The Bay Area is a veritable where’s-where of movie settings — with its eclectic skylines, foggy disposition and dramatic rolling hills, it’s a place poised for the drama of the big screen. These four films are some of the best movies that take place, and are at least partly filmed, in the Bay Area, perfect for a summer screening with friends. Keep your eyes peeled for some familiar locales, and maybe even catch a glimpse of the Campanile in the distance! With the breadth of Bay Area spots included, you could even check out these spots in advance for a fully immersive viewing experience.
“Always Be My Maybe”
Netflix’s latest rom-com is packed to the gills with star talent, including Ali Wong, Randall Park, Daniel Dae Kim and, in one of the movie’s best twists, Keanu Reeves. The film follows two childhood best friends who, after losing touch in their adulthood, come back together in their hometown of San Francisco. The city is a backdrop for the pair’s love story, both contributing nostalgia as the place where the pair first met and providing the backdrop for their rekindled relationship. There are appearances from San Francisco staples such as the Golden Gate Bridge and the Ferry Building, and Randall Park’s character Marcus even wears an Amoeba Music Berkeley T-shirt in one of the film’s pivotal scenes. This is a sweet film not only as a romance between two best friends, but also as a love letter to the city that brought them together.
Filmed in Oakland, the 2018 film “Blindspotting” garnered widespread acclaim for its portrayal of the increasingly tense relationship between two best friends. Collin (Daveed Diggs) is finishing the last days of his probation, and he navigates his home city of Oakland with his best friend Miles (Rafael Casal) as the two reflect on their relationship to each other and their relationship to their hometown. Throughout the film’s narrative arc, Collin and Miles address the gentrification of Oakland as well as the rampant issues of police brutality and racism. Diggs and Casal, who are both from the Bay Area, collaborated on the film’s script, and they imbue the film with a sense of what the city is truly like. In discussing the film, the pair described how the Bay Area is often portrayed in an inauthentic light and how “Blindspotting” is an effort to depict the city as they have experienced it and to shed light on the issues Oakland is facing.
“Harold and Maude”
This 1971 cult classic may not bring to mind “Bay Area film” at first, but the black comedy features a number of recognizable (and morbid) San Francisco locations. In line with Harold’s (Bud Cort) obsession with death, he and his septuagenarian girlfriend Maude (Ruth Gordon) explore Holy Cross Catholic Cemetery, Golden Gate National Cemetery and the ruins of the Sutro Baths — scenes filmed at the ruins include the one in which Maude surreptitiously falls into a cement hole (which is no longer there). The pair frequents other locations around the San Francisco area, setting the scene for their simultaneously odd and sweet relationship. Though never a box office hit, “Harold and Maude” has gained a cult following over the years and stands as one of San Francisco’s quirkier representations on the big screen.
“The Princess Diaries”
“The Princess Diaries” is a cornucopia of iconic San Francisco locales, serving as a bohemian contrast to the royal country of Genovia. From Mia (Anne Hathaway) and Lilly (Heather Matarazzo) scootering by the Transamerica Pyramid to the trolley crash scene on Rose Street, there are a number of recognizable city locations throughout the movie. You can also catch an iconic scene in the Musée Mécanique on Fisherman’s Wharf, in which Mia and her royal grandmother bond over the Musée’s infamous creepy puppets. The film is an excellent comedy in and of itself with a number of stellar performances, but it’s also a great Bay Area film, showing the city in its best light. Then-San Francisco mayor Willie Brown even makes a cameo appearance during the ball scene toward the end of the film. The “Princess Diaries” franchise also has a campus connection: Mia’s best friend Lilly is revealed to be a UC Berkeley alumna in the sequel!
From the top of the peninsula to the end of the BART lines, between these four films, there’s a map’s worth of Bay Area sites to see. Whether you’re on the lookout for specific locales on screen or just trying to take in a good summer flick, there’s no question that the Bay Area is an excellent movie backdrop.
Contact Camryn Bell at [email protected].