6 Places You'll Recognize from the Background of Every Movie
We rarely pay attention to the locations in a film, unless the landscapes are unusually breathtaking (probably CGI) or, like, literally wallpapered in genitals. However, if you think back to your favorite films, you might notice that many of them used the same locations. Just like with actors, there is an elite group of places that tend to show up in hit and/or classic movies.
Here are six locations with more robust IMDb pages (and better managers, apparently) than 80 percent of Hollywood.
Quality Cafe -- Basically Every Cafe in Every Movie Ever
If you live in Los Angeles, you may have seen the Quality Cafe once or twice -- and if you own a television, you've probably seen it hundreds of times. Seriously, the same place has been featured in a ton of TV shows and movies:
Sometimes in the exact same spot:
And with the exact same coffee mugs:
Denzel and Ethan win the award for cutest couple to sit in that booth.
Remember the awkward scene in the first season of Mad Men when Don Draper talks with his half-brother? That was also the Quality Cafe, only with '60s hairdos and indoor smoking allowed.
"We even made a Colored entrance for some of the crew members. That didn't go over well."
Gary Sinise investigated a crime that was committed inside the Quality Cafe in an episode of CSI: NY, even though Los Angeles is a little outside a New York cop's jurisdiction:
Strange ... usually CSI is so firmly grounded in reality.
The Quality Cafe doesn't even function as a real diner anymore. It stopped serving meals in 2006, but it's been doing pretty well for itself as a film location over the past few decades, as demonstrated by this two-and-a-half-minute mashup video of different scenes shot there. For example, here's Hilary Swank taking some advice and/or exposition from Morgan Freeman in Million Dollar Baby:
"Hey, how'd you like to be God? No? Guess it's time for Plan B, then ..."
Here's Morgan Freeman talking to Gwyneth Paltrow about Brad Pitt in Se7en:
He's a regular.
And here's Brad Pitt discussing some serious stuff with ... Vince Vaughn in Mr. and Mrs. Smith:
The really, really poor man's Morgan Freeman.
Meanwhile, here are Scarlett Johansson and Thora Birch making fun of Steve Buscemi's face in Ghost World:
And here's Tom Hanks looking exasperated in the same booth in Catch Me if You Can:
Do they at least wash those mugs?
How about a bleached Nicolas Cage staring at a lady in Gone in 60 Seconds? Sure thing, we got that, too:
Screw washing. If Cage drinks here, they'd better use an autoclave.
And there's more. So now you know: If you ever get the feeling that all the diners used in Hollywood movies look the same, that's because they probably are.
Vasquez Rocks -- The Slanting Rock Formation in Sci-Fi Movies
If this particular formation of rocks looks familiar to you, congratulations on being a nerd. These are the Vasquez Rocks located in Agua Dulce, California, and they are most famous for being used as the backdrop of several Star Trek scenes, from the famous showdown between Captain Kirk and the Gorn in the original series ...
Notice its position relative to Kirk's crotch. That's subtext, baby.
... to the scenes set on planet Vulcan in Star Trek IV and in the 2009 J.J. Abrams reboot:
So what these movies are trying to tell us is that God isn't very creative.
That's right -- like many actors in the Star Trek universe, these rocks have played multiple parts. They even showed up in animated form in the Star Trek-themed episode of Futurama:
The real rocks weren't available to do voice work, so Michael Winslow filled in.
But unlike most actors involved with Star Trek, the rocks went on to have a long and varied career. Besides appearing in shows like Bones, The New Girl, and Friends ...
... the Vasquez Rocks have also appeared in over 40 films. Mel Brooks' Blazing Saddles, for example, was filmed almost entirely at Agua Dulce, which is appropriate because the rocks are actually named after a real bandit from the Old West, Tiburcio Vasquez.
Who may or may not have been involved in anachronistic musical numbers in real life.
For more-recent stuff, the rocks also show up in 127 Hours, Little Miss Sunshine, and Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. And speaking of films starring duos of immature slackers, the rocks actually play a double role in Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey. Bill and Ted first see them while watching an episode of Star Trek, and then they get killed by their robot doubles at those very same rocks:
Just one Wayne's World movie short of the slacker trifecta.
Hatfield House -- The Home of Rich Superheroes
Hatfield House in England was built in 1611 and has a long and proud association with the country's royal family. But fuck that: The only reason we're talking about it here is that it's also Batman's house. And Tarzan's. And Lara Croft's. Basically, any action hero whose superpowers include "having insanely rich parents" lives there.
Fortunately, most of their parents are dead, otherwise it'd get pretty crowded.
That's Angelina Jolie as Lara Croft crossing the house's famous Long Hall in the first Tomb Raider movie -- the scene lasts like 10 seconds, but it serves to establish that she could buy half of South America if she wanted to. Meanwhile, in Robert Downey Jr.'s Sherlock Holmes, the legendary detective has a meeting with a very rich person in that same hallway:
And of course, one of the house's most memorable roles was doubling for Wayne Manor in Tim Burton's Batman movies. Here's the Long Hallway acting as a game room for the likes of Bruce Wayne, Commissioner Gordon, and Harvey Dent, back when he had a full face and was black (note the ceiling and the chimney on the right):
"Sure, Billy Dee, just a couple more background scenes and you can play Two-Face in the next movie. I promise."
Besides the two Burton movies, the grounds outside Hatfield House were also used for some exterior shots in Christopher Nolan's Batman Begins -- that's right, this place has been in more Batman movies than Michael Keaton.
Another favorite spot for Hollywood films is the house's library: It's been used in Batman ...
... Tomb Raider ...
... and the film Orlando with Tilda Swinton, who is the only one who actually knows how to read.
Then there's the room known as Marble Hall, which is easily recognizable due to its checkered floor. It acted as Tarzan's family castle in Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, starring Christopher Lambert from Highlander:
And it's also the room where Bruce Wayne meets Vicki Vale for the first time in Batman:
"So I've kinda got this fetish ..."
These are just some of the 30 different credits to the house's name, which include V for Vendetta, Shakespeare in Love, and Elizabeth: The Golden Age. Tim Burton actually returned here for a scene in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory -- knowing him, he'd probably shoot every movie there if he could afford it.
The Bradbury Building -- Recognize These Stairs?
The Bradbury Building, a Los Angeles landmark built in 1893, has been called the most famous building in science fiction. Its distinctive interiors have appeared in several sci-fi movies and TV shows over the past 70 years. Sure, it looks pretty mundane in the picture above, but add some moody lighting and copious amounts of trash ...
And Harrison Ford's robot boner.
... and it becomes one of the most recognizable settings from Blade Runner. Yep, this is the building where the inventor guy lives with his creepy robot friends and where the rooftop battle at the end takes place.
But Ridley Scott wasn't the first director to shoot in this place, or even the first to shoot a tense chase sequence where a non-human killer fights a man who doesn't know that he's a robot. Twenty years earlier, the same thing happened in the Outer Limits episode "Demon With a Glass Hand" (the same one that "inspired" Terminator). Here's a comparison.
The building also has an episode of Star Trek and a bunch of classic sci-fi movies on its resume. More recently, however, it has branched out into other genres. Remember at the end of (500) Days of Summer when Joseph Gordon-Levitt has a job interview on the top floor of a building and meets a girl conveniently named Autumn? It's the same place:
A better ending would have been revealing that Zooey Deschanel is a replicant, and then she shuts down.
Last year, the building was also used in the Academy Award-winning silent film The Artist as the place where the male and female protagonists meet by accident and don't talk:
Before that, it showed up briefly in movies like Lethal Weapon 4, Pay It Forward, and Chinatown. It had a more sizable role in the 1994 Jack Nicholson movie Wolf, playing the building where Nicholson's werewolf character worked as a publishing editor:
OK, we have to admit that working in this place would be pretty neat (in fact, Marvel Comics has an office there). But what if you don't like taking the stairs? Don't worry, the Bradbury Building also has a famous elevator, as seen, once again, in Blade Runner ...
... plus episodes of shows like Quantum Leap ...
... and CSI: NY, which is apparently shot anywhere but in New York.
"Quick, the next clue is at the Eiffel Tower!"
Greystone Mansion -- The World's Most Famous Checkered Floor
Greystone Mansion is a property in Beverly Hills that has been featured in over 100 movies and episodes of TV shows. We're guessing that the main reason for this is that it's like a 15-minute drive between Hollywood and Beverly Hills, but it probably doesn't hurt that this place is also classy as shit. So, as a result of this rampant reuse of the same location, it turns out that the older Lebowski's mansion in The Big Lebowski ...
It was cheaper to digitally add the rug in post-production.
... was also Daniel Plainview's (Daniel Day-Lewis') estate in There Will Be Blood ...
... and Kermit the Frog's fancy home in the heart-wrenching "Pictures in My Head" song from The Muppets:
"There's a bowling alley here, but the previous owner spilled tomato sauce or something on the floor."
Kermit's song isn't the only musical sequence shot in this place. There's also the video for Meatloaf's classic "I'd Do Anything for Love (But I Won't Do That)" ...
"That" = "Stop leaving lit candlesticks unattended."
... and Elton John's "I Want Love," starring a younger, emo-er Robert Downey Jr.
And just to show you that plans of a cohesive Marvel Comics movie universe go back further than anyone thought, the same video takes the future Iron Man to a room with a white fireplace ...
"Would you fuck me? I'd fuck me."
... which is also used as the family mansion for at least two generations of Osborns (Willem Dafoe and James Franco) in Sam Raimi's Spider-Man movies:
Complete with the Polokus masks from Rayman 2.
The same property also portrayed the exterior garden in X-Men (where it was the garden of Professor Xavier's school) and Joel Schumacher's Batman & Robin, in possibly the first Marvel/DC cinematic crossover. But that's just the tip of the iceberg: Greystone Mansion has been used in movies as diverse as The Social Network, The Bodyguard, Eraserhead, The Dirty Dozen, National Treasure, and The Prestige ... basically anything with a non-British rich character.
For instance, here are the Ghostbusters coming into the mansion to meet the mayor of New York City in Ghostbusters II ...
"Anyone seen Venkman?"
... and here's Bill Murray coming out in the also-Ivan-Reitman-directed Stripes:
"Whoa. Deja vu."
Monument Valley -- The Most Famous Rock Formations You've Never Heard Of
Monument Valley, with its vibrant colors and sandstone pinnacles, contains some of the most recognizable rock formations in the world. Since when do people give a shit about geology, you ask? Since never: The real reason you may recognize these rocks is that they've been used a fuck-ton throughout the valley's illustrious Hollywood career.
For starters, John Ford shot no less than nine movies in Monument Valley, including classic John Wayne Westerns like Stagecoach and The Searchers.
As well as the bulk of the Road Runner cartoons.
Thanks to Ford and Wayne, Monument Valley became synonymous with cowboys shooting each other -- so it was only natural that when Marty McFly traveled back to 1885 in Back to the Future Part III, he landed right smack dab in the middle of this place:
"Roads? Where we're going, there are no roads."
Chevy Chase winds up in Monument Valley by accident when the Griswold family crashes the station wagon in the desert in National Lampoon's Vacation, leading to a touching father/son moment:
"See these rocks? They have a better chance of being in the sequels than you."
Astronaut Dave Bowman also ends up in Monument Valley at the end of the stargate scene in 2001: A Space Odyssey, although Stanley Kubrick flipped the colors to make the place look like an alien planet here:
In the original ending, Dave wakes up in Utah from a long, confusing peyote trip.
Monument Valley has another cameo in Forrest Gump, which we should note was filmed pretty much everywhere. This is a key scene for the movie, though, because it's the area where Forrest suddenly decides to finish his cross-country run.
"I may not be a smart man, but I'm sure I've seen this place before."
And, of course, the anus-clenching opening scene of Mission: Impossible II was shot entirely on top of one of those huge rocks, because getting insanely high is the only way Tom Cruise can experience what we humans call "pleasure."
The film's accompanying music video by Metallica is also set in Monument Valley, as is the sequence set to the Band's "The Weight" at the beginning of Easy Rider. Another low-budget art-house classic, Wild Wild West, also had some scenes there, including the one in which Will Smith is chased by a giant robot spider or some bullshit:
And finally, the upcoming Lone Ranger movie starring Johnny Depp was filmed predominantly in the valley, bringing it back to Westerns. In fact, this spot in the following promotional still from the movie is now called "John Ford's Point":
The natives called it "Chode Rock."
If you're pressed for time and just looking for a quick fix, then check out The North Korean Video Game for People Who Hate Fun.
And stop by LinkSTORM to see the headshots that belong to the tree down the street.
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