Often, the settings of a film frames the quintessential images that stick in the viewer’s mind. Take Titanic, for example: the iconic scene in which Leonardo DiCaprio yells that he’s the king of the world at the brow of the ship, or the one in which he teaches Kate Winslet to ‘fly’, both focus on the impressive facade of the ship. Similarly, ionic buildings like Seattle’s Space Needle and the Eiffel Tower in Paris have been essential in numerous films, the former featuring as the romantic meeting place for Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan in Sleepless in Seattle and the latter the site of Grace Jones’ dramatic escape in the James Bond classic A View to Kill.
On-screen representations of familiar or novel settings are significant in the filmmaking process, often providing a constant place which the viewers feel familiar with and serving as a point of stability in the lives of the characters – like the Central Perk coffee shop in TV series Friends, or, in a similar vein, McLaren’s pub in How I Met Your Mother. A site can also be significant for its role in the turning point or climax of a scene or film: the school gymnasium in American Beauty, for instance, memorably marks the point at which Kevin Spacey is metaphorically clubbed over the head with the dull reality of his life.
There can be no doubt that places and buildings in films are meticulously selected depending on the impression a movie might want to convey. Interestingly, some buildings are used a great deal more than others, featuring in an almost ridiculously wide range of films. This list details five buildings most often used in films and their various merits which might go some way towards explaining their on-screen versatility.
5. The Fox Plaza
At number five is the illustrious Fox Plaza. Situated in Los Angeles, the building is a skyscraper, the construction of which began in the year 1985 and finished two years later. The Fox Plaza is the site of the official headquarters of Twentieth Century Fox, standing at four-hundred and ninety-two feet, and has thirty-four floors. Its architects are Johnson Fain and Pereire Associates, and the building is designed in a postmodern style. The Fox Plaza has been used in numerous films over the years; it features in Fight Club and makes an appearance in Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle, but perhaps is best known for its appearance as the Nakatomi Tower in the 1988 original Die Hard. The building also served as an office space for U.S. President Ronald Reagan, who occupied the penthouse on the top floor before he left public office.
4. Greystone Mansion
Greystone Mansion is the largest home to ever have been built in Beverly Hills, the construction of which began in 1927 under the ownership of the family of Edward Laurence Doheny, who rose to sudden and incredible wealth as a result of striking oil in Los Angeles. Greystone Mansion was designed by architect Gordon B. Kaufmann, and was built under the supervision of the P.J. Walker Company. The building’s construction is incredibly elaborate: it has seven chimneys, each of which was individually designed by a different artist, and hand-carved banisters and rafters. The building contains fifty-five livable rooms, and boasts a cinema, billiard room, bar and bowling alley amongst its amenities.
Greystone Mansion has been used as a site for numerous films in various different capacities, but its black and white marble hall floor – for which room the building is best known – is most frequently on show. The mansion appears as a Starfleet hospital in Star Trek: Into Darkness, as well as featuring in The Social Network, The Muppets, Richie Rich, The Witches of Eastwick and The Big Lebowski, to name just a few appearances. The Mansion was also the location for the video accompanying Meat Loaf’s epic anthem “I’d Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That)”.
3. The Bradbury Building
The Bradbury Building, built in South California in the year 1893, is at number three, and was commissioned by one Louis L. Bradbury. Bradbury initially rejected a plan proposed by Sumner P. Hunt before approaching George Wyman, who allegedly only accepted the commission after consulting a Ouija board. Wyman’s vision for the building took its inspiration from the idea of a millennial utopian civilisation referenced in a book — Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward — and is the oldest commercial building in the central city of Los Angeles.
The interior of the building is light-filled and airy, comprising almost fifty feet of originally steam-powered open-cage lifts, ornate staircases and iron railings. The Bradbury Building has been called “the most famous building in science fiction”, and it is certainly true that it has appeared in numerous sci-fi films, including Blade Runner and Star Trek. However, it has also made more recent appearances in films of other genres: it is the setting of the last scene of rom-com (500) Days of Summer, and also featured in 2011 black and white silent film The Artist.
2. Hatfield House
At number two is Hatfield House, which has belonged to the same family — the Cecils — for four hundred years, and is currently home to the seventh Marquess and Marchioness of Salisbury. The house was originally built in 1611 and is situated in Hertfordshire, close to London, England. It is a Jacobean house, with quintessential examples of the period’s architectural features including the carved staircase and the stained glass window in the chapel. The grounds offer farm buildings, numerous houses and cottages which date from different eras, a twelfth-century church and a forty-two acre garden. Hatfield House itself includes a fully-stocked library, armoury, chandeliers, and a fully-functioning Victorian period kitchen. Hatfield House’s many varied facilities and amenities may very possibly contribute to its popularity with film production companies.
The house and grounds have been included in the sets of multiple films spanning a wide range of years and various genres, including the 1989 Batman, Shakespeare in Love, the 2004 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Get Him to the Greek, and Sherlock Holmes 2 — Games of Shadows.
1. The Quality Café
At number one is both the most unassuming location on our list and the most widely-viewed restaurant in the world, ever: the Quality Café. Located at 1238 West 7th Street in Los Angeles, the establishment used to be open to the public for business, but as of 2006 has only been available for use as a film location. The café isn’t too impressive in and of itself as a tourist attraction, since its shutters are perpetually down, and there isn’t a great deal of readily available information about the building’s history, but what is certain is that it has been used in a staggering number of films and TV shows over the years.
The viewers of these are frequently expected to turn a blind eye as to the actual physical location of the Quality Café — the eatery sometimes features in both Los Angeles and New York at the same time, as is seen in television shows such as CSI: New York and Mad Men. The Quality Café provides the booth in which Scarlett Johannson and Thora Birch mock Steve Buscemi in the 2001 movie Ghost World, and was the location of a birthday dinner for Hilary Swank, courtesy of Morgan Freeman, in Million Dollar Baby. Morgan Freeman previously appeared at the restaurant’s tables in 1995, in this case with Gwyneth Paltrow, in Se7en. The café also featured in Catch Me If You Can, Mr. and Mrs. Smith and, again, (500) Days of Summer. The Quality Café is a non-time-specific venue, which can and does frequently vary in portrayals of era and location, which clearly shows its versatility — and its enormous value — in many movies over many years.