There is just something magical about Massachusetts, a special quality that makes one of the country’s oldest states perfect for the big screen. From the open waters and tight-knit fishing communities of its coastal areas to the unique charm and fighting spirit of the greater Boston area, Massachusetts looks absolutely stunning on film and has long provided for some of the best movies of all time.
It is hard to imagine something like CODA, Good Will Hunting or several other movies set in Massachusetts taking place anywhere besides The Old Colony State. In honor of the Apple TV+ movie's surprising yet well-deserved big win at the Academy Awards, now seems like a great time to take a look at a little more than a dozen of those great films and go over all the different ways you can watch them.
The only member of her family who can hear, Ruby Rossi (Emilia Jones) finds herself in quite a situation in CODA when given the opportunity to attend a prestigious music school, which would mean she would no longer be able to help her family’s fishing business in Gloucester, Massachusetts.
Sian Heder, who won an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay, focuses her coming-of-age drama not just on Ruby's decision but also on her family and a community where fishing isn’t just a way of life, it’s a matter of survival.
Good Will Hunting (1997)
Will Hunting (Matt Damon) is a misunderstood and ill-prepared genius with a level of intellect unrivaled by his peers or a certain math professor who attempts to take him under his wing in Good Will Hunting. Following a string of run-ins with the law, the South Boston native is forced to undergo therapy where he learns way more about himself than he could have ever imagined.
This movie is just oozing with that Boston feeling. Thanks to Sean (Robin Williams) recounting how he missed one of the most iconic Red Sox moments because he met the love of his life and all those thick accents, the city becomes another detailed character that feels so alive.
Manchester By The Sea (2016)
Following the death of his older brother, Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) returns to his hometown of Manchester-by-the-Sea, Massachusetts to take care of his teenage nephew. But in doing so, Lee is forced to relive a traumatic memory and come to terms with his past.
Manchester by the Sea is one of those movies that’s best not knowing what you’re getting yourself into before you press play. Absolutely stunning in every sense of the word, does a fantastic job of capturing that feeling of a small town, and how someone can go from the favorite son to an outcast because of one tragic incident.
The Departed (2006)
As one Boston cop (Leonardo DiCaprio) goes undercover in one of the biggest criminal enterprises in the greater Boston area, one of the outfit’s most ruthless members (Matt Damon) becomes a mole within the Boston Police Department, setting up a collision course where no one will be left unscathed.
With The Departed, Martin Scorsese did for Boston what he did for New York, New Jersey, and Las Vegas with his earlier crime epics, creating not only one of the best movies in his filmography but also one of the most beloved crime dramas of all time. Scorsese and the cast do a wonderful job of making you feel like you’re on the streets of Beantown and not in a dark movie house.
The Perfect Storm (2000)
Seeing one last chance at saving the season, Billy Tyne Jr. (George Clooney) and his crew go back out to sea in search of a massive catch while other ships are heading back home to weather a deadly storm.
The Perfect Storm, which is also set in Gloucester, Massachusetts, is another movie that captures that never-say-die attitude of the men and women raised in the commercial fishing community. Full of heroics, poignant speeches, and an underrated cast of “that guys,” the movie makes for an exciting way to spend a couple of hours.
The Social Network (2010)
Following a bitter breakup, Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) drunkenly decides to build a website allowing Harvard students to judge their peers by appearance and unwittingly create the large social media platform the world has ever seen.
Although only the first half of The Social Network is set in Cambridge, Massachusetts, before Facebook moves on to Silicon Valley, David Fincher finds a way to transport the audience to the Harvard campus (even if he didn’t actually film on the historic campus). Walks through Harvard Square, teams rowing along the Charles River, and the depiction of America’s ultra elite go a long way.
A group of intrepid Boston Globe journalists uncover the biggest scandal within the Catholic church in centuries as they dig up information showing how the church not only knew about systemic sexual abuse, but also how its most powerful leaders tried to sweep it all under the rug.
Tom McCarthy’s Academy Award-winning drama Spotlight doesn’t necessarily paint the city of Boston in the best of lights, at least not its ruling class and Catholic officials, but it does an incredible job of showing how a scandal spread throughout the city as well as how its fallout rocked the city to its core.
Little Women (2019)
When her sister’s condition worsens, Jo March (Saoirse Ronan) returns to her childhood home in Concord, Massachusetts, where the young writer is flooded with memories of her upbringing with her three sisters and extensive group of family and friends.
There have been multiple adaptations of Louisa May Alcott’s timeless novel Little Women, but Greta Gerwig’s 2019 spin on the classic is in a league of its own. The quaint towns, rolling hills, and crisp autumns all add to the story with the landscape becoming a character of its own due to its influence over the characters as they figure out life and love.
The Fighter (2010)
Up-and-coming fighter Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg) is finally given a chance to prove himself in the professional boxing world, but only if his family, especially his drug-addicted half-brother Dickie Eklund, doesn’t get in the way first.
Although technically a gritty drama about a boxer trying to make a better life for himself, The Fighter feels like “Lowell, Massachusetts: The Movie” with its depiction of the working class city and its downtrodden residents. It’s rough around the edges and doesn’t have the best manners, but it sure is beautiful.
The Town (2010)
South Boston bank robber Doug MacRay (Ben Affleck) lives his life one heist at a time, but that all changes when he takes a liking to a hostage. But even though Doug may have had a change of heart, his partners-in-crime and a morally bankrupt FBI agent aren’t going to let him get out so easily.
There’s a lot going for The Town, but the two things that stand out the most are Jeremy Renner’s amazing accent and that brilliant final gun battle at the consecrated grounds of Fenway Park, which is honestly up there with the best shootouts of all time.
Mystic River (2003)
Three childhood friends, forever connected yet torn apart by a shocking event, find themselves facing another crisis when one of their daughters goes missing and is later found dead.
Clint Eastwood’s Mystic River is as heartbreaking as it is beautiful, and the director does a marvelous job of showing the good, the bad, and the in-between in Boston’s blue-collar stomping grounds. Unsettling at times and triumphant at times, the movie stands as one of the Eastwood’s best efforts.
Fever Pitch (2005)
Lindsey Meeks (Drew Barrymore) thinks she has met the man of her dreams, but little does she know but her boyfriend, Ben Wrightman (Jimmy Fallon) is not only a Boston Red Sox fan, he’s the biggest fanatic in all of New England.
What The Farrelly brothers’ adaptation of Nick Hornby’s Fever Pitch does really well (besides being a superb romantic comedy) is it captures the obsessive behaviors of sports fans and how the outside world sees them. Add in the fact it was filmed the year the Red Sox broke the curse, and you have something special.
Patriots Day (2016)
When the 2013 Boston Marathon ends in tragedy, a police officer (Mark Wahlberg), an FBI agent (Kevin Bacon), and hundreds of other law enforcement professionals race against the clock to track down those responsible and bring them to justice.
Peter Berg’s 2017 thriller, which was based on actual events, brilliantly depicts the unprecedented response from a united Boston in the wake of a senseless terrorist attack. From the first explosions to the final moments of the days-long manhunt, this fast-paced thrill ride shows Boston, Massachusetts, and New England at its best.
After losing both legs in the 2013 Boston Marathon Bombing, Jeff Bauman (Jake Gyllenhaal) goes on a powerful journey that tests him physically, mentally, and emotionally as he attempts to move on from the tragedy.
Jeff Bauman’s story is one about someone who found a reason to fight and carry on even when so much was taken from him in emotionally powerful Stronger, which perfectly sums up the attitude of those impacted by the incident.
Stream Stronger on EPIX.
Rent/Buy Stronger on Amazon. (opens in new tab)
Buy Stronger on DVD on Amazon. (opens in new tab)
Years after wishing his teddy bear would come to life, John Bennett (Mark Wahlberg) and Ted (Seth MacFarlane) are still best friends, but these days he’s a drinking, weed-loving, foul-mouthed party monster who encourages John’s slacker lifestyle.
The outrageously hilarious Ted plays out like a greatest hits of all things Boston, Massachusetts, and New England with icons and iconic locations around every corner. Probably not the first movie you think of when it comes to the area, but Ted doesn’t a damn good job of making you feel like you’re there.
Rent/Buy Ted on Amazon. (opens in new tab)
Buy Ted on DVD on Amazon. (opens in new tab)
Like the state itself, a list of movies set in Massachusetts is full of diverse characters, legendary locations, and all kinds of surprises. This also happens to be the case for the 2022 new movies schedule.
Philip grew up in Louisiana (not New Orleans) before moving to St. Louis after graduating from Louisiana State University-Shreveport. When he's not writing about movies or television, Philip can be found being chased by his three kids, telling his dogs to stop yelling at the mailman, or yelling about professional wrestling to his wife. If the stars properly align, he will talk about For Love Of The Game being the best baseball movie of all time.
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