Chicago-spotting at the Cineplex

BACKGROUND NOISE: I definitely don’t watch Chicago movies like a normal person.

Scene from High Fidelity
High Fidelity
’s John Cusack wondering what hole in the CTA’s space-time continuum enabled him to board the Purple Line at Wilson


At some point during any Chicago movie (“Top 40 Movies Filmed in Chicago”), it happens. You’re losing yourself in the story, digging deeper into the popcorn, when suddenly . . . you recognize a location on the screen. You blurt it out to your spouse before your spouse is able to blurt it to you. I call this the Hey Game, as in “Hey! That’s McCormick Place!” or “Hey! It’s the corner of Milwaukee and Damen.” If you happen to be in a city theatre, you may hear others playing throughout the room; no matter how cool we pretend to be, we’re still psyched to see our hometown on the big screen.

Scene from Ferris Bueller's Day OffNo wonder Ferris had to sprint home. He ran all the way from some place with palm trees.For some, this may be a fun little diversion, but for one obsessive subculture—that proud, infuriating phylum of Chicago know-it-alls of which I am a member—the Hey Game is not a game at all. It is a challenge and a distraction, a curse that renders Chicago films impossible to enjoy. Take The Dark Knight. I hear it’s a good movie and that Batman saves Chicago/Gotham from annihilation. I wouldn’t know, because I was so busy scanning each scene for locational clues and continuity errors, that I didn’t realize Harvey Dent and Two-Face were the same person. You may see High Fidelity on our top 40 list and think, Oh, yeah, funny movie, great soundtrack. All I remember is seeing John Cusack’s character on the Purple Line and wondering why a guy whose whole life was in Wicker Park would be riding the Purple Line. (“Is his mom in Evanston? Is he taking classes at Northwestern?”) After waiting 20 minutes for an explanation that never came, it was too late: The movie was ruined.

You think I’m a freak? No, I’m a mild case. One Hey-Gamer I know, as if driven by a preternatural compulsion, calls out screen locations like a robot (“Daley Center . . . Navy Pier . . . Hilton Towers . . .”), often with creepy specificity (“LaSalle Street bridge, facing south” [Road to Perdition]). When the world onscreen diverges from the Chicago she knows, and the characters do something geo­graphically impossible, like leave Hyde Park and head south on North Lake Shore Drive (When Harry Met Sally), you can almost hear the pop of her brain collapsing on itself. Another friend remains fixated on a scene from a 1996 dud called Chain Reaction, where bad guys chase the atomic energy researchers played by Keanu Reeves and Rachel Weisz through the Field Museum and, suddenly, through the Museum of Science and Industry seven miles south, before miraculously ending up back outside the Field. (As if any of this were less plausible than Keanu Reeves as a nuclear scientist.)

Scene from Batman BeginsBatman Begins has cars going the wrong way on the Franklin Street Bridge and digitally added buildings— someone activate the Bat Signal!Who cares? It’s just a movie, you say. Why do you weirdoes torture yourselves when you could be taking a two-hour break from life? I do it because I am a petty man who loves nothing more than unearthing a cinematic blunder to get all pissy and self-righteous about, like the Canada Post mail truck in My Big Fat Greek Wedding. At heart, I want to see the Chicago I love onscreen, not some Hollywoodized pseudo-Chicago where palm trees line “Northbrook” (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off) and “Aurora” has mountains (Wayne’s World). Careless locational gaffes like these are civic affronts that say, We don’t care enough about your town to get it right. So the next time you’re about to advise some chatterbox in a movie theatre to shut up, remember: He may be trying to protect your city. Like Batman. Or so I’ve been told.


Photography: (High Fidelity) Dogstar Films, (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off) Paramount Pictures, (Batman Begins) Warner Bros. Pictures



4 years ago
Posted by ladymoxie

I do the same thing!! I never noticed that discrepancy though. Glad to hear others watch movies like this.

4 years ago
Posted by Mike Doyle

That public transit impossibility wormhole seems to operate everywhere. When Patrick Swayze is practicing jumping through the walls of a subway train in Ghost, he manages to be on three totally different train lines in the span of five seconds. And at least in Chicago, we don't get the Toronto subway standing in for the 'L' all the time (i.e. Mimic.) Heck, for Spiderman 2, we got to sub for New York. And you KNOW that must have made New Yorkers' heads spin...

4 years ago
Posted by mrupsch

I couldn't 100% enjoy The Fugitive for the same reasons. My prom was at the Hilton and they make it look like the Ballroom is on the top floors of the hotel, they are on the 2nd floor. A few other inconsistencies that ruined it for me.
I'm surprised the whole accent thing wasn't mentioned in the article. No one talks like a true Chicagoan (sp?), of if they are they are depicted as the buffoon.

4 years ago
Posted by IshyMoose

I ended up watching "Shall We Dance" last night. Its a bad movie, but I put it on my netflix queue because its a Chicago Movie.

Richard Gere rides the brownline to his house that looks to be located in some far flung suburb in Kane County, his dance studio is off of the Sedgwick stop in some building that does not appear to be anywhere near the Sedgwick stop. And the street under the El looks like its on a hollywood back lot!

The movie was BAD, but the blatant Chicago errors made it worse!

4 years ago
Posted by AS

you forgot in Vacation! where when Clark and Rusty go to pick up the family Truckster, mountains and plam tress can be seem over Clarks shoulder.

4 years ago
Posted by Kappa

In "Kissing a Fool" with Jason Lee and David Schwimmer, Jason Lee plays a writer infatuated with Schwimmer's book-editor girlfriend. Lee and the girl are having a meeting in her office, overlooking Michigan and Wacker. Then they decide to take a walk on the lakefront by North Avenue. Then they decide to get a beer. Naturally, they go to the Green Mill.

Hopefully they weren't in a hurry to do any of this.

4 years ago
Posted by Milos

The Negotiator: Filmed in what is now United's HQ......toward the end of the movie, they are going to race to Addison to try to save Sam Jackson.....and when they show the cop cars pulling away from the building they are headed south, not north, as they clearly should be. They also get there in a second, which, is clearly impossible (cutting to continuity gone horribly mad).

Once at the home, at 13xx Addison (as said in the movie), it looks like they are in Bolingbrook.


4 years ago
Posted by Dirty Harry

Watching Gran Torino I got the feeling it was going to take place in LA. Confirmed when I paused a scene showing either a birth certificate or Army record that had the same street address listed at Detroit MI and Los Angeles, MI(?) It was weird and the street was Vine. There might be a Vine in Detroit.

4 years ago
Posted by Admiral Kirk

In The Blues Brothers, a radio dispatcher says that they are southbound on route 47, heading into Chicago. Well, you can travel Rt 47 from one end to the other, you will never get near the Chicago city limits.

4 years ago
Posted by JackJ

At the beginning of "My Best Friend's Wedding" Julia Roberts' friend is driving her to the airport in New York (presumably LaGuardia) but the scene is obviously filmed at O'Hare - the sign for the Mannheim Road exit is clearly visible.

4 years ago
Posted by KristyBee

If you like finding these Chicago continuity errors, watch "The Good Wife," a TV show that is rife with them. Much attention is paid to the fact that the main character's husband resigned as Cook County State's Attorney, and because of his resignation, he had to sell the family home and move out of Highland Park, which is definitely not in Cook County. It's so distracting, and it's mentioned in nearly every episode. Then, the show pays an entire show to a crime committed in Highland Park that is miraculously investigated by the Chicago Police Department and prosecuted by the Cook County State's Attorney. I could go on and on. I, too, am one of these folks who revels in continuity errors, and it's basically the only reason I watch "The Good Wife."

4 years ago
Posted by masboyotis

Going the tv show route, the ill-fated (and rightfully so) FOX show "The Loop" was supposed to be taking place in Chicago and the main character lived in a mountain top lodge like house. In a closing scene, the group met on what was supposed to be the field of US Cell...but was clearly Anaheim. Also, TBS's "My Boys" does a great job of tying in some Chicago shots (and people) but clearly is filmed nowhere near.

4 years ago
Posted by Neal

Blues Brothers - a classic movie with three major plot flaws. First, their "mission from God" is to pay real estate taxes due for a Catholic orphanage. Such an institution would be tax exempt. Second, they pay their taxes to the assessor. Taxes are paid to the treasurer. Third, they go to the 10th floor of the county building to find the assessor. The assessor is on the third floor. OK, I'm in the assessment business!

4 years ago
Posted by dplomin

Good story! I remember watching an episode of early Edition, and Kyle Chandler's character had to go to OHARE to stop a plane from taking off because birds were going to get sucked up in the engines and cause an accident. He was at the Armitage stop on the Brown Line going towards downtown, when he actually could have taken it to Kimball, then the Lawrence Ave bus to Jeffereson park. Unless he was taking it downtown to transfer to the Blue Line? WELL, he got there quicker than, well, actually taking the CTA!
Or WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING, when Peter Gallagher's character lives at Lake Point Tower he wouldn't be taking the train at all. He could either walk from his office downtown, or catch a cab. No El service to navy Pier! Maybe he could have taken that cute trolley bus!

4 years ago
Posted by marqone

Actually in Chain Reaction, that scene was supposed to be in Washington DC, and they exit on the mall. So even more confusing. Alas I did see it because my now wife and others we knew had been unpaid extras in a scene that didn't make it.

4 years ago
Posted by RouteBG

Remember, it's the movies, folks, not a documentary or travelogue.

4 years ago
Posted by RouteBG

The phrase "public transit impossibility wormhole" is a great addition to the Roger Ebert classification of movie clichés. May I suggest an Impossible Automotive Geography Rule, wherein no car chase sequence or automobile route depicted in movies could in reality occur as filmed? The list of such routes in Chicago movies alone is long, including "Running Scared," "When Harry Met Sally," "My Best Friend's Wedding," "Ferris Bueller's Day Off," even "Batman : The Dark Knight." And many more.

These anomalies are one reason we love the movies.

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