Why do so many movies take place in Los Angeles? Well, there are lots of answers to that difficult question.
The most obvious reason is that Los Angeles happens to be the city where America’s movie industry is located. Not only are all of the movie studios there, but the surrounding area has many indoor and outdoor locations that are designated for filming.
Another big reason is that you can usually count on the LA weather being sunny and warm. That cuts down on the chance of a shoot being rained out, and there’s less of a risk in weather-related continuity errors.
Not to mention the business-centric reasons, like tax breaks and other incentives that can entice producers to film in Los Angeles.
But most importantly, LA is just an interesting place that looks great. Even when movies are shot in other cities around the world, the stories themselves may still be set in LA—which they attempt to emulate.
Here are the best movies that take place in Los Angeles, showcasing the compelling stories and visuals that LA has to offer.
8. Alpha Dog
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Alpha Dog is based on the true story of a series of unfortunate events that result in the murder of a 16-year-old boy. The movie is a revealing portrayal of Los Angeles’ small-time suburban drug trade and the people who are destroyed in its wake.
This movie really does not get the credit it’s due. The casting and acting are top-notch, and the storytelling is accessible enough to have mainstream appeal while remaining unique enough to distinguish itself and stand out from the crowd.
As with all of Nicolas Winding Refn’s movies, Drive is heavily stylized, scant on dialogue and plot, punctuated with extreme violence, and definitely not everyone’s cup of tea. But if these type of movies are your thing? Then you’re going to love Drive.
Los Angeles is on full display here in all of its neon glory, and Refn knows how to make it all look really cool. Even his detractors have to give him credit for that.
There may be negative criticisms of his movies worth debating, but denial of his visual talents don’t legitimately belong among them.
Nightcrawler is a movie about the exploitative nature of Los Angeles’ nightly news business. The main character is a ruthless sociopath who maneuvers and manipulates his way to the top of the business by recording car crashes and crime scenes.
The movie is an indictment on insatiable ambition and the pursuit of success at all costs—the kind of behavior that’s encouraged by the entertainment industry and business culture at large.
It’s also a fascinating character study of a personality type that’s able to thrive is such an environment.
There’s no shortage of Los Angeles scenery in Heat. The downtown shootout at the end is what this movie’s known for…
…but there are tons of scenes along the way that capture early-90s Los Angeles with a style and technical prowess that has had a lasting influence on movies across all genres.
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Sunset Boulevard is considered a classic movie for many reasons, but it’s most well-known for its opening scene.
The movie begins with police arriving at a dilapidated Hollywood mansion on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood. In the back courtyard, the body of the narrator/main character is floating facedown in a pool. The narration kicks in with a “let me tell you how I ended up here” type of introduction—and the tale begins.
Sunset Boulevard has been referenced in numerous movies and TV shows over the decades. The specific shots of that floating body have been recreated so many times that the scene would probably appear familiar even to someone who has never heard of the movie.
The Dude from The Big Lebowski is among the most iconic Los Angeles slackers of all time. But there’s one thing he’s willing to put an immense amount of effort into: getting his stolen rug back.
There are a lot of uniquely LA moments in this movie. Like The Dude being drugged at a pornographer’s mansion. Like the trip to the In N’ Out Burger. But the most LA thing in The Big Lebowski might be The Dude himself.
As Sam Elliot (the movie’s narrator) says when he introduces The Dude at the beginning of the movie: “Sometimes, there’s a man… well, he’s the man for his time and place. He fits right in there. And that’s The Dude in Los Angeles.”
In Once Upon a Time…In Hollywood, Quentin Tarantino rewrites history to give the golden age of Hollywood his idea of a fairy tale ending. Some of the most enjoyable scenes play out like a music video showcasing the scenery of 1960s Los Angeles.
The movie transports you to a fictional Hollywood of the past and lets you hang out to enjoy the good vibes, the classic tunes, and the occasional bout of cartoonishly excessive violence.
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Roman Polanski’s personal life can make it difficult for people to enjoy his movies. Reluctance to watch his work is completely understandable given the crimes he’s been accused of.
But if you can manage to separate the art from the artist, then Chinatown is an essential movie to check out. Looking for a classic representation of Los Angeles on film? There are very few movies that are more iconic than this one.
This movie’s influence is so strongly embedded in cinema culture—and the broader culture of America—that there’s no putting the genie back in the bottle at this point.
And to invalidate the efforts of all the other people involved in projects that have been tainted by Polanski-esque circumstances? That’d be a huge disservice to their work and talent.