Hollywood of the East: A Top Ten List of Pittsburgh-filmed Movies

5. The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

Christian Bale’s Batman is forced out of an eight-year retirement when the mercenary known as Bane (Tom Hardy) comes to liberate Gotham City from the dreaded 1%.

I grew up with Batman. I remember watching the old reruns of the 1960s series with my grandma. The Tim Burton version from 1989—starring Pittsburgh-native Michael Keaton—is legitimately my first movie memory. I wore the heck out of that VHS tape when I got it. It made me a lifelong fan of not only Batman, but also of Burton, Jack Nicholson and Danny Elfman. So a Batman movie being made in my city was a huge deal for me. I remember everyone complaining that Christopher Nolan’s filming caused all kinds of traffic and delays and I remember wanting to smack those people in the face. This was Batman! In our city! Philadelphia may have Rocky Balboa, but we have Batman!

The Tumbler

If metadata is to be believed, I took this picture on August 10, 2011. I was freaking out! The guy in the picture, however, did not share my sentiment.

Those cantankerous crabs should have left their houses a half hour earlier and marveled at the movie magic happening literally right in front of their faces instead of bellyaching. How much time do we waste complaining?

Anyway, I’m getting off topic.

As a Batman film, Rises is pretty darn good. As a showcase of Pittsburgh, however, it’s wonderful. I will say this though:  being so immersed in these movies from the perspective of a Pittsburgh native makes suspension of disbelief a little difficult in some of the most bizarre ways possible. Let me explain. I have absolutely no problem believing in a man dressed as a bat flying around in a jet trying to apprehend a bomb before it explodes. But take a look at this chase scene near film’s climax and keep an eye open for the red awnings of Macy’s and the Kaufman’s Clock.

Screenshot of Warner Bros.' "The Dark Knight Rises"

Macy’s in the background, its awnings darkened in post-production. Copyright Warner Bros.

 

They’re essentially just driving up and down Smithfield Street.

 

Screenshot of Warner Bros.' "The Dark Knight Rises"

Then, in the next few seconds, there’s Macy’s again, its awnings red. Copyright Warner Bros.

 

For reference, here’s what the Macy’s Downtown and the Kaufman Clock actually look like:

 

Macy's Downtown

Please ignore the Amish panhandlers.

 

Does it ruin the scene for me? Not at all, really. And I’m not even sure “suspension of disbelief” is the correct term. If anything, it’s more immersing.  I get to go up and down Smithfield Street anytime I want and there’s a part of me—the part still filled with childlike wonder—that believes that if I turn around, I’ll see Batman flying behind me.

 

Screenshot of Warner Bros.' "The Dark Knight Rises"

Look! CLP – Downtown and Business is in a Batman movie!  Guys, we’re famous! Copyright Warner Bros.

 

4. Jack Reacher (2012)

I’m not a big Tom Cruise fan; I think his best performance is as Les Grossman in 2008’s Tropic Thunder. I’d also never read any of Lee Child’s books about the ex-military policeman before seeing this movie. So, that was my frame of reference going into it. That said I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. And just like with She’s Out of My League, I’m not sure if I’d enjoy this movie as much as I do if it were filmed elsewhere.

Come on, how cool is it seeing Tom Cruise beat people up in the Strip District? Or go on a car chase that takes him from Route 65 then somehow to the South Side and across the 10th Street Bridge into the Cultural District? I’ll tell you how cool it is. It’s pretty darn cool. Even if there’s no way he could travel from Route 65 to the Cultural District in the amount of time shown in the film. This is another example of that immersion I was talking about. I’ll deal with it if it means seeing more movies filmed here.

Screenshot from Paramount's "Jack Reacher"

What’s a bus for Squirrel Hill doing on Ninth Street? Did the driver decide to make a pit stop at Blush? That’s not even how the buses in Pittsburgh display where they’re going. Ugh. This might as well be a fantasy film with elves eating pierogies.                Copyright Paramount.

 

3. Adventureland (2009)

CMU-alum Greg Mottola’s wonderful coming-of-age film stars Jesse Eisenberg as a recent college graduate who has to take a menial summer job so he can afford to move to New York for grad school. He gets a job at Kennywood, subbing in for the real Adventureland in Long Island. As with most crappy summer jobs, it’s not so much about the work as it is about the friends you make and what you learn from that.

It was an odd time for me when I saw this movie. I too was a recent college graduate with no idea of what I was supposed to do with my life, hoping I’d stumble upon a girl exactly like Kristen Stewart. I suppose it was this perfect storm of circumstances that allowed the film to resonate with me as much as it did. If you’re nostalgic for the summers of the 80s or if you haven’t been to Kennywood yet this summer, go watch it.  Then, maybe follow it up with Sebak’s Kennywood Memories documentary.

Fair warning though, Adventureland is nothing like Mottola’s Superbad. It still has its funny moments, but it’s a much more tender and honest film.  It’s more akin to his work on 2001’s short-lived Undeclared.

 

2. Out of the Furnace (2013)

I’ve already gushed about this movie as much as humanly possible. I will say this one more thing: take a look at Christian Bale’s body of work. Go ahead. I’ll wait. He’s played a rich psychopath, a rich psychopath who dresses up as a bat, a gay journalist, the savior of the human race with the initials J.C., the savior of the human race of the near-future with the initials J.C., a magician, a machinist and a con-man, just to name a few. But his role in this film is one of his best. I think it says so much about his ability as an actor that he’s at his best when he’s playing an everyman. Have you seen it yet? No? Then what are you doing still reading. Go watch it!

 

Which film ranked number one on my list?  Click on to find out!

9 Comments

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9 responses to “Hollywood of the East: A Top Ten List of Pittsburgh-filmed Movies

  1. Great choices, I think. (I have not seen most of them.) I totally agree with your opinion of Groundhog Day, Bill Murray and Christian Bale. I remember going to Pittsburgh as a kid in the 80’s and thinking it was beyond depressing, but in the early 2000’s, my husband and some friends made the trek there to the Strip for a Wilco show and loved the city! There was a cool burger place that put coolslaw and fries ON your burger, the bridges were newly refurbished, and the thin, hilly streets were amazing (in summer…winter? Woah.) Well, guess I have some movies to watch?

  2. Quuxum

    Not even a mention for “The Deer Hunter”?

  3. Innocent Blood, Striking Distance, Zack and Miri Make a Porno, Wonder Boys and Sudden Death were all shot in Pittsburgh and take place there.

  4. Grew up in the ‘burgh. Loved your list. Guess I haven’t paid enough attention because I didn’t realize some of these movies were filmed there. Where’s the Flashdance mention? lol

    Have a great week!

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