While the most iconic film image of Philadelphia comes from Rocky, there is more to the city than the Art Museum's lengthy staircase. Other directors have been drawn to the city for its multiple faces and unique scenery, and while any movies focus on Philadelphia's gritty underbelly, some highlight its diversity and vibrant arts scene. No matter the motivation behind the location choice, movies shot in Philadelphia inherit the city's well-defined, unapologetic attitude.
The historical importance of Philadelphia is highlighted in the movie National Treasure. When Nicholas Cage's character races to unravel the coded message on the back of the Declaration of Independence, it leads him to the birthplace of liberty. In Philadelphia's Independence Hall, Cage discovers a prized possession of Benjamin Franklin that helps him on his journey. While the city's cameo is brief, it serves a pivotal purpose and reminds the audience of Philadelphia's important place in our nation's history.
- Related Guide Links
- Independence Hall
Dawn of the Dead
In George A. Romero's 1978 The Dawn of the Dead, zombies flood the streets of Philadelphia and plague its citizens and buildings. The movie's main characters are TV station workers and policemen living in Philadelphia until zombies overrun their apartment complex. In a slyly insulting gesture, Philadelphia becomes a city of the living dead while the main characters take refuge in a deserted mall in Monroeville, PA. The movie's action is mainly confined to the Monroeville mall, but some of the filming also took place in Pittsburgh.
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen
The sequel to the initial Transformers film, Revenge of the Fallen takes the characters across the coast to Philadelphia. As in real life, Shia LeBouf's character attends the University of Pennsylvania. The University's campus with its majestic quad and redbrick buildings is heavily featured in the movie's first half. Having been distracted from his studies by otherworldly duties, LeBouf's and Megan Fox's characters race across the Schuylkill River to take shelter in the crumbling Eastern State Penitentiary. The image of the Transformers hunkering down within the courtyard of the Penitentiary is a delight to Philadelphia residents, many of whom pass by the old prison on their morning commute.
- Related Guide Links
- Eastern State Penitentiary
The plot of Witness primarily plays out in the quiet, scenic farmlands of Lancaster County. True to the movie, Lancaster County is, in real life, heavily populated by members of the Amish community. When the characters venture outside of the peaceful country and into the big, scary city, trouble starts. In Philadelphia's 30th Street Station, a young Amish boy witnesses a murder and must then accept the protection of a roughened city cop, Harrison Ford. While Philadelphia's appearance in Witness is brief, it captures the magnitude and grandeur of 30th Street Station's architecture. When entering the station, people are immediately greeted by the massive metal sculpture of an angel cradling a dying man. As haunting as it is in the movie, the sculpture is even more impressive in person.
- Related Guide Links
- 30th Street Station
Brian de Palma's movies: Dressed to Kill
Brian de Palma is another director hailing from Philadelphia who pays homage to his roots. In Dressed To Kill, the Philadelphia Art Museum's interior in used in place of New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art. The thriller Blow Out features more sites of the city, racing from 30th Street Station to the banks of the Schuylkill River to Penn's Landing on the Delaware River. In one of the most memorable scenes, John Travolta's character is engaged in a car chase that takes him through the City Hall courtyard and then crashes him into the window display of the former Wanamaker's Department Store on Market Street.
Terry Gilliam's dark sci-fi thriller, Twelve Monkeys, excavates Philadelphia's abandoned and dilapidated buildings that mirror the inner corruption of its characters' minds. Bruce Willis' character travels through time, from City Hall and Penn Square to the Eastern State Penitentiary. The now defunct Eastern State Penitentiary was constructed in 1829 under Quaker Principles emphasizing solitary confinement for all prisoners. The claustrophobic nature of the prison is heightened by its disuse and capitalized on in its eerie appearances in this film. The prison of the future, meanwhile, is actually Philadelphia's Richmond Power Station. Further delving into the city's seedy underbelly, the movie also features the abandoned and rundown Met Theatre, and the formerly majestic, but now heavily-vandalized Ridgeway Library.
In Trading Places, Eddie Murphy and Dan Akroyd are let loose to run amok in the streets of Philadelphia. Showcasing the city's gentler side, the movie opens with shots panning through Boathouse Row and the Schuylkill Expressway, the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall and City Hall to West Philadelphia and the El Train. Trading Places depicts Philadelphia's broad social and ethnic diversity through characters of different social spheres. 'Legless' Billy Ray, Eddie Murphy's character, is introduced begging in Rittenhouse Square, a park in Center City. Billy Ray eventually swaps places with a wealthy businessman, Dan Akroyd's character, and moves up to a swanky apartment on Delancy Street in Old City. Also featured in the movie is the old Fidelity Bank building and 30th Street Station.
M. Night Shyamalan's films: The Sixth Se
Having grown up in Philadelphia, M.Night Shyamalan stays close to his roots when filming his suspenseful horror movies, The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, and The Village. Shyamalan's loyalty to his hometown may have more to do with his understanding of Philadelphia's more sinister side than a dedication to encouraging its tourism industry. Without any featured iconic sites and memorials, his movies seem to take place in an anonymous city, devoid of context, setting an immediate sense of unease. In the haunting The Sixth Sense, Haley Joel Osmont's character and his mother live in northwest Philadelphia, but most of the plot takes place around the historic Old City and Society Hill. Most of the footage for Unbreakable was shot in a district outside the city, Manayunk, and at Franklin Field. The removed residents of The Village were actually located in a wooded area nearby Center City and occasionally in forested areas outside of the city. Similar to his movies, Shyamalan is a mysterious, almost anonymous resident of Philadelphia.
While many directors choose Philadelphia as their movie's location for its darker reputation, Jonathan Demme emphasizes the city's liberal, progressive side in his movie Philadelphia. The movie opens with a montage of iconic city sights, including the sleek Liberty Place, the Benjamin Franklin Bridge stretching over the Delaware River, and, of course, the Liberty Bell. Establishing a foreground of images representing liberty, Demme delves into the tragic tale of AIDs prejudice in modern America. Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington mainly roam within the downtown area surrounding City Hall, through there were also filming locations in South Philadelphia and University City. The movie's climatic court scenes unfold within a courtroom in City Hall, one of the most architecturally impressive buildings in Philadelphia.
- Related Guide Links
- City Hall
Rocky and several sequels
Perhaps symbolically, the movie that is most iconic of Philadelphia is the tale of an underdog triumphing over adversity, Rocky. Sylvester Stallone took very tight control over the production of the script he wrote and made a point of including scenery from the city where he was raised. Rocky, the character, lives in the neighborhood of Kensington in Northern Philadelphia. During his training, Rocky runs past City Hall and through South Philadelphia and the Italian Market. The most memorable scene in the movie, of course, takes place on the steps of the Philadelphia Art Museum. To this day, you can witness tourists and locals alike running up the 68 steps, most likely humming the song Gonna Fly Now to themselves. One of the biggest draws in the city is the statue of Rocky posing in triumph at the bottom of the steps. This statue is never without company, as tourists flock in to take pictures of themselves sharing Rocky's glory.