Watching movies is a great way to relax after a long day at work or a way to pass the time when the weather is bad, but did you know that the futuristic location in the sci-fi movie you’re about to watch may not be as far away as you think? Detroit has served as a filming location for many movies, even if you haven’t recognized some of the landmarks on the screen. The movie industry has a way of disguising real filming locations until they’re almost unrecognizable, even to the people who pass them daily. Detroit has had a variety of parts from just a scene or two to being the main location.
Ready to spot some of Detroit’s landmarks on the big screen? Grab your made-in-Detroit snacks, find a comfortable seat, and prepare to be entertained.
The Evil Dead
This 1981 classic horror movie tells the story of a group of Michigan State University students who must content with demonic possession on their vacation in Morristown, Tennessee. The film stars Royal Oak native Bruce Campbell, Ellen Sandweiss, and Betsy Baker and was directed by Sam Raimi, another Royal Oak, Michigan native. The Evil Dead received a 96 from Rotten Tomatoes critics and an 84 from the audience. Though Raimi only had a budget of $350,000 to work with, the movie is often cited as one of the goriest horror movies ever made. Most of the movie was shot in Morristown, Tennessee, but some of the indoor scenes were shot in Raimi’s garage in Royal Oak. The Evil Dead is rated R for graphic horror violence and gore.
Before Quentin Tarantino wrote Pulp Fiction, he found success with True Romance. A dark romantic comedy that promises to entertain, True Romance (1993) follows Clarence Worley and Alabama Whitman as they meet, fall in love, and end up on the bad side of a notorious drug lord. Their attempts to stay one step ahead of the law, and their new enemy, test their relationship and their wits. Directed by Tony Scott, Christian Slater (Worley) and Patricia Arqueete (Whitman) put in excellent performances alongside the star-studded cast of Val Kilmer, Gary Oldman, Brad Pitt, Christopher Walken, and Samuel L. Jackson. The film received a 92 percent rating from critics on Rotten Tomatoes and a 93 percent from the audience. Scenes filmed in Detroit include Worley’s trailer park, the police station, and Worley’s and Whitman’s marriage scene, which takes place at the Wayne County Building. True Romance is rated R for violence, sexuality, and drug use.
Starring Detroit native Eminem and the late Brittany Murphy, 8 Mile (2002) relates the story of aspiring rapper Jimmy Smith as he struggles to find his voice in Detroit’s hip-hop scene. Directed by Curtis Hanson, the movie is full of triumph, heartache, and drama, and it received a rating of 76 percent from Rotten Tomatoes critics, but moviegoers only gave it a 54. Notable filming locations in Detroit include Schultes Avenue in Warren, just north of 8 Mile Road, where Smith lived with his mom, and a warehouse at 240 Chene Street, where the rap battles took place. 8 Mile is rated R for strong language, sexuality, violence, and drug use.
The Upside of Anger
Written and directed by Mike Binder, this 2005 movie blends drama, comedy, and romance as it follows Terry Wolfmeyer, a suburban wife who must raise four stubborn daughters after her husband’s unexpected disappearance. To complicate things, Wolfmeyer begins to fall for her neighbor, forcing her daughters to juggle her romantic problems as well as their own. It stars Joan Allen as Wolfmeyer and Kevin Costner as Denny Davies, the neighbor. The Upside of Anger received a fresh rating of 74 percent from Rotten Tomatoes critics and a 63 percent rating from moviegoers. Though much of the film was shot at Ealing Studios in London, some scenes were shot in Bloomfield Hills. The Upside of Anger is rated R for brief comic violence, some drug use, language, and sexual situations.
How Clarence Became Truly Normal
A quirky, comedy-fantasy masterpiece, How Clarence Became Truly Normal (2007) stars Rob Hess and Carey Peters. Written by Rob Hess and directed by Steve Kopera, the movie focuses on Clarence and his lonely life. Clarence goes to work, comes home, and is always certain to hide his third eye from the world. However, his life changes when he meets Eustacia, his mail carrier. As the two grow closer, Clarence begins to wonder if he should let Eustacia in on his best-kept secret. Scenes are shot in Ann Arbor and Detroit.
Shia LaBeouf and Megan Fox star as Sam Witwicky and Mikaela Banes, humans who establish a relationship with an alien species and help save Earth from an invasion of decepticons. Directed by Michael Bay, the movie didn’t fare well with Rotten Tomatoes critics; it received a 57. However, 86 percent of moviegoers enjoyed it. The movie makes use of the iconic Michigan Central Station, located in the Corktown neighborhood, for the Beaux Arts building. Transformers (2007) is rated PG-13 for sci-fi action, sexual humor, language, and violence.
If you’re looking for a movie filmed entirely in Detroit, look no further than Gran Torino (2008). The movie, written by Nick Schenk and directed by Clint Eastwood stars Eastwood as Korean War veteran Walt Kowalski who engages in a small war with a neighborhood gang when he helps one of their initiates after he refuses to join. Gran Torino was certified fresh at 79 percent critic approval, but the audience thought it was fantastic: 90 percent enjoyed the movie. Notable filming locations are 238 Rhode Island Street (Kowalski’s house) and St. Ambrose Catholic Church (where Kowalski attends his wife’s funeral). Gran Torino is rated R for language and violence.
Written by Shauna Cross and directed by Drew Barrymore, Whip It (2009) stars Ellen Page as Bliss Cavendar, Drew Barrymore as “Smashley Simpson”, and Kristin Wiig as “Maggie Mayhem.” The plot tells the story of Bliss Cavendar, a small-town Texas girl who ditches her beauty pageant crown for a helmet when she enters the raucous world of roller derby. Rotten Tomatoes critics certified the movie as fresh with 84 percent, and audience seemed to agree, giving the film a 74. Much of the movie was filmed in Metro Detroit and surrounding cities like Ypsilanti. Many of the skaters in the movie were part of Detroit’s roller derby team at the time of filming. Whip It is rated PG-13 for sexual content, drug material, and language.
Hugh Jackman stars in this sci-fi action/adventure movie as Charlie Kenton, a washed up boxer who lost his chance at a title when the boxing ring was overrun with huge steel robots. Kenton is now a small-time promoter and manages to scrape by; however, he’s forced to partner with his son Max to create and train the sport’s toughest robot boxer yet. Real Steel (2011), directed by Shawn Levy, did fairly well on Rotten Tomatoes. It received a 60 from critics and a 73 from the audience. Despite the plot’s setting in Texas, the movie was filmed entirely in Michigan, much of it in Metro Detroit. Notable filming locations include the Detroit Fire Department at 250 West Larned Street (Tallet’s Gym where Kenton works on his robot), and the GM Renaissance Center on the Detroit Riverwalk (filmed as New York’s Big Arena where Atom fights Zeus). Real Steel is rated PG-13 for language, intense action, and violence.
Sports fans will enjoy the nail-biting tension and nostalgic setting of 61* (2001). The movie tells the story of the 1961 home run race between Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris. The men, determined to beat Babe Ruth’s record of 60 home runs in a single season, form a strong friendship that helps them face the intense pressure they feel on and off the field. Written by Hank Steinberg and directed by Billy Crystal, this made-for-TV movie stars Thomas Jane as Mantle and Barry Pepper as Maris. Rotten Tomatoes critics viewed the film favorably: 80 percent enjoyed it. About 90 percent of moviegoers liked the film. Most of the film’s baseball action scenes, even those set at Yankee Stadium, were filmed at Tiger Stadium, but Detroiters may not recognize it. The movie’s post-production team heavily edited the field to achieve the classic layout of Yankee Stadium.
Detroit on the Silver Screen
So the next time you’re out for a stroll around Detroit, check out some of the local film locations and compare them to their movie appearance. You may find that they don’t look much like the structure in front of you. Detroit’s next appearance on the silver screen will likely be in the newest King Kong movie, due to be released in March 2017.