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Everyone is a critic, particularly when it comes to movies, and nowhere is that more true than in Chicago—after all, a television show with two guys arguing about films started here more than three decades ago and went on to become part of the national Zeitgeist.
So we are weighing in with our picks for the 40 greatest Chicago movies of all time. To keep the list manageable and to the point, we classify a Chicago movie as one where at least part of the picture was actually shot in town. That definition regrettably leaves out a bundle of favorites—Scarface, The Front Page, His Girl Friday, and even Chicago—that were set in the city but filmed elsewhere, usually Hollywood or Toronto. In selecting our 40, we sifted through hundreds of candidates—reeling back through our collective memories and hitting our Netflix accounts—to choose those that we thought captured a piece of Chicago in some iconic, evocative, or magical way. As always, you are free to disagree and tell us.
40. The Hunter (1980)
Steve McQueen’s last film is a sad mess, but the spectacular chase scene, including a car driving off Marina Towers, stands the test of time.
39. The Fury (1978)
A true guilty pleasure, as kids with occult powers go to a special Lincoln Park school and fight off a government plot.
38. Cooley High (1975)
A rollicking African American version of American Graffiti, loosely based on the high school, Cooley Vocational, that served the Cabrini-Green projects.
37. My Best Friend’s Wedding (1997)
This romantic comedy, with Julia Roberts pursuing love at a White Sox game and on the North Shore, hits all the bases.
36. Continental Divide (1981)
The Roykoesque reporter John Belushi brushes too close to corruption and bolts town, so only half the movie is set in Chicago, but that includes great shots of the since-demolished Sun-Times newsroom.
35. Candyman (1992)
Just when you thought gentrification was bad: This slasher movie tracks an urban legend through the UIC campus and various local public housing projects.
34. Sixteen Candles (1984)
John Hughes’s first movie about middle-class high-school kids remains one of his best and launched Molly Ringwald to teen stardom.
33. The Untouchables (1987)
Prohibition, gangsters, crimebusters, and the city itself never looked more smashing than in this Brian De Palma epic.
32. When Harry Met Sally (1989)
Their episodic journey begins in Hyde Park, then takes a wrong turn on Lake Shore Drive on the way to romance and NYC.
31. Backdraft (1991)
Dazzling special effects and a small role by Robert De Niro spark the plot about two antagonistic firefighter brothers and a serial arsonist.
30. Mercury Rising (1998)
Dark, shadowy action thriller shows impressive murk and suspense as Bruce Willis protects an autistic kid who can decipher government codes.
29. Only the Lonely (1991)
It’s the best movie ever made by John Candy, who plays a cop forced to choose between his mother and his girlfriend. Plus, great shots of Wrigleyville.
28. While You Were Sleeping (1995) This little sleeper of a romantic comedy enshrined Sandra Bullock, playing a lovelorn CTA fare-taker, as the adorable girl next door.
27. North by Northwest (1959)
Hitchcock’s masterpiece thriller has Cary Grant running for his life, including pivotal scenes at the LaSalle Street Station and the Ambassador East hotel.
26. Nothing in Common (1986)
Garry Marshall’s comedy about an estranged father and son made Tom Hanks a star and showcased Jackie Gleason’s final performance.
25. Soul Food (1997)
This enjoyable portrait of a matriarchal-centered middle-class African American family on the South Side was a long time coming.
24. About Last Night (1986)
Underrated romantic drama based on a David Mamet play has racy bedroom scenes between Demi Moore and Rob Lowe and a star turn by Jim Belushi.
23. Home Alone (1990)
If you can’t laugh at this family classic in which a left-behind kid outsmarts bungling burglars, you need an antidepressant.
22. Ordinary People (1980)
Cosseted life in Lake Forest—representing the American norm of happiness—can’t prevent a tragedy and the subsequent unraveling of a family. This gloomfest, directed by Robert Redford, is the only movie on our list to win a Best Picture Oscar.
21. His New Job (1915)
Made when Chicago was a film capital, before the weather drove the biz to California, the silent short stars Charlie Chaplin as a handyman who is pressed into acting.