Belen has been a favorite place in New Mexico for Hollywood movie makers to shoot their films since the early 1970s.
Belen offers a downtown that can be shaped to look like many times and places, with wide streets, proximity to Albuquerque’s movie studios, and a welcoming city government that provides logistical support throughout production.
To date, Belen has been the backdrop for at least 17 Hollywood movies, two miniseries, and at least two television shows.
Stars like Morgan Freeman, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Kevin Costner, Forest Whitaker and David Bowie have spent time in Belen making movies that sometimes transformed areas of the city to fit the character of the small towns where the movies are set.
Here is a list of movies filmed in Belen and the parts of town where they were filmed.
Sun Belt Express (2015)
Starring Stephen Lang, Rachael Harris, Ana de la Reguera
In the 2015 film Sun Belt Express, Belen takes the place of Tucson, Arizona and the Mexican border areas south of Tucson.
While nearly 100 percent of the film takes place in Belen, there are several standout scenes.
Many of the school scenes, including one with Tate Donovan parking at the Mexican school where he teaches, and the shots inside the school, were filmed at Belen High School. The parking scene was filmed in a tree-lined courtyard on the high school grounds that isn’t used for parking, and the classroom and hallways are in the 200 wing of the high school.
Donovan’s home is located on the 500 block of Fifth Street. The little tan home with white and green trim is a quaint setting, where Donovan relaxes after a difficult day.
Scenes of confrontation between Donovan and his Mexican smuggling handler take place at La Mirada Motel, a Spanish-style motel on Belen’s west mesa. One shot features a nighttime political fundraiser in the motel’s courtyard.
Another scene taking place in Mexico is actually just one of Belen’s alleys that runs between Dalies Avenue and Becker Avenue, and a couple of the vast desert scenes along the border of Mexico were shot on top of Belen’s west mesa.
Starring Johnny Depp, Kate Mara, Morgan Freeman
In the 2014 film Transcendence, Belen stands in for the fictional town Brightwood, called Blightwood by some residents who vandalize the local water tank and welcome sign.
In its first scene showing Brightwood — an expansive aerial shot — the magic of movie editing turns Belen into an isolated and desolate desert town. The Belen railyard, one of our city’s most identifiable features, is reduced to one tiny rail line.
Blightwood is a dusty small town — with rundown buildings and a dejected population in need of a boost. The small café used for an initial meeting between Rebecca Hall and a local construction worker is Belen’s Eva’s Chile building.
The two ominous looking two-story buildings comprising Brightwood’s downtown are the Belen Hotel and Central Hotel. Movie crews laid a new gray facade on the Belen Hotel and boarded up a part of the Central Hotel.
Blightwood’s own hotel — the Desert Dream Hotel — was constructed by the movie crew on a vacant lot at the corner of Dalies Avenue and Second Street.
Despite the movie showing a large solar array to the south of Blightwood, that solar area was separately constructed in a remote desert area outside of Albuquerque.
Two Men in Town (2014)
Starring Forest Whitaker, Harvey Keitel, Luis Guzman
[FILM NOT YET RELEASED]
As Cool As I Am (2013)
Starring James Marsden, Claire Danes, Jeremy Sisto
In the 2013 movie As Cool As I Am, Belen is the name of the small town where the movie is set, featuring Belen’s water tower with the name “Belen” on it.
The movie was filmed primarily along Dalies Avenue near Sixth and Fifth streets. The playground in the movie was constructed new by the film crew on a vacant lot. The outside of two local homes were used, including Belen’s historic Sears-Roebuck house at Dalies and Fifth Street.
One scene was filmed inside of a local Chinese restaurant called Teriyaki Chicken in Foil.
The Last Stand (2013)
Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Forest Whitaker, Johnny Knoxville
In the 2013 movie The Last Stand, Belen’s name is changed to “Summerton Junction” and is set in Arizona, not New Mexico.
The movie was filmed primarily at the intersection of Becker Avenue and Second Street. Belen’s two historic hotels — the Belen Hotel and Central Hotel — are featured prominently in the film, with the Belen Hotel renamed as the Bell Hotel and with Schwarzenegger jumping off the rooftop of the Central Hotel. E. Garcia Grocery, also known for selling Eva’s Chile, was converted to an antique store called “Salazar’s.”
Belen’s iconic water tower was left in place for the film, but instead of being surrounded by buildings, like in real Belen, it is surrounded by a cornfield in Summerton Junction. Belen’s old city hall makes an appearance in the film as the sheriff’s office and county jail, using real jail cells from when old city hall included a police station and jail.
Belen High School students are featured in the opening scene as Summerton Junction celebrates the local football team. Summerton Junction and Belen have the same mascot, an eagle.
5 Shells (2012)
Starring Chad Brummett, Jordan Grady, Kelsey Hutton
In the 2012 movie 5 Shells there is no scene identifiable with Belen, as the movie was filmed in outlaying areas of New Mexico, including in the Belen area.
Living Hell (2008)
Starring Johnathon Schaech, Erica Leerhsen, James McDaniel
The 2008 movie Living Hell, also called Organizm in its DVD release, was filmed along both Becker and Dalies avenues in Belen. For the movie, the writers changed Belen’s name to “Bennell.”
A military convoy scene has authorities warning locals of a growing creature headed toward the city. The Belen Hotel and Central Hotel, plus Sugar Bowl Lanes, at the intersection of Becker Avenue and Second Street are the backdrops.
In another scene, computer-generated streetlights that only exist in the movie dot Dalies Avenue as locals try to escape the creature.
Several other scenes, including an eerie daytime shot of Becker Street Pub, take place throughout the movie.
Swing Vote (2008)
Starring Kevin Costner, Paula Patton, Kelsey Grammer
In the 2008 movie Swing Vote, Belen’s name is changed to “Texico.”
The film transformed several parts of town to create Texico, using a mobile home park near Main Street and Camino del Llano, St. Mary’s School, the intersection of Becker Avenue and Second Street, an old Furrs grocery store, and the Reinken Avenue overpass.
In one of the two most prominent scenes in the movie, Dennis Hopper helicopters into Texico, landing in the parking lot of the old Furrs grocery store. The presidential candidate and his campaign team take over the grocery store, turning it into a campaign office to try to sway Kevin Costner’s vote.
In the other scene, Kevin Costner grants an interview to a reporter inside of Sugar Bowl Lanes on Becker Avenue. This was the only time Sugar Bowl Lanes has been filmed inside, but the bowling alley can be seen in nearly every movie filmed on Becker Avenue, including The Last Stand and Living Hell.
Other scenes include voting and partying at the Valencia County Sheriff’s Posse, drinking at Becker Street Pub, and buying grocery’s at E. Garcia Grocery.
Have Dreams, Will Travel (2007)
Starring Cayden Boyd, Lara Flynn Boyle, Matthew Modine
This 2007 film, which saw a limited release as Dream It Out Loud and A West Texas Children’s Story, was filmed in Belen and in the rural areas around Belen. The opening credits of the film show shots from Becker Avenue.
The Lost Room (2006)
Starring Peter Krause, Julianna Margulies, Peter Jacobson
This 2006 mini-series, which debuted on the Sci-Fi channel, is the only time Belen appears in a movie as a major urban area. In The Lost Room’s Episode 5, Belen stands in for Washington, DC.
The scene cuts from some city, possibly Washington, DC, with the caption “Washington, D.C.” on it to the actual streets of Belen. Again, Hollywood finds itself at the intersection of Becker Avenue and Second Street, with the Belen Hotel in the background, urban decay littering the streets, and the Central Hotel in the foreground. The Central Hotel is a rundown apartment building where one of the key objects being sought in the movie is located. The mini-series makes no effort to remove the reference to Belen on the neon Belen Hotel sign in the background.
Bollocky Simper (2003)
Starring Eva Blaylock, Aaron Hendren, D.J. Outlaw
[NO INFORMATION AVAILABLE]
The Cowboy Way (1994)
Starring Woody Harrelson, Kiefer Sutherland, Dylan McDermott
For the 1994 movie The Cowboy Way, the Valencia County Sheriff’s Posse Rodeo Arena in Belen was where Woody Harrelson and Kiefer Sutherland learned to rope before filming the movie. In the movie, Woody Harrelson’s character, Pepper, is announced as a roper from Belen.
Starring Kris Kristofferson, Ali MacGraw, Ernest Borgnine
In the 1978 movie Convoy, the convoy of semi-trucks and other vehicles traveling the highways of New Mexico to protest a corrupt Arizona sheriff travels through several small cities, with the residents of the cities showing support for the convoy.
One of those cities is Belen. Starting on North Main Street near Aragon Road, the convoy passes through Belen as locals look on and cheer, some running alongside the convoy.
The film shows an aerial of Belen from Main Street and Reinken Avenue looking north as the convoy moves through.
The scene ends with the convoy’s curve onto northbound I-25 (I-40 in the movie) at the South Belen interchange. Several of Belen’s alfalfa fields and the Belen water tower are in the background.
The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976)
Starring David Bowie, Rip Torn, Candy Clark
In the 1976 movie The Man Who Fell to Earth, multiple scenes were filmed in Valencia County.
The opening scene of the film, for example, places David Bowie on foot on the Los Lunas bridge that crosses the Rio Grande. El Cerro de Los Lunas, or Los Lunas Hill, is in the background. Later, Bowie’s car can be seen crossing the same bridge again.
In another scene, Bowie’s character temporarily locates to a remote desert shack just outside of Belen proper on Belen’s east mesa.
Bowie’s shack, cobbled together from wood and with a windmill next to it, is off a dirt roadway, possibly today’s paved Manzano Expressway. In the background are New Mexico’s white puffy clouds and Valencia County’s Manzano Mountains.
Starring Charles Baca, Flavio Martinez, Ignacio Ramirez
[NO INFORMATION AVAILABLE]
Bunny O’Hare (1971)
Starring Bette Davis, Ernest Borgnine, Jack Cassidy
The 1971 movie Bunny O’Hare was filmed at two locations in Belen.
The first scene is filmed at the intersection of Main Street and Becker and Dalies avenues, the site of the old First National Bank of Belen, which no longer exists there. In the scene, Belen is referred to as Los Lunas, which is actually a neighboring town to the north, including a bank robbery scene in Belen showing the name “Bank of New Mexico: Los Lunas Branch.”
In this scene, Bette Davis and Ernest Borgnine scope out the bank before they attempt to rob it. They mingle with “Fair Wage” hippie protesters. Belen’s historic Onate Theater is in the background. Across Main Street to the west from the bank is the Becker-Dalies store, which also no longer exists there. They return dressed as hippies and are prepared to rob the bank. Across the street to the south from the bank is the current Belen City Hall, which at the time the movie was filmed was a bank. The movie labels the building as the “Valencia County Courthouse” and “Los Lunas City Hall.”
After the robbery, Bette Davis and Ernest Borgnine start a car chase through the streets of Belen, from Becker Avenue on to Main Street. They end up driving through shopping centers in Albuquerque.
In two other minor scenes, Jack Cassidy, one of the movie’s detectives, decides that he and his assistant will stake out a bank in Belen, where he thinks Davis and Borgnine are headed next. Around the same time, Borgnine tells Davis they will rob a bank in Socorro and one in Belen.
The second Belen scene was filmed at the intersection of Becker Avenue and Second Street. The scene pans around the street, showing Belen’s historic Central and Belen hotels. In this scene, Belen is shown as “Belen” in the name of the movie’s bank, the “Bank of New Mexico: Belen Branch.” The Central Hotel stands in as the “Bank of New Mexico: Belen Branch,” while the Belen Hotel functions as both a hotel and the “Eagle Bank.” While the cops get a little too comfortable on the stakeout, Davis and Borgnine rob the Eagle Bank.
After this robbery, the second major car chase of the movie takes Davis and Borgnine on their motorcycle across a lot, then across South Sixth Street, and finally west on Goebel Avenue.
Starring Bob Corff, Elaine Giftos, Bud Cort
This 1971 movie is set in 1968. The film opens with a hippie running from the cops who meets a scientist. In the Belen scene, kids playing on Main Street in Belen walk into Stamp’s Music, a popular store and building that once stood at the corner of Main and Church streets.