Teenyboppers invaded my street earlier this year.
Don’t worry! My double life as a Center City office drone by day and member of One Direction by night remains unknown. No, the teens, parents and unattached stargazers at the end of my street this summer were hoping to catch a glimpse of Liam Hemsworth, in town filming Paranoia, or his fiance Miley Cyrus. (I admit this is a guess; I did not ask if they were actually big Richard Dreyfus fans.)
I didn’t wait on 9th Street along with them, but I get their enthusiasm. I get incredibly, irrationally pumped whenever I see a movie shooting in town, and not just because there’s a chance to see bigger celebrities than, um, Sharon Pinkenson in Rittenhouse Square. Having a movie filmed in Philadelphia is a chance to have a little piece of the city right now preserved forever. Perhaps I am just a local yokel excited about Hollywood stars in my town, but I am unashamed at my excitement. It’s why the only Real World I’ve seen all the way through is season 15.
This Friday, another locally-shot movie, Silver Linings Playbook, opens here. It got rave reviews when it opened the film festival last month and won a bunch of awards at other festivals, including Toronto.
In honor of Silver Linings Playbook‘s release, it’s time for a big ‘ol guide to every movie I’ve ever seen that was filmed or set in Philadelphia. As usual with these things, things are listed in no particular order and I probably forgot some films. I didn’t include movies where Philly stands in for another city, because this article would just be 10,000 words about how much I hate How Do You Know.
Blow Out: “American history trapped in The Twilight Zone,” Roger Ebert wrote of this 1981 Brian De Palma classic, the best movie filmed in Philadelphia and one The AV Club called his best film. The movie follows a B-movie sound effects guy (John Travolta) who thinks he captured a murder while recording sound at a park. Really, the movie has it all: Great performances by Travolta and John Lithgow, stunning visuals, a smart script with great replay value, Dennis Franz. Even the silly scenes are thrilling.
Movie trailers used to be way cooler.
12 Monkeys: This is pretty grim, even for a movie about a convict (Bruce Willis) sent back in time to the 1990s to look for a cure to a virus that wiped out humanity and forced survivors underground. But it’s the best kind of movie sci-fi, where there’s a lot of depth in the plot but the movie’s so thrilling you can also enjoy it as a popcorn thriller. (It reminds me in some ways of the recent Looper.) Plus: Early-thirties Brad Pitt! So dreamy.
Philadelphia: Probably my favorite Tom Hanks performance besides Joe Versus the Volcano. Movie’s a paint-by-numbers attempt at an Academy Award, and, hey, it worked! Hanks won Best Actor and Springsteen won Best Song. It’s an important movie, but without solid acting jobs (Denzel Washington’s very good, too) it would be an after-school special.
Witness: This won two Academy Awards, too, and was nominated for eight! It’s about an Amish boy who witnesses a murder at 30th Street Station, and the cop (Harrison Ford) assigned to the case who falls in love with an Amish girl. It’s good! An SAT-style analogy: Witness:Breaking Amish::Juno:16 & Pregnant. Um, Witness is better than Juno, though.
Trading Places: The funniest movie set in Philadelphia.
The Philadelphia Story: Sure, I’ve seen this. (Two more Academy Awards for this one.)
The Burglar: I shall simply repeat the IMDb description: “Dan Duryea and his cronies rob a fake spiritualist and then take it on the lam to Atlantic City.” That should make you want to see it already, but I’ll add: Jayne Mansfield, actually shot in Philadelphia and it was written by David Goodis.
The Young Philadelphians: Hey, another old movie set on the Main Line! Paul Newman’s in this one.
The Rocky movies
Rocky: I watched this recently, and it’s striking how dark this movie is. Adrian and Rocky’s first meeting in the film is so awkward it’s hard to watch; yeah, the boxing scenes are ridiculous, but even though this wasn’t Best Picture worthy it’s what a sports film should be.
Rocky II: This is a dumber version of Rocky-vs.-Apollo with a happier ending. It’s decent, and is probably the best sports movie sequel of all time, not that there’s much competition.
Rocky III: My friend Bryan Graham, a very good boxing writer for SI, passes along what he calls “one of my favorite facts ever”: Rocky III was nominated for a Japan Academy Prize for Outstanding Foreign Language Film. It lost to E.T.
Rocky IV: This movie has two things going for it: Ivan Drago’s “If he dies, he dies” line and one of the best training montages in sports movie history.
Rocky V: This Rocky movie features Stan Hochman, Elmer Smith and Big Al Meltzer. The less said about the rest of the film, the better.
Rocky Balboa: This film overcomes its one fatal flaw—its antagonist is named Mason “The Line” Dixon—and still manages to be great. This is the only Rocky approaching I and II in quality; that it came out in 2006 and was this entertaining is shocking.
The Shyamalan Movies
Wide Awake: Yeah, this is the Shyamalan movie set at a Catholic school with Denis Leary, Dana Delaney and Rosie O’Donnell.
The Sixth Sense: Watch this movie again sometime and remember how excited you were about a Philadelphia-shot movie being this good. There’s a reason so many people saw this film a bunch of times.
Unbreakable: As good as Sixth Sense is, I like this one even more: Clever story, sensible “twist” ending and Bruce Willis’ invincible security guard at Penn (Franklin State in the film) is one of the best Philadelphia heroes in any movie.
Signs: If the aliens could be easily defeated by water, why’d they come to a place as humid as the Delaware Valley? Mel Gibson’s good in this, though this movie loses points for that stupid Last Kiss urban legend showing up.
The Village: This one has two twists, one of which is completely obvious. People really hate this one, but it’s not that bad.
Lady in the Water: The twist in this film is that M. Night Shyamalan forgot how to direct a movie.
The Happening: Whatever.
Devil: I saw the preview for Devil in theaters and people were kind of into it at first. Then the screen showed “from M. Night Shyamalan” and everyone laughed. Poor M. Night, I guess he only has his friends, family and his enormous piles of money to comfort him. Shyamalan only wrote the story for this one, and it’s fun to go into Comcast Center elevators and ask your fellow passengers which one of them is the devil.
Movies featuring mannequins come to life
Mannequin: The funniest part of this mannequin-comes-to-life movie is how it opens: A mannequin manufacturer (Andrew McCarthy) is fired from his job for taking too long to make mannequins! Don’t worry, pre-Sex and the City Kim Catrall comes to life to make it all better.
Mannequin 2: On the Move: Oh, yeah, they made a second one of these, only with Kristy Swanson this time.
Nicolas Cage movies
Birdy: Underrated drama about the post-war trauma of a Vietnam Vet (a young Matthew Modine). Added bonus: Nicholas Cage doesn’t overact too much in this one!
National Treasure: “I’m going to steal the Declaration of Independence.”
This is the dumbest plot in the world, but who cares? It’s slick and Nicholas Cage says, “I’m going to steal the Declaration of Independence.”
Movies based on Inquirer writers’ books
In Her Shoes: Cameron Diaz is older than Toni Colette but plays the younger sister! This film does contain an incredibly accurate portrayal of how bonkers people were over the Jamaican Jerk Hut in the early 2000s.
Marley & Me: Owen Wilson and Jennifer Aniston as journalists! And a cute puppy.
Other recent films of note
Law Abiding Citizen: Mayor Nutter’s in this one! Like most Jamie Foxx films, he’s energetic enough to make this watchable.
Next Day Air: This is a screwball comedy, so basically it’s the 21st century version of The Philadelphia Story. Also: Wood “Avon Barksdale” Harris in a stoner comedy!
State Property: Um, this is the Beanie Sigel movie, and it’s about as good as you could expect. There’s a sequel, too.
Train Ride: I admit: I did not know of this film until researching this article. But it has Wood Harris and M.C. Lyte!
10th & Wolf: This movie—filmed in Pittsburgh—is legendary among those who have seen it for making literally zero effort to make it seem like it is set in Philadelphia.
Invincible: The Vince Papale (as played by Mark Wahlberg) Story! Sometime in the early 2000s Disney created a division that just cranks out super enjoyable formulaic sports movies, and this is the second-best behind Miracle.
Shooter: This was mostly filmed in Canada, but it has Mark Wahlberg, too! He and Bruce Willis get to be honorary Philadelphians.
Pride: This swimming film with Terrance Howard and Bernie Mac was nominated for an ESPY in 2007, but lost to Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby.