"San Francisco is a city with a romance about it that has always played well
on film," said P.J. Johnston, executive director of the city's
Film and Video Arts Commission.
As a result, the city is usually humming with production crews for
documentaries, commercials and music videos. About 12 features from major
studios are filmed in San Francisco each year, Johnston said.
Pier 39, Alamo Square and
Chinatown are among the most popular backdrops.
Action film producers find the city's landscape suitable for car
chases and fiery explosions. Before a shoot begins, the commission must warn
people in the neighborhood, "so if they hear exploding glass and gun shots,
they are prepared for it," he said.
Traffic congestion is a common side effect of film shoots. Columbus Avenue,
a major thoroughfare in North Beach, was closed to film an
elaborate car crash for "Bedazzled." The film starred Brendan Fraser and
Despite their love of San Francisco, directors often incorrectly portray its
geography on screen. "Filmmakers need to piece together a movie for
cinematic reasons, and it does not always match the physical layout of the
city," Johnston said.
Consequently, the famous chase scene in 1968's "Bullitt" had Steve McQueen
and his green Mustang bouncing around the city's neighborhoods. Only the
city's natives noticed the incongruity of jumping from Potrero Hill to North
"San Francisco has a rich cinematic history stretching back to the 1920s,"
Johnston said. Here are some classic films in which the city is an important
character. For a complete list of films made in San Francisco, see
Northern California Movies.
This classic Alfred Hitchcock thriller features James Stewart following Kim
Novak around the city. The apartment of Stewart's character is at 900
Lombard Street, known as the most crooked street in the world. The Mission
Dolores and the Palace of the Legion of Honor are important backdrops in the
film. Novak's character leaps into the bay from Fort Point, beneath the
Golden Gate Bridge. For photos and a complete list of locations, see
Widescreen Cinema's Vertigo tour.
Vertigo Movie Tour of San Francisco
offers driving directions to all locations.
Steve McQueen is a tough-as-nails detective who races around San Francisco
in a now-classic car chase. That sequence highlights the Golden Gate Bridge,
Potrero Hill and San Mateo County. Images from the chase are available at
Northern California Movies. Read a review of
the movie at
Leisuresuit.net and partake in
one fan's love of the film's signature Ford Mustang at
The Bullitt Page.
Dirty Harry (1971)
Another rogue San Francisco cop is on the loose in this action movie
classic. While tracking a serial killer, Clint Eastwood cruises by North
Beach and Washington Square. The East Harbor's Marina Green is the first
stop in a chase that has Eastwood racing to telephone booths across the
city. The rivals have a final meeting at Larkspur Landing. Northern California Movies has film stills.
Mrs. Doubtfire (1993)
Dressing as English nanny is not the average man's idea of a great job. But
in this film, Robin Williams plays a father desperate to spend time with his
children, who are in his ex-wife's custody. Mrs. Doubtfire rides San
Francisco's buses and famed cable cars. The family house is a white
Victorian located at 2640 Steiner Street. At his apartment (1200 Washington
Street), Williams' character has a panoramic view of the city. The film also
Transamerica Pyramid as a
background shot. Photos from the movie are at
Northern California Movies.
Other Williams' comedies filmed in
San Francisco include "Flubber," "Patch Adams" and "What Dreams May Come."
The Rock (1996)
Sean Connery and Nicholas Cage do in "The Rock" what few have ever thought
about doing - break into
Alcatraz. The former
federal prison isolated in the freezing San Francisco Bay is the main
setting for this action flick. The historic Fairmont Hotel
played a small part, as did
Russian Hill, the site of a cable car explosion.
Northern California Movies
has a lot of film stills.
For more information about San Francisco and its landmarks, visit these