The North Carolinians That Have Starred in Some of the Biggest Movie Franchises


North Carolina has enjoyed a long and fruitful relationship with the movie industry, with a succession of box office hits being filmed within its borders. Dirty DancingThe Last of the Mohicans, and The Hunger Games are just three of the several movies that used North Carolina locations to set the scene, while racing movies Days of Thunder and Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby utilized the state’s NASCAR heritage to frame the action.

While Hollywood has frequently come to North Carolina to make movies, there are also North Carolinian actors that have gone to Hollywood to star in some of the biggest cinematic franchises of all time. Here is a celebration of three North Carolinians that have played their part in captivating cinemagoing audiences across the world.

Julianne Moore

Moore was born in Fort Bragg in 1960 and has been near the top of the Hollywood A-list for almost three decades. She rose to prominence thanks to her involvement in a string of 1990s hits, including Boogie NightsMagnolia, and The Big Lebowski. Moore also stole the show with a brief appearance in The Fugitive, another one in the long list of movies that used North Carolina as a filming location.

While those roles may be among her most acclaimed, one of Moore’s most profitable outings came in 1997 when she joined a massive movie franchise via Jurassic Park: The Lost World. The star-studded cast for The Lost World, with Jeff Goldblum and Pete Postlethwaite featuring alongside Moore, helped to solidify Jurassic Park’s popularity, something that still endures today.

You can see that in the decision by Universal Pictures to create a new Jurassic World trilogy some two decades after Jurassic Park hit cinemas. You can further see it in the world of online casino, where the Jurassic Park slot pays homage to Spielberg’s movie by letting dinosaurs loose on the reels, and in Jurassic World Livean arena tour that uses animatronics and stunts to tell new tales as part of Jurassic Park canon. Without the performances of the likes of Moore, perhaps the Jurassic Park series would have stagnated in the 1990s, instead of becoming the multimedia behemoth that it is today.

Zach Galifianakis

Galifianakis was born in Wilkesboro in 1969 and went on to major in communications at the North Carolina State University. He has never forgotten his North Carolinian heritage, using the state as the setting for some of 2019’s Netflix release Between Two Ferns: The Movie. The talk show that inspired the movie has won Emmy Awards and is one of Galifianakis’ most prominent successes, given the string of celebrity names that he has coaxed to appear on the show.

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However, Galifianakis is most recognizable across the world for his unforgettable part in The Hangover trilogy. The first installment in the trilogy took the world by storm in 2009, with Galifianakis’ immature but loveable character stealing the show. That is no mean feat in a film that starred much more established names in the shape of Bradley Cooper and Ed Helms.

The other breakout star in The Hangover was Ken Jeong, another actor of international renown who grew up in North Carolina (Greensboro). The Hangover grossed almost $470 million worldwide from a budget of $35 million, which no doubt played a part in securing the production of the two sequels. While Part II and Part III lacked the inspiration of their predecessor, the talent of Galifianakis helped to provide us with a rare breed in the 21st century: a comedy movie franchise.

Mary Elizabeth Winstead

Winstead was born in Rocky Mount in 1984 and made her name with impressive performances in a string of horror movies in the early 2000s, including Death ProofMonster Island, and Final Destination 3. However, in 2007 Winstead was given the chance to demonstrate her acting chops in front of a more mainstream movie theater audience.

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There’s only one actor whose name is synonymous with the Die Hard film franchise: Bruce Willis. Willis is the one constant throughout the series that spans decades, with a revolving cast of famous actors joining him at various points along the way. It was Winstead’s turn in 2007’s Live Free or Die Hard, where she played John McClane’s daughter Lucy. Winstead’s performance was so winning that she was asked to reprise her role in 2013’s A Good Day to Die Hard.

Insight Comics sought to extend the story of McClane, releasing the graphic comic A Million Ways to Die Hard in 2018 to give the series’ hero an intriguing foe. The Die Hard movie series has also spawned a multitude of video games, including A Good Day to Die Hard, which was released on mobile devices to accompany the film’s release. This shows the enduring appeal of the Die Hard series, but Winstead’s role as the Huntress in DC’s Birds of Prey could become her most memorable franchise appearance.

Moore, Galifianakis, and Winstead are just three of the North Carolinians bringing their talents to the big screen. While film studios may frequently look to the Old North State because of its magnificent scenery, it is fitting that North Carolina natives have gone in the other direction to feature in some of the biggest movie franchises of recent decades.




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