Chicago loves to show its cinematic side. If you got it, flaunt it. Chicago’s breath-taking architecture make it a prime choice for many directors. The imposing presence of Chicago’s buildings demand attention. Plus they look stunning on screen.
Chicago’s buildings, adorned with Roman columns and ornate facades, draw you into their spacious and dizzying interiors — Chicago is beautiful inside and out.
The same imagination which built this city emerges in its movies. Chicago excites a grand vision for filmmakers. They only need to look around to feel inspired. Beyond the majesty of its architecture, Chicago is a city bursting with life. The energy of Chicagoans and their culture makes for compelling cinema.
Luckily for you, Chicago isn’t a figment of movie magic. The version you see in the theatres, although sometimes exaggerated, exists as a real place. Many places shown in the top Chicago movies remain fixed in the city. So why not visit some of them?
In this list, we tell you where the most famous scenes in Chicago were shot. Here are the top 10 movies ever made in Chicago.
1. The Blues Brothers
The Blues Brothers stands as the definitive Chicago movie. Chicago appears in full swing in this classic slapstick, action comedy from 1980. The movie can hardly contain the excitement and life exploding from the city. The Blues Brothers captures Chicago’s constant eruption.
The city seeps from the pores of Jake and Elwood Blues (yes, their last name is “Blues”). Even their names come from Chicago locations. “Joliet” Jake Blues takes his name from Joliet Correctional Facility, shown in the opening scene of the movie with Jake’s release.
This cinematic prison, decommissioned in 2002, has a history of movie appearances. It also appears in Let’s Go To Prison, Derailed, an Public Enemies.
Elwood Blues takes his name from Elwood Ordnance Plant, which manufactured dynamite for World War II. The explosive nature of the Blues Brothers emerges time and again throughout the movie.
Like planets colliding, the Blues Brothers cause Chicago a lot of damage. The Blues Brothers act as danger-prone tour guides, cruising through parts of the city causing untold destruction in their wake. Miraculously, no one ever seems to get hurt.
The destruction begins at Elwood’s apartment, at 22 W Van Buren Street, when a female assassin, seemingly bent on killing the Blues Brothers, blows up their building. Next, they trash Dixie Square Shopping Center by plowing their Blues Mobile through the mall.
The movie culminates in the ultimate police chase through downtown Chicago. Director John Landis destroyed 60 retired police cruisers in this cavalcade of motor mayhem. The brothers even burst through the windows of Daley Center, recently used again in The Dark Knight as “Wayne Enterprises” headquarters.
The computer game SimCity offered a few options for levelling your city, earthquake, tornado, even aliens, but the Blues Brothers do way more destruction. Like Grand Theft Auto, they have legions of cop cars trailing them through the city.
Such video game comparisons make sense, considering the Blues Brothers had their own Super Nintendo video game. If you want to hear the legendary soundtrack from the movie played on a MIDI keyboard, check it out.
2. The Untouchables
When people think of prohibition-era Chicago, Al Capone usually comes to mind. In The Untouchables, Director Brain DePalma tells the classic story of how the Bureau of Prohibition brought down Al Capone on tax evasion. As the movie shows, it certainly pays to do your taxes.
The Untouchables not only highlights the importance of proper bookkeeping, it also showcases some of Chicago’s best architecture.
If you want to visit some places from The Untouchables, you’re in luck. Most of the buildings featured in the movie remain intact. Start off your tour at Brody’s at 3369 North Clark Street — it’s the cafe under the “L” train blown up by Capone’s men at the beginning of the movie.
The next spots are downtown. Take a walk along the Michigan Ave. Bridge, where Eliot Ness, (Kevin Costner), firsts meets Jimmy Malone (Sean Connery). Check out the exterior of Al Capone’s hotel at Roosevelt University on 403 S. Michigan Avenue. The interior of Capone’s hotel was filmed in the upper foyer of the Chicago Theatre on 175 N. State Street.
Want to feel like Ness after Capone’s sentencing? Step out onto South LaSalle Street and gaze up at the Chicago Board of Trade. The locations of the courtroom exit scene, the post-office raid and the police headquarters all appear on South LaSalle Street. These buildings stand as some of Chicago’s finest architectural monuments.
3. The Weather Man
The Weather Man offers a rare view of Chicago in the grips of winter. The opening shot shows the partially frozen-over surface of Lake Michigan — the plates of ice softly knocking together.
Although Lake Michigan usually doesn’t freeze over, it has the last couple years. In 2013, ice covered around 93.29 percent of Lake Michigan’s surface, which broke a 37-year record.
If you feel adventurous and don’t mind the drive north, you can explore the spectacular ice caves found along the Northern Lake Michigan shoreline in winter. The caves form as wind and precipitation collect and freeze. Be careful and bring a guide because it’s dangerous to walk on the lake. In fact, consider staying in town, grabbing a pizza and watching The Weather Man.
The movie showcases some great spots in Chicago to visit during the frosty months. Strap on some skates and hit the ice like David Spritz, played by Nicholas Cage. The skating scene in The Weather Man was shot at the Millennium Park Ice Skating Rink on the Southeast corner of North Michigan Avenue. It’s free to skate at this rink and skate rentals are only $10.
Visit some snowy spots downtown where fast food is thrown at Spritz. He’s splattered with tartar sauce at the crosswalk on 1588 North Milwaukee Avenue, so watch out for seafood sauce assassins. If you’re not Nicholas Cage, you should be safe.
Most of the junk food chucking was done by director Gore Verbinski, who later directed the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. If you see Gore eyeing you up with a milkshake, steer clear.
4. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
Few movies offer a tour of Chicago like Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Director John Hughes loves Chicago — or at least loves filming there. Most of his movies openly celebrate their setting in Chicago: Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, and Home Alone. But Ferris Bueller’s Day Off stands apart as Hughes’ proud love-letter to the city.
In his afternoon on the town, Ferris covers some landmark spots downtown. He drops off his “borrowed” ride at the parking garage on 172 West Madison Street, where the parking attendants take it for a joy ride.
Blissfully unaware, Ferris, Cameron and Sloane lean their heads against the glass of the Sears Tower, before checking out the Chicago Board of Trade. They watch a Cubs game at Wrigley Field, walk to The Art Institute of Chicago and top it off by hijacking a float in the Von Steuben Day Parade.
5. Public Enemies
No, Public Enemies is not a biopic of the early ’90s hip-hop group Public Enemy. The 2009 film Public Enemies portrays the downfall of the legendary bank robber John Dillinger, who was also a movie lover. He was shot exiting a movie theatre, and we know he would have gone to see Public Enemies.
Besides historicizing America’s one-time public enemy, the movie features some beautiful, depression-era Chicago buildings, which were made to last. Director Michael Mann takes full advantage of the longevity of Chicago architecture.
Many scenes take place in the actual buildings where Dillinger stepped foot. Michael Mann turns Public Enemies into an eternal story, traveling into the past using a time machine built by Chicago.
The most notable real building is the Biograph Theatre, where Dillinger was shot. Now owned by the Victory Gardens Theatre on 2433 North Lincoln Avenue, the theatre still bears the classic marquee.
Another real location was staged at the “Tumble Inn” at 435 North Clark, where Dillinger watched his girlfriend, Billie Frechette get arrested.
Of course, Union Station makes an appearance too. This spectacular building often makes cameos in movies. Its grand interior provides the stage for the shootout scene in The Untouchables. But Union Station also appears in lighter movies too, like The Sting and My Best Friend’s Wedding.
6. The Fugitive
The Fugitive represents the quintessential Chicago action flick. Harrison Ford, as Dr. Richard Kimble, combs the city in his search for the one-armed man. In Kimble’s pursuit, he manoeuvres the network of back alleys, which criss-cross the dense Chicago cityscape. This trip through the less-seen passages of Chicago afford a rare look into the unpolished face of the city.
Among Kimble’s ramblings through Chicago, he:
- Calls his lawyer from a payphone near the Wells Street Bridge
- Lays low in a basement apartment at 9000 South Houston Avenue
- Looks for clues at Cook County Hospital
- Uses a photo booth at 8949 South Commercial Avenue
- Runs through Daley Plaza
- Brushes past people at City Hall
- Stays at a Men’s Hotel on 426 South Clark
- Blends into the St. Patrick’s Day Parade
One cop on patrol for the parade, looking at the Chicago River, utters the most memorable line from The Fugitive, “If they can dye the river green today, why can’t they dye it blue the other 364 days of the year?”
The pivotal moment of the movie happens when Kimble bursts into the conference at the Hilton Chicago and calls out the men responsible for his wife’s death. Certainly a dramatic move — but Chicago’s a pretty bold city.
7. Batman Begins
When director Christopher Nolan imagined a location fit for Gotham’s dark aura, he chose Chicago. The choice was obvious. The austere nature of Chicago’s art deco buildings easily conjure up an image of Gotham. The iron grid work of the bridges, steamy dark alleys, and towering buildings create an ambiance of murky illusion. Or maybe Nolan just liked Chicago pizza — either way, Chicago suits Batman Begins perfectly.
Many choice Chicago spots appear in the movie. Nolan cast the Franklin Street Bridge as the gateway to The Narrows: the island in the center of Gotham and home to Arkham Asylum. The Jewelers Building at 35 East Wacker Drive also appears in disguise as the Gotham State Courts. The Chicago Board of Trade building also functions as the HQ of Wayne Enterprises.
Like Bruce Wayne, Chicago wears a stylized costume in Batman Begins. This transforms Chicago into Gotham. But if you see Batman swinging from the Franklin Bride, call Commissioner Gordon.
8. High Fidelity
Chicago is often represented as a dramatic city, yet High Fidelity steers clear of the grandiose. Everyday people with modest goals make up the cast of director Stephen Frears’ adaptation of Nick Hornsby’s bestselling novel.
Anyone can relate to the struggles of record shop owner Rob Gordon, as he figures out his love life in Chicago. Gordon goes to regular bars, lives in a plain apartment, goes to concerts, and takes transit.
Many of the places Gordon visits still exist in Chicago. These accessible locations dot the streets of the city. The location of Gordon’s store, Championship Vinyl, was filmed at 1500 North Milwaukee Avenue. Other locations include the bar at 2438 North Lincoln Avenue where Gordon sees Marie perform for the first time.
Later, when Gordon and Penny go on a date, they see a concert at the Music Box — a real venue at 3733 North Southport Avenue. Gordon catches the L Train at Armitage Station and he walks over the Kinzie Street Bridge close to Canal Street.
High Fidelity offers a realistic look at Chicago. No mythology, no superheroes, no gangster — just the average folks of Chicago: a city with great music and great people.
9. Drinking Buddies
Drinking Buddies provides an unadorned look at the Chicago working class. Director Joe Swanberg offers a casual look into the lives of a group of brewery workers at Revolution Brewing. Drinking Buddies was filmed at this real-life brewery at 2323 North Milwaukee Avenue.
The workers at Revolution brew beer, hang out, laugh and go out drinking. After work, they go down to the Empty Bottle at 1035 North Western Avenue to shoot pool. True to life, nothing too strange happens in the movie. The only tense scene happens when Luke cuts his hand helping Kate move.
Drinking Buddies doesn’t over celebrate Chicago. There’s no shots of anything a tourist might recognize. In fact, it’s easy to forget that it takes place in Chicago — but that’s the point. Real Chicagoans go about their lives without constantly thinking about the city. Of course, we’re proud of our city, but Chicago isn’t Emerald City — it’s a real place.
10. Stranger Than Fiction
Chicago has a way of getting into your head in the comedy-drama Stranger Than Fiction. When Harold Crick, played by Will Farrell, waits to catch a bus outside the U.S. Post Office at 211 South Clark Street, something unusual pops into his head: a narrator.
Unable to escape the voice, or its prediction of his doom, Crick goes about life as normal. He performs an audit at a bakery on 2500 South Christiana Avenue. You can grab a coffee at the real life café, called the Cathedral Cyber cafe, and pretend it’s Ana Pascal’s bakery from the movie — if you’re a fan of fiction.
Crick’s life unravels when his apartment at 6350 North Ridgeway Avenue gets mistakenly demolished. Moving into a new apartment at the River City Condos at 800 South Wells Street, he begins to accept the inevitability of his death, as foretold by his omnipresent narrator.
Finally able to track down the author of his fate, a writer named Karen Eiffel, Crick accepts his death, and returns Karen’s manuscript to her outside her apartment on 904 South Homan Avenue. Content with dying, he sacrifices himself to save a kid from a bus on 26th Street and Martin Luther King Drive. With typical Chicago kindness, Karen couldn’t kill Crick after all — and he wakes up in the hospital.
Stranger Than Fiction explains how we’re all connected. Scriptwriter Zach Helm claims, “Each of these characters ends up doing little things to save one another. There’s an underlying theme that the things we take most for granted are often the ones that make life worth living and actually keep us alive.”
Living in Chicago you can’t deny how people help each other, which makes it a great setting for movies. From the beauty of the buildings to the people who inhabit them, Chicago looks great on film. And the stories aren’t over. Watch for the next Chicago blockbuster — it’s going to come!