5 Places You'll Recognize from the Background of Every Movie
If you have sharp eyes and an observant mind, you're going to ruin a lot of movies for yourself. Mainly because you'll see a scene that takes place on some alien planet and notice that a mountain formation in the background is the same one you just saw in a movie set in the Old West. There's only a certain number of distinct filming locations within easy driving distance of Hollywood, so you see the same ones turn up again and again, if you look for them. So from now on, see if you can spot ...
Griffith Observatory -- That Sculpture on the Front Lawn Should Look Familiar ...
Remember at the beginning of The Terminator when Arnold materializes in a time ball dressed in nothing but, well, his balls? And remember the building and the monument behind him as he met those young thugs and stole their clothes?
When James Cameron told Arnold his penis wouldn't be visible, Arnold asked for the biggest phallic symbol available.
That's the Griffith Observatory, which is located, perhaps unsurprisingly, in LA's Griffith Park. It turns out that those astronomy-loving tough guys Arnold beat up got off easy, because they were actually hanging out in MacGyver's backyard (according to his show's pilot episode).
"I built the place myself using a box of paper clips and a pack of gum!"
"Stop it, Mac. Just stop it."
Thanks to its futuristic look, Griffith Park has been a preferred location for sci-fi movies since 1935, including pictures like The Phantom Empire, The Man from Planet X, and Not of This Earth. We could show you pictures of those films, but you've never heard of them, so here are some Autobots clambering over the observatory in Michael Bay's Transformers instead:
Meanwhile, Cameron Diaz and Lucy Liu just can't get enough of the big pillar in Charlie's Angels 2.
Herschel would later sue for sexual harassment.
This is the same place where Zooey Deschanel goes all Zooey Deschanel on some unsuspecting people in Yes Man.
Or Katy Perry goes all Katy Perry, we're not really sure.
Later, she makes out with Jim Carrey in front of everyone ...
... in the same part of the observatory where James Dean once got into a knife fight with a guy who called him "chicken" in Rebel Without a Cause.
"I'm going to turn you into the rebel without a spleen."
Someone else who resents being called a chicken is, of course, Marty McFly in Back to the Future. Well, as it happens, the observatory is right on top of Mount Hollywood -- and the Mount Hollywood Tunnel is where Marty got chased by Biff while trying to steal the sports almanac back in Back to the Future Part II.
"Almanac? I'm running him down 'cause of that fedora."
Where was Biff going in such a hurry, anyway? Toontown, apparently: This is the same tunnel Eddie Valiant went through to get there in Who Framed Roger Rabbit?
Cheer up, Bob Hoskins, there are way worse places you could be transported to.
The tunnel has also appeared in shows like Charmed and The O.C. If time travel, living cartoons, and dumb TV characters aren't enough for you, how about full scale nuclear war? It's also the tunnel that leads to NORAD in WarGames starring Matthew Broderick.
Begin writing your Marty McFly/Jessica Rabbit/Ferris Bueller fan fictions ... now.
Courthouse Square -- The Clock Tower from Back to the Future Appears in Dozens of Other Movies
Recognize the building above? No? Then simply picture Doc Brown swinging from a wire on top of it while Marty is about to reach 88 miles per hour in the DeLorean below, and it becomes one of the most recognizable settings from one of the greatest movies of the '80s.
That's right. Top Gun.
And while many of you probably know the locations from Back to the Future better than your own homes, what you might not be aware of is that this particular set was actually built in the '40s and has been used in dozens of movies and TV shows since then.
Courthouse Square is located at Universal Studios in California and, as you can see, it hasn't changed a whole lot over the last 60 or so years -- in fact, during the opening credits of Back to the Future, you can see Marty skateboard past the same steps where villagers rushed to see a black man be wrongfully sentenced to death in To Kill a Mockingbird.
Clearly, Hill Valley's mayor doesn't care about black people ... Wait.
The courthouse has also been used in shows like the original Twilight Zone, Magnum, P.I., Weird Science, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Gilmore Girls, Ghost Whisperer, and House M.D. After appearing in a few undesirable movie sequels (Psycho II, Escape from L.A., Batman & Robin), it showed up in several scenes key to the plot of Bruce Almighty.
Yup, there actually was a plot besides "Jim Carrey and Steve Carell make strange sounds."
The set was also used as the town center in Gremlins -- you can even see the courthouse on the right during the opening credits.
Apparently Doc Brown never did bother to take down that cable.
And hey, remember the movie theater where the Gremlins were watching Snow White?
Turns out it's on the same street where Biff Tannen was acting all rapey toward Marty's mom in Back to the Future Part II.
"This isn't over! You'll biff my tannen if it's the last thing I do!"
And where K.I.T.T. once drove in an episode of Knight Rider.
Another well-known sex offender.
The Biltmore Hotel -- Home to Slimer, Tyler Durden, and Arnold Schwarzenegger's Erection
The Millennium Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles is one of the most famous hotels in the world. In fact, you probably know every corner of this place even if you've never been to LA, because it's shown up in almost a hundred movies and shows. Let's start with the entrance -- if you have a refined taste in movies, you probably remember the Ghostbusters walking into this place in their first movie. Yep, this is the swanky hotel where they catch Slimer.
We knew it looked way too nice for New York.
You might also recall seeing Jamie Lee Curtis walk through those same doors as you fast-forwarded your VHS copy of True Lies to get to the striptease scene; this is just a few minutes before that.
The prelude to the moment that turned more '90s boys into men than an entire decade of bar mitzvahs.
Also, the final scene of the movie was shot in this hotel's ballroom. If Arnold and Jamie Lee stuck around for dinner after that, there's a good chance they got to taste some of Tyler Durden's urine in their soup, because Brad Pitt works here in Fight Club.
Or Edward Norton, whatever. Spoilers.
Back to Ghostbusters, there's a vertigo-inducing shot of the characters going up the stairs of the hotel ... which is pretty appropriate, since Alfred Hitchcock filmed some scenes of Vertigo here.
Hitchcock's ghost was so moved when it heard about the homage that it signed on to play Slimer.
Anyway, after the 'Busters bust Slimer, they go back down to the lobby. See that clock in the background?
Well, here's the same clock, or one a lot like it, in the scene from Beverly Hills Cop where Eddie Murphy pretends he's a writer for Rolling Stone and makes everyone feel racist.
Now he just makes us hate donkeys.
And see those stairs back there? They're in the scene from Splash where Tom Hanks realizes that his girlfriend is a mermaid.
"Goddammit! This is the fifth time a fish has tricked me into fucking it."
Those stairs also allow us to perform history's first-ever segue from Splash to Mad Men, since they're in an episode where the Biltmore doubles for the Savoy Hotel in New York.
In case you're wondering, it's episode 2.01, "The One Where Don Can't Get It Up."
Other movies shot here include Chinatown, Rocky III, Spider-Man, Independence Day, Ocean's Eleven, Wedding Crashers, Daredevil, Pretty in Pink, The Bodyguard, and Cruel Intentions. We're gonna go ahead and assume now that all those characters drank some Durden juice at some point.
Old Royal Navy College -- The British-est Place in Existence
Hey, have you seen the trailer for Marvel's new Thor movie? Of course you have, you're a nerd. Well, then you might have noticed that a good chunk of it takes place in an extremely British-looking series of old buildings:
"Should we make even the tiniest effort to move away from these giant glass windows?"
"Nah, we'll be fine."
If those scenes look familiar, that's because they were shot at the Old Royal Navy College, located in Greenwich, London, which has been featured in a crapload of other films. For instance, it turns out that Thor: The Dark World isn't the first movie starring an Avenger to be shot in that exact same hallway above -- here's Sean Connery as the kilt-wearing villain in the non-Marvel version of The Avengers from 1998 (note the arch behind him):
"Who wantsh to feel how shoft my legsh are? You there. Come feel my legsh."
Probably the most distinguishing feature of the college is its famous "Painted Hall," which is exactly what it sounds like (it took 20 years to paint all of it, back in the 18th century), and it has been crossed by characters like Lara Croft in Tomb Raider ...
... and Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides.
Meanwhile, the roads through the college have been used to portray old-timey London in movies like The King's Speech, Sherlock Holmes, The Mummy Returns, and Shanghai Knights ...
The place where we went to college had a hot dog stand, so it was pretty nice, too.
... but the exact same streets also doubled as Paris in the recent version of Les Miserables (note the windows in the back).
If you were trapped in a world where Russell Crowe "sings" constantly, you'd be running, too.
Even the gates of this place are famous: Stick a guy in a furry hat in front of them and they look exactly like the entrance to Buckingham Palace. Here's little Thora Birch as Harrison Ford's daughter bugging a palace guard at the beginning of Patriot Games ...
The woman's bag would later co-star with Thora in American Beauty.
... and here are Garfield and Odie doing the same thing in the same place in Garfield 2.
We refuse to type the actual name of the movie.
And speaking of sequels no one asked for, we also see Nicolas Cage going through the same gates before completely losing his shit inside the palace in National Treasure 2. We're campaigning for them to add Cage's crazy face to the fresco in the Painted Hall.
650 South Spring Street -- The One Bank in Every Movie
650 South Spring Street, Los Angeles, used to be the location of Bank of America, but this big, fancy-looking building is no longer a financial institution ... it only plays one on TV (and in movies). These days it goes by the name the Majestic Halls, and you can totally rent it if you want to shoot a film or, like, host the classiest hot dog eating contest ever. This place has been in a bunch of movies and shows over the past couple of decades, and not always portraying a bank. Its biggest fan is probably Christopher Nolan, who apparently reuses locations as often as he reuses actors. For instance, in his movie The Prestige, the building appears as both a courthouse ...
He's on trial for Jaws: The Revenge.
... and the restaurant where Michael Caine meets Hugh Jackman for a beer. Nolan didn't even bother to cover the wooden panels in the back.
Sixty percent of the production money was spent on bowler hats.
By the way, Caine is sitting in the same place ...
... where Joseph Gordon-Levitt meets Morgan Freeman after Bane takes over Gotham City in The Dark Knight Rises. Speaking of Freeman, you may recognize the building as the library where Detective Somerset does research while listening to classical music in Se7en.
Somerset, succumbing to the deadliest sin: swaggering in a public building.
We've pointed out the wooden panels before, but do you recognize those pillars, too? You should, you've probably seen them a crapload of times, like in the scene from Ghost where Patrick Swayze and Whoopi Goldberg go to a bank to try to withdraw a shit-ton of money.
"If the manager says no, let me jump into your body and we'll try that 'clay thing' on him."
Oh, and this is also the bank where Kevin Nealon works in The Wedding Singer, which apparently makes him a co-worker of Jim Carrey's character in The Mask, Stanley Ipkiss. Note that both bank employees seem to be checking out the boobies of the person in front of them:
Sorry, Cameron, but you just can't compete with Sandler's rack.
As the Mask, Ipkiss later robs the safe in the same bank ...
... which has also been visited by Johnny Depp and Benicio del Toro in Blow (this time it's supposed to be in South America) ...
... and Doctor Octopus in Spider-Man 2.
"FREEZE! PUT THE FEDORA DOWN!"
And finally, lest you think the security in this bank sucks, Jennifer Garner once stopped a robbery here in an episode of Alias ...
Why did everyone suddenly stop casting Jennifer Garner in action roles?
... in the same place where she later danced to "Thriller" by herself in 13 Going on 30.
Aaron Short is a film student. Check out his film ramblings at his blog here.
For more things you may not have noticed about movies, check out 6 Tricks Movies Use to Make Sure You Root for the Right Guy and 5 Ways Hollywood Tricks You Into Seeing Bad Movies.
If you're pressed for time and just looking for a quick fix, then check out 5 Weirdly Specific Scenes You See In Every Marvel Movie.
And stop by LinkSTORM to learn which Wookiee has been in every Bigfoot movie.
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Related Reading: Curious about other locations you see in every movie? Click here. If you're more interested in wasteful movie productions -- like the Apocalypse Now scene that used up 1,200 gallons of gasoline and acres of pristine jungle -- you should give this article a read. If you'd like to bust some movie myths about famous places, click here and learn about the giant tacky mall atop the Louvre. Complete your obsessive film knowledge with a look at fictional places that exist in the real world.