Detroit has been the backdrop for many great movies over the years. This list is by no means, definitive, but serves as a guide for movies that have Detroit as a principal player. Take a look and let us know what you think.
Beverly Hills Cop
(1984) Axel Foley is definitely Detroit’s adopted son of cinema. Eddie Murhpy’s portrayal of a tough, shoot from the hip detective from Detroit helped push his career into the stratosphere. The opening scenes of the old Detroit Police headquarters and a memorable chase seen through the streets of Detroit certainly keep Beverly Hills Cop near the top of the list. Throughout all of Foley’s misadventures in the glitz and glamour of Beverly Hills, he is wearing a Detroit Lions Jacket. The first two movies in the franchise are excellent, the third installment could be considered one of the worst movies in a series. A fourth movie will start filming in Detroit next year, and we hope it rights the ship.
(1987) Robocop reserves a special slot in any discussion involving movies set in Detroit. Although filmed in Dallas, we here in Detroit have claimed Robocop as one of our own. Going so far as raising the money to create a 10 foot tall statue of the cyborg cop for placement somewhere in our the city. This movie stands out in the futuristic action genre. Set in 2028 Detroit is a crime ridden cesspool of violence, a place where gangs run wild and kill at will. Officer Alex Murphy is murdered in a grizzly scene and is brought back as a half-man, half-robot super cop. Robocop is filled with memorable one liners and great 80’s action sequences.
(2002) You don’t need to be an Eminem fan to enjoy this movie. The plot is good and the scenery is very representative of Detroit neighborhoods. Good or bad, Detroit is a rough place, and 8 mile does a good job of portraying one version of a Detroit upbringing. B-Rabbit, Eminem’s character is trying to make it in an underground world of hip-hop dominated by African Americans. Considered a masterpiece by some, it was certainly a financial success and earned Eminem an Oscar for best song, Lose Yourself. It was filmed almost entirely in and around Detroit and if you watch it, you can spend most of the time trying to identify the background.
(2008) Clint Eastwood directs and stars in Gran Torino. He plays a retired auto worker and Korean War veteran who isn’t exactly the neighborly type. When his neighbor, a young Hmong (mountainous Asian ethnic group from Laos, Vietnam and China) teenager tries to steal his 1972 Gran Torino, Eastwood’s character Walt decides to take the youngster under his wing and shape him up a bit. Their relationship softens the hardened vet, but when local gangbangers start to mess with Walt’s new pal he takes it upon himself to sort it out. Eastwood’s line “get off my lawn,” is part of one of the most memorable scenes in the movie. Filmed in Detroit, Royal Oak, Highland Park, Grosse Pointe and Centerline.
(2002) Jason Patrick may have been born to play undercover narcotics agents. If you have ever seen the movie Rush (1991) you will know what I mean. This is a gritty, hard movie that shows a Detroit that is raw, risky and full of corruption. Patrick’s character is brought out of retirement after a harrowing stint working undercover narcotics to investigate the murder of a fellow officer. Ray Liotta plays his cagey, violent and shady partner, who ultimately holds the answers to the slain officer’s demise. It was filmed almost entirely in Detroit and partly in Toronto. Pay attention to some street interviews, they were conducted full improv.
(1993) The opening scenes show shots of downtown and the River Rouge Plant. Patricia Arquette’s initial voice-over says she “found her way to Motor City Detroit,” to work as a call girl. She is hired to “randomly” bump into Christian Slater at a movie theater and the romance blossoms from there. Slater’s character, Clarence, tries to negotiate with her former pimp, a truly nefarious character played flawlessly by Gary Oldman. By the time the gun smoke settles, Clarence has mistakenly walked off with a suitcase full of cocaine and they become the subject of the mafia’s hunt for the narcotics. This movie, written by Quentin Tarantino and with an all star cast is one of the best movies from the 90’s and is a must watch for any film buff. James Gandolfini’s performance shows exactly why he was later cast as Tony Soprano. There is also a scene with Dennis Hopper and Christopher Walken that will go down as one of the greatest in movie history.
Out of Sight
(1998) Based on a novel by the late Elmore Leonard, a proud Detroit resident, who was one of the best fiction writers of our generation. His ability to capture believable dialogue will be studied for years to come. The story centers around Clooney’s character, a career bank robber who escapes from jail only to fall in love with a US Marshal, played by Jennifer Lopez, who is tasked with bringing him in. The characters all end up in Detroit where they plan to rob a very wealthy white collar criminal who lives in a palatial mansion in Bloomfield Hills. We actually know the girl who grew up in the home as a child. It features the typical montage of Detroit landmarks and shows Detroit as a gritty city with a penchant for shocking violence. Director Steven Soderbergh makes this movie one of Clooney’s best.
Grosse Pointe Blank
(1997) John Cusack stars as Martin Blank an assassin who finds himself in his hometown of Grosse Pointe for a job that happens to coincide with his 10 year high-school reunion. As he is trying to rekindle the flame with the girl he stood up at their senior prom, he is dodging the men who are sent to kill him and interrupt his assignment. This movie, despite a silly plot, is excellent. A blend of romantic comedy, action and a character story, it is perhaps one of Cusack’s best movies. The filming took place in Detroit, Grosse Pointe, and Los Angeles.
(1988) Carl Weathers, hot off of his success in the Rocky films takes the screen as the principal actor as a tough Detroit cop battling a megalomaniac auto magnate. Filming was split between Los Angeles, Denver and Detroit, but if you’re paying attention you can tell the difference. Another 80’s movie filled with cheesy one liners, impossible chase sequences and preposterous fight scenes, but for fans of the genre, it is a must watch.
Bird on a Wire
(1990) By no stretch of the imagination and one of the better movies out there, Bird on a Wire is still entertaining. It is worth watching for Mel Gibson’s serious mullet. The movie begins in Detroit where Mel Gibson’s character is living in the FBI witness protection program. He is recognized by ex-girlfriend Goldie Hawn at a gas station where he is working, and from there they confront the bad guys. The movie was largely filmed in Vancouver, British Columbia, but some scenes are noticeably Detroit. It also features the requisite moaning and groaning from characters as they find out they must go to Detroit.
(2005) An elderly woman is murdered in front of a Highland Park convenience store and it brings the four sons she raised by herself back to Detroit to find out what happened to the their mother. The movie is directed by John Singleton, the same guy who directed Boys in the Hood. He does a good job establishing a believable rapport between the adopted sons, and from there, the movie unravels into a violent and complicated plot. Shot here in Detroit and Ontario.
(1992) Danny DeVito directs this movie. chronicling the life and times of Jimmy Hoffa. It is a semi-fictitious approach, but follows most of Hoffa’s history, and that history is impossible to tell without Detroit. Anyone interested in Detroit history will find Hoffa worth watching. However, his whereabouts are as mysterious in the movie as they are in real life. Although filmed largely in and around Pittsburgh, this is an important movie for Detroiters.
The Five Year Engagement
(2012) A chef in San Francisco meets his dream girl and proposes. She says yes but her career leads the new couple to Ann Arbor and the University of Michigan. Although set in Ann Arbor, this movie hits particularly close to home. The weather and the lifestyle begin to erode their relationship. Scenes of snow and ice and a extremely funny hunting scene are all too familiar to us here in Michigan. If you have a sense of humor, this is a seriously funny movie. Directed by the same guy who did Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Get Him to The Greek.
What movies would you add?