Viva Las Vegas: Movies & Filming Locations in Sin City
In honor of the drug-fueled theatrical version of Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, released 25 years ago on May 22, 1998, let’s take a look at some of the films that have graced the silver screen with Sin City as the backdrop.
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
Set mostly in a room at Circus Circus hotel, with some scenes at its famed carousel bar, this film follows the psychotic drug- and alcohol-crazed cross-country adventure of eccentric writer Hunter S. Thompson, played by his dear friend Johnny Depp, and Thompson’s neurotic lawyer Dr. Gonzo, played by Benicio Del Toro. Written and directed by another famed writer, Terry Gilliam of Brazil and Monty Python, this movie is quite the trip, literally!
First done by the Rat Pack in 1960, this was the quintessential casino heist movie. Filming locations of the original included now-long-gone places like the Riviera Hotel and Casino, Sands Hotel and Casino, Desert Inn, Sahara Hotel and Casino, and the Flamingo Hotel and Casino. The latter two are the only ones that still stand. But did you know that where the Wynn hotel sits now on the Las Vegas Strip, there is a steakhouse named after the one and only Frank Sinatra, a star of Ocean’s Eleven and a Rat Pack member, named Sinatra?
Ocean’s Eleven was of course redone with a whole new cast of thieves (George Clooney, Brad Pitt) in 2001, which also had a few spinoffs. Those filming locations were at more current casinos, such as Bellagio.
In leg three of the famous Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) family adventures, they head to Vegas, where Clark manages to spend the family’s entire bankroll and cause trouble at Hoover Dam. Ellen becomes the sparkle of the one and only Wayne Newton’s eye as he tries to woo her, Rusty manages to score a fake ID and becomes a high roller known as Nick Pappagiorgio, meanwhile Audrey is getting into high jinks with cousin Vicki. As usual, cousin Eddie is the star of this one with his cheesy one-liners as he takes Clark to what is this gambler’s wish: cheap kitschy casino games and buffets in effort of trying to win his family’s money back. Filming locations for this one were all over the strip, but most notably the Mirage Hotel & Casino, which was just recently sold to the Hard Rock brand. The infamous volcano attraction there is about to become a giant guitar. This was also comedian Sid Caesar’s last movie.
This film is said to be loosely based on the long-gone Stardust Hotel & Casino at the end of the Mafia-run era of Las Vegas at a fictional casino called Tangiers. The location for the Tangiers was another defunct casino, the Landmark Hotel. Directed by Martin Scorsese, the film stars Robert De Niro as famed Mafia casino boss Sam “Ace” Rothstein, with Sharon Stone as his hustling wife Ginger and Joe Pesci as his boyhood/shakedown friend Nicky Santoro. Other filming locations included the Riviera, which was imploded in 2016, and the Peppermill Fireside Lounge, which you can still visit to enjoy the classic Vegas vibe. The footage at the end is of the Dunes being imploded in real life in 1993.
Many movies have used the exterior of this 1971 hotel at the end of famed Fremont Street. In Back to the Future Part II (1989), it is the casino that Biff owns, in Cool World (1992) — the Kim Bassinger (Holli Would) and Brad Pitt live-action/animation odyssey film — and in Looney Tunes: Back in Action (2003), where it serves as Yosemite Sam’s Wooden Nickel Casino, just to name a few.
The 1996 Tim Burton Martian sci-fi film was a nod to the alien encounters movies of the 1950s. With an all-star cast, it was filmed all over the United States but had some very memorable scenes of the aliens blowing up Las Vegas. Some of the notable properties they blew up were the Landmark (named Galaxy in the movie and used real footage), Luxor, Stardust and more. The aliens were also spotted wandering around in the Neon Boneyard Museum, which held a special Tim Burton exhibit back in 2020.
Diamonds Are Forever
007 is no stranger to the Vegas scene in this 1971 Sean Connery/James Bond adventure. One of the most well-known scenes is the car chase on Fremont Street while trying to catch a diamond smuggler. That would not go over well now as Fremont turned into a pedestrian-only street in 1994. Other famous filming locations include Landmark Hotel & Casino, Dunes Hotel, International Hotel (now known as the Westgate Las Vegas Resort & Casino), Las Vegas Hilton, Circus Circus Las Vegas and Tropicana Las Vegas, which is set to become the new location of the Oakland A’s. Tear down date TBA.
In another cross-country road trip/Las Vegas stop-over movie, we see Charlie Babbit (Tom Cruise) with autistic brother Raymond (Dustin Hoffman). Realizing he can make a quick buck off his brother using his autistic mind, Charlie takes advantage of him. After this proves to be too much stimulation for Raymond, Cruise’s character finally realizes the perils of his brother’s condition, and they finally bond. Before returning Raymond to the facility he kidnapped him from, Charlie takes his brother for a night on the town. Filming locations for this one included the famous Caesars Palace.
Cage, a Las Vegas staple these days (we spotted him in 2022 passing through the Wynn with his wife), has several ties to the Vegas film industry, with films such as Leaving Las Vegas, ConAir and, of course, as the skydiving Elvis in Honeymoon in Vegas. Keep your eyes open if in town; you may just see him!
Viva Las Vegas
Elvis Presley, The “King” of Las Vegas, filmed one of his best-known movies here with screen darling Ann-Margret. Filming locations were all over Las Vegas and predated his marriage to Priscilla at the Aladdin and his residency at the International Hotel (now Wingate).