Iconic Philadelphia Sites in Cinema (& How to Tour Them Online or on Your Next Visit)
A lot of our guides are big film fanatics, and we love when iconic sites we see everyday in Philly appear on screen. We got together a list of some of our guides’ favorite movies that include top places for you to visit virtually or on your next trip to Philly. And we’ve skipped the terrible ones (not saying Jersey Girl or anything…). If you’re cinema crazed like we are, you’ll love exploring Philadelphia through the lens of its best film locations.
This is every guide’s favorite film. And we refuse to hire any guide who disagrees.
Okay, we don’t, but it does sort of influence their odds.
Philadelphia landed on National Geographic’s list of Best Trips to Take in 2020 (Let’s hope we get this extended to 2021…). In true Philly fashion, many were in disbelief, maybe underscoring NatGeo’s description of “a scrappy underdog with a heart of gold”. Our favorite cinematic underdog is memoralized throughout the city, and here are a few places where you can recreate your favorite Rocky scenes:
Italian Market — Sure, you can cruise through 9th Street via Google Maps to see the iconic street our champion runs down, but we suggest getting an actual taste of it, too. Via Mercato, you can order from several businesses in the market. Don’t know what to get for yourself or as a gift? Ask one of our Italian Market Immersion guides!
Philadelphia Museum of Art — You can get a glimpse of what this enormous institution holds within by virtually hanging out in the Great Stair Hall via Visit Philly’s Virtual Philadelphia tour or follow them on their Facebook page, where they regularly post fascinating art pieces.
Laurel Hill Cemetery — Take an audio tour of cemetery highlights by downloading the app!
For some of those dicier or harder-to-get-to locations, check out our Rocky Movie Locations Driving Tour. Once it’s safe to travel, get this booked as part of your Philly trip ASAP — it’s one of our most popular tours, and for good reason. We’ll even throw you an orange.
Silver Linings Playbook (2012)
Italian Market guide Julia and our business owner / guide-of-all-tours Jason had this American romantic comedy-drama film on the top of their Philly favorite list. A draw for Julia: all the Eagles superstitions played out on screen but also the KOP (King of Prussia) and 76er references made it real for those from Philly. While he loved the scenes in and outside of the city, Jason was drawn in by the stellar acting and storyline. While most scenes are filmed in a suburb just outside the city, the film does feature a historical site much adored by our guides…
Benjamin Franklin’s House, Post Office, & Museum — We have some real Franklin fanatics among our team of guides, but if you want to do your own look into the illustrious life of one of America’s favorite founding fathers, head to the National Park Service Independence website. To really understand Ben, though, you can’t get a better perspective than from his own humorous autobiography, available free at Project Gutenberg.
Blow Out (1981)
Everyone’s favorite friendly neighborhood tour guide, Chuck, nominated this thriller starring John Travolta as his top pick for quintessential cinéma de Philadelphie. Why so? One scene: the intense car chase scene through a Mummer’s Parade. (This article sheds some light on the complicated history of the mummers). At least one scene contains an often overlooked institution in the heart of Rittenhouse Square:
Curtis Institute — Established in 1924, Curtis Institute has helped train the most dedicated and talented of musicians, having been named one of the most selective colleges in the United States. While the Institute would normally host their free weekly student recitals, they’ve taken to YouTube in their “Curtis Is Here” series, featuring favorite or rarely seen Curtis performances. You’ll be blown away by the performances…
Twelve Monkeys (1995)
Former Philly history guide Lee — now a defector to the Denver Urban Adventures team — prefers the fantasy / sci-fi genre and puts this Terry Gilliam psychological thriller at the top of his must-see Philly flicks. Trace the bizarre story line by finding the following:
City Hall — At the beginning of the film, Bruce Willis watches in shock as a lion roars high up on the ledge of what appears to be a long-abandoned, dilapidated City Hall. Dilworth Park is always bustling with seasonal activities and events, and, after Bruce saves us from this pandemic, you can even take an intimate tour of the historic building and its observation tower.
Eastern State Penitentiary — When our protagonist’s mission is seemingly derailed after being detained in a mental asylum, we notice that the decaying walls of Bruce’s confinement look oddly like our beloved East State Penitentiary. Until you can visit Eastern State in person, check out their great online tour.
History guide Rob has chosen a film featuring a long-time favorite of downtown Philadelphia. Mannequin was filmed in the old Wanamakers, now Macy’s but still housing the sonorous Wanamaker organ and still putting on its time-honored performance of… Andrew McCarthy at the height of his powers.
Macy’s Wanamaker Building — Nothing compares to hearing the magnificent pipes of the Wanamaker organ in person, but you can still prepare yourself for its majesty by checking out the videos and reading up on the Wanamaker history on the Macy’s website.
When Rick, a history and street art guide, first moved to Philly when dinosaurs ruled the earth (his words), his Philadelphia world consisted almost exclusively of the Penn campus and the neighborhood that spanned from 40th to 44th streets and from Chestnut Street to Baltimore Avenue. “Birdy” having been released a year after his move, Rick’s perspective of his newly adopted city reflected what a rich and tough city it remains to this day. Even though he hasn’t seen the movie in over 35 years, he still finds it evocative.
Murals of West Philly — Along the elevated railway at 46th Street Station, where Birdy and Al clamber among the girders to catch pigeons, you can catch sight of some incredible street art made possible by the Mural Arts Philadelphia program. You can explore these murals citywide using the Mural Arts Explorer and even save your favorite murals for your future trip to Philly. Have kids? Tune into Homeschool with Mural Arts every Monday and Wednesday at 1:00p.m. for arts-focused tutorials from local experts!
Trading Places (1983)
The opening montage of Trading Places plays like a “Welcome to Philly” orientation video. What’s striking is the electic mix of architecture featured, from Art Deco to Second Empire.
Buildings West of Broad Street — From the Wells Fargo building prominently featured in this reversed-fortunes comedy to the gorgeous mansions in and around Rittenhouse Square, you can plan your architectural amble ahead of time using these self-guided walking tours offered by Preservation Alliance. The Alliance employs expert guides and helps keep alive the rich architectural heritage of Philadelphia.
We’re aware the above list leaves out some other truly iconic Philly film shots: Famous 4th Street Deli in Philadelphia (1993) and In Her Shoes (2005) — we all drool just thinking about those moon cookies and whitefish salad — National Treasure (2004) with goofy-faced Cage scrambling about the balustrades of Independence Hall and creeping around the cemetery of Old Pine Street Church; and Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen (2009), which assaulted Philadelphia and its deceased with its presence at the beautiful Laurel Hill Cemetery.
If you have your own favorite Phila-centric film recommendation or want help planning your next trip to see these iconic sites, we’d love to hear from you! Until then, happy quarantine movie binging.