkswagen sculpture. I used to drive past that sculpture all the time, and it’s still there to this day. It’s located along Highway 50 in Mound House, just east of Carson City. In fact, directly across the highway is the Moonlite Bunny Ranch, the world-famous legal brothel. (But for obvious reasons, the brothel does not make an appearance in the film.)

Throughout the movie, Jimmy and Corey’s dad (played by Beau Bridges) and their older brother (played by Christian Slater), are trying to track the kids before they’re picked up by Putnam, a bounty-hunter-like character (played by Will Seltzer) who makes his living finding runaways. The father and brother clash with Putnam in a few funny scenes, one of which was filmed in historic downtown Dayton, Nevada.

Dayton is also located along Highway 50 east of Carson City, not far from Mound House. In this particular scene, Putnam and the father smash their vehicles into one another. Putnam ends up with a crushed rear end, but at least he’s able to drive away. Bridges and Slater, on the other hand, can only watch as steam hisses from their crumpled engine.

From

From “The Wizard,” (c) 1989 by Universal Studios

Historic downtown Dayton, Nevada, as it appears in the present day. Taken from a slightly different angle to show the Fox Hotel.

Historic downtown Dayton, Nevada, as it appears in the present day. Taken from a slightly different angle to show the Fox Hotel.

From

From “The Wizard,” (c) 1989 by Universal Studios

Historic downtown Dayton facing Highway 50. Since the filming of

Historic downtown Dayton facing Highway 50. Since the filming of “The Wizard,” the bridge in the background was expanded to four lanes.

While Dayton has almost completely transformed since the late 1980s, historic downtown Dayton looks pretty much the same as it did in the movie. You can still see the Fox Hotel in the background, as well as the intersection of Highway 50 and Dayton Valley Road. As of 2015, the traffic light shown in this scene is still the only one in town.

An interesting tidbit: Parts of the 1982 Clint Eastwood movie, Honkytonk Man, also were filmed in historic downtown Dayton. If you watch both Honkytonk Man and The Wizard, you’ll see the exact same landmarks, including the Fox and Union hotels. Even more interesting, the spot where Beau Bridges and Christian Slater are standing after Putnam wrecks their truck is the exact spot where Clint Eastwood is standing when his character gets arrested in Honkytonk Man.

Another interesting tidbit: My grandfather’s 1926 Dodge was featured in Honkytonk Man, and my then-13-year-old uncle, John, served as a temporary snack-server when the crew filmed in Genoa, Nevada.

It’s a shame I wasn’t aware of the The Wizard being filmed, because I would have loved to have visited the set. Maybe I could have hung out with the cast and impressed them with my badass Nintendo-playing skills. (Well, maybe not so much “badass” as just plain bad, as I never could beat the rooftop level in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.)

But apparently, some things never change, as I also wasn’t aware of the Channel Awesome crew filming near Reno. And seeing that production would have been even more awesome than seeing The Wizard. So that’s two epic fails on my part. (Unless you want to count me missing the filming of Sister Act and Father’s Day … which trust me, I don’t.)

So if you’re a fan of The Wizard and want to visit some of the filming locations, start with Reno and make your way to Dayton. I believe other scenes were filmed in Yerington and Gardnerville, as well as Truckee, California. And if you were present during the filming, please leave a comment below. It would be interesting to hear from someone who was there.

If you haven’t seen The Wizard, be sure to check it out. Like Lucas’s dazzling, high-tech Power Glove, it’s “so bad.”

And speaking from the perspective of a Nintendo-crazed, nostalgic-for-the-’90s millennial, I mean that in the good way, of course.

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9 thoughts on “‘The Wizard’ filming locations

  1. Allen C. Post author

    Yet another interesting tidbit leaps to mind after writing this post. (And admittedly, it’s a very nerdy tidbit, but bear with me.)

    In The Wizard, Corey’s dad calls Putnam a “chickenshit” as Putnam drives away in his wrecked car.

    In Honkytonk Man, Clint Eastwood asks one of his arresting officers if the last time the man saw chickenshit was when he was shaving that morning.

    So clearly, if you film in downtown Dayton, there’s an ordinance requiring you to use the word “chickenshit.”

    (Yeah, I told you it was nerdy. But you can see how I couldn’t let such a fantastic, earth-shattering coincidence go unmentioned.)

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    1. oknilem

      Hey Allen C. I just wanted to say THANK YOU for writting this article. This movie defined my childhood and I’m setting off on a quest to visit these filming locations. For some reason it’s kind of hard to find these places and you made it infinitely easier. I’ll try and send you current pictures as I visit. No matter how obsessive it might seem: if there are any other tid bits you know/remember about this movie and would like to share, would be greatly appreciated.
      Sincerely, B

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      1. Allen Post author

        Awesome news! Glad to hear this helped you out.

        The downtown Dayton scene is the only location I’m absolutely sure of. But I do know there were scenes filmed in Gardnerville, Nevada and Truckee, California. But I would need others out there to refute or confirm.

        When Corey and Jimmy first meet Haley, I believe they’re in Gardnerville — but not positive. Also, when they bet the three businessmen, that scene looks to be filmed in Truckee. I’m not familiar with the town (I’ve only been through there a few times), but the street scenes all look like Truckee.

        When Jimmy and Corey hitch a ride in the Hostess truck, they’re in Hazen, which is on the road between Fallon and Fernley, Nevada.

        Definitely a fun movie, and hoping others can chime in on exact filming locations. And good luck to you on your quest!

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  2. Mat Owen

    We are huge fans we live in St George Utah! Where you could buy a ticket to in the movie. We wanna do this road trip some day and hit everything in the movie and any places it was filmed it stop to eat it if they even still exist… If somebody does do this trip please please please give info and details on what you found and exactly where to go! You sound like a super fan you should save up money and do a project where you visit everywhere in this movie and do research and see what still exists, you can do a documentary! That’d be awesome! The diner where his car gets towed, That drive inn where the bullies come, i’m sure their all torn down or gone but i’d love to see all of it, the junkyard with all the cars where hailey punches corey lol Man I wish i coulda been in this movie I love it so much!

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    1. Colane Conundrum Post author

      Thanks for reading, Mat! That definitely would be a fun trip to visit all the filming locations. Like you mentioned, I’m sure some no longer exist, or have changed dramatically. For instance, it’s amazing how much historical downtown Dayton has changed since the late 1980s, when the movie was filmed.

      I always thought a location-visit documentary would be a neat project for James Rolfe of Cinemassacre, if he had the inclination or the time. He’s done some similar location visits on his website, where he tours the cemetery that appears at the beginning of “Night of the Living Dead,” as well as the shopping mall featured in “Dawn of the Dead.” Those kind of videos are always fun to watch.

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  3. Mat Owen

    Yeah sadly i’m sure it’s all changed, if i could only go back in time. I even named my niece Mora Grissom and that’s her nickname to this day cuz she dressed and looked like her 15 yrs ago lol Funny how people that play such small parts can make such a big impact on peoples lives, Would do anything to meet Mora Grissom or Lucas Barton! I even looked up Marisa De’Simone the girl that played her, and cant’ find her anywhere even though I came close with a doctor that looks just like her and same age. I know that’s kinda creepy stalker fanish lol

    Yeah I doubt anyone will do something like this on this movie unfortunately it’s still not that well known. But be cool even to go to the backlot where the building is the outside structure with the steps where they held video Armageddon. Also who would of thought that his sidekick friend in the hot pink shirt and the mullet would turn out to be mega movie star Toby McGuire! A Few others that got big later on too like the guy from Pirates of the Caribbean. I wish I had the connections to visit the backlots unfortunately you can’t go back there without them, that would be a dream come true for me!

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    1. Colane Conundrum Post author

      It’s definitely one of those movies that seems to resonate with an entire generation. It was a neat era to grow up in.

      I wish I could go back sometimes. Life seemed much simpler then. 🙂

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  4. sportsattitudes

    I don’t know what I was doing in 1989 where this film didn’t at least get on my radar but I’m now intrigued to go check it out. (Probably was watching some lesser, “chickensh*t” flick…) I have no doubt Reno’s Chamber of Commerce slogan going forward should be “Reno…Where You Go To Undo The Damage.” 🙂

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