Once in a while, a few movies vividly stand out in our mind. We remember it long after the film is over, not just because the plot is interesting or the acting is top-notch, but because visually ... we just can’t get it out of our head.
Below is the first installment of our “Iconic Movie Locations” series. Here’s a list of 10 films made in the U.S. in which the location becomes a major character in each movie.
Are you ready to take a trip down memory lane? Let’s go!
10. Martha’s Vineyard: Jaws (1975)
Jaws was the first movie that coined the term “summer blockbuster.” Released in 1975, Steven Spielberg’s Jaws set a high benchmark for thriller movies. It went on to be one of the best and most iconic films of all time.
Jaws was filmed on location on the quiet, idyllic island of Martha’s Vineyard. The island at 20 miles long and 9 miles wide is the largest island on the southeastern coast of Massachusetts. In 1974, a location scout, on his way to Nantucket in search of movie locations for Jaws, changed his course when the ferry he was on had to return to the dock because of a snowstorm. To make the best of the situation, he decided to explore the neighboring island of Martha’s Vineyard. He toured the island and fell in love with Edgartown and its sea captains’ homes and white picket fences. He thought the quaintness of the town would make a perfect yin-and-yang contrast to the terror aspect of the movie.
One of the locations on the island used in Jaws was Edgartown’s main thoroughfare Water Street. The parade scene was filmed here as well as the scene when the sheriff came into town after he heard about the first missing person.
Here’s the same intersection on Water Street taken a few years ago. Not much has changed.
In addition to its idyllic New England island settings, Martha’s Vineyard had at the time a wide and shallow shoreline (the water was no more than 30-feet deep even 12 miles out to sea). This was ideal for the filming of Jaws. The shallow water enabled the crew to control the mechanical shark more effectively. That summer, Martha’s Vineyard played its most famous Hollywood role to date - that of Amity Island.
Before Jaws came out, the average summer tourist population of Martha’s Vineyard was approximately 5,000 people. After its release in the summer of 1975, visitors ballooned to 15,000 (same as the population of its year-round residents). Jaws was the first feature movie to film on Martha’s Vineyard. Since then, a series of productions have joined its footsteps turning Martha’s Vineyard into a popular film spot.
Jaws marks the beginning of Spielberg’s career. Thirty-seven years later, people are still trying to relive and recapture that nostalgic time in Martha’s Vineyard’s history. If you’d like to read more about the making of Jaws, check out this recently-published book Jaws: Memories from Martha’s Vineyard. Here’s a video clip about the book and that magic summer of 1974.
The next time you have a chance to visit the library in person (located at the intersection of 42nd Street and 5th Avenue), come inside to the great hall and you’ll see the famous staircase where Carrie ran down in tears after she found out Big wasn’t going to show up for the wedding.
Here’s a photo of the same staircase taken this past March when I was location scouting in New York. It’s even grander in person.
One of the most beautiful historic landmarks of Manhattan, the New York Public Library officially opened on on May 24, 1911 after 16 years of planning and construction. On the day of the opening, the Library housed 75 miles of shelvings plus over a million books, and hosted close to 50,000 curious and excited visitors.
Today, the Library has 90 different locations and branches throughout Manhattan, the Bronx, and Staten Island. Each year, the Library serves an average of 16 million people. Its website has approximately 28 million visits annually from more than 200 countries.
As to its fame in Hollywood, the New York Public Library has also been featured in many other films and television productions. Some of these include Spiderman (2002), Spiderman 3 (2007),The Day After Tomorrow (2004), 13 Going On 30 (2004), The Thomas Crown Affair (1999), Ghost Busters (1984), Maid in Manhattan (2002), and most recently The Adjustment Bureau (2011) - as seen in the photos below.
8. Maine North High School: The Breakfast Club (1985)
I feel privileged to have grown up in the 80s and be a part of the generation that grew up with John Hughes films. I remember where I was when I saw each one for the first time. John Hughes was a super-talented, prolific screenwriter and filmmaker. He had an eerie insight into the psyche of a teenager’s soul. Among his many coming-of-age films, my top favorites are Some Kind of Wonderful (1987), Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986), Pretty in Pink (1986), Sixteen Candles (1984) and ...The Breakfast Club (1985).
The Breakfast Club, shot entirely in sequence, is almost a right of passage for all young adults. Perhaps because the movie was set in a single location (the library of the fictional Shermer High School). Perhaps because that location was one in which all teenagers could relate to. Somehow, the setting of the The Breakfast Club imprints itself into the hearts and minds of its viewers. When we think of the movie, we see our favorite Breakfast Club characters in that familiar library ... the spacious room lined with bookshelves, catalog drawers, and pristine student desks.
The library in which the movie was filmed was located in the gymnasium of Maine North High School (Des Plaines, Illinois). The library was actually a movie set constructed specifically forThe Breakfast Club. At the time of filming, the school had already been closed for two years. In 1986, the school’s interior was once again used as a filming location for another popular John Hughes movie, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Today, the Maine North High School building serves as a working police station.
7. Seaside, Florida: The Truman Show (1998)
The first time I saw The Truman Show, I thought its setting had to be pure Hollywood magic. The storybook cottages, airy porches, and white picket fences in the seaside town where Truman lives all seem too perfect to be real. But I was wrong. The Truman Show was filmed on location in a real-life seaside town called ... aptly ... Seaside. Seaside is a beach cottage community in Seagrove Beach, Florida, now probably one of the most recognized beach towns in the world.
Being a film location for a major featured film has many upsides. In addition to attracting more tourists and visitors to its pristine beaches and town, the money Seaside earned from being a film location for The Truman Show enabled it to build the Seaside Neighborhood School, which also doubles as the town’s assembly hall.
Seaside was the brain-child of builder and developer Robert Davis. Dreaming of his own idyllic family vacations by the sea, Davis asked Miami architects Andres Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk to help him build a walkable small town filled with “wood-frame cottages so well adapted to the climate that they enhanced the sensual pleasure of life by the sea.” Seaside’s “walk-to-anywhere” design encourages its residents to leave their cars home and take pleasure in walking or biking around town.
Seaside has its own shops, market, restaurants, post office, bookstore and school. There are also art galleries, a florist, an ice cream store, and of course bicycle shops. If you’d like to experience Seaside for yourself, there are plenty of cottages available for daily or weekly rentals. Explore this picturesque town and you’ll fall in love with its simple way of life. You’ll also see why it is such an iconic movie location today.
6. Cheoah Dam, Graham County: The Fugitive (1993)
In 1993, The Fugitive was one of the highest-grossing films of the year. The movie, starring Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones, made over $183 million domestically and $368 million worldwide. One of the movie’s most memorable scenes is the tunnel chase sequence between Kimble (Harrison Ford) and Gerard (Tommy Lee Jones) that eventually leads to Kimble’s shocking swan dive into the towering dam (sorry for the spoiler here if you haven’t seen the movie yet).
The dam used in the movie is the Cheoah Dam, in Graham County, North Carolina. It lies across the Tennessee River and is operated by the Tennessee Valley Authority. The working dam, built between 1916 and 1919, is now nicknamed by the locals as “The Fugitive Dam.” It provides hydroelectric power and has been undergoing renovation recently.
The exterior shots of the showdown sequence mentioned above were filmed at the Cheoah Dam. The interior shots of the tunnel chase scene, however, had to be filmed in Chicago for one simple reason: the Cheoah Dam doesn’t have any tunnels. This leads to one small (or not so small) goof in the movie: the wide shots of Kimble falling into the water clearly show that there is no tunnel mouth for him to be falling out of.
If you’d like to visit this iconic film location, the Cheoah Dam is located in the heart of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. You can reach it via U.S. 129 south out of Knoxville, Tennessee. Once there, switch to North Carolina state Route 28 and head east along the lakeside for a breathtaking view of the dam.
Keep in mind that this is a working dam, so you won’t be able to access it freely. Since the dam is located in the national park, there are plenty of fun things to do in the area. To research for your trip, visit the Great Smoky Mountains National Park website.
5. Dead Horse Point State Park: Thelma & Louise (1991)
In 1991, we all fell in love with the spunky, free-spirited duo Thelma & Louise. We cheered them on as they tried to break free from their suppressive, conventional life. We teared up when the two fugitives took the final leap of faith and drove their car over the cliff into the Grand Canyon (sorry for the spoiler here!).
In reality, the location wasn’t the Grand Canyon. This powerful ending was filmed at Fossil Point in Dead Horse Point State Park, in the Moab area of Utah.
The Park overlooks the Colorado River and Canyonlands National Park covering 5,362 acres of high desert at an altitude of 5,900 feet. It’s not surprising that the view from Dead Horse Point is one of the most photographed landscapes in the world.
The Moab area is no stranger to Hollywood. Countless of movies have been filmed there including Con-Air (1996), Mission Impossible II (1999), Vertical Limit (1999), Star Trek (2008), and 127 Hours (2010).
4. The Bench in Chippewa Square: Forrest Gump (1994)
“My momma always said, ‘Life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get,’” said Forrest Gump as he began telling his stories to the woman sitting on the bench next to him. The iconic bench and bus stop scene (see below) was filmed in Chippewa Square, Savannah, Georgia.
Forrest Gump was released in 1994 to immediate public adoration. Since then I’ve seen the movie over a dozen times. My friends and I memorize practically the entire movie script. We periodically quote Forrest in our daily conversations with each other.
Visitors to Savannah today still go to Chippewa Square looking for the Forrest Gump bench. It is no longer there. But you can still visit the bench (or a replica of it) at the Savannah History Museum, located at 303 Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. It is probably the most famous bench in movie history.
3. The Steps in Front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art: Rocky (1976)
Whenever someone mentions the movie Rocky, I (and millions of other Rocky fans) immediately envision that one famous, uplifting scene from the film. You know which one I’m talking about.
To prepare for his big fight, Rocky Balboa (Sylver Stallone) began a training regimen of early morning runs through the streets of Philadelphia that led him to the top of the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. As Rocky finished sprinting up the Museum steps, his arms triumphantly raised above his head, and music from “Gonna Fly Now” cheering him on, he unknowingly created one of the most iconic images in movie history.
This famous scene was indeed filmed with a Steadicam in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, a world-class cultural institution in its own right. The 72 stone steps of the museum have been affectionately nicknamed “The Rocky Steps” after the first Rocky movie came out. Since then, they have appeared in a few Rocky sequels including Rocky II, III, V and Rocky Balboa.
Over the years, millions of visitors have climbed the famous 72 “Rocky Steps” in tribute to Rocky. Once at the top, Rocky fans get an unexpected treat as they take in the sweeping view of Eakins Oval, Philadelphia City Hall, and the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.
Rocky’s bronze statue (donated to the City of Philadelphia by Sylvester Stallone, himself a native Philadelphian) is still standing guard at the bottom of the “Rocky Steps.” Tourists and fans making the trek to the iconic film location love having their pictures taken at the Rocky statue.
2. Washington Square: When Harry Met Sally (1989)
Every time I’m in New York City and happen to walk by Washington Square Park, I find myself saying to whomever is with me at the time “Look! It’s where Sally dropped off Harry!”
When Harry Met Sally, released in 1989, is a quintessential romantic comedy film, written by Nora Ephron and directed by Rob Reiner, starring the charming and funny duo Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal. The majority of the movie was filmed in New York City, featuring many of New York’s famous landmarks and buildings (Central Park, the Metropolitan Museum, Katz’ Diner, etc.). But the most unforgettable setting for me is Washington Square Park and its romantic arch where Sally parked her car to say goodbye to Harry.
Looking at the park today, I find it hard to believe it has such a somber history. Sometime in the 1700s, the park was a cemetery for yellow fever victims. Then in the 1800s, it was used as a potter’s field and then a public gallows. In the late 19th century, however, it became a desirable residential area for wealthy New Yorkers (as described by Henry James in Washington Square).
Today, nestled in the West Village and surrounded by the buildings of NYU, Washington Square Park (named after President George Washington) is one of New York’s most famous public parks. With a fountain, an arch modeled after the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, shady areas for chess tables, and even a children’s playground, Washington Square Park is a hot gathering spot for people of all ages.
1. The Golden Gate Bridge: Vertigo (1958)
One of Hithcock’s most famous films, Vertigo is a psychological thriller starring James Stewart and Kim Novak. The atmospheric movie was filmed on location in San Francisco and features many of the City By The Bay’s breathtaking landscapes. But the memorable scene in the movie for me is Kim Novak standing under the Golden Gate Bridge before leaping into the cold San Francisco Bay. The iconic backdrop of the Golden Gate Bridge behind the sad silhouette of Kim Novak’s Madeleine Elster is hauntingly unforgettable.
Since Vertigo, hundreds of movies and TV shows have been filmed on or around the Golden Gate Bridge. But for me, the bridge will always be a giant reminder of Hithcock’s Vertigo.