Mesas in Hollywood: Natural Wonders on the Silver Screen

Hollywood, as the global center of the film industry, has always sought out striking natural landscapes for its movies. One such unique landform frequently used in cinema is the mesa. These flat-topped plateaus with steep cliffs not only captivate with their grandeur but also serve as perfect backdrops for creating atmospheric and dramatic scenes. In this article, we will explore how mesas have become an integral part of filmmaking and highlight some famous movies that have featured these natural formations.

What is a Mesa?

A mesa (from the Spanish word for “table”) is a flat-topped hill with steep, often vertical sides. These landforms are created by long-term erosion processes where softer rock layers are worn away, leaving behind harder, more resistant layers on top. Mesas are commonly found in arid regions such as the southwestern United States and are a characteristic feature of landscapes in places like Arizona and Utah.

Mesas in Cinema

Hollywood has long used mesas as natural sets, especially in Westerns and adventure films. Their impressive size and unique shape create an ideal backdrop for epic scenes and immerse viewers in the atmosphere of the Wild West or alien worlds.

Famous Films
  1. “The Searchers” (1956) — This classic Western directed by John Ford stars John Wayne and Natalie Wood. Filmed in Monument Valley, Utah, the majestic mesas are an integral part of the film’s visual appeal.
  2. “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” (1989) — Directed by Steven Spielberg, this film features key scenes set against the dramatic backdrop of mesas, adding to the adventure and grandeur of Indiana Jones’ quest.
  3. “Back to the Future Part III” (1990) — In the third installment of the trilogy directed by Robert Zemeckis, the characters are transported back in time to the Wild West. The mesas serve as the perfect setting for this time-traveling adventure.
Visual and Technical Advantages

Using mesas in film allows directors and cinematographers to create visually rich and atmospheric scenes. Their imposing size and unique shapes offer opportunities for crafting distinctive compositions and perspectives. Moreover, filming on mesas helps avoid the need for expensive special effects to create realistic and impressive landscapes.

Ecological Impact and Conservation

Filming in natural areas such as mesas requires careful attention to environmental impact. Hollywood is gradually moving towards more sustainable filmmaking practices, aiming to minimize harm to the environment. Many studios collaborate with conservation organizations and adhere to strict guidelines to preserve these unique landscapes.


Mesas, with their unique shapes and impressive sizes, play a significant role in shaping the visual style and atmosphere of many films. They have become an essential part of cinema, particularly in the Western and adventure genres, bringing an element of natural beauty and majesty to the screen. Careful stewardship of these natural wonders and their preservation