Time for another round of movie recommendations, and, for this installment, we thought we’d keep it local. Every film below was shot in Pittsburgh or the surrounding area, with a good portion of them also being set here. From beginning to end, this list serves as an unofficial history of the region in film. So track these down on DVD, cable or streaming, and don’t ignore the scenery in the background! You might just recognize some places you’re overly familiar with.
NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968, unrated)
Night of the Living Dead, both shot and set in Western Pennsylvania, is a seminal genre film that not only birthed the zombie craze that continues strong today but also kick-started a string of Romero films made in the Pittsburgh area. His filmography deserves the attention of any local horror fan, even if Night is the only movie I’m listing here.
THE FAULT IN OUR STARS (2014, PG-13)
Of course I was going to have to include this one, since it was shot here in Mt. Lebanon. (I know because my daughter’s preschool was shut down at one point while cast and crew went about their duties at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church.) Based on the popular novel by John Green, the film stars Shailene Woodley as a teenage cancer patient who falls in love with a boy in her cancer support group.
THE DARK KNIGHT RISES (2012, PG-13) Everyone has stories about the summer Hollywood turned Pittsburgh into Gotham City. Thousands packed into Heinz Field for the football-game scene. School buses with “Gotham” license plates lined downtown streets. I still get weirded out when I’m watching the movie and suddenly one of my best friends randomly pops up in one of the scenes.
WONDER BOYS (2000, R) Set here, shot here and based on the novel by Michael Chabon (who grew up and went to college here), Wonder Boys may just be the Pittsburgh-iest of Pittsburgh movies. The film stars Michael Douglas as a down-on-his-luck college professor struggling to pen a follow-up to his insanely successful first novel. “After I read the book, I realized the city is so important,” director Curtis Hanson told Entertainment Weekly when the film was originally released. “I love movies where locale is really a part of the story, and when I went to Pittsburgh, I saw this city that really struck me.”
DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978, R) So, okay … I lied. But I had to include one more, as Romero’s first Dead sequel is nearly as influential as the original and also the reason zombie-loving folks from out of town still swing by the Monroeville Mall for a quick visit. Yeah, it’s ridiculously gory, but it’s also a biting commentary on consumer culture that still holds up today.
SUDDEN DEATH (1995, R) More Civic Arena fun, with Jean-Claude Van Damme battling terrorists during Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals in this Die Hard clone. Mike Lange, Paul Steigerwald, Jeff Jimerson and Mario Lemieux all make appearances, and Van Damme fights Pens mascot Iceburgh in an arena kitchen. Yes, it’s as ludicrous as it sounds.
ZACK AND MIRI MAKE A PORNO (2008, R) Fair warning: As the title indicates, the movie is raunchy as heck. But writer/director Kevin Smith’s film is also Pittsburgh through and through. Characters wear Penguins jerseys. A drunken “Yinzer” stumbles into a coffee shop and struggles to pronounce “Roethlisberger.” Everybody is drinking Iron City.
ADVENTURELAND (2009, R) A hugely underrated coming-of-age drama about a group of teens spending their summer working in an amusement park. Shot almost entirely on location at Kennywood, Adventureland stars Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Kristen Wiig, Bill Hader and Ryan Reynolds. Pretty much all have gone on to bigger things, but some of their best, most subtle work can be found right here.
FLASHDANCE (1983, R) Honestly? It’s not a great film. But if I have to pick one Pittsburgh-shot ’80s film for inclusion on this list, it would have to be this one. The lead character is a steel worker who dreams of becoming a professional dancer, for crying out loud. A ton of Pittsburgh locations are utilized, including the Carnegie Museum of Art and the Duquesne Incline.
THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS (1991, R) This legendary cinematic thriller celebrated its 25th anniversary last year, and Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall celebrated by feting the film at an October celebration. The hall, which you’ll recognize in the film as Hannibal Lecter’s holding facility, is one of several nearby Pennsylvania and West Virginia locations (including the now-demolished Western Center psychiatric hospital in Canonsburg) used in the Best Picture-winning movie. Fittingly, George Romero himself had a cameo in the Soldiers & Sailors scene, playing an FBI agent
Coming up with a comprehensive list of Pittsburgh movies is no easy task. Everyone who lives here has a favorite. Rumor has it, more than 100 movies have been shot all or in part in the region. Of course, this includes early Westinghouse training films such as Assembling a Generator and Girls Packing Armatures. While none of us here have had a chance to see any of those early classics, we all have an opinion of what best captures the city on film. And not all of them were shot within the city limits.
THE DEER HUNTER (1978) The wedding and steel mill scenes were all filmed in Cleveland. Plus it appears the boys road-tripped to the Cascade Mountains in Washington (State, not Little) to hunt the deer.
STRIKING DISTANCE (1993) Critics almost universally hated this convoluted story about a Pittsburgh River Rescue cop (Bruce Willis) on the trail of a serial killer, but the shots from the boats show off the city in a great light. Look for a young Billy Hartung, now director of the Center for Theater Arts, as Boat Preppie.
FENCES (2016) The sixth play in August Wilson’s masterful 10-play Pittsburgh Cycle, the Pulitzer Prize-winning Fences tells the story of a black Pittsburgh family’s struggle with racial discrimination and the death of dreams. Denzel Washington and Viola Davis reprise their stage roles in this film, released late last year and already winning a lot of praise and awards, including a Critics’ Choice award and a Golden Globe for Davis, Oscar nominations for Washington, Davis and for Best Film and inclusion on the American Film Institute’s Top 10 Movies of the Year. Wilson wrote the screenplay.