There is no doubt that Hollywood is the movie capital of the Western world. The streets and avenues may not be paved with dreams but there are stars, studios and stories essential to our movie history around every corner.
Capturing the American City on camera, even going so far as to include the city as a character in the films however pretentious that may sound, has long been a feature of urban cinema. The diverse nature of the American city has given rise to many different types of stories, set against many different backdrops, but they are all part of the wide expanse of America’s cinematic heritage.
While L. A. movies have been covered often before, we are here to look at other American cities, the films that were based there, and how their character is captured on the screen.
The glittering diamond in the rough of the Nevada desert has provided a stunning location for films over the years. Martin Scorsese’s Casino is a solid example of how the excess and success of a city warps and controls characters and their fates. Las Vegas is a place with the seedy and the showy exist side-by-side.
Filmmakers have often chosen to focus on the big night out, while ignoring the bleak morning after. The Hangover films base their entire hook on this principle. And Las Vegas’s credo of partying like there’s no tomorrow has provided some tumultuous consequences when dawn rises over the spilled jewels of the Las Vegas strip.
Iconic Las Vegas films
- Casino, Martin Scorsese, 1995.
- Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Terry Gilliam 1998.
- Showgirls, Paul Verhoeven, 1995.
- Leaving Las Vegas, Mike Figgis, 1995.
- The Hangover, Todd Phillips, 2009
The city which never sleeps, a muse to filmmakers throughout the last century, the showcase for culture, gentrification, and the human rush of hope and hard work – New York is home to many iconic, and iconically American, films.
Woody Allen’s Manhattan was a love letter to its high rises and high hopes, it was a sprawling metropolis for Kevin McAllister when his parents lost him for a second time, and its famous 5th Avenue was the setting for one of the most beautiful movie openings of all time when Holly Golightly decided to take Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
Iconic New York films
- Taxi Driver (1976)
- Dog Day Afternoon (1975)
- Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
- Manhattan (1979)
- Do the Right Thing (1989)
- King Kong (1933)
The bullish, blocky high-rises of the financial district and the sweeping vistas of commerce and communal living have played their part in many diverse Chicago-bound films over the years. If it was not for the University of Chicago, Harry would never have met Sally; if not for the persistence of its police force Richard Kimble may never have been able to protest his innocence and remained The Fugitive for the rest of his life.
And those who have enjoyed the award-winning documentary Hoop Dreams, the 1994 documentary about a couple of Chicago teenagers hoping to become professional basketball players, will know the overwhelming presence of the city of Chicago as it relates to the character of the young men as well as their fates.
- High Fidelity (2000)
- Return to Me (2000)
- The Untouchables (1987)
- About Last Night… (1986)
- The Fugitive (1993)
- The Blues Brothers (1980)
Home to the hip, the hopeful and the huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the western coast of America has played an integral part in some of cinema’s most engaging films. Alfred Hitchcock was an Englishman abroad when he captured the vastness and the eerie atmosphere of the uneven streets in Vertigo. Changing tack a little Dwayne Johnson saved the city from itself, and the massive earthquake which is predicted to take place sometime soon, in the recent disaster movie San Andreas.
On the small screen the TV series, and recent Netflix series, Tales of the City painted a gloriously rich and colourful San Francisco. Barbary Lane has long been a beacon of hope and acceptance for generations, and the locale of San Francisco and its many dynamic neighbourhoods made this the perfect place for Armistead Maupin’s celebrated stories.
Iconic San Francisco films
- Bullitt (1968)
- Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)
- Mrs. Doubtfire (1993)
- The Rock (1996)
- Dirty Harry (1971)
Nestled between the states of New York and Pennsylvania, the Garden State is home to some big screen classics not least indie classics Being John Malkovich, Be Kind Rewind and Zach Braff’s aptly-named Garden State. Spielberg set some of his Kubrick-inspired A.I. in Jersey, Jack Black’s School of Rock had its home here, and members of the online betting New Jersey community were pleased to see George Clooney appearing in scenes set in N.J. in Ocean’s Eleven.
And where would the cinema of New Jersey be without its godfather Kevin Smith? Just this week Smith’s breakout hit Clerks was entered into the National Film Registry, with Mallrats, Chasing Amy, Dogma, Jersey Girl and the various reboots and sequels each having its heart firmly set in the historic city.
Iconic New Jersey films
- Clerks (1994)
- Atlantic City (1980)
- War of the Worlds (2005)
- Happiness (1998)
- Ransom (1996)
- Alice, Sweet Alice (1976)