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A Film-set City

Cable Car in San Francisco
Downtown San Francisco
Golden Gate Bridge
The Painted Ladies
San Francisco Port

holbox / wowri / Andrew Zarivny / Curioso / Telesniuk /

San Francisco has been the backdrop of an impressive number of Hollywood productions. Its distinctive slopes and charming neighbourhoods deserve an Oscar.
A lot of cities that appear in films may look similar, but San Francisco is an exception. The Golden Gate and steep streets with their classic cable cars leave no room for doubt: the film was shot here. Such is the case of My Name is Khan, an Indian production in which Mandira conditions her marriage to Rizwan Khan on his showing her a place in the city she hasn’t already seen. After much searching, he finds not a place but a moment: a hilltop just as the sun rises, when the city lies under the characteristic fog of the bay. Only the Golden Gate and the Transamerica Pyramid are visible.

The first sequences of The Maltese Falcon 1941) take place in the office of Humphrey Bogart, who observes the city from his window. Years later, Alfred Hitchcock used the cinematic beauty of San Francisco for the setting of Vertigo (1958): from Fort Point, Kim Novak throws herself into the water to end her life, although she is rescued at the last moment by James Stewart. In Bullitt (1968), Steve McQueen shows us the city at high speed from behind the wheel of his Ford Mustang GT. The only place they could not obtain a license to film was the Golden Gate Bridge. Alcatraz Prison has also been the setting of several films: The Rock (1996), starring Sean Connery, Nicolas Cage and Ed Harris, tells of the rescue of hostages on the island; and Escape from Alcatraz (1979) recreates the escape made by the Anglin brothers and Frank Morris. This last film starred Clint Eastwood, who years later would also film Dirty Harry (1971) in the California city.

In the 1990s, San Francisco soared in popularity as an intriguing setting for celluloid, with legendary films like Basic Instinct (1992), which tells of a torrid romance between Sharon Stone and Michael Douglas, who also starred in The Game (1997) also shot here, along with Sean Penn who, in turn, portrayed gay politician Harvey Milk in Milk (2008), filmed entirely in San Francisco. The shop where Milk opened his photographic business in 1972 can still be visited, at 575 Castro Street. Castro Camera no longer exists, but a plaque in Milk’s honour appears on the façade of the Human Rights Campaign Store that takes its place.

Melanie Griffith and Matthew Modine move into one of the traditional Victorian houses in Pacific Heights (1990), a thriller in which they encounter the tenant of nightmares, played by Michael Keaton. In another of these houses, Robin Williams was hired as the nanny in the unforgettable Mrs. Doubtfire (1993). The house is at 2640 Steiner Street, and fans left flowers on the steps when Williams died in 2014. In Interview with a Vampire (1994), Brad Pitt decides to tell his story to Christian Slater. The final and shocking scene takes place on the Golden Gate.

The city is partially destroyed in The Incredible Hulk (2003), just after Cameron Díaz ran up its steep streets in The Sweetest Thing (2002), the same ones that a young Anne Hathaway skateboarded down in The Princess Diaries (2001). One of the latest films to be shot in the city was Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011), when the chimpanzees, orangutans and gorillas wage a battle against the humans on the Golden Gate, to ultimately flee to Muir Woods and settle among its giant redwoods.

San Francisco on the Small Screen

The sisters in the series Charmed lived in a Victorian house in San Francisco. Although the original was set in Los Angeles, the series used shots of the city between sequences. And who could forget Full House, with John Stamos, Candace Cameron and the Olsen twins, the opening credits of which were shown over the Painted Ladies and the Golden Gate Bridge. And just a heads-up, Twin Peaks, the famous David Lynch series, has nothing to do with the hills of San Francisco. You won’t find Laura Palmer or her killer there, but you will find the best views of the city.

Movie Tours

If just seeing these locations isn’t enough and you want to get the skinny on what happened behind the cameras, you can take a tour that is peppered with filming anecdotes. Leaving in a tourist bus from Fisherman’s Wharf, you’ll head for the locations of more than 50 films from North Beach to Presidio, passing Union Square, Golden Gate Bridge and City Hall. The excursion for fans of movies and TV series takes three and a half hours and costs from 35 to 50 dollars.

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