Philly Films: A Journey through the Heart and Grit of Philadelphia

16 January 2024

Exploring the Unique Vibe and Authenticity of Films Set in the City of Brotherly Love

Philadelphia, also known as the City of Brotherly Love, has a rich history and a unique vibe that sets it apart from other cities in the United States. It is a place of contradictions, with its gritty streets and glitzy skyscrapers, its crooks and millionaires. But what truly defines a Philly film? Is it simply a movie filmed in the city, or does it require something more, an intangible quality that captures the essence of Philadelphia?

In our quest to understand what makes a film a true Philly film, we reached out to newsroom colleagues and film critics across the city. The results were surprising yet assuring. While filming in Philadelphia or telling stories about the city can contribute to a film’s Philly credentials, what truly matters is the vibe, that elusive quality that can only be understood by those who know and love this city.

Rustin (George C. Wolfe, 2023)

One film that exemplifies the essence of a Philly film is “Rustin,” a biopic of Bayard Rustin, the civil rights legend who organized the March on Washington. Although not filmed or set in Philadelphia, the movie spotlights local stars in LGBTQ+ history and highlights the impact of Rustin’s Quaker upbringing in West Chester. The film showcases the realness and grit of Philadelphia’s history and its role in the racial justice movement.

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Christmas on Division Street (George Kaczender, 1991)

“Christmas on Division Street” is a heartwarming Philadelphia Christmas story that follows the Atwood family as they move to Gladwyne and experience the true meaning of brotherly love. The film captures the spirit of the city and reminds us of the importance of helping one another, especially during the holiday season.

Baby Mama (Michael McCullers, 2008)

“Baby Mama” is a raunchy comedy that takes a humorous look at the journey to motherhood. While the film may not focus solely on Philadelphia, it showcases the comedic talents of Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, both of whom have strong ties to the city. The film captures the dynamic energy and humor that is often associated with Philly.

Money for Nothing (Ramón Menéndez, 1993)

“Money for Nothing” tells the true story of Joey Coyle, a South Philly longshoreman who stumbled upon a bag of money and went on the run. While the film was not a big success, it immortalizes a uniquely Philly story and captures the realness of the city’s grit and determination.

10th & Wolf (Robert Moresco, 2006)

“10th & Wolf” is a film based on the Philly Mob Wars of the early 1990s. While it may not be considered a great film, it captures the essence of South Philly with its rowhouses, Italian Market scenes, and rough-and-ready attitude. The film showcases the realness and authenticity of Philadelphia’s neighborhoods.

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Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (David Lynch, 1992)

Although not primarily set in Philadelphia, “Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me” features an important scene in a Philly FBI office. This scene introduces characters and ideas that are further explored in the Twin Peaks mythos. The film highlights the otherworldly and mysterious aspects of Philadelphia.

The Young Philadelphians (Vincent Sherman, 1959)

“The Young Philadelphians” is a 1950s melodrama that is saturated with local connections. From references to Rittenhouse Square and South Philly to the iconic City Hall, the film captures a version of Philadelphia that feels both familiar and distant. It showcases the city’s history and the struggles faced by Italian and Irish elites.

Pride of the Marines (Delmer Daves, 1945)

Based on the true story of Al Schmid, “Pride of the Marines” tells the story of a World War II veteran who returns home blinded from combat. The film features a love story and culminates in grand gestures at 30th Street Station, showcasing the beauty of Philadelphia’s skyline.

Pride (Sunu Gonera, 2007)

“Pride” is a film loosely based on the life of Philadelphia swim coach Jim Ellis. It tells the story of Ellis, who rehabilitates an abandoned pool building in 1970s Philadelphia with hopes of inspiring a new generation of swimmers. The film captures the resilience and determination of Philadelphia’s residents.

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Night Catches Us (Tanya Hamilton, 2010)

“Night Catches Us” is a 1970s-set film that follows a former member of the Black Panther Party as he returns to Philadelphia. The film showcases the city’s neighborhoods and features a musical score by Philly’s own The Roots. It highlights the city’s history and the struggles faced by its residents.

Conclusion:

Philadelphia has a unique vibe that sets it apart from other cities, and this is reflected in its films. Whether a film is set in Philadelphia, filmed in the city, or captures the essence of its neighborhoods and history, it can be considered a true Philly film. From the iconic “Rocky” to the lesser-known gems like “Rustin” and “Night Catches Us,” these films showcase the heart and grit of Philadelphia. They capture the realness, resilience, and authenticity of the city, making them essential viewing for anyone who wants to understand what it truly means to be a Philadelphian.

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