- The 1978 war drama film The Deer Hunter is unique for shooting every scene on location, without the use of sound stages.
- The film was mostly shot in Cleveland, Ohio, with notable locations including St. Theodosius Russian Orthodox Cathedral and Lemko Hall.
- Other filming locations for The Deer Hunter include Loraine, Ohio (U.S. Steel Central Furnaces) and various locations in Thailand, including Patpong, Bangkok, and the River Kwai.
The 1978 war drama The Deer Hunter is unique in that sound stages were never used—every scene was shot on location. This is quite a feat considering the various locations around the world that the movie is set. The Deer Hunter, which starred Robert De Niro, Christopher Walken, and John Savage, follows three Russian-American men from Pennsylvania preparing for and striving to recover from the Vietnam War. This required various filming locations to pull off, with real-world churches, businesses, and factories used as sets.
With the unique filming choices of The Deer Hunter‘s director (Michael Cimino) and such a star-studded cast, it’s no surprise that the film is regarded as one of the best ever made. Though it sparked controversy over its depiction of the Vietcong and its various inaccuracies regarding the Vietnam War, The Deer Hunter earned itself five Academy Awards—Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor (Walken), Best Sound, and Best Film Editing. It was also actor Meryl Streep’s first significant role, earning her a Best Supporting Actress nomination. In all, it’s safe to say The Deer Hunter was a grand success, but where was it filmed?
The central characters from The Deer Hunter were meant to be Russian Americans born and raised in Western Pennsylvania, but most of their hometown scenes were filmed in Cleveland, Ohio. Cimino used several local buildings and settings within the city for the film, the most notable being the historical St. Theodosius Russian Orthodox Cathedral. This is where the wedding ceremony between Steven and Angela was filmed, and the cathedral’s actual priest played the part of the on-screen efficient.
After the wedding scene in The Deer Hunter, the fictional guests are seen at a reception hall, another real Cleveland location. The name “Lemko Hall” can be seen on the building’s sign, and it still stands that way today in Cleveland. Though it has long been regarded as a significant historical location, Lemko Hall is predominantly recognized on Cleveland tours as the location of the notable scene in The Deer Hunter in which Nick impulsively proposed to Linda—a movie romance doomed to end in heartbreak.
Another filming location in Cleveland, Ohio, used for The Deer Hunter is the Louis Stokes VA Medical Center. This building was cleverly used as the military hospital where Mike visits Steven after returning from Vietnam.
At the beginning of The Deer Hunter, Mike, Steven, and Nick are seen to all work at a Steel Mill. The opening scene of the film shows a slew of workers toiling away, and this was filmed using the U.S. Steel Central Furnaces and its real steel workers in Loraine, Ohio. It was no easy task to gain permission to bring a filming crew into a dangerous setting like this. The producers reportedly (via AFI) spent months negotiating with U.S. Steel and were forced to purchase a $5 million insurance policy to keep everyone legally protected at the dangerous site.
Mingo Junction, Ohio
Though the majority of the over-three-hour-long The Deer Hunter was filmed in Cleveland or Thailand, Cimino found an empty storefront in Mingo Junction, Ohio, that was used for two crucial scenes in the film. This storefront was turned into the fictional Welsh’s Bar, where the film’s central trio famously sang “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” before heading out for Vietnam. Though lighthearted, it was later contrasted with the wake of Nick’s (Walken) funeral, where the men sang “God Bless America” instead. Since The Deer Hunter was filmed here, this reconstructed storefront has become a real saloon.
Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest and Nooksack Falls In Washington
Much of the praise that The Deer Hunter gets for cinematography is owed to the titular hunting scenes, which were shot in the beautiful Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest and Nooksack Falls in Washington State. Mike (De Niro) returned to this scene twice in the film, once before Vietnam and once after. This was where he laid out the rule of taking down a deer with only one shot—a theme repeated throughout The Deer Hunter.
Patpong & Bangkok, Thailand
All the scenes set in Vietnam in The Deer Hunter were shot in Thailand. When it came to the city scenes meant to be in the red light district of Saigon, Patpon, and Bangkok, Thailand were used. Real-world business were utilized to shoot the strip club scenes, and when the evacuation of Saigon was filmed later in the movie, 6,000 Bangkok citizens showed up to serve as extras. Additionally, the U.S. Airfield (meant to be in Saigon, Vietnam) was filmed at Bangkok’s Don Muang Airport.
River Kwai, Thailand
While in Vietnam, De Niro, Walken, and Savage’s characters are held at a prison camp where the Vietcong would force them to play Russian roulette as they gambled on the outcome. The various buildings and cages for this camp were built by the crew of The Deer Hunter along the River Kwai in Thailand. This is the river that would be used for the escape scene, in which Mike, Steven, and Nick are rescued by an American helicopter. Of course, this wouldn’t be the characters’ last scenes in Vietnam since Walken’s character, Nick, would meet his end here before the end of The Deer Hunter.
Sources: The American Film Institute