Films help keep Vegas in focus while visitors await coming attractions

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"Show Dogs" films on location in downtown Las Vegas in 2017.
"Show Dogs" films on location in downtown Las Vegas in 2017. Photo Credit: Eric Guideng

Until Las Vegas fully reopens and visitors can again create their own stories, tales of the Strip told in movies will have to suffice.

Movies have the undeniable ability to transport viewers to a different time and place, often building strong connections between people and destinations. Those sheltering in place during the pandemic have relied more than ever on streaming services such as Netflix, Disney+, Hulu and Amazon for vicarious thrills.

"Now that people can't get here, they can at least participate through consuming content that was created here," said Eric Preiss, director of the Nevada Film Office since 2013.

"When it is time to come back, you know why they will come back to Vegas? Well, it's because they watched all these wonderful films that they love throughout history. It invigorates them to want to get back to Las Vegas as soon as possible and get back to living," Preiss said.

Five of the best-known films to keep Las Vegas top of mind:

• "Ocean's Eleven": "Both the original [1960] and the remake [2001] get people excited to come back here and to live that excitement," Preiss said. "It's very popular, a great film and a fun film that doesn't take itself too seriously. It's upbeat. It's got great music and characters -- some of the biggest actors in Hollywood -- and it's exciting.

• "The Hangover": "It's been associated with Las Vegas ever since it came out. It's on television every time you turn the TV on," Preiss said. "It's still current and if you look at the statistics on our website, the amount of people that search for that film is at the top. Some people [are] like, 'Oh, it's not all about going to Vegas and acting like a fool.' And it's not. But that movie clearly resonates with people."

• "Casino": The Martin Scorsese epic starring Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci represents a gateway to do more research and find related content, Preiss said. "You see a movie like 'Casino,' and it sparks your interest, 'Wow, that sounds crazy!' Then you start Googling a little bit, and it takes you down a rabbit hole of the mob and Vegas. And then, 'Wow, there's the Mob Museum! We should go there."

• "Con-Air": "This is a goofy movie about a prison transport. The prisoners end up getting control of the plane. And then they landed in Vegas. It's just a fun, nutty kind of story," Preiss said. It completed a troika of Vegas films starring Nicolas Cage that includes "Honeymoon in Vegas" (1992) and "Leaving Las Vegas" (1995), for which he won the Academy Award for Best Actor.

• "Jason Bourne": Seeing the number of Hollywood professionals it takes to create a big-budget action film was amazing, Preiss said. "They closed down Las Vegas Boulevard and crashed through the Riviera with explosions and stuff.  Having Matt Damon running around in Las Vegas, one of the biggest stars in Hollywood, doesn't hurt. And people who are going to see that movie with its worldwide distribution, they're going to go, 'Man, Vegas looks really cool.'"

Vegas' powerful brand even makes a vivid impression in films that are not specifically about the city. The destination, in effect, becomes a character. Who can forget the nattily dressed Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise descending an escalator into Caesars Palace's casino to play blackjack in the Academy Award-winning "Rain Man" (1988)?

Among many other Vegas-centric movies worth noting are "Meet Me in Las Vegas" (1956), "Viva Las Vegas" (1964) and "Diamonds Are Forever" (1971). More recent titles include "Electrick Children" (2012), "Last Vegas" (2013) and "Dealer" (2017).

One of his office's goals is create bigger and better sound stages to augment the abundant location shooting opportunities around Las Vegas and the rest of Nevada, Preiss said. That will help diversify the state's economy, drive more productions to Nevada and spur more authenticity in films, he says.

Cinematic tricks to re-create Vegas' illustrious past have flourished, Preiss said, and even generic versions of current Vegas have value for tourism. But location filming builds credibility and curiosity that propel tourism.

"People on the other side of the world may hear 'Las Vegas' in a movie but not know whether a location is real or created by a studio," Preiss said. "When it's a real location, like Atomic Liquors in 'The Hangover,' that's a real bar. When someone sees that and comes to Vegas, they can go to that actual place. It exists. It's a place on a map.  That's the direct connection between films and tourism, working together."

For a map to see locations where films were shot, go to nevadafilm.com/nevada-film-tourism/.

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