When it comes to movies, Pittsburgh is no understudy. Since the early 1900s, the city has played a starring role in the film industry. Whether it’s movies about Pittsburgh or movies filmed in the area, Pittsburgh and the movies have a long and storied relationship.
First Theater Dedicated to Movies: the Nickelodeon
Although movies weren’t invented in Pittsburgh, the city boasts the first theater dedicated solely to moving pictures, as they used to be known. In 1905, Harry Davis and John P. Harris opened the world’s first movie theater on Smithfield Street in downtown Pittsburgh, calling it the “Nickelodeon.” The name was a combination of “nickel” and “odeon,” the former noting the cost of admission, which was 5 cents, and the latter a reference to the ancient Greek term for theater. The 100-seat theater opened at 8 a.m. and closed at midnight, and nearly 7,000 people a day flocked there to see this new wonder of entertainment. The first films shown were Poor But Honest and The Baffled Burglar.
Nickels filled the cashboxes, and soon 18 of the Davis Harris theaters were dotted throughout the city. The second “movies-only” theater opened in Warsaw, Poland. A Polish Pittsburgher realized that the theaters were a nickel mine, if not a gold mine, and went back to his native Poland to open the world’s second movie theatre in that country.
Acclaimed Movies Filmed in Pittsburgh
From the 1920s to the 1950s, Pittsburgh was a major film exchange. Owned and operated by the movie studios, the exchanges housed offices, film libraries, and screening rooms. Paramount, Columbia Pictures, MGM, Universal Pictures and United Artists all had exchanges in the city on the Boulevard of the Allies. Today, standing at 1727 Boulevard of the Allies, the Paramount Building with its signature mountain range logo above the entry is the only building still intact. Recently, an initiative to preserve the historic building has been launched by citizens wishing to save some of the city’s contributions to the film industry.
According to the Pittsburgh Film Office, more than 109 motion picture and television productions have been filmed in the city. The first film was Tancred Commandery which was filmed in 1898 in Pittsburg, when Pittsburgh was spelled without the “h”. Some blockbusters have been filmed in the area. Two films shot in Pittsburgh are among the American Film Institute’s “100 Years . . . 100 Movies” List. The Deer Hunter, with its all-star cast of Robert DeNiro, Christopher Walken, and Meryl Streep, chronicled three friends from Pittsburgh’s Steel Valley and how their service in the Vietnam War affected their lives. The 1978 film won five Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Director.
Also garnering five Academy Awards was The Silence of the Lambs. This 1991 film shot in Pittsburgh won Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Actor, Best Director and Best Screenplay. The thriller sent a collective chill up the nation’s spine as Jodie Foster, portraying FBI agent Clarice Starling, probed the diabolical mind of serial killer Hannibal Lecter, as portrayed by Anthony Hopkins.
Since the 1980s, hundreds of films have been filmed in the area, everything from comedy to drama. The acclaimed films Hoffa and Dominick and Eugene were filmed in the area, and the madcap Houseguest and Kingpin also used the city as their backdrop. Even the caped crusader, Batman, roamed the streets of Pittsburgh during the making of The Dark Knight Rises in 2011.
Recent Pittsburgh Movies
2013 Movies Scheduled to film in Pittsburgh
- Frank or Francis with Nicolas Cage, Elizabeth Banks, Kevin Kline, Steve Carell, and Jack Black
- Out of the Furnace Christian Bale, Woody Harrelson, and Forest Whitaker
- Elixir with Chelsea Kane, Jane Seymour, and Sara Paxton
- The Lifeguard with Martin Starr and Kristen Bell
- Supah Ninjas (Season 2, on Nickelodeon) with Gracie Dzienny, Ryan Potter, Carlos Knight and George Takei
- Those Who Kill (TV Pilot for A&E) with Chloe Sevigny
2012 Movies Filmed in Pittsburgh
- One for the Money with John Leguizamo and Katherin Heigl
- The Avengers Joss Whedon directed this blockbuster with Robert Downey Jr, Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, and Scarlett Johansson
- Won’t Back Down Maggie Gyllenhaal and Holly Hunter
- The Perks of Being a Wallflower with Emma Watson and Logan Lerman
- Still I Rise with Maggie Gyllenhaal and Viola Davis
- The Dark Knight Rises with Christian Bale and Joseph Gordon-Levitt
- Jack Reacher with Tom Cruise, Robert Duvall, and Richard Jenkins
- Promised Land with Matt Damon, John Krasinski, Frances McDormand, and Hal Holbrook
- Sibling with Mischa Barton, Michael Clarke Duncan, and Devon Sawa
2011 Movies Filmed in Pittsburgh
- Death from Above with Tom Savini, Robert Z’Dar, and Marc Macaulay
- I Am Number Four with Alex Pettyfer, Timothy Olyphant, and Dianna Agron
- Abduction with Taylor Lautner, Alfred Molina, and Sigourney Weaver
- One for the Money with John Leguizamo and Katherine Heigl
- Warrior with Nick Nolte, Kurt Angle, and Jennifer Morrison
- A New York Heartbeat with Eric Roberts, Escher Holloway, and Rachel Brosnahan
- Sibling with Michael Clarke Duncan and Mischa Barton
- Riddle with Val Kilmer, Elisabeth Harnois, and Diora Baird
- Mafia with Ving Rhames, Robert Patrick, and Pam Grier
2010 Movies Filmed in Pittsburgh
- Unstoppable with Denzel Washington, Chris Pine, and Rosario Dawson
- The Next Three Days with Russell Crowe, Elizabeth Banks, and Liam Neeson
- Love and Other Drugs with Jake Gyllenhall and Anne Hathaway
- She’s Out of My League with Jay Baruchel and Alice Eve
- Adventureland with Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, and Ryan Reynolds
- Dog Jack with Louis Gossett Jr.
- The Chief with Tom Atkins
For unparalleled gruesomeness, cult classic The Night of the Living Dead tops the marquee. A low-budget, black and white, independent film, this 1968 horror flick established director George Romero’s reputation as one of the best directors of this genre. Zombies roamed the Pennsylvania countryside terrorizing residents on screen and frightening those in theater seats. In 1999, the Library of Congress placed it on its National Film Registry, and it also made the American Film Institute’s List of 100 Thrills.
Movies About Pittsburgh
Not only has Pittsburgh been the location for shooting films, it has also been the subject of numerous movies or has played itself on the silver screen. One of the earliest movies about Pittsburgh was Allegheny Uprising. It premiered in 1939 and starred a young John Wayne. Valley of Decision, a 1945 film, starred Gregory Peck and Greer Garson and depicted the tale of a housemaid who falls in love with the scion of the local steel mill. Their romance is threatened when her family goes on strike against the mill. The steel industry was also highlighted in the 80s hit Flashdance. This story of a young welder-by-day, dancer-by-night was the third-highest grossing film of 1983, and its signature song “Flashdance . . . What a Feeling” won the Academy Award.
The beloved film Groundhog Day finds egotistical weatherman Phil Connors repeating the same day over and over. Likewise this comedy filmed in 1993 and set in nearby Punxsutawney, repeatedly tops the charts as a favorite film of movie enthusiasts.
When you’re the City of Champions it’s only natural that sports have played a prominent role on film. In 1941, legendary local boxer Billy Conn portrayed himself in The Pittsburgh Kid. Ten years later, baseball was the subject with Angels in the Outfield. It featured cameos by Bing Crosby and baseball greats Joe DiMaggio and Ty Cobb. Hockey was a hit in Slap Shot. Filmed in nearby Johnstown and starring Paul Newman, this comedy ranks as one of the all-time favorite sports movies. Sudden Death, starring Jean-Claude Van Damme, was set in the Civic Arena. The 1995 action film was written by the wife of then Penguin owner Howard Baldwin. The Fish that Saved Pittsburgh was released in 1979 and featured a star-studded cast that included Jonathan Winters, Julius Erving, Flip Wilson, Debbie Allen, Stockard Channing, and Meadowlark Lemon.
Whether you enjoy the drama of Dominick and Eugene, The Mothman Prophecies, Mrs. Soffel, Lorenzo’s Oil, or Dogma, the scares of Creepshow, or the lighthearted touch of the Cemetery Club or Inspector Gadget, all these films have one thing in common: Pittsburgh. Though few may know the amazing history of our city on film, Pittsburgh has been and will continue to be one of the film industry’s leading lights.