Sunday, April 17, 2011

Burgh Film Power Rankings

Fresh off the review of The Next Three Days, I thought I'd put together my personal power rankings of 'Burgh movies. The list is completely subjective based on my personal taste, the quality of the film, and, most importantly, how "Pittsburgh" the movie is. Ideally, the movies are both set and shot in Western Pennsylvania. So, without further ado, here's my list of Best Pittsburgh Movies:

1. Striking Distance - THE Pittsburgh movie for me. This movie has it all, from the Pittsburgh River Patrol, the Polish Hill Killer and the Pittsburgh 'stache. This movie is exactly what you'd expect if a Hollywood writer took a group of Yinzers out for some drinks and had them just throw out their ideas for a cop thriller: Bruce Willis doing a chick on his house boat on the Mon, car chase that goes all over the city, policeman's ball at the Point, etc. etc. Not the best movie on the list, but certainly the most Pittsburgh.
2. The Deer Hunter - Probably the best movie on the list, it's about a group of steelworker friends from Clairton struggling after returning home from Vietnam. The cast includes DeNiro, Christopher Walken and Meryl Streep. Includes the famous Russian roulette scene.
3. Night of the Living Dead - The defining movie of the zombie genre was, of course, set and shot around Pittsburgh. Includes a great news report early on in the film listing the various towns and suburbs in Western Pennsylvania being overrun by zombies. Sequels Dawn of the Dead, Land of the Dead and Diary of the Dead are all also set in the area. Pittsburgh takes great pride in being the center of the zombie universe and while zombies can be a fleeting fad that comes and goes in the national culture, they never go out of style in Pittsburgh.
4. Wonder Boys - I played with putting this one as high as #2 on the list and, in truth, this might be my favorite movie on the list. The story follows the hijinks and struggles of an English professor (presumably Carnegie Mellon, maybe Pitt), his editor, the chancellor of the university, a few of his writing students, a transvestite and a James Brown look alike over the course of a few days during the annual writing festival. The movie is based on Michael Chabon's (who went to Pitt) novel of the same name and is a very faithful adaptation. I decided to knock it down to four on this list because the city isn't necessarily integral to the plot, but the city is featured nicely nonetheless and was written by a real genius who cultivated his talents here.
5. Adventureland - A tough call for this last spot, and a sign that maybe I should have stopped at four, but I went with this one because I like the story and the vision for it and for the prominence of Kennywood and the 16th Street Bridge. That said, it's not a great movie or anything, most notably for how annoying Jesse Eisenberg can be. But really, the only movie I gave consideration to for this slot was Gung Ho, but decided I couldn't go there because it was set around a car manufacturing plant and in the fictional town of Hadleyville, PA.

Honorable Mention: That Thing You Do!, Zach and Miri Make a Porno, She's Out of My League, The Next Three Days, Gung Ho, The Road, Groundhog Day, Houseguest, Kingpin, Silence of the Lambs, All the Right Moves, Slap Shot

Dishonorable Mention: Sudden Death, Rock Star, Stigmata

Haven't seen yet, but plan on it now that I'm keeping this list: Flashdance, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, Angels in the Outfield, The Fish that Saved Pittsburgh, Inspector Gadget, Unstoppable, Love and Other Drugs

What movies am I forgetting? And how would your list be different?


  1. I almost spit my coffee out while reading this list, particularly the review of "Striking Distance". I will share more thoughts later.

  2. Hahaha i was crying laughing reading your striking distance review. I had to leave my desk because I was laughing so hard.

    After you mention it, I have to believe that there was some collaboration involved with the director of the film and some local unions - like the 'lectric union 409. I can see them telling the director, 'You gotta get Bruce Willis. This ain't no action flick without Bruce. Oh and a hot babe.'

  3. Dennis Farina is the ultimate Pittsburgh looking guy: middle-aged, mustached, leather face, and brillo-pad hair. He is also one of the major ethnicites that make up the burgh - Italian. He just needs the accent.

  4. I would guess that snobbier people would disagree with my assessment of Striking Distance representing the Pittsburgh experience in any way, which is probably true, but what it really represents is what Pittsburghers want to see. I think there's even a Zambelli fireworks display in there.

  5. Also, looking back at this list a day later, what I might do differently is give that last spot to either All the Right Moves or Slap Shot. I penalized Slap Shot for fictionalizing the town of Charlestown (I don't know that it's even necessarily supposed to be in Pennsylvania, is it?). All the Right Moves might the big oversight. It was set during a WPIAL football season and takes place in Ampipe, an obvious allusion to Ambridge.

    And, while I love or really like Silence of the Lambs, Kingpin, The Road and That Thing You Do!, I don't think any of them qualify as real Pittsburgh movies.