Rocky Balboa leaves his home — at 2313 South Lambert Street — to start training for his anticipated rematch against longtime rival Apollo Creed in the second movie of the saga. The illogical trajectory (for those who know the city) continues along the train tracks close to Lehigh Ave., the Italian Market, the B Street bridge, Kelly Drive, Chestnut St., the Independence Hall and the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, to the Art Museum steps.
It is that spot at the top of steps (a bit of a shrine for fans of the saga) that has left us with the iconic image from the popular franchise. It is the culmination of a very long run (in 2013 journalist Dan McQuade analyzed the route and realized that Rocky runs around 30.5 miles), which is more than a symbol: It has been the best introduction to the city of Philadelphia that has ever existed.
But the truth is that the bond between Philly and the movie industry goes back long before the adventures of the famous boxer. It dates back to the end of 19th century, when Polish optometrist Siegmund Lubin decided to settle in the City of Brother Love. He opened his first optical store at 237 N. 8th Street, which was the location of one of the first film companies of the country: Lubin Manufacturing Company.
At that time, Philadelphia was not only the setting of the movies filmed by Lubin (with the help of a camera/projector created and developed by him, the Cinematograph), but also where he established his movie studio, Lubinville, at 20th and Indiana Street.
Since then, the city has become the setting of many movies. There are no comprehensive records, but the Greater Philadelphia Film Office counts a few hundred. The principal role of the organization (founded in 1985) is to attract and coordinate film and video production in the region.
“Every major city in the world has a film commission. If Philadelphia didn’t have one, we would not be seeing any productions,” said Sharon Pinkenson, executive director of The Greater Philadelphia Film Office.
“The role of all film commissions is to attract moving picture business to come to the place they represent, for the purposes of hiring local people and getting the economic benefits of film production. Essentially it’s economic development and the second thing that all film commissions do — besides the marketing — is some level of coordinating the day-to-day production needs of each show,” she said.
Pinkenson explained that the film office is the first place the studio contacts when considering setting the film in the region — Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery and Philadelphia Counties. The organization works to offer the movie team all the information they need about hotels or possible locations. They also help with the filming licenses that are required, for example, those needed to film in public buildings or on the street.
“We do something that other film commissions don’t do and that is we support the local resident film community with all kinds of free programing and educational seminars. And we collaborate with some other smaller organizations that provide programs for local filmmakers,” she said.
But, why is important for Philly to be portrayed in movies?
“You might say it’s not important for Philadelphia to be portrayed in movies but if it were not, then we wouldn’t have had the Rocky films and the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art would simply be the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. We wouldn’t have finished hosting the seventh Rocky film in the series, and the economic benefit of those is immeasurable. If you pass by the Rocky statue day or night, summer or winter, people are lined up to take their photographs there. We wouldn’t have had the movie Philadelphia, a movie named after us, so we changed the world’s understanding of what AIDS was,” Pinkenson said.
Philadelphia: A popular and versatile setting
Philadelphia has been the setting for major movie sagas, films with a great impact in the development of the society — like “Philadelphia” — and movies which have had amazing performances recognized at the Oscars — “Silver Linings Playbook”.
What makes Philadelphia one of the favorite film locations for the film industry?
“Philadelphia has a lot to offer. If you are speaking just of the city, first of all, it is one of the largest cities in the U.S. so we have wonderful urban buildings that can stand in for New York City or Washington D.C. and lots of other big cities. We are also one of the most historic cities in the United States, so we can stand in for anything from colonial to present day, and everything in between. Sometimes we have stood in for Paris or for London so we can have lots of different looks,” Pinkenson said.
She also highlights aspects like the climate — “It’s great that we have a climate that has four seasons, so that makes it very interesting to filmmakers” — and the fact that Philadelphia is an easy commute away from Washington D.C. or New York City.
The versatility and the adaptability Pinkenson refers to has been proven in the rich and varied list of movies which have been filmed in Philadelphia in the last decades.
Philly has not only stood in for major European cities it has also been transformed into a battlefield of the Spanish American War (in one of Lubin’s movies), a post-apocalyptic future (“12 Monkeys”), and has even featured in a few Bollywood movies.
In many cases, the movies filmed in Philadelphia bear testimony to the development and evolution of the city in the last years/decades. The South Philly that is featured in the first “Rocky” movies is not the same South Philly as in the latest, “Creed.”
The evolution we are referring to can also be seen in movies like “Trading Places” or the film that best describes the city in the 1990s, “Philadelphia” — in comparison to movies like “In Her Shoes,” “Baby Mama,” or two of the most recent movies filmed in Philly, “Silver Linings Playbook” and “Brotherly Love.”
“All of these movies really impact the character of the city of Philadelphia and really have an impact on the city’s pride,” Pinkenson said. “On November 25, ‘Creed’ is going to open worldwide in theaters and all those eyes are going to be on Philadelphia, again, because Philadelphia is a character in this movie and it’s quite amazing. So having that provides benefits way beyond the economic impact of just shooting the movie and the crew and the hotels and the equipment rentals. It goes into tourism and it goes into city pride. And also, companies get to see Philadelphia on the screen and they see what a great city it is, and they want to come to visit and open their companies here. It’s basically free press.”
The most popular film locations in the city
It’s complicated to choose the most popular filming location in Philly. Here is a short list: Eastern State Penitentiary (“we film a lot of prison movies”); City Hall, Rittenhouse Square park, 30th Street Station or the University of Pennsylvania and Temple University campuses. Historic places, such as the Independence Mall or the Liberty Bell, are also very popular. As are the Italian Market and Reading Terminal Market.
As for restaurants and cafés, The Famous 4th Street Deli (700S 4th St.) is a renowned for its pastrami sandwich and for making an appearance in both the movie “Philadelphia” and “In Her Shoes.” Back in 2012, Llanerch Diner (95 E Township Line Rd, Upper Darby) was also very popular among the fans of “Silver Linings Playbook.” This is the place where Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence went on their date in the movie.
It’s more complicated to find the restaurant from the Rocky series, Adrian’s Restaurant, which is really Victor Café (1303 Dickinson St). In other cases, like the Striped Bass restaurant in “The Sixth Sense,” the places have already closed, or were created for the filming.
Not only movies
The movie industry is not the only entertainment industry that had set its eyes on Philly.
What shows like “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” “Philly,” “Cold Case” or “How to Get Away with Murder” have in common is that all of them are set in the City of Brotherly Love.
“We work on all kinds of moving pictures: we work on features films, documentaries, television shows, television series, reality TV shows, commercials, music videos, everything that is a moving picture,” Pinkenson said.
“I think is important to know that one of the reasons that people come here is because of the Pennsylvania Film Tax Credit Program. If we didn’t have the film tax credit nobody would come here because they create their budgets based on where is going to be financially the best place for them to film,” she said.” So, without that tax credit we wouldn’t be in the game at all.”
Philadelphia is back on the big screen
On November 25, the name of Philadelphia will be on people’s lips, thanks to the latest “Rocky” movie.
After several weeks of filming in the city, the seventh in the saga — “Creed” — will be in theaters for Thanksgiving. Sylvester Stallone and Michael B. Jordan are playing the leading roles.
“Creed” may be the most recent movie filmed in Philadelphia but not the last one. According to The Greater Philadelphia Film Office, filmmaker M. Night Shyamalan is currently filming in the region and the film office is working on some other exciting future projects.