Movies that define a city: America

Ah America. How we love to mock you, pick a fight with you and generally belittle you. All in a secret plot to hide how jealous we are of your everything. Sigh. Especially your cities. Grey London just cannot compare with sun drenched San Fran, exciting New York or glitzy LA. So, we decided it was time to honour your cities in this blog, and the films that represent and depict them to the fullest.

New York

Where to start, where to start. King Kong set the standard for gratuitous misuse of the Empire State Building , Men in Black started a conspiracy theory with the whole spaceships in Queens thing, Marilyn Monroe created a new fetish for wind machines in The Seven Year Itch and Audrey Hepburn started a new trend for oddest place to eat your morning bagel in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. If you really want to see the sights of New York though, the best film to curl up in front of is Manhattan. From the opening montage of New York scenes, to that shot of Queensboro bridge, Allen’s flick takes you on a journey around New York and makes you fall in love with everything the city has to offer. Unfortunately the same can’t be said of the characters, but even without the sights, a film with Meryl Streep and Diane Keaton has to be worth seeing. Just forget Woody Allen’s in it and admire the cinematography.

The word of warning for New York falls on the shoulders of Sex and the City. However much you love the culture, the night life and the clothes, do not be tempted into thinking that this film will give you back your New York buzz. It is more concerned with four bitchy self-absorbed middle aged women than showcasing the city in which they live. Avoid.

Los Angeles

The home of film. If you want a whistle stop tour of where’s hot in LA, then watch Sunset Boulevard. For a more modern take on the architecture of the city, the indie flick (500) Days of Summer has some good views and a quirky storyline. For fans of the weird and wacky, Who Framed Roger Rabbit has Bob Hoskins hanging out with cartoons and a storyline that is pure LA, not to mention Jessica Rabbit in that dress. Other notable mentions must go to L.A. Confidential and The Graduate, both fantastic films in their own right. But the ultimate prize goes to Pretty Woman. From the Beverly Wilshire Hotel, down Rodeo Drive and into our hearts, this romantic comedy was a huge success and turned Julia Roberts into a starlet. Over twenty years later, this one is still worth watching.

Now, whatever you do, don’t succumb to City of Angels. As if Meg Ryan wouldn’t put you off anyway, Nicolas Cage as an angel? Please, hand me a sick bucket. So I can throw it at his face.

San Francisco

This sunny city is full of iconic landmarks, from the Golden Gate bridge to the hilly streets. Disney used this city as a setting for its hit The Princess Diaries, which launched the career of one Anne Hathaway. Other child friendly films ran up and down the hilly streets including Dr Dolittle, and crowd pleaser Mrs Doubtfire. But if you want films that showcase the geographical logistics of this unique place, then gritty cop dramas are your thing. Dirty Harry and Bullitt both featured iconic leads (Clint Eastwood and Steve McQueen for those of you hiding under a rock) and fantastically minimalist scripts. But what they also had was passion, drama and gravitas. For the car chase often voted the best ever, Bullitt has to narrowly pip Dirty Harry to the prize for film that depicts San Francisco to the fullest.

But, fair readers, do not be fooled by The Sweetest Thing– just because it has Cameron Diaz and Christina Applegate in it, does not mean it is a chick flick worth seeing. It might be set in San Fran, but you see more of Cameron Diaz’s body than you do the sights of the city. And not in a good way.


The windy city has stunning scenery, being based on the tip of Lake Michigan. But other than The Break Up, which does a good job of moving you round the city from a tourist’s point of view, most iconic Chicago based films aren’t that landmark friendly. The Untouchables is fantastic at portraying prohibition and Al Capone’s reign over the city in the 1920’s and 30’s, and is based on a true story. The Blues Brothers is credited for putting Chicago on the film makers map, with one actor quoted as saying ‘Chicago is one of the stars of the film’. High Fidelity and The Fugitive are also worth a look, but the ultimate Chicago film has to be Chicago. The name says it all, and if you can ignore Richard Gere’s dancing then you will enjoy this romp through the murder, corruption and celebrity culture of the city in the twenties. Plus, Catherine Zeta-Jones looks rather stunning in her flapper get up.

Caution is needed when approaching Public Enemies though. Despite a stella cast, this does nothing for a bygone era except make it seem crass and ludicrous. Johnny Depp and Marion Cotillard have zero chemistry, and the crime set pieces are wooden and contrived. A miss from all perspectives.


So there you have it. A short romp through the great and good of American cities. Without even a mention of Boston, Washington or Detroit- for shame! But if you fancy a period piece, musical, comedy, romantic epic or just want to see what the cities look like, follow the suggestions above. If not, feel free to let us know what you think below. Happy watching!

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