What’s Included, What’s Excluded, and Why

Why these films?

In considering how fictional and real spaces impact one another, it made sense to focus on films that portray an imagined version of the real Philadelphia.  The act of recreating the city requires filmmakers to say something meaningful about the space in which their stories are set.

Why did you exclude demolished and unrecognizable sites?  

I wanted using these maps to be fun, and I didn’t feel that visiting sites that no longer exist or have become unrecognizable would spark the joy of standing where a beloved scene took place.  Undoubtedly, it is important to examine how the city has changed over time and consider the impact of those changes on the people who live there. While visiting demolished or renovated sites is an interesting way of marking this change, the characters who inhabit these films do not feel its effects because their lives do not continue beyond the screen.  Therefore, considering these sites through the lens of their experiences feels less valuable to me than digging more deeply into the way changes to them have impacted real Philadelphians. In this spirit, I did not include locations like Ophelia’s apartment in Trading Places, the Spectrum, the South St. shops of Blow Out, or the pet store where we first see Adrian and Rocky together.  

What about all the great Philadelphia films that touch on the fantastic, amazing, and impossible?

There is no doubt that films like 12 Monkeys, Mannequin, National Treasure, Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen, and those of M. Night Shyamalan inspire fandom and merit study.  But, the process of exploring a place as both real and a portal to fantastical worlds and events is a slightly different project, one that has something different to say about the city’s identity.  In these films, forces we cannot bring to bear in real life shape and change the city, and I wanted to focus on those forces we can recognize in fiction and then marshal in the place we return to when we leave the theater or turn off the TV.  Exploring the films listed above is a worthy project to be sure, and perhaps one day I’ll find the time to build a sister site called Philadelphia Beyond Imagination.

What about films with a scene or two that take place in Philadelphia?

I wanted to explore the implications of recreating the city and the experience of living in it.  The kind of depth that helped me answer the question at the heart of this venture meant that characters needed to spend considerable time there.  Only then could I consider how Philadelphia shaped a character and how that character shaped the city. Based on our own lives, we all understand that living in a place is different than just visiting it, even if something of real import happens to us there.  As such, I chose not to consider films like Age of Innocence, Beloved, Italian Job, The Wrestler, and others that include just a scene or two in Philly.  

What about the suburbs?

Philadelphia is large and contains multitudes.  But, there is still something distinctive about living within its limits compared to living even just beyond them.  Philly’s suburbs and surrounding areas have different identities from the city (though these identities are certainly connected to it).  For the sake of this project, I chose to include only films that use Philadelphia as a primary setting or involve multiple essential scenes set there.  In addition, I included only locations within the city limits. This approach meant excluding films like Witness as well as the suburban locations in films like Silver Linings Playbook.

What about Invincible?

I was interested in what happens when one realizes a fully imagined place through storytelling.  In the films included in this project, filmmakers make choices (almost) entirely based on the events of their narratives and their understandings of the city.  They choose Famous 4th St. Deli or Rittenhouse Square or 1818 E. Tusculum St. because that location says something distinctive and precise about a character.  When real events dictate some of these choices, the purpose of the filmmaker is slightly different and slightly less connected to the work I wanted to do through this site.  In making Invincible, which is based on a real person, the filmmakers had to consider the facts of that person’s life and the places they lived and worked.  Though its makers, of course, brought massive powers of imagination to bear in creating their final product, its inextricable connection to real events changes its nature in a way that made me decide not to include it here.  

What about the Upside?

Honesty is the best policy.  I completed this project for a course in my master’s program.  I have two young children and a full-time job as a teacher. I just haven’t had a chance to see this movie.  I’ll watch it this summer and consider adding a new map to the collection!

Did I miss any other Philadelphia films that meet my criteria?  

You don’t know what you don’t know!  But, people are not shy on the internet.  I’m sure folks will let me know if I did. I’ll be glad to take a look at any films that meet the criteria I laid out above and consider adding a map for them.