|Directed by||Peter Fonda|
|Produced by||William Hayward|
|Written by||Dennis Hackin|
|Music by||Ken Lauber|
|Edited by||Scott Conrad|
|Distributed by||United Artists|
Henry Fonda makes a cameo appearance as an Arizona prospector, making it the only film to feature the father and son together. Peter Fonda reportedly paid his father Henry $1000 (equivalent to $3,523 in 2019) for one day's work on the film after receiving a call from his father that he was out of work.
Set in 1950s Arizona, the story follows a drifter and gambler named Beaudray Demerille (Fonda). In a card game he wins the movie's title character Wanda Nevada (Shields), a 13-year-old orphan with dreams of singing at the Grand Ole Opry. Despite his best efforts, Wanda sticks to Demerille, accompanying him to a pool hall. Texas Curly (Fix), an aging prospector, enters and tells the bar patrons about his gold mine in the Grand Canyon. They laugh him off as a drunk. As Curly leaves the bar, he drops a pouch. Wanda picks it up and follows Curly, then sees Strap Pangburn (Markland) and Ruby Muldoon (Askew), two cons from the bar, harassing the man about the location of the mine. Wanda runs when Strap and Ruby kill Curly, alerting them to her presence. She hides in Demerille's car and tells him about Curly's death. Strap and Ruby see Wanda in the car but get lost in the chase. Stopped for the night, Demerille and Wanda open Curly's pouch and find a map. They head to the Grand Canyon and trade the car for pack mules and mining supplies. Strap and Ruby follow behind by half a day.
While traveling in the canyon Demerille and Wanda meet Dorothy Deerfield (Lewis), a Life magazine photographer. Dorothy and Demerille try to get better acquainted after dinner in her tent, but jealous Wanda intrudes. They discuss their pasts, with Dorothy's husband and Wanda's father both killed during military service. Demerille tries to be nice but comes off as insensitive, and he and Wanda leave camp in the morning. They find a rope ladder over the canyon's side to a small cave. Before going down, Wanda confesses to Demerille that she loves him. He holds the rope as she rappels down the rock wall. An owl flies out at her and Wanda falls, but Demerille pulls her back up only to find that she is unconscious. He sits cradling Wanda and says he loves her, too. Demerille then explores the cave himself and finds gold. He returns to find Wanda awake and shows her a large gold piece. While mining the next day, Strap and Ruby finally catch up to them. Wanda and Demerille return to camp with four bags of gold only to find their mules gone. They throw the bags into the canyon in case someone is watching, then start walking. Strap and Ruby hold them at gunpoint and demand the gold, but Wanda insists there was none. A shootout leaves everyone unharmed. Strap and Ruby run off, and Demerille and Wanda seek shelter for the night. The following morning they find Strap and Ruby crucified in the desert. Wanda finds the mined gold scattered nearby. They pack it up and head down to the shore, where a boat is buried in the sand. After docking downstream, Demerille counts the gold as Wanda sleeps. The owl from the cave appears and an arrow is shot from the distance into Demerille's chest. Demerille, seemingly mortally wounded, pushes the boat into the river and passes out. Wanda wakes up the next morning as the boat is afloat in the river and finds Demerille near the edge of death, he professes his love for Wanda and passes out.
Sometime later, Wanda is in a hotel and is about to be returned to the orphanage by looming nuns. Reporters swarm the hotel lobby, all trying to get an exclusive story. Wanda flees the nuns as Demerille, now recovered and rich from selling the gold, pulls up outside the hotel in a new convertible. Wanda jumps in the convertible, and both laugh as Demerille tells the reporters there never was any gold in the Grand Canyon and Demerille and Wanda drive off into the sunset, while the song Morning Sun by Carole King adds to the atmospheric finale.
- Brooke Shields as Wanda Nevada
- Peter Fonda as Beaudray Demerille
- Fiona Lewis as Dorothy Deerfield
- Luke Askew as Ruby Muldoon
- Ted Markland as Strap Pangburn
- Severn Darden as Bitterstix
- Paul Fix as Texas Curly
- Henry Fonda as Prospector
Fonda said ""U.A. dumped the film.... The studio just didn’t understand the picture... I had wanted them to sell the film back to me. I offered the studio six million dollars... They didn’t take me up on it."
Todd McCarthy of Variety called the film "a serio-comic romance which is unconvincing on virtually every level. What charm it has stems from the quirky convergence of several different genres, but Peter Fonda's third directorial outing is all but sunk by Brooke Shields' critically deficient performance." Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune awarded 2 stars out of 4 and called it "a desperate film trying to make it through in bits and pieces rather than through one consistently written script." Kevin Thomas of the Los Angeles Times was generally positive and wrote, "It's all stuff and nonsense—your typical 'relationship' movie—but it's pretty ingratiating all the same. The neophyte Hackin seems a born storyteller, and Fonda, who also directs, brings a depth of perception and feeling to 'Wanda Nevada' that makes it quite appealing." Rick Groen of The Globe and Mail declared the film "the least able fable imaginable. Screenwriter Dennis Hackin's idea of profundity is to toss in characters and ideas like so many candies into a grab bag, and with just as much substance ... It also contains every piece of cliched Western dialogue ever uttered. One kindly assumes that was deliberate, but cliches in themselves, put to no larger purpose, don't make a film camp or ironic. They just make it bad."
- Thomas, Bob (July 6, 1979). "'Wanda Nevada:' Henry Fonda makes a guest appearance in Peter's film". The Prescott Courier.
- "Oklahoma City". BoxOffice. May 28, 1979. S3. "'Wanda Nevada' (UA) opened May 25 ion a saturation booking throughout this trade territory."
- "UA's 4,000 Prints; Summer Period". Variety. June 6, 1979. 5. "Peter Fonda's 'Wanda Nevada' (he directed and toplines with Brooke Shields) opened over the Memorial Day weekend in various territories..."
- "Wanda Nevada". The New York Times.
- D'Arc, James V. (2010). When Hollywood came to town: a history of moviemaking in Utah (1st ed.). Layton, Utah: Gibbs Smith. ISBN 9781423605874.
- Goldman, Lowell (Fall 1990). "Peter Fonda: I Know What It's Like to Be Dead". Psychotronic Video. No. 7. p. 36.
- McCarthy, Todd (May 30, 1979). "Film Reviews: Wanda Nevada". Variety. 16.
- Siskel, Gene (September 14, 1979). "See Nevada, maybe—but pass up 'Wanda'". Chicago Tribune. Section 3, p. 7.
- Thomas, Kevin (September 5, 1979). "'Wanda Nevada': Honest Hokum". Los Angeles Times. Part IV, p. 16.
- Groen, Rick (May 31, 1979). "'Gold in them thar hills'". The Globe and Mail. 13.