On Location USA: Movies Set in Los Angeles

By: Lauren Garroni

January 17, 2014

Since the birth of Hollywood, film and LA have been inextricably intertwined, and there are seemingly innumerable movies set in Los Angeles. This beautiful relationship began when the first studio opened up in 1911, situated on the corner of Sunset Boulevard and Gower Street. It’s not hard to see why the industry settled in this town of perpetual sun and sandy beaches. Los Angeles has attracted everyone from hometown directors like Steven Spielberg to foreign auteurs like Nicolas Winding Refn, who desire its palm-lined boulevards and gritty cityscape to help tell their stories. Over the years, the city has doubled for New York, Ireland, and Japan, but Los Angeles is best when cast as itself.


So, get the popcorn ready for our five favourite movies set in Los Angeles. They’re sure to put you in an L.A. state of mind”¦


Blade Runner


Movies Set in Los Angeles | Blade Runner

The Bradbury Building is cast as an abandoned apartment complex in Blade Runner © Vmiramontes

In the future, Union Station is a police headquarters, the Bradbury Building is an abandoned apartment complex, and Ennis-Brown House is home to a retired Blade Runner. The year is 2019 and this is legendary director Ridley Scott’s vision of the future, more dystopian Los Angeles. The film is considered a sci-fi classic and lauded for its reimagining of Los Angeles’ forgotten landmarks as locations.




Movies Set in LA | Heat

In Heat, Al Pacino and Robert De Niro trek across the city © Riccardo di Virgilio

Where would Al Pacino and Robert De Niro grab a cup of coffee? Michael Mann’s crime epic Heat answers that question – Kate Mantilini. Mann uses overlooked sections of the city (think the strip malls of Koreatown and diners of Toluca Lake), to tell the story of a career criminal (De Niro) and the cop after him (Pacino). In its most heart pounding sequence, Downtown Los Angeles serves as the location of a shoot-out in the aftermath of a robbery gone wrong.




Movies Set in Los Angeles | Swingers

The neighbourhood of Los Feliz is a central character in Swingers © Clinton Steeds

The neighbourhood of Los Feliz is a character in its own right in the 90’s cult classic Swingers. The film that launched Jon Favreau (who also wrote the film) and Vince Vaughn into stardom was inspired by their lives at the time. The story follows Mike (Favreau) and his fellow out-of-work actor buddies, who spend their days sleeping or playing 3-Par Golf, and living it up by night at The Dresden and stopping by Café 101 for post-cocktail pancakes.


LA Confidential


Movies Set in Los Angeles | LA Confidential

Everyone from Humphrey Bogard to Brad Pitt has stopped by for a drink at the Formosa Cade © Steven Damron

Looking at the neo-noir classic L.A. Confidential, you can hardly spot any traces of contemporary Los Angeles. Adapted from James Ellroy’s novel of the same name, the film sees Kevin Spacey, Russell Crowe, and Kim Basinger unravel the intertwined worlds of police corruption and Hollywood power. The story comes alive with the use of Los Angeles institutions that still exist today, from favourite Hollywood watering holes like the Formosa Café and Frolic Room, to the forgotten oil fields of Baldwin Hills.


Long Goodbye


Movies Set in Los Angeles | Long Goodbye

The beaches of Malibu Colony at sunset © Graham

This oft-forgotten Robert Altman film sees Raymond Chandler’s favourite noir character Philip Marlowe alive in 1970s Los Angeles. Elliot Gould plays the hardboiled detective’s culture shock at the free love era to perfection. Whether it’s his yoga loving neighbours at his Hollywood Hills apartment, the famous Hightower Building, or his clients living in the artist enclave of Malibu Colony, Long Goodbye is a perfect postcard of the time.


Header photo © Nick Roth 


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Consider yourself an LA cinephile? Want to recommend your favourite movies set in Los Angeles? Let us know in the comments below.


Written by Lauren Garroni


Lauren Garroni

Lauren Garroni is a freelance writer and founder of the blog TheBreathless ( Born on the East Coast and raised on the West Coast, she currently calls Laurel Canyon her home. When not participating in such Los Angeles clichés as hiking and Pilates, she can be found scouring flea markets for the perfect coffee table.

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