The Golden Gate Bridge of San Francisco isn’t the only landmark in the city that catches the attention of visitors! A look at this list will tell you that there are quite a few landmark movies that help the city garner the attention of audiences, even when they are halfway across the world! A city that is well known for its culture, its architecture, its cable cars, its beautiful hills, as well as a long list of cultural and educational institutions, San Francisco sure makes quite an impact on screen too and has to its name several great movies that have the city or its people as the backdrop. In this list of Ten Awesome Movies Straight Out of San Francisco!, we bring to you some of the best movies out there that pay homage to the city in some way or the other.
Basic Instinct may be well-known for that one scene where Sharon Stone takes everyone’s breaths away, but there is also a San Francisco connection to the movie that very few people outside of the city may know about. Well, for starters, it is set against the backdrop of San Francisco, linking it directly to one of the most popular cities in America. Detective Nick Curran, played by the dashing Michael Douglas, is one of the most efficient detectives in the San Francisco police force but cannot really stand the seduction that comes his way when he begins investigating Catherine Tramell, played by Sharon Stone, for the murder of rockstar Johnny Boz, played by Bill Cable. What ensues is a web of seduction, sex, lies, and build, with every passing moment in the film bringing the audience to the edge of their seats, for more reasons than one! Although the movie is now well-known for its San Francisco connection, filming schedules in the city were not without their share of troubles. In fact, protests by gay and lesbian rights activists even forced riot police to be present during filming within the city.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Rise of the Planet of the Apes was a hit with audiences, raking in $481 million against the $93 million budget that was poured into making it, and that the entire movie is set in San Francisco, with even the testing facility showcased in the movie based here — here’s where it all begins — makes it a special movie for the city. There are various San Francisco landmarks that make an appearance throughout the movie but especially impactful are the scenes at the San Francisco Zoo, the Muir Woods National Monument that is a part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, the iconic Golden Gate Bridge, and the San Francisco International Airport. Apart from the sights of the city, the movie itself was quite an impactful one, showcasing how not all experiments that humans run on animals end on a good note, and how animals, despite the treatment meted out to them by humans, often find it in their hearts to forgive and forget. A movie with several dramatic twists and turns and one that went on to spur other sequels including Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and War for the Planet of the Apes, Rise of the Planet of the Apes was particularly noted for its ability to lend distinct characteristics to each of its animal protagonists, a feature that lent a lot of depth to the film.
When Clint Eastwood walks the streets of San Francisco as Inspector “Dirty” Harry Callahan with his iconic Smith & Wesson Model 29 revolver chambered for the equally iconic .44 Magnum cartridge, you know all hell is about to break loose, and that’s what the premise for Dirty Harry was all about — a ruthless cop treating criminals in a way he thought best, and all this while tracking down a serial killer. The film turned out to be such an iconic one for Clint’s character that there were four more sequels that followed this one — Magnum Force, The Enforcer, Sudden Impact, and The Dead Pool. With several lines from the movie like “Well, do you punk?” and “My, that’s a big one,” achieving cult status, this one was always meant to be the perfect vehicle for Clint Eastwood’s unique style of delivering justice in the most deadpan manner possible. Only, this time the brilliant actor was doing it on the streets of San Francisco and not in the dry landscape of the deserts and saloons of the West! Throughout the movie, several famous San Francisco locations made an appearance, including the Bank of America building, the Holiday Inn Chinatown, the Sts. Peter and Paul Church, Big Al’s, Washington Square, North Beach, Mount Davidson, Kezar Stadium, and more, making Dirty Harry a true blue San Francisco cop movie!
Zodiac even has a connection to the plot of Dirty Harry, but that doesn’t take anything away from this brilliant film that has you on the edge at all times, and not just because it’s about the hunt for a serial killer either. It’s just the portrayals and unique cinematography of this mystery thriller that gets to you. Led by a star cast consisting of Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo, Robert Downey Jr., Anthony Edwards, Brian Cox, Elias Koteas, Donal Logue, John Caroll Lynch, Dermot Mulroney, and Chloe Sevigny, among others, this David Fincher film is everything you cannot imagine when you try to picture a crime drama that revolves around the hunt for a serial killer. In fact, the movie is so different from the normal fare that Hollywood usually doles out in the name of murder and crime dramas that even The Guardian praised it for its “sheer cinematic virility”. Although the deliberate lack of over-the-top sequences in the film was pointed out by critics as one of its cons, and attention was also brought to the fact that the brilliance the actors held seldom made it to the screen, Zodiac is still well-known and recognized as a pretty accurate portrayal of what must have gone on in the 70s when the Zodiac Killer was doing the rounds of the San Francisco Bay Area.
A Woody Allen film is usually as different and unique as Woody himself, and that’s what Blue Jasmine is, a distinctive ode to Woody’s unique style of filmmaking and a portrayal of complicated characters that hold a world of drama within themselves. In this one, it’s the enigmatic Cate Blanchett who carries off the role of a Manhattan socialite who is forced to retreat to life in San Francisco after the mystery that is life nudges her the wrong way, and boy does she excel at it! And while it is no wonder that Cate won in the Best Actress category at the Academy Awards that year, we’d like to think that the tremendous success and accolades that came the movie’s way also had a bit to do with San Francisco! Set mostly in the city, with some of the portions being filmed in New York too, the movie depicts life here against the one that a New York socialite lives and brings to the fore the eventual fall of a narcissist when faced with realities that just cannot be denied anymore. In the main protagonist’s own words, this one is filled with “anxiety, nightmares, and a nervous breakdown” of one’s own doing, and keeps audiences captivated throughout. Blue Jasmine was also a runaway hit at the box office, raking in a cool $99 million as against the original production budget of $18 million.
Labeled by most list as the “Greatest Film Ever Made” and one that holds the top spot when it comes to film noir psychological thrillers, Vertigo is what you would recognize as a movie that raised the bar for others that would come after it. And very few managed to even come close! Set in San Francisco, the film follows the adventures of John “Scottie” Ferguson, played by James Stewart, who has developed a fear of heights as well as vertigo after, and after his retirement from the police force, is hired by a seemingly worried husband to keep an eye on his wife who has been behaving extremely strangely lately. The dramatic events portrayed in the movie, as well as the psychological struggles faced by the main protagonist, all come together to make this Alfred Hitchcock work one of the most gripping yet disturbing ones. Although the audiences of the time received the film with mixed reactions, the movie soon grew to be the classic cult film it is recognized as today. So dedicated was Alfred Hitchcock to the San Francisco angle of the movie that he had handed the worked and reworked script of the film to Samuel A. Taylor so that he could capture in it the essence of the city. Even today, many locations that are featured in Vertigo are visited by fans to relive a movie that is still recognized as the perfect Hitchcock concoction.
Just off the coast of San Francisco, approximately a mile and a quarter out into the sea lies the Alcatraz Island that houses the infamous Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary, and while the location of the prison itself gives it a rather eerie hue, the many movies that used the setting to add more drama to its plot sure made the most of it. And among them is The Rock, a movie that doesn’t just make use of the prison and its element of danger but goes all out and uses the prison and Alcatraz Island as the primary locations for its entire plot. While the past that Alcatraz carries is often the inspiration for several stories of near-impossible escapes from the island — going by what everyone knows of the currents, a near-impossible task that no one on record has accomplished — this Michael Bay movie plays out in the modern era when the prison complex and island was already converted into a tourist attraction. Led by a star cast that includes Sean Connery, Nicolas Cage, and Ed Harris, the movie revolves around a group of Marines who feel it is their right to procure $100 million for the families of their comrades who were killed on various missions. Although their hearts seemed to be in the right place, the fact that they had in their possession rockets armed with nerve gas pushes the entire plan into a bad light. With loads of action as well as dramatic twists that do complete justice to the plot, The Rock remains a treat for those who love action thrillers as well as those who love Alcatraz Island!
The Princess Diaries
When you have the real-life mayor of a city playing a cameo in a film, you know that this film can truly be dedicated to the city! And that’s one angle that The Princess Diaries will always be about, at least as far as San Francisco is concerned! And no, we are not making this up! The then-mayor of San Francisco, Mayor Willie Brown, did indeed appear in the movie! And to think that the movie was initially planned against the backdrop of New York City and was even named The Princess of Tribeca in line with that idea, which we are glad was stopped just in time! Revolving around the life of a good-hearted and quirky Mia Thermopolis, played to perfection by the talented Anne Hathaway, and how her simple life in San Francisco is suddenly jolted when she discovers that she is the princess of a European kingdom named Genovia, the film is an innocent one that is fun in every way and certainly shows just how even clean and unadulterated humor can make for a fun movie! And even though the storyline of The Princess Diaries seemed over-the-top to some, we think a modern fairytale is always around the corner and in its own way, is played out on the streets of every city without us even knowing it!
Every once in a while, rising from the frivolities of all that entertainment is usually about, comes a movie that towers above the rest for more reasons than one. And Milk can surely be counted among these few works. As a movie that explored and brought to the screen the extreme difficulties of being an openly gay person in America in decades as late as the 1960s and the 1970s, this one was not just a landmark movie for its flamboyant, courageous, and honest handling of the issue of civil rights to the gay and lesbian community, but also made headlines for its absolutely touching performances by a cast that included names such as Sean Penn, Emilie Hirsch, Josh Brolin, Diego Luna, and James Franco. And standing true to its original setting, several sequences in the movie were filmed on the famous Castro Street of San Francisco too. And throughout the film, one can easily recognize several of the city’s landmarks and backdrops. The film made an impact as soon as it found audiences, and this impact also resulted in several awards and accolades, including Academy Award wins in the Best Actor category for Sean Penn, in the Best Original Screenplay category for Dustin Lance Black, and of course, top honors in the form of a Best Picture Oscar.
The Pursuit of Happyness
Bringing to the screen a true story that played out on the streets, alleys, subways, and shelters for the homeless in San Francisco over a period of one year, The Pursuit of Happyness is a movie that is a winner for several reasons. One, it is inspired by a true story based on the life of Chris Gardner, a salesman who never gave up the struggle for a good life for his son and himself even after going homeless, and how this struggle leads him to challenge his own worth, eventually making him a successful stockbroker, businessman, and millionaire. Two, it is led by a stellar cast, which includes names such as Will Smith and Jaden Smith, and one just cannot deny the natural chemistry, warmth, and even occasional distance that is displayed by the father-son duo throughout the film. Three, it is a movie that isn’t just another rags to riches story, it is a movie that talks more about the rags than the riches, showing people how even the most dismal of circumstances can be left behind if we are only willing to work hard with grit and determination. Four, it’s a well-made movie, that although isn’t entirely based on facts — the real Chris Gardner has often commented on certain departures in the film — makes quite an impact by staying as close to the real thing as possible. And five, The Pursuit of Happyness is a San Francisco story that has hope and happiness written all over it!
Let’s Wave San Francisco Goodbye For Now!
On this list of Ten Awesome Movies Straight Out of San Francisco!, there are stories that inspire, stories that touch your heart, and even stories that send you hurtling towards fear, but then aren’t these emotions what every city dweller feels each night they spend on the streets of some of the most famous cities in the world? And just like most other cities, San Francisco also has its own flavors and vibes, and while most movies in this list do justice to the many hues of the city and its people, only a real visit to San Francisco can help you experience what this Californian city is all about!
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