Democracy’s Dozen: 12 Nebraska films

This Statehood Day, pop some popcorn, turn down the lights and turn on the TV, and settle in with some Cornhusker cinema.


Happy Statehood Day! On March 1, 1867, Nebraska officially became a state. To celebrate, we’ve dialed up a dozen motion pictures set in Nebraska that are worth a(nother) watch. Enjoy!

1. "Nebraska" (2013)

Hey! We bet you didn’t know that Alexander Payne, the director of Nebraska, was from Omaha! You did? Well, here’s one of his best.

2. "Children of the Corn" (1984)

Set in a fictional Nebraska town, Children of the Corn is the epitome of a 1980s splatter flick. It’s not our favorite depiction of the Cornhusker State, but this list would be incomplete without it. Shrug.

3. "Terms of Endearment" (1983)

It won best picture, for Jack’s sake! Look for scenes at the University of Nebraska, the Cornhusker Hotel, the Lincoln airport, and Lincoln General Hospital (now Bryan West) in this tearjerking masterpiece. My goodness, Kearney State College looks a lot like NU’s City Campus.

4. "The Indian Runner" (1991)

Mortensen. Morse. Hopper. Arquette. Bronson. Need we say more?

5. "To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar" (1995)

To Wong Foo was before its time, tackling race, gender, domestic violence and the urban-rural divide before these things all became daily fronts in the never-ending culture war. So here’s to you, Noxeema, Vida, and Chi-Chi – thanks for everything!

6. "Yes Man" (2008)

OK, so the characters in Yes Man were in Nebraska only briefly – a whirlwind weekend trip to Lincoln to take in the Telephone Museum, RJ’s Skeet and Shoot, and a Husker football game – but for some Nebraskans, there’s no greater moment in cinema history than the shot of former Husker football coach Bill Callahan dismissively waving his team onto the field while looking like he wished he could be anywhere else. Hmmm, Callahan was fired a month later; maybe he knew something we didn’t?

7. "Election" (1999)

Say, did you know that Alexander Payne is from Omaha? You did? Well, here’s perhaps his greatest film, starring the inimitable Matthew Broderick and Reese Witherspoon in this satire set at a fictitious suburban Omaha high school. Class clowns take note – troublemakers may cause problems for teachers, but compulsive overachievers can drive them mad.

8. "Boys Town" (1938)

There is no such thing as a bad boy, says Father Flanagan (Spencer Tracy) – and so he spends the entirety of Boys Town working to prove it. He battles indifference, the legal system, and even the boys, including a young Mickey Rooney, to create the famous sanctuary we all recognize.

9. "Up in the Air" (2009)

Perhaps the defining motion picture of the Great Recession – and featuring a jet-setting main character (George Clooney), a professional hatchet man who lives in Omaha. Who feeds this guy’s cat while he’s flying around the country?

10. "Boys Don't Cry" (1999)

Hilary Swank won her first Academy Award for this portrayal of Brandon Teena, a trans man who fell victim to a brutal hate crime perpetrated by two male acquaintances in late 1993. The film co-stars Chloe Sevigny as Brandon’s girlfriend, Lana Tisdel. It’s tough to watch, but necessary to watch.

11. "The Homesman" (2014)

One more for Hilary Swank! At once a gritty and haunting Western and a feminist biopic, The Homesman paints a vivid picture of the difficulties even a strong and determined woman experienced to survive in the Nebraska Territory days of the 1850s. Plus, any Western with Tommy Lee Jones in it automatically makes it a classic.

12. "About Schmidt" (2002)

Say, have we mentioned yet that Alexander Payne is from Omaha? Billed as a comedy, About Schmidt does have its funny moments – but in the end, it’s a film about sadness, about the indefinite delay of happiness, and about learning to live fully, no matter how old we are.

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