Movies Philly

What’s the most Philly movie ever made? Grading 12 Hollywood attempts

Sorry Silver Linings Playbook; you’re a Delco film.

Correction appended

How many movies get Philly right?

We’re talking about storylines, sure, but also small details. For instance, a chase scene that begins at Independence Hall can’t transition directly to Reading Terminal Market seconds later. You lose points for that. But feature a screenshot of Ed Rendell or have a major character play a set at Johnny Brenda’s? Big points in the right direction.

And so we thought we’d introduce a Philly Movie Index — a scorecard, of sorts, that looks at how the city’s accurately reflected in a dozen movies that depend on it for their storylines. (For the purposes of this list, we’re leaving off movies like World War Z and Transformers 2; while parts of them are set here, they’re not central to the storyline, and those movies hop all over the nation and world.)

To rank the movies, we scored each film based on a, well, made-up point system. Without further ado, here they are in order of worst to best:

In Her Shoes

inhershoes

Year: 2005

Director: Curtis Hanson

Major actors: Cameron Diaz, Toni Collette, Shirley MacLaine

Synopsis: Sisters Rose and Maggie break ties after problems involving Rose’ boyfriend, but things change after the two (separately) reconnect with a long-lost grandmother

Philly connection: The movie took place in Philadelphia and was partially shot here at famous locations like Rittenhouse Square Park and Pat’s Steaks.

What goes right:

  • Cameron Diaz and Toni Collette shot scenes walking through Rittenhouse Square Park and Diaz at one point visits a PPA impound lot. Makes sense! But zero points because it’s lacking creativity.
  • Jamaican Jerk Hut also makes an appearance. +1 for Jamaican Jerk Hut.

What goes wrong:

  • About 45 minutes into the movie, Rose appears to meet a man on South Broad Street near City Hall… in the middle of the road. There is a median there. But not really a place most people would stop for a meet-cute. -1 point.
  • After that, a group of characters in the movie goes to get cheesesteaks at Pat’s (ugh, touristy). Later, Rose runs up the Art Museum steps with her dogs in a fit of joy. -50 points because this is the most egregious use of a cliche out there.

Total points: -50. They went to Pat’s and then ran up the Art Museum steps. Everything else was accurate for the most part, but the whole was way too basic to bear.

Silver Linings Playbook

silver-linings-playbook

Year: 2012

Director: David O. Russell

Major actors: Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro

Synopsis: Pat Solitano moves back in with mom and dad in the Philly suburbs after spending some time in a mental hospital in Baltimore. He meets Tiffany, a local woman with her own checkered past who convinces Pat to do something he didn’t think he could.

Philly connection: If anything, this movie has a connection to Delaware County and the Philadelphia suburbs. Some of the movie was shot around here — some back in L.A. — but the biggest Philly references have to do with sports. Specifically, the Eagles (and betting on them) are pivotal to the plot. What else?

What goes right:

  • The movie nails Delaware County, where most of the film takes place, and features the famed Llanerch Diner in Upper Darby that’s emphatically embraced its place in let’s-face-it-not-a-huge-movie (seriously they sell coffee mugs that say “Silver Linings Playbook,” it’s adorable), drawing visitors aiming to sit in the booth where Cooper and Lawrence did. +1 for getting in that li’l diner.
  • Most of the actual Philadelphia references have to do with sports. Pat’s father is a huge Eagles fans (they all are, really) and, in true Philly fashion, is banned from the Linc for assaulting another fan. There are also references to the raucous D Lot tailgate space at Wells Fargo. +1 for lots of Iggles references.
  • The dance scene toward the end of the film takes place at the “Benjamin Franklin Hotel,” AKA the Benjamin Franklin House. Zero points since they called it the wrong thing.
  • Tiffany reveals early on that her husband was killed in a car crash on the Schuylkill while he was on his way to the King of Prussia mall. Sadly, what could be more Philly suburbs than that? +2 points.

What goes wrong:

  • At one point, Pat and Tiffany kiss in the middle of Sansom Street in the vicinity of Jewelers Row, which seems either A. Impossible or B. Something that would at least garner some severe honking. -1 point for that bullshit.
  • Still, most of this film takes place in Delco. So not a true “Philly” film, per se. -2 points, because no.

Total points: 1. Can we all just agree that Silver Linings Playbook is not a Philly movie? It’s a movie about the Philly suburbs, at best. (Just like Bradley Cooper is an actor from the Philly suburbs!)

Trading Places

Trading-Places

Year: 1983

Director: John Landis

Major actors: Eddie Murphy, Dan Aykroyd

Synopsis: A hoity-toity businessman (Dan Aykroyd) who works at a brokerage firm in Philly essentially switches places with a street hustler (Eddie Murphy) as part of a bet.

Philly connection: The film is based in Philadelphia “for no obvious reason” and parts of it were shot here, including at locations like 30th Street Station and South Street.

What goes right:

  • Billy Ray Valentine, played by Eddie Murphy, begs in Rittenhouse Square in the area of 18th and Walnut. +1 for showing the other side of Rittenhouse.
  • Louis Winthorpe, played by Dan Aykroyd, lives at 20th and Delancey, which definitely seems like a place a finance bro would live. +3 because seriously that’s where a finance bro would live.
  • The “Duke and Duke Bank” is actually the Fidelity Bank on South Broad Street. +1 point for having a cooler name than Fidelity.

What goes wrong:

  • At one point, the Duke brothers park a limo facing west on Locust Street (which is one-way going east). Same with another scene where it appears there’s two-way traffic in front of Independence Hall. It’s one-way. -2 points because it’s not that hard to get traffic patterns right.

Total points: 3.

National Treasure

nationaltreasure

Year: 2004

Director: Jon Turteltaub

Major actors: Nicolas Cage, Diane Kruger, Sean Bean, Jon Voight

Synopsis: Ben Gates, the descendant of noted treasure hunters, thinks he’s getting closer to finding a treasure he believes was hidden by the Founding Fathers. He’s working not only against the FBI, but also a group of competitors working to undercut his efforts and steal the treasure for themselves.

Philly connection: Only part of the film takes place in Philly — the rest is split between Washington D.C., Boston, New York and a few other locations. There are a couple exciting chase scenes in Philly though, including in Independence Hall and Reading Terminal Market.

What goes right:

  • Nick Cage and his comrades cross the Benjamin Franklin Bridge on their way into Philly, and then major scenes take places inside Independence Hall, at the Liberty Bell and around Washington Square Park. +1 point for incorporating iconic Philly spots.
  • At one point, Cage jaywalks across Walnut Street and the men in pursuit of him are cut off… by a Philadelphia Trolley Works vehicle. Seems realistic enough. +3 points for jaywalking.
  • From there, the chase scene continues into Reading Terminal Market, and Abigail Chase, the character played by Kruger, interacts with an employee at Martin’s Quality Meats and Sausages Counter. +2 points for the sassy woman at Martin’s.
  • There’s also a portion where Riley is sitting outside the Franklin Institute trying to get a child to bring him back information about the “Silence Dogood letters” that were donated to the Franklin. +1 for the Franklin.

What goes wrong:

  • While the chase scene through the city is exciting, the timing makes little sense. Abigail and Riley leave Independence Hall and are almost immediately near City Hall and then inside Reading Terminal Market. In reality, this run would take about 10 minutes — not one minute. -3 points for this egregious error.
  • Some of the filming of scenes near the Liberty Bell were shot in California. Boo. -1 point.

Total points: 3. We cannot get over how inaccurate the geography of the chase scene was and the only Philly references were about Old City and Center City.

Witness

witness

Year: 1985

Director: Peter Weir

Major actors: Harrison Ford, Kelly McGillis, Danny Glover

Synopsis: Amish kid witnesses a crooked cop murder an undercover cop, and Harrison Ford goes back to Amish country to protect him and his mother, Kelly McGillis.

Philly connection: The first part of the movie is based here, primarily at 30th Street Station.

What goes right:

  • Reading Terminal Market makes an appearance, with the Amish selling their goods, just as they do in real life. +1 for showcasing the Amish scene.
  • The 30th Street Station bathrooms are presented in their full glory, that is to say hideous and scary. Now, 30th Street’s bathrooms aren’t so bad that you’d expect someone to get murdered in them — as happens in the first few minutes of Witness — but they are some of the worst in the city. +2 points for nailing their lack of cleanliness and foreboding atmosphere.
  • Corrupt cops. +5 points because our city knows plenty about that

What goes wrong: They mostly get Philadelphia right — and Amish country. Nothing we can really nitpick except this is mostly a Lancaster movie. -3 points because it’s only in Philly for a portion of the flick.

Total points: 5. It’s mostly set in Amish country rather than in the city so it can’t score too high. But major props for nailing the 30th Street bathrooms.

Philadelphia

m11M

Year: 1993

Director: Jonathan Demme

Major actors: Tom Hanks, Denzel Washington

Synopsis: Andrew Beckett, played by Hanks, is fired from his law firm after it’s revealed he has HIV. He hires a lawyer (Denzel Washington) to defend him in a wrongful termination suit.

Philly connection: Well, the title has something to do with it. This film takes place here and was shot quite a bit in Philly and features some sweeping views of City Hall.

What goes right:

  • The Famous 4th St. Deli made an appearance, as did the outside of City Hall where a protest takes place. +3 points for the deli reference.
  • At one point, Mayor Ed Rendell is interviewed by a local news reporter about the case, because of course Ed Rendell is on TV. +3 points for getting Ed Rendell’s face in there.

What goes wrong:

  • There aren’t that many Philadelphia references in the film that go beyond surface level, and the majority of the movie takes place inside a courtroom. Zero points.
  • The film opens up with a montage of pretty cliche shots of places in Philadelphia, like Old City’s historical district and City Hall. Bruce Springsteen’s “Streets of Philadelphia” plays in the background. Zero points for a cliche opening.

Total points: 6. Sure, it’s accurate enough. But it stuck largely to tired Philly cliches.

The M Night Shyamalan Canon

M._Night_Shyamalan_2008_-_still_40580
Wikimedia Commons

Years: 1999-present

Director: M. Night Shyamalan

Major actors: Bruce Willis, Mark Wahlberg, Zooey Deschanel, James McEvoy

Synopsis: Every M. Night Shyamalan movie is about the same. Weird behavior, probably some kids in it, twist ending.

Philly connection: Nearly every Shyamalan movie is set in Philadelphia or its suburbs or in the Pennsylvania countryside.

What goes right:

  • One of the leaders in “The Village” is a former Penn professor gone crazy with grief.  +3 for a believable storyline.
  • Shyamalan gets a lot of street signs in “The Sixth Sense,” including 20th and Delancey, where Bruce Willis’ character lives; and 11th and Pine, where Haley Joel Osment’s mom, played by Toni Collette, works. Zero points because give us one of the cooler street signs of Philly (Mario Lanza Blvd. ftw).
  • Also in “The Sixth Sense,” Willis and Williams meet at The Striped Bass, a former restaurant that has since been replaced by Butcher & Singer. +3 for showcasing an at-the-time trendy restaurant.
  • A Rittenhouse Square scene in “The Happening” features people sitting on the wall. +3 for the wall.
  • James McEvoy’s character, Kevin, loves Philly sports in “Split,” with Eagles and Phillies stickers on his wall. He also works at the Philadelphia Zoo. Zero points because it’s not fair to equate a possibly crazy man with having Eagles and Phillies stickers on his wall. Every grown man from Philly does. 

What goes wrong:

  • In The Sixth Sense, Osment and his mom go to an Acme — but it’s in Bryn Mawr. -1 for presciently avoiding the soda tax by shopping in the ‘burbs.
  • Osment attends Peirce School. In real Philly, it’s Peirce College, a college for working adults. -1 for not getting the name right.
  • In The Happening, when John Leguizamo, Mark Wahlberg and Zooey Deschanel leave Philly for Harrisburg by train, they do not appear to be on an Amtrak. That’s the only line that gets you to the state capital. Zero points. It’s ticky-tacky but we still felt like including it.
  • In Split, James McAvoy takes an Amtrak from King of Prussia to 30th Street Station to pick up flowers. That’s not possible. As any proponent of the KOP Rail Line will tell you, driving is about the only way to get from KOP to Philly and vice versa. -1 point because, seriously, why get flowers at 30th Street Station?

Total points: 6.

Twelve Monkeys

twelve-monkeys

Year: 1995

Director: Terry Gilliam

Major actors: Bruce Willis, Brad Pitt, Madeleine Stowe

Synopsis: This dystopian future world is plagued by disease. A convict (Bruce Willis) goes back in time to find the virus that wiped out humans, but he struggles to convince others of his motives.

Philly connection: The film splits its time between Baltimore and Philly, but it also includes scenes from an asylum that were shot at Eastern State Penitentiary.

What goes right:

  • Toward the beginning of the film, Bruce Willis is in an asylum. Those scenes were shot at Eastern State Penitentiary, the defunct prison in Fairmount that’s now a museum of sorts. +3 for bringing Eastern State back to life. 
  • There’s a Reading Terminal Market appearance and a flash of NBC10 newscasters on TV. Cool for getting the channel right but zero points for not knowing 6ABC is the iconic Philly news station.
  • At another point, Willis is standing near Macy’s and City Hall is visible from the shot. It pretty clearly was shot right on Market Street. Zero points because you need to include the holiday lights show if you’re going to Macy’s.
  • Toward the end of the film, a cab driver tells Willis that the “12 monkeys” let all the animals out of the Philadelphia Zoo and that an emu “shut down 676 for miles.” Sounds about right. +3 points for knowing 676.
  • On his way into Philly on I-95, Willis is listening to WXPN. +3 points for picking a beloved, indie radio station.

What goes wrong:

  • During the same cab driver conversation though, the driver tells Willis that zebras shut down “the throughway.” Any idea what that is? -1 point because the only throughway we know is the Amtrak Thruway. 
  • The scene that’s supposed to take place at the Philadelphia Airport was actually filmed at the Pennsylvania Convention Center. -1 point because, guys, PHL would look far more miserable. 

Total points: 7.

Invincible

invincible

Year: 2006

Director: Ericson Core

Major actors: Mark Wahlberg, Elizabeth Banks

Synopsis: Mark Wahlberg plays a South Philadelphia bartender, Vince Papale, who tries out for the Eagles and miraculously makes the team in coach Dick Vermeil’s first year. It’s based on a true story.

Philly connection: All about the Iggles.

What goes right:

  • The movie has a very South Philly feel, with plenty of scenes on various neighborhood ball fields like you see spread throughout the traditionally Italian areas of town. +3 for cool images of South Philly.
  • The taps at the bar where Elizabeth Banks’ character, Janet, and Papale work are local favorites Yuengling and Schmidt’s, which during the Papale-era of the 1970s was still brewing beers where the Piazza is now. +4 for bringing back memories of what used to be at the Piazza before Jared Kushner took over.
  • They set Eagles training camp at Widener University, where the Eagles used to have camp at the time. The shooting was actually done at Central High School, but the extra step to make it look like Widener is noticeable. +3 for picking a Philly location over a suburban Widener location.

What goes wrong:

  • In the scene where he goes on a long distance run after finding out he’s made the training camp roster, Mark Wahlberg sets off on a run from his house in South Philly yet returns to a friend’s house next to El tracks. The El has either been detoured through South Philly, or a South Philly guy in the 1970s is hanging out with a Kensington guy. -2 because neither is possible.
  • IRL, Vince Papale is from Delco and lived in Delco. He’s not a Philly guy. -1 point.

Total points: 7. It’s a sappy sport movie, but the images from 1970s Philly feel authentic enough.

Rocky and Rocky II

rocky
Flickr

Years: 1976 and 1979

Directors: John G. Avildsen and Sylvester Stallone

Major actors: Sylvester Stallone, Talia Shire

Synopsis: Rocky Balboa, a small-time boxer from Philly, gets the chance to fight world champion boxer Apollo Creed. In the second movie, Rocky struggles with his family life and accepts an invitation for a rematch with Creed.

Philly connection: Filmed in Philly, the Rocky series is made up of the most obviously quintessential Philly movies. For God’s sake, we have a statue of Rocky, a fictional character, in front of our Art Museum. The 8-foot-tall statue was originally created in the early 1980s (and commissioned by Sylvester Stallone) for Rocky III and was placed at the top of the Art Museum steps. After outcry from art and museum officials, it was moved to the former Spectrum sports arena in South Philly where it basically stayed until 2006, save for the filming of later Rocky movies. Then in 2006 — the 30th anniversary of the original Rocky movie — it was moved back to the Art Museum where it sits at the base today.

What goes right:

  • Do we have to lay it out for you? The Rocky-running-through-Philly training montage is one of the most famous images of Philadelphia in existence. It shows residential areas, the Italian Market in South Philly and of course that iconic run up the Art Museum steps. +5 points for that iconic run.
  • These Rocky movies had a realistic view of life in Kensington, where Rocky was only supposed to be living part-time, but he ends up living there for awhile, even spending his wedding night at his Kensington home with Adrian. +5 points for the view from Kensington because honestly, what other Philly movies actually show Kensington?

What goes wrong:

  • As Philly Mag pointed out a few years back, the Rocky II training montage is completely ridiculous. All told, Rocky would have run more than 30 miles (in a very convoluted way, too). -2 points for that weird run through the city.

Total points: 8. Not bad for Philly’s most iconic film.

Law Abiding Citizen

Law-Abiding-Citizen-Poster

Year: 2009

Director: F. Gary Gray

Major actors: Gerard Butler, Jamie Foxx

Synopsis: Gerard Butler battles a corrupt justice system headed by DA Jamie Foxx after the murders of his mother and daughter.

Philly connection: Philadelphia is the setting for the entire film.

What goes right:

  • The Billy Penn statue is criminally under-utilized in Philly movies. Early in Law Abiding Citizen, the statue is circled from above, giving a great view of Billy Penn and the full skyline, including the Benjamin Franklin Bridge, the Aramark Tower and both Liberty Places. +3 for Billy Penn.
  • For prison scenes, they shoot from Holmesburg Prison and even the basement of City Hall. +2 for going the extra step and turning City Hall into a prison.
  • City Hall is in the movie constantly, but so are the neighborhoods. There’s one scene where someone is running on the rooftops of rowhomes with the Philly skyline in the background. +2 for the ‘hoods.
  • To top it off, it’s a movie about a corrupt Philadelphia District Attorney. +2 because that sounds really familiar.

What goes wrong: Not much.

Total points: 9. Seriously an underrated Philadelphia movie. What’s more realistic than a gray day in Philly with a corrupt politician in charge?

Creed

creed-2

Year: 2015

Director: Ryan Coogler

Major actors: Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone

Synopsis: Adonis Johnson, the son of the late Apollo Creed, finds a trainer and a life mentor in Rocky Balboa, his father’s former rival and one-time friend.

Philly connection: Like the other films in the Rocky series, Creed was filmed here and stays true to the city all the way from South Philly to Kensington to those Art Museum steps. Again.

What goes right:

  • The film prominently features dirt bike crews riding down the streets in North Philly — and they even used real Philly teenagers to do it. Aaand the scene was so realistic Mayor Michael Nutter said, “I kind of winced at that. First of all, it’s illegal and not something we want to promote.” +3 for featuring real dirt bike crews. +1 for also making Mayor Nutter wince.
  • Max’s Steaks at Broad and Erie makes an appearance, showing the film’s commitment to sticking to neighborhood favorites and not the obvious options (like Pat’s or Geno’s). +3 for picking a good neighborhood cheesesteak spot.
  • Bianca, Adonis’ love interest, is a talented musician who plays at both Johnny Brenda’s in Fishtown and the Electric Factory in Callowhill. +2 for showing Johnny Brenda’s.
  • Adonis trains across the city, including on the new Schuylkill Banks Boardwalk. +1 for getting “new Philly” in there a bit.

What goes wrong:

  • Some, most notably Inquirer architecture critic Inga Saffron, complained that Creed didn’t show off “Philadelphia’s own comeback.” She wrote that “the newest movie in the series, Creed, leaves you with the impression that the city is still a dysfunctional, hard-luck place.” We’re not taking away any points for that, because Creed was great.

Total points: 10. And therefore, according to our totally unofficial, just-for-funsies Friday index thing… This might be the most accurately Philly film ever made. They included real Philadelphians, Max’s, JB’s and a litany of other Philly spots that residents and locals actually hang out.