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Classic San Francisco Movies

Jeff Howard March 17, 2020

Finding a famous movie set in San Francisco is sort of like finding a scenic vista point or cable car… There’s almost too many to count! While there is no shortage of movies that take place in SF, it can be challenging to track down where to watch these fantastic films. Let’s take a look at some classic San Francisco movies and learn where to find them all online!

Mrs. Doubtfire (1993)

This iconic Robin Williams comedy is one of many must-see 90’s comedies! Set in a Pacific Heights house on the corner of Steiner and Broadway near the 2000 Broadway apartments, Mrs. Doubtfire undoubtedly showcases some of the Bay Area native’s best work at the box office.

The Rock (1996)

If you like action, Michael Bay’s The Rock with Sean Connery and Nicholas Cage will provide you with the thrill you need. The film follows an FBI chemist and a former SAS captain tasked with stopping a group of rogue Marines who have seized Alcatraz Island.

Dirty Harry (1971)

Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry opened a whole new genre of police films and was followed up with four sequels throughout the ’70s and ’80s. The storyline was based on events related to the San Francisco Bay “Zodiac Killer” as Eastwood tracks down a similar killer as an SFPD inspector.

Milk (2008)

Receiving eight Oscar nominations and earning Sean Penn 2008’s Oscar for Best Actor, Milk is a biographical film about Harvey Milk, the first openly gay person to hold public office in the state of California. A true San Francisco icon, Milk’s story takes place throughout The City, mostly in The Castro District, where his former storefront “Castro Camera” was located.

Pacific Heights (1990)

While Pacific Heights could be considered quite a horror film for those managing SF apartment rentals, this Michael Keaton movie is a San Francisco classic taking place in the lovely Pacific Heights district. Residents of the 2000 Broadway, 1890 Clay, 2200 Jackson, or 2380 California apartments may even notice their neighborhood in multiple scenes.

The Princess Diaries (2001)

Popular with teenagers throughout the 2000s, this Anne Hathaway and Julie Andrews comedy developed quite a cult following. Its iconic scenes, including when Mia (Anne Hathaway) gets stuck driving up a steep San Francisco hill in her Mustang, continue to be referenced by locals and travelers in The City.

The Pursuit of Happyness (2006)

For film buffs living at 350 Union who want to impress their friends with a cool easter egg, Will Smith and his son Jaden visit North Beach Pizza just one block away at the corner of Union and Grant. Filmed throughout SF, the purposely misspelled Pursuit of Happyness is a heartwarming story based on true events about a struggling father doing everything he can to provide for his young son.

San Andreas (2015)

Disaster movies have a knack for showing the destruction of The Golden Gate Bridge with massive Pacific Ocean waves crashing over the bridge’s towers. Although this may not be the ideal choice for those wary of earthquakes, there are multiple excellent shots around The City, including one just a block from the 1000 Chestnut apartments on the winding stretch of Lombard Street and another at the Giants’ Oracle Park. It also has Dwayne Johnson, which doesn’t hurt.

Escape From Alcatraz (1979)

San Francisco’s Alcatraz Island will always be a popular destination for tourists interested in the infamous prison, and this film certainly adds to the notoriety. This prison thriller follows the story of an exceptionally intelligent inmate (Clint Eastwood) who has consistently escaped from correctional facilities before being sent to Alcatraz

Bullitt (1968)

If you’re in the mood for a classic car chase scene through San Francisco, look no further than Bullitt. The movie is most well-known for Frank Bullitt (Steve McQueen) speeding through the city’s hills in a 1968 V8 Mustang GT Fastback.

48 Hrs. (1982)

Often credited with being the first of the “Buddy Cop” genre, this film follows two SFPD detectives played by Nick Nolte and Eddie Murphy. The story takes place throughout San Francisco as the duo attempts to catch a pair of cop killers in just 48 hours.

Basic Instinct (1992)

This Michael Douglas murder-film is certainly capable of giving you a good scare. Produced and released with much controversy, this 90’s thriller includes multiple iconic scenes that were groundbreaking in mainstream Hollywood cinema at the time.

What’s Up, Doc? (1972)

Named after Bugs Bunny’s famous final line, this 70’s romantic comedy includes scenes across SF at popular locations such as Chinatown, The Embarcadero, and Lombard street. Much different than the comedy films of today, What’s Up, Doc? is actually ranked as the 61st greatest American comedy by the American Film Institute.

La Mission (2009)

One of the best independent films ever set in San Francisco, La Mission achieved national acknowledgment after its fantastic critical reception at the Sundance Film Festival and San Francisco International Film Festival. The movie provides an excellent glimpse into San Francisco’s Mission District and the rich history and culture of the wonderful neighborhood.

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986)

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home provides a pleasing cinematic view of San Francisco and the surrounding Bay Area as scenes were shot on location at well-known spots such as Golden Gate Park and the Financial District. The film is critically acclaimed and won several awards and Oscar nominations for its cinematography and audio.

Kuffs (1992)

Rich with San Francisco scenery, Kuffs includes shots in Washington Square, Russian Hill, Union Square, North Beach, The Haight, among many more. The story follows Christian Slater as he plays a high school drop whose unfortunate circumstances lead him to join the “San Francisco Patrol Special.”

The Presidio (1988)

Another film ripe with scenes from San Francisco is Mark Harmon and Sean Connery’s The Presidio. The murder-mystery includes many shots throughout The Presidio and neighborhoods, including Chinatown, SoMa, North Beach, and downtown.

Big Trouble in Little China (1986)

This 80’s “fantasy martial arts comedy” follows Kurt Russell as he battles an ancient sorcerer in a mysterious underworld beneath San Francisco’s Chinatown. While the film did not see commercial success, it has since become a cult classic earning steady ratings and viewership in present times.

Time After Time (1979)

If you want a cinematic glimpse at San Francisco without leaving your home, this is the film for you. This 70’s science-fiction film shot on location in North Beach, Golden Gate Park, The Marina, Fisherman’s Wharf, The Richmond, Chinatown, Potrero Hill, and The Civic Center… just to name a few.

The Game (1997)

Michael Douglas and Sean Penn also teamed up for another San Francisco classic with The Game in the late ’90s. The mystery thriller is centered around an investment banker in the Financial District who becomes involved in a mysterious game that ultimately hints of a larger conspiracy at hand.

Blue Jasmine (2013)

One of the most recent San Francisco classics, Blue Jasmine, led to many awards for Director Woody Allen and Actress Cate Blanchett. The film follows a previously wealthy Manhattan socialite who is forced to live with her working-class sister in San Francisco after falling on hard times.

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