Movies Shot in Pittsburgh
When you think of filmmaking, what typically comes to mind is an extensive shoot on a Hollywood back lot or sound stage. However, that's not always the case. Hollywood has been making its way to smaller cities in order to benefit from the tax breaks and diverse landscapes that can't be found in California. My hometown of Pittsburgh, PA has frequently served as the setting for both high profile and indie films over the years. Like an actor in the film, the city sometimes plays itself while at other times, it's disguised as another, such as Gotham City.
In turn, Pittsburgh's economy has benefited from the jobs that are created when a film production makes its way east. Local businesses see a boost in sales, security, transportation, and construction companies pick up work, and citizens even get a chance to find gigs as extras or at the very least, watch the filming in progress. Below are some iconic movies that have been shot in Pittsburgh over the years which showed the world that the city is more than a town full of abandoned steel mills and rickety bridges.
History of Pittsburgh Films
Despite a boom in Pittsburgh films in recent years, the movie industry hasn’t just recently discovered Pittsburgh as a desired filming location. Over 180 movies have been shot in Pittsburgh since 1914. One of the oldest films shot in the city is the original, Angels in the Outfield (1951), which features the Pittsburgh Pirates as the team in need of assistance by heaven-sent visitors.
Pittsburgh is also credited as the birthplace of the modern-day zombie movie with George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead in 1968, which provoked numerous sequels and remakes. The filming locations for these movies, including the Evans City Cemetery and The Monroeville Mall, are still popular tourist attractions for zombie lovers.
Flashdance, All the Right Moves and Robocop are notable 80’s movies filmed in Pittsburgh. In 1990, The Silence of the Lambs, one of the only films in history to win Academy Awards in the top five categories (Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Actor and Best Actress), was shot in The Steel City. The dreary Pittsburgh locations aided in the unsettling tone of the film that cemented it as the huge Oscar winner and cinematic classic that it is.
Many scenes in Kevin Smith’s 1998 movie, Dogma, were shot in and around Pittsburgh, and 1999’s Wonder Boys, a story about Pittsburgh writers, closed out the first century of Pittsburgh filmmaking. Many films made in recent years have not only been shot in the city, but the film itself is set there including, The Next Three Days (2009), Abduction (2010) and Out of the Furnace (2013).
There are dozens more films in between the ones noted above. Below is a compilation video of Pittsburgh movies that a fan put together highlighting the many types of films that Pittsburgh has hosted over the years. Some include our well-known landmarks such as The Point where our three rivers merge into one, our sports stadiums, amusement parks, and our incline. Others are lesser known locations but still ones that the locals can pinpoint. Pittsburgh has evolved from the polluted steel town that it came to be known for. It has since been cleaned up, modernized, and is now a scenic area that blends the old with the new, providing locations for both modern-day and period-pieces.
It's interesting to see what filmmakers do with the area, which angles they use, and the editing techniques that they employ to show characters moving from one location to the next when those locations are nowhere near each other. Some of our more stereotypical aspects are portrayed prominently in the movies, such as our casual sportswear and our blue-collar workers. One staple of the city that hasn't been used much is our accent. Pittsburghers have a very distinct way of speaking where we run words together and use vocabulary not found in any other part of the country.
In the end, though, Pittsburgh is just as good of a city to portray American life as any. We have a rich cultural history, a variety of scenic landscapes, and hard-working people who are living everyday lives. This can be used to ground fantasy films into reality or highlight everyday lifestyles by everyday people. It's small, and it retires early so that night shoots are easier to pull off. We're used to construction tying up roads so if they have to block off streets for filming, we know our way around them. We also get bragging rights over our rival sports teams when our city is chosen over theirs as a desired backdrop for a Hollywood tale.
A Fan Video Featuring Pittsburgh Films
Being an Extra
Probably the most high profile movie ever shot in Pittsburgh was 2012's The Dark Knight Rises. Several scenes from the film were shot in and around the city during a sweltering summer that had to look like the events were occurring in late fall/early winter. A call for extras circulated online for a scene at Heinz field, and I was thrilled to have been chosen as one of 15,000 citizens to be blown up by the main villain, Bane, during a pivotal scene. Cheering for a black and gold football team at Heinz Field was not a stretch for the fans who gathered into the stadium for a 12-hour day of watching Pittsburgh Steeler, Hines Ward, score touchdown after touchdown before reacting to a series of explosions on the field. Still, while sitting between takes, I overheard a lot of people remark out loud, “I can’t believe we’re here. I can’t believe we’re doing this.”
It was a surreal experience for a small town like Pittsburgh to be cast in the spotlight of such a large movie, even if it was disguised as Gotham City. The blend of gothic and modern architecture served the story well and seemed to meld into the settings of the previous two films. The on-site locations added authenticity to the fictional world and showcased the architecture and landscape that we citizens see and appreciate everyday. When I watch the football scene in the movie, I'm always called back to my one day as a movie extra, yet it doesn't take me out of the movie itself. The experience was so different from the final product that I can still separate one from the other.
If you are a movie lover and are ever lucky enough to have a movie shot in your hometown, I highly recommend checking it out and even trying to become involved in the production by signing up to be an extra or even just spending a day watching the filmmakers shoot a scene. It’s a great experience to have your town featured on film and exciting to later see familiar locations onscreen. The next time you see a movie that was filmed in Pittsburgh, be sure to take in the view of the landscape and local extras milling through the background and recognize how it adds to the authenticity of a story in a way that shooting on a sound stage in Hollywood cannot reproduce. For a full list of movies shot in Pittsburgh, visit: www.pghfilm.org