Everything you need when planing a vacation trip to San Francisco
San Francisco Movies



Over the years, there have been many movies and television shows shot in San Francisco. Here are a few to help put you in the mood for your trip.


Vertigo (1958)


VertigoFrom the trailer: "What was the strange attraction that brought these two together despite the dark forces that tore them apart?" One does not need to see the movie to answer that. But that is no reason not to. Watch it and you will have many deja vu moments during your trip. Considered by many to be Alfred Hitchcock's greatest work. Perhaps.


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Escape From Alcatraz (1979)


Escape from AlcatrazBy all means, if you are planning on visiting Alcatraz (and you should) watch this movie. Eastwood does a very good job of telling the story of the most famous escape attempt (no one knows if it was successful or not, but they probably died in the bay) from Alcatraz.


The film was shot in the actual prison so it has a level of realism to it.






Flower Drum Song (1961)


Flower Drum SongYou have to really like musicals to sit through this one. But it is set in San Francisco, so I did anyway. The story is about a Chinese girl and her father who smuggle themselves into the US from Hong Kong in shipping crates, so she can fulfill a marriage contract with a Chinatown nightclub owner. He is all wrong for her and they both know it, but there is much to do before everyone gets matched up with the proper mate. It is a typical musical – the plot takes a step forward, then everyone stops and sings a song and dances around a little, then after a pause for the applause they imagine is happening in the movie theater to die down, the plot takes another step forward.


Sadly, most of the filming was done in a studio recreation of San Francisco's Chinatown and precious little in the real thing. It is amusing to see the studio version of Chinatown residences which dwarf the mansions of Buckhead Georgia. The music is typical Rogers and Hammerstien, only this time wearing the musical equivalence of an actor's fake buckteeth and thick glasses to look Chinese. It is also amusing to notice at the end of many of the numbers, they seemed to have felt the need to prove what hip cats they were as they break into a type of wild, devil-may-care jazz that was already on the verge of being seen as laughably out of it.


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Summer of Love (2007)


PBS's Summer of LoveThis documentary does an excellent job of recounting the days in 1967, when the Haight Ashbury district of San Francisco became the center of the hippy counter-culture revolution. It draws on archival footage and interviews with participants - run away kids, aging hippies, a San Francisco policeman and long time area residents. It recounts how San Francisco, that gave the world the beatniks, also played a major role in the creation of hippy culture.



Milk (2008)


MilkIn case you don't know the big news story from November 27, 1978 regarding Dan White, Harvey Milk and George Moscone, I will not tell it here so you can watch the movie with fresh eyes (though the movie tells the ending in the first few minutes). But I will tell you that Milk is the story of gay rights pioneer Harvey Milk's rise to power in San Francisco politics. Sean Penn gives an Oscar winning performance and the film artfully mixes archival footage with the movie action in an effective way. The movie does a good job of combining a history lesson with dramatic entertainment.


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The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill (2005)


The Wild Parrots of Telegraph HillThis small documentary is a heart-warming story about an eccentric soul who cares for a flock of wild parrots in San Francisco. We learn that he came to the city as a young man to become a professional musician, but when that does not work out for him, he looses his way in life with long bouts of homelessness and joblessness. He is clearly intelligent and has a strong interest in spirituality, but none of that seem to help him in the practical world. Then, almost by accident, he starts to care for some wild parrots that frequent the trees and gardens around Telegraph Hill and this gives purpose to his life. Although the documentary does not tell us, he then wrote a popular book about the birds with the same title and that book inspired the film maker to make him and the birds the subject of this film.


Maltese Falcon (1941)


Maltese Falcon"He makes crime a career and ladies a hobby!"


Adam Savage once observed there are two kinds of people in this world: Chandler people and Hammlett people. I think with the right attitude both can enjoy this.


"Here's look'n at you, kid" Oh, wait, that was another movie.


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Dirty Harry (1971)


Dirty HarryIn this one Clint Eastwood, aka Dirty Harry, co-stars with a .44 Magnum as a trigger happy detective who's woeful ignorance of basic legal principles results in a crazed sniper, who has been terrorizing San Francisco being released from jail. But what the heck - Dirty Harry looks great and is able to act on anti-social impulses in ways a recalcitrant teenager could only dream of, so we are along for the ride. And besides, before the credits start rolling again, we have good reason to believe he will set the situation right. In his own way, of course.


By the early 70's movies had moved out of the studios and into the streets, giving us a nice tour of pre-Transamerica Building San Francisco.


Ya feeling lucky punk? With four more Dirty Harry movies to go, you bettcha.


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Mrs. Doubtfire (1993)


Mrs DoubtfireI know many of you will not believe this, but there was a time when Robin Williams made comedies that were actually kind of funny. This family movie was made at about at the close of that era. In it Williams plays a looser trying to gain visitation rights with his children from his responsible and exasperated ex. His bizarre approach for doing so results in much hilarity.


The family home in the movie is at 2640 Steiner Street.


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Pacific Heights (1990)


Pacific HeightsA landlord's cautionary tale about a nice yuppie couple who take in a renter in their dream home. This film will make you think twice before picking up a few income properties for your retirement.


BTW, Pacific Heights is one of the most upmarket neighborhoods in the state. But the house in the move is not there. You have to go to much seedier 1243 19th Street to see it. But that does not mean it is cheap. Zillow estimates its street value at $1,440,000 for this 4 bedroom, 2 bath, 2,822 square foot house built in 1895. One hates to think what it would set you back if it were actually in the neighborhood where the film says it is.


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Bullitt (1968)


BullittGet the popcorn, fasten your seat belts, and click play. Actually much of the movie is just winding up for the famous car chase and is deliberately slow. The camera lingers on details and activities that do not advance the plot, but provide a sense of texture. Director Peter Yates was purposely trying to not make a movie that broke away from that fake slick studio feel that Hollywood was so well known for.


Even in this age of physics deifying CG, the big chase through the street of San Francisco stands up as one of the greatest movie chase scenes and the one that all other are measured against. At least in my book.


Oh, and the story? It's about a tough guy cop providing witness protection to a bad guy while other bad guys try to kill him and an odious politician rides his case. Jacqueline Bisset is bought on screen to provide the movie with decoration.


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The Pursuit of Happyness (2006)


The Pursuit of HappynessThis heartwarming story, set in San Francisco is based on the real life struggles of a man as he tried to get established in the financial services industry. Although his troubles are common, they are none the less heroic as he sacrifices today while staying focused on creating a better day tomorrow. Many will be reminded of their own life stories, only without the background music and cinematic stylization. Others will find inspiration in the hero's positive attitude and commitment to better his situation.


Will Smith is excellent in his leading role (which won him an Oscar nomination) and his real life son playing his movie son gives an amazing performance.


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Zodiac (2007)


ZodiacAnother crazy San Francisco true story. This one is about a serial killer who terrorized the area in the late 60's and early 70's. It is told through the eyes of a political cartoonist who becomes obsessed with the case. The movie follows the investigation for years of frustrating dead ends. The Zodiac killer first struck in 1969 and taunted the police in cryptic letters and phone calls, and ordered the area's newspapers to print his coded messages. If they did not, he promised to step up the killing. The identity of the Zodiac killer was never discovered. Or was it? You will just have to watch the move to find out for yourself.


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Tales of the City (1993)


Tales of the CityThis six hour PBS miniseries follows the complex lives of its characters on fictitious Barbary Lane, through pre-AIDS San Francisco. Adapted from Armistead Maupin's novel, audiences were shocked by and attracted to its use of nudity, homosexual characters and hedonism. The first season was the only one shot in San Francisco. The other were made in (much cheaper to film in) Montreal.






Guerrilla: The Taking of P. Hearst (2004)


The Taking of Patty HearstThis documentary investigates the bizarre case of the Patty Hearst kidnapping in 1973 by a small band of Bay Area crazies. They called themselves the Symbionese Liberation Army and gave themselves grandiose titles like General Field Marshal Cinque. Their first act was to murder Oakland's first black Superintendent of Schools. When a couple of their group was arrested for the murder, they planned the kidnapping of the Hearst empire heiress so as to be able to do a prisoner swap. But things did not go exactly as they planned. Much of the action was across the bay, in Berkeley, but San Francisco get into the act too. This case is another chapter in the big book of crazy things that happened in San Francisco. Guerrilla: The Taking of Patty Hearst does an admirable job of telling the story with archival footage and interviews with some of the participants, including some of the SLA members.


What's Up Doc (1972)


What's Up Doc This zany screwball comedy is from the age when you could say 'zany screwball comedy' without everybody rolling their eyes. The story involves a mix up of some travel bags, some bad guys trying to steal the bags and goofball characters straight out of the cartoons. Most of the movie takes place in the "Bristol Hotel" (actually the San Francisco Hilton) and builds up to a chase scene that is a cross between the one in Bullitt and It's A Mad Mad World. The most lasting legacy of this movie is the damage done to the steps at Alta Park, which you can clearly see happen in the chase scene and which has never been repaired. Shame on them.


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