Real Places That Show Up In The Background of Every Movie

6 min read
Background Of Every Movie

Hollywood loves to recycle things — plotlines, ideas, even specific phrases — but sometimes it’s a bit jarring to see the same locations being reused over and over. There are many places that get passed around shoots like a blunt at Snoop Dogg’s house. Such as …

The MacArthur — The World’s Most Versatile Hotel

The Macarthur Hotel

Originally built in 1925 for the “Benevolent Order of the Elks” (as opposed to the Malevolent Order of the Elks), the MacArthur was eventually sold and turned into a hotel. Then it was sold again and repurposed into every Art Deco building in every movie ever.

The entrance has appeared in some tense scenes in Tango & Cash, The Bodyguard, and Gangster Squad. We’re pretty sure buildings that look like this get colonies of hard-faced 1940s triggermen the way other places get termites. During When Harry Met Sally’s climactic scene, in which Harry races to the NYE party to tell Sally his feelings for her, we can see the lobby and stairwell right beyond the doors.

The stairs feature in a whole bunch of movies, the most memorable of which is probably the violent opening scene of David Lynch’s Wild At Heart, wherein Nicolas Cage breaks a dude’s head open on the gorgeous marble floor. But you might have also seen them in the parody of The Untouchables’ Union Station scene from Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult.

The MacArthur’s cinematic piece de resistance has to be its majestic ballroom / banquet hall. This gorgeous throwback has been featured in The Prestige, Hocus Pocus, Buffy The Vampire Slayer (the movie), and Changeling, to name a few. Hey, if you’re gonna fight unholy monsters from beyond the veil, might as well style it up a little.

Then there’s the Terrace Room. You can recognize its Art Deco swank easily enough in the Coco Bongo club scene in The Mask. It’s also the location of every apartment in the movie Drive. According to the director, Nicolas Winding Refn, they built the entire apartment complex set inside the spacious MacArthur.

Clearly this was easier than some harebrained scheme like filming in an actual apartment.

Even the MacArthur’s toilets are famous! Tim Roth’s legendary fake story in Reservoir Dogs was filmed there. And so was the awkward bathroom scene in Barton Fink.

Not a lot of places have famous toilets. Not in a good way, at least.

Santa Fe’s Historic Railway Yards

Santa Ferailway Yards

At the height of its industrial glory, the Santa Fe Railway Shops (or simply “The Yards”) was the largest employer in Albuquerque, with over a quarter of the city’s population working there. These days, it hosts no more than a few crumbled buildings, the odd illegal rave, and just about every other grimy movie fight you’ve ever seen.

You might recognize the interior of the largest building (what used to be the machine shop, where steam engines were repaired) as the background in Breaking Bad’s “All Hail the King” poster.

It’s also the place where Hulk lands in The Avengers, smashing through the roof of a disused warehouse before having a short chat with Harry Dean Stanton. Presumably about where all those bricks came from if he fell through a steel roof.

Filmmakers love The Yards because that warehouse is so vast and empty. It’s great for large-scale action set pieces while still offering enough space for a camera to swing around. In fact, it’s so big that you can even have a car chase in it. In Gamer, it’s the location of Gerard Butler’s first arena fight, and the first live venue where an armed killer teabags someone in the flesh.

It also shows up in the pilot episode of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, as a safe house used when trying to evade the terminators.

And leave it to a post-apocalyptic movie to make an abandoned machine shop seem bright and colorful by comparison.

Bob’s “Big Boy” Broiler — Hollywood’s Favorite Hangout

Hollywood's Hangout

Nothing says “Americana” like a good old-fashioned roadside diner. The space-age neon signs, the leather booths, the surly waitresses with their pointless white hats. But with the rise of Starbucks and cheap takeaway, these diners are slowly dying out. Fortunately, there’s one place where root beer floats and jukeboxes will never die: Hollywood movies.

Meet Bob’s Broiler, formerly known as Johnnie’s Broiler, Archie’s Broiler, or Harvey’s Broiler, depending on the decade. Founded by Harvey and Minnie Ortner in 1958, the 24-hour diner is LA’s go-to location whenever a director wants to tap into an ageless, nostalgic vibe. You know, like in Mad Men, or the ’80s flick License To Drive, or the most erotic Jeff Goldblum alien sex romp (and he has many), Earth Girls Are Easy.

Inside, those green chairs have probably touched more famous butts than Harvey Weinstein, serving as a location for such fascinating sit-downs as in Robin Williams’ creepy stalker romp One Hour Photo, Reality Bites, The Game, and What’s Love Got To Do With It?

And who better to investigate this weird celebrity nexus than Mulder and Scully? “I keep telling you, Mulder, just because there are a bunch of weird people in one place doesn’t mean there’s some kind of ‘multi-versal time vortex’ event.”

Aldwych Station — The Default Creepy Subway Station

Aldwych Station

Aldwych tube station in London was intended to connect to other, busier lines, but it must have smelled funny or something, because it never took off. Well, not with commuters, anyway. Aldwych is probably London’s most recognizable subway station due to the many films, music videos, and TV shows it’s appeared in. It was the reverse-Mohawk guy’s nest in Prodigy’s Firestarter music video. It’s really a shame the reverse Mohawk never took off.

That took place in Tunnel B, the same used in another grimy ’90s music video, Everlast’s Black Jesus. It was in Sherlock, Creep, The Imitation Game, and Atonement.

Aldwych’s Platform B was shut down in 1917 (and is reportedly haunted), but Platform A was maintained until 1994, and still has a functioning train on its track – a train that has a better resume than most working actors. You might recognize it from when Superman squared off against it as it speeds out of control in Superman: IV: The Quest For Peace. People really didn’t expect a lot from their superheroes in 1987.

It also shows up in Patriot Games and 28 Weeks Later, just to round off its IMDb page. Hey, can’t have an IMDb page without at least one unnecessary sequel.

Torrance High — Where All Teenagers Go To School

Teenagers Go To School

Torrance High School in California is one of the nicest schools in the world. It’s so nice that students don’t seem to want to leave. How else could you explain all the 30-year-olds running around there, still pretending to be 16? “Don’t shoot such a high angle; you’ll show all the bald spots.”

Torrance High serves as the shooting location of most high school stories in Hollywood. It’s most well-known for standing in as West Beverly Hills High in Beverly Hills 90210. But the stairs behind Jason Priestley and Shannon Doherty have seen a lot worse than teen pregnancy scares – like the principal being eaten by a demon mayor in Buffy The Vampire Slayer. “Demon mayor? What kind of school do you think this is?” Yup, West Beverly Hills High is also Sunnydale High, the most vampire-laden school outside of Transylvania.

While Torrance High School has been in movies as diverse as Bruce Almighty and Cursed, it also serves as the main setting for just about every raunchy teen comedy from the last 30 years, like the James Franco romp Whatever it Takes, or the original “nerd girl takes off glasses and turns out to be hot” teen movie, She’s All That. And if “She was hot all along” seems like a weird twist, well, there’s a reason for that. Torrance High has been in so many teen movies that it was the only logical choice for the teen movie spoofing all of those teen movies, Not Another Teen Movie.

We’re now sick of typing the word “teen.”

The Los Angeles Theater Has Starred In More Movies Than It’s Shown

Angeles Theater

No cinema has a film resume more storied than the Los Angeles Theater, with filmmakers citing its lavish lobby as a “major selling point.” It doesn’t take a keen cinematographer to see why. The downside is that after that lobby, any movie you see is guaranteed to seem like a steaming turd in comparison. It has classed up movies as varied as Charlie’s Angels, Hail Caesar!, and The Muppets. See that chandelier-thing behind Kermit’s head? This is it. Sadly, the chandelier is all it borrowed from the Muppets. The old hecklers would’ve really spiced up that movie.

In fact, it’s so classy that it even stood in as a casino in Batman Forever, the best hotel in Escape From LA, and even a strip club in Armageddon.