Most Inspirational Locations for Movie Plots

1 Mar 2011

Finding out where movies are filmed is easy. IMdB and others have comprehensive databases. But a huge proportion of movies are filmed in cities like Los Angeles, Vancouver, and Albuquerque and made to look like they’re set somewhere else. A database of movie plot locations doesn’t exist yet.

Here’s my estimate of how likely each major U.S. city is to be featured in a movie plot:

Population Major Movies Score Pivotal Movies
Washington, DC 20.3x 601723 466 79292016 Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, All the President’s Men, Independence Day, Minority Report, Wedding Crashers
Las Vegas, NV 12.5x 567641 308 46016257 Casino, Ocean’s Eleven, The Hangover, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Rain Main, Con Air, Bugsy
Miami, FL 10.1x 433136 175 28334637 Scarface, Goldfinger, There’s Something About Mary, Bad Boys, Some Like It Hot, Ace Ventura: Pet Detective
San Francisco, CA 7.7x 815358 666 40801201 The Rock, Vertigo, The Maltese Falcon, Interview with the Vampire, Mrs. Doubtfire, Hulk, The Game
Los Angeles, CA 7.1x 3831868 1438 176257698 L.A. Confidential, The Terminator, The Graduate, Pulp Fiction, Die Hard, Beverly Hills Cop, Crash, Blade Runner
Boston, MA 6.6x 645169 229 27621078 The Departed, Good Will Hunting, The Town, Legally Blonde, Mystic River, Gone Baby Gone, The Boondock Saints
New York, NY 4.7x 8391881 4158 255981837 The Godfather, Taxi Driver, Spider-Man, I Am Legend, Midnight Cowboy, Shaft, Annie Hall, Marathon Man, Annie, Big
Baltimore, MD 3.1x 637418 77 12678744 Slience of the Lambs, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Enemy of the State, Hairspray, He’s Just Not That Into You
Seattle, WA 2.7x 616627 136 10791529 Sleepless in Seattle, Say Anything…, The Fabulous Baker Boys, The Ring, WarGames, 10 Things I Hate About You
Atlanta, GA 2.7x 540922 68 9325449 Remember the Titans, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Driving Miss Daisy, Smokey and the Bandit, Drumline
Chicago, IL 2.6x 2851268 567 47411519 The Untouchables, Chicago, Blues Brothers, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Home Alone, Backdraft, The Breakfast Club
Memphis, TN 2.4x 676640 54 10511964 Walk the Line, The Blind Side, The Firm, Hustle & Flow
El Paso, TX 2.3x 620456 22 9205186 Kill Bill, No Country for Old Men, Traffic, Glory Road, Viva Villa!
Philadelphia, PA 2.0x 1547297 170 20442335 Philadelphia, Rocky, The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable
Detroit, MI 2.0x 910921 113 11678371 RoboCop, The Crow, 8 Mile, Gran Turino, Grosse Pointe Blank
Denver, CO 1.6x 610345 52 6233118 The Shining, Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid, How the West Was Won, Dumb and Dumber
Cleveland, OH 1.4x 431369 56 3914791 Major League, American Splendor, Duplicity, The Rocker
Sacramento, CA 1.1x 466676 30 3277451 Zodiac, Coach Carter, All About Steve, Pink Cadillac, Frankie and Johnnie
San Diego, CA 1.1x 1306300 101 9167137 Traffic, Anchorman, Old School, The Lost World: Jurassic Park
Omaha, NE 1.1x 454731 18 3134616 Up in the Air, About Schmidt, Election, Omaha
Albuquerque, NM 0.9x 529219 24 3100373 Easy Rider, Little Miss Sunshine, Sunshine Cleaning, Young Guns, Albuquerque
Oakland, CA 0.9x 409189 30 2313455 Romeo Must Die, Youth in Revolt, True Crime, Jack the Bear
Portland, OR 0.8x 566143 62 3087745 Goonies, Mr. Brooks, Elephant, Mr. Holland’s Opus
Fresno, CA 0.8x 479918 11 2596661 The Karate Kid, Par II, Thieves’ Highway, Shadow of a Doubt, The Gang’s All Here
Milwaukee, WI 0.8x 605013 22 2954139 Michael Clayton, Mr. 3000, American Movie, Love Actually
Dallas, TX 0.7x 1299542 65 6070769 Places in the Heart, Office Space, Boys Don’t Cry, The X Files
Tucson, AZ 0.7x 543910 35 2507418 Public Enemies, The Matador, Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion, Hamlet 2
Phoenix, AZ 0.7x 1593659 49 6777541 Raising Arizona, Away We Go, Psycho, The Savages
Austin, TX 0.6x 786386 54 2893518 Dazed and Confused, Grindhouse, Road Trip, The Life of David Gale
Louisville, KY 0.6x 566503 20 2037377 The Insider, Stripes, The Return of the Living Dead, Fear Strikes Out
Kansas City, MO 0.5x 482299 12 1554213 Sullivan’s Travels, Caopte, Mad Money, Superman
Houston, TX 0.4x 2257926 65 5395160 Apollo 13, Urban Cowboy, Terms of Endearment, The Right Stuff
Indianapolis, IN 0.3x 807584 19 1637714 Hoosiers, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Now and Then, The Hudsucker Proxy
Columbus, OH 0.3x 769332 13 1343134 Bye Bye Birdie, The Mothman Prophecies, Traffic, Slience of the Lambs
Oklahoma City, OK 0.3x 560333 7 926619 Thelma & Louise, Elizabethtown, Dead Bang, Christmas on Mars
Nashville, TN 0.2x 605473 60 967440 Coal Miner’s Daughter, Nashville, Hanna Montana: The Movie
Long Beach, CA 0.2x 462604 16 452222 Blood Work, Cutter’s Way, The Star, Our Very Own
Raleigh, NC 0.1x 405612 4 295142 American Hardcore, Bandwagon
San Jose, CA 0.1x 964695 7 423050 Outbreak, The Social Network
Jacksonville, FL 0.1x 813518 5 295307 It Happened One Night, Cocaine Angel
Mesa, AZ 0.04x 467157 5 112190 Suspect Zero, The Marshal of Mesa City, Stage to Mesa City
San Antonio, TX 0.04x 1373668 30 316526 The Alamo, Like Water for Chocolate, San Antonio, Cloak & Dagger
Fort Worth, TX 0.02x 727577 9 98913 The Killer Inside Me, Fort Worth, Texas, Brooklyn & Heaven
Virginia Beach, VA 0.01x 433575 2 32715 The Baxter, The Trouble with Summer
Charlotte, NC 0.003x 709441 5 12827 Shallow Hal, Juwanna Mann

Washington, D.C., for example, is 20.3 times as likely the setting for a movie plot as the average movie (per capita).

The Process

1. For every non-TV movie, I parsed review sites, Wikipedia and IMdB listings, and tried to dynamically assess which cities were referenced or featured in the movie’s plot. Some parsing was easing: Wikipedia references cities like Omaha,_Nebraska and IMdB has a robust list of user-contributed and site-monitored keywords. Other implied references were made using crude natural language processing, trained using primary Wikipedia city and state articles (landmarks were common triggers). I ignored movies that didn’t have any reviews or plot descriptions: about 10,000 made the cut.

2. For each U.S. city/state that occurred in the text (verbatim or implied), I came up with a score for the movie-city or movie-state combo loosely defined by:

Quantity of Ratings x Quality of Ratings x Box Office Performance x Occurrences of City/State Name x Proximity of City/State Keywords to Important Article Words/Beginning of Article x Literal vs. Implied Reference to City/State

I wanted better, more popular movies to weigh more, but not overwhelm more quintessential classics. Rain Man was as critically and commercially successful as any movie, but didn’t top the Las Vegas movies because it took place in other cities too.

3. I added up the score for all U.S. cities with a population of 400,000 or more and sorted by score per capita. Foreign cities were harder to parse because of inconsistent language.

4. All the parsing and scoring was automated and no manual edits were made, so there’s plenty of fuzz in the estimations. The Pivotal Movies were the highest scoring movies associated with each city.

By State

State scores were more abundant, but less precise. A visual interpretation:

Likelihood of US states being the subject/location of a movie plot (per capita).


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