The 20 Best Movies Set in San Francisco

13. The Lady from Shanghai (1948)

The Lady from Shanghai (1948)

One of those pictures that is only partially set in San Francisco, Orson Welles’ 1948 thriller The Lady from Shanghai has several great scenes shot in The City. Welles’ tough Irish sailor Michael O’Hara hires on to the yacht of lawyer Arthur Bannister and his wife Elsa (Rita Hayworth, Welles’ real life wife at the time) as they sail to San Francisco.

Along the way they pick up Grisby, Bannister’s weird law partner and after they arrive in Sausalito, Grisby proposes a scheme to Michael in which he will help Grisby fake his own death. But Grisby ends up dead and Michael is accused of the murder and ends up with Bannister defending him.

Including a scene in which Michael hides out in an authentic Chinatown Kabuki theater as well as the well-remembered ‘hall of mirrors’ funhouse sequence, The Lady from Shanghai is one of Welles’ greatest accomplishments. Still, almost nobody can exactly explain the plot of the film, but I guess that is the mark of a good movie.


12. Play it Again, Sam (1972)

Play it Again, Sam (1972)

Woody Allen’s original Broadway play was set in New York, but when it came time for Herbert Ross to direct the film version, a strike caused them to change the location to San Francisco.

Woody is hilarious as bumbling Allen Felix, recently divorced and trying to woo women in the shadow of his cinematic idol Humphrey Bogart. He falls in love with his best friend’s wife, played by Diane Keaton, and the results are funny and heart breaking. Some great San Francisco location footage from the early 1970’s makes its way into this film also. See it if you haven’t.


11. Point Blank (1967)

Point Blank (1967)

John Boorman’s 1967 neo-noir thriller stars Lee Marvin and Angie Dickinson. The film begins (and ends) at Alcatraz where Marvin’s hired killer Walker is double crossed and left for dead.

Although mostly set in Los Angeles, Point Blank has memorable scenes at Alcatraz and Fort Point and this film has gained a cult reputation since its release. Some have speculated that the entire film is a dying fantasy from the point of view of Walker. At times brutally violent, Point Blank features a great supporting cast including Carroll O’Conner, Lloyd Bochner, Keenan Wynn and John Vernon.


10. Mrs. Doubtfire (1993)

Mrs. Doubtfire (1993)

Robin Williams and Sally Field agree to separate, but Williams still wants to spend time with his children. He eventually dresses up in drag as “Mrs. Doubtfire”, and elderly Irish caretaker who looks after the children after school. The plan is working out great until Pierce Brosnan comes into the picture and begins to romance Robin’s ex.

A hilarious look at life and love in the 1990’s, Mrs. Doubtfire was set in San Francisco’s fancy Pacific Heights area, as well as making use of other locations such as Oakland’s KTVU-TV studios and Bridges Restaurant in Danville.


9. The Maltese Falcon (1941)

The Maltese Falcon (1941)

As writer Dashiell Hammett lived in San Francisco and frequented such restaurants as John’s Grill near Union Square, it was a logical setting for The Maltese Falcon, his most famous story. The 1941 film adaptation featured Humphrey Bogart as Sam Spade, the detective lured into a complex plot of greed and deceit, and is generally regarded as the first film in the classic film noir cycle.

John Huston’s initial directorial effort features virtually no location footage in San Francisco besides an opening montage of establishing shots, but it is such an important and significant film that it has to land on the list. That’s the stuff dreams are made of…


8. Milk (2008)


Harvey Milk was the first openly gay publicly elected official in America. After Milk and Mayor George Moscone were gunned down by disgruntled ex-Supervisor Dan White, Milk was the subject of an excellent 1984 documentary, The Times of Harvey Milk. In 2008, however, Milk’s story was made into a bio-pic starring Sean Penn as Milk, as well as James Franco, Emile Hirsch and Josh Brolin.

The film utilized real locations in San Francisco’s Castro District where Milk lived, as well as the San Francisco Civic Center where Milk holds a major political reality. Penn won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance. A must see for anyone interested in San Francisco political history.


7. D.O.A. (1950)

D.O.A. (1950)

Edmund O’Brien is Frank Bigelow, a small town accountant gone off to San Francisco despite the misgivings of his fiancée, Paula. Her fears turn out to be well founded when, after a night on the town, Bigelow turns up with toxic poisoning that only gives him a short while to live and he must go to Los Angeles in search of his own killer.

Director Rudolph Matte presents Bigelow’s nightmare odyssey in the expressionist style of film noir and the San Francisco Fisherman’s Wharf jazz club and Embarcadero locales are played to the hilt as the starting point of Bigelow’s dark journey. See this one and not the 1988 Meg Ryan – Dennis Quaid remake.