Far too often films ignore the character and uniqueness of their settings, only letting a film live on its characters and plot.
However, the great films understand the importance of setting as a character and an intrinsically interwoven piece of any story. The physical place where the action happens frames the narrative and grounds it in a sense of reality or fantasy, whatever the film is trying to accomplish. Too often you will see a film and forget where it was set or get a sense that the filmmakers “could have done it anywhere”. This shows up often in films set in the sprawling metros of the United States. Most films are set in New York or Los Angeles; yet they just use the name and film in Vancouver or Toronto because of convenience and cost.
Seattle is an oft-forgotten Big City. Up here in the corner of the nation we are easily pushed out of the minds of most people. When we are thought of, it is often for coffee, Microsoft, and the constant deluge of rain the rest of the world thinks we get. In film we have not been well represented, as there are only 46 films that claim Seattle as a main location. Many of these are set around or associated with stereotypes of Seattle. This list is of movies that really embrace the culture and city of Seattle. On this you will not find movies that simply slapped Seattle and some stock footage of the Space Needle on top of their generic plot (I’m talking to you, Love Happens and Life or Something Like It).
5.Â The Parallax View: When we all still liked Warren Beatty, he made this movie about government intrigue and brainwashing. Beatty was still riding the Bonnie and Clyde train at this point and his performance is nothing special. However, the film shines in its portrayal of a creepy corporation that is attempting to create assassins out of ordinary people. Truly an interesting and oft-overlooked film, Parallax‘s first scene is set on the Space Needle, and much of the ensuing plot is filmed/set in Washington.
4.Â 10 Things I Hate About You: OK, OK, I know that Stadium High, where most of the film is set, is actually in Tacoma. But there is still a Seattle look and feel to this movie. Also the Gasworks paintball scene is a classic, capturing the beautiful view of downtown. Also it was the first time Heath Ledger showed that timeless charm, as well as an early look at another Christopher Nolan favorite, Joseph Gordon-Levitt. This loose (read: very loose) adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew is elevated above the ordinary high school movie by the fun performances and witty dialogue.
3. The Ring: This horror film is centered on Naomi Watts’ Seattle P.I. reporter who discovers a horrid killer tape, and a dark lock-sporting teen named Samara. Naomi Watts lives downtown but travels out to Whidbey Island for some very important and terrifying scenes. This film captures the gray, overcast feeling of most Seattle days very well. This was the first of the massive wave of Asian Horror remakes in the early-aughts, and the best. It sets itself apart with stunning visuals and an overwhelming sense of dread throughout. Let’s just go ahead and pretend The Ring 2 never happened…
2.Â Say Anything: Cameron Crowe’s love letter to his High School life in Seattle celebrates all the unique neighborhoods and aspects of the city. John Cusack and Ione Skye fall in love during a beautiful Seattle summer, driving the streets late at night and kissing in the warm summer rain. A great depiction of young love, Say Anything doesn’t sacrifice real emotions and fears for unrealistic fun. Cusack also shows his real chops for the first time, playing Lloyd Dobler as complex and not fully understanding his own path yet. His character is imminently likable, especially in the scenes with his real life sister Joan Cusack. And then there is that scene where Cusack blasts ‘In Your Eyes’ on his boom boxâ€¦ iconic.
1.Â Sleepless in Seattle: Of course, any countdown of this nature would be remiss not to mention THE Seattle-based movie. Nora Ephron’s film does a great job of using Seattle as a character. Tom Hanks, heartbroken over the loss of his wife, relocates to Seattle with his son to start over. The city and weather show his change as a character and his acceptance of possibly falling in love again. The houseboat he lives in is still parked on Lake Union, and the scenes with Rob Reiner on Pike’s Place are still immortalized with pictures and autographs today. It is what most people know of Seattle when it comes to movies, and it’s a shining representative.