San Francisco is known through the world as being extremely liberal, a gay Mecca for the “outsider,” and the city covered by the rolling fog. But what about films based in San Francisco? Are there a lot? Everything is based in New York City, and After the success of Paris, I Love You, the sequel will be based in New York. So sad to think of San Francisco as the neglected metropolis. Well, inspired by the upcoming San Francisco-based film, Milk, I feel I should showcase 7 films that give San Francisco an invaluable reputation. And yes, they must be filmed in San Francisco. If I forgot any prestigious film, let me know because my film knowledge of San Francisco films is limited.
Vertigo deserves to be called the ultimate San Francisco film because of its extensive location footage and how central the city is to the plot. In interviews, director Alfred Hitchcock even stated that he fell in love with the city and based another film in the San Francisco Bay Area (a la The Birds). The plot twists are reflective by the city w much noted observation of the steep hills, expansive views, and tall, arching bridges. The driving scenes with actor James Stewart have him pictured down the city’s steeply inclined streets. Many prominent landmarks are showcased in Vertigo such as the Palace of Fine Arts, Coit Tower, the Golden Gate Bridge, Mission Dolores, and the California Palace of the Legion of Honor. For years, Vertigo has attracted tourists to San Francisco. Nothing in the past 50 years beats Vertigo has it shows its love for San Francisco.
Bullitt is another film that uses extensive location footage of San Francisco. Its most famous scene is the car chase through downtown San Francisco, which has become one of the most influential car chases in the cinema world. In a matter of minutes, the car chase races through Mission district, Potrero Hill, Bernal Dsitrict, Coit Tower, Hyde Street, Filbert Street, Angel Island, Larkin Street, Francisco Street, Laguna Street, Van Ness, the Marina, and Fort Mason. Reflective of the times, Bullit presents San Francisco in its 1960s hey day.
The Wedding Planner (2001)
The Wedding Planner may not be the greatest movie of all time, but at least its an enjoyable ride through San Francisco. The Wedding Planner has prominent scenes in the Civic Center, the Music Concourse, and the Japanese Tea Garden. One of the highlights for me was seeing Jennifer Lopez watching an old Hollywood film at Dolores Park (A practice continued to this day). It presents a picture perfect image of San Francisco without any fog. But what are romantic comedies for without glossy perfection?
The Princess Diaries (2001)
The Princess Dairies is a wonderful film based in San Francisco. Oddly enough, the characters felt like they were from San Francisco living the San Franciscan lifestyle. Anne Hathaway is eccentric, and even lives in a San Francisco firehouse. Julie Andrews makes a funny comment by saying “Goodbye Trolley people.” Some famous neighborhoods presented are Pacific Heights, Russian Hill, and Seal Rocks. Former Mayor Willie Brown makes an appearance in the final act giving an authentic feel for a San Francisco movie.
The Lady From Shanghai (1948)
The Lady From Shanghai is a wonderful film noir climaxing in San Francisco inside the house of mirrors. Although the portrayals of Chinese people is highly offensive (but what film from Orson Welles isn’t racist), the film does have nice San Francisco sets. Prominent locations are Portsmouth Square, Golden Gate Park, the Chinese Opera House, the Hall of Justice, and Sunsing Theater on Grant Avenue. The Lady From Shanghai portrays San Francisco as seedy and mysterious.
The Rock (1996)
The Rock is a very good action-packed movie with famous scenes in Alcatraz Island, City Hall, Fairmont Hotel, Palace of Fine Arts, Bay Bridge and the Golden Gate Bridge, and Hunter’s Point. Out of all the films on the list, the Rock is a smart action film that soars all over San Francisco.
Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967)
Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner is a great film that deals with interracial marriages in the 1960s. How odd to present racial conflict in one of the most liberal cities of America. Either way, prominent locations are Angel Island, the San Francisco International Airport, and Mel’s Drive Inn Van Ness. This is a famous film with Sidney Poiter and Katharine Hepburn. Also, noted would be that it was Spencer Tracy’s last film.
Here are some notable mentions that didn’t make the list: The Graduate (1967), 40 Days, 40 Nights (2002), Sister Act 1-2 (1992/1993), and Mrs. Doubtfire (1993).
And I feel bad saying this, but there are a lot of films in San Francisco that I haven’t seen yet: Pursuit of Happyness (2006), Dirty Harry (1971), The Towering Inferno (1972), My Pal Joey (1957), What’s Up, Doc? (1972), and Days of Wine and Roses (1962).