The best Los Angeles movies of all time

These 57 Los Angeles movies—shady noirs, sunny comedies and even a sci-fi nightmare or two—truly get the City of Angels

Hollywood boulevard sign, with palm trees in the background


The best Los Angeles movies of all time

These 57 Los Angeles movies—shady noirs, sunny comedies and even a sci-fi nightmare or two—truly get the City of Angels

Nothing makes us feel more like a proud local than seeing our sprawling city sneak onscreen in an authentic way. But which movies wear it best? There’s a lovable side of L.A. that you can find on film if you look hard enough: In ranking our list of the best Los Angeles movies, we found it in gritty nighttime thrillers, euphoric Hollywood rom-coms, cultural touchstones and everything in between. (Pardon our occasional cynicism: As you know, hating on this town is part of loving it.) If you’re thirsty for more cinematic inspiration, check out the best L.A. movie theaters and L.A. outdoor movies—and happy viewing, Angelenos.

L.A. movies: Chinatown (1974)

Chinatown (1974)

If Los Angeles is built on beautiful illusions (some might say lies), then call it a cosmic coincidence that the high point of intelligent Hollywood filmmaking—Roman Polanski’s staggeringly great neonoir—arrived in the service of exposing the city’s buried sins. Chinatown is as ingenious as screenwriting gets: Robert Towne’s 1930s detective tale seamlessly blends glamour and action with then-current paranoia, the Nixonian moment when “follow the money” was the phrase on all lips. In the film’s case, it’s “follow the water,” diverted from thirsty orange groves in the Valley to future suburban tracts. The crime is colossal in scope and based on true events; rakish detective Jack Nicholson (never better) is quickly in over his head. But no mere period piece—even one with luscious Faye Dunaway—could ever top our list on historicity alone. The lasting beauty of this cynical movie is obvious to any screenwriter who aspires to say something profound about their town, and to any Angeleno who wants to believe the truth is out there.—Joshua Rothkopf

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Movies, Comedy

La La Land (2016)

A completely original musical vibrating with the spirit of France’s immortal The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (yet alive with the dreams of today’s Angelenos), writer-director Damien Chazelle’s swirling masterpiece gave us a career-best performance from Emma Stone, heartbreaking in every shot. Chazelle was only 30 when he made this. Let that sink in. Fully shot on location, La La Land is a one-stop-shop of classic local landmarks, from Griffith Observatory and Hollywood’s “You Are the Star” mural, to the dearly departed Rialto Theatre and Hermosa Pier’s Lighthouse Café (where Seb saves jazz on a nightly basis). If you want to twirl in your yellow dress at that iconic valley view, you’ll have to drive up to Cathy’s Corner on Mt. Hollywood Drive. But anyone hoping to recreate the opening freeway number is invited to leave the city right now.—Joshua Rothkopf

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L.A. movies: The Long Goodbye (1973)

The Long Goodbye (1973)

This isn’t your father’s Philip Marlowe: Robert Altman’s spectacular neonoir transplants Raymond Chandler’s cynical detective (Elliott Gould) into druggy 1970s California. He’s a man far outside his time, driving a 1948 Lincoln Continental and talking two-dimensional tough as if nothing had changed since the end of WWII. But beneath the pristine sands of the Malibu beaches and the glinting lights of the Hollywood Hills, something terrible lurks. And though Altman adheres to a number of mystery story standards, this is less a straightforward whodunit than a sharp, sarcastic existential quest. Never before had the moral rot of Los Angeles and its many self-obsessed denizens been so potently satirized.—Keith Uhlich

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L.A. movies: Mulholland Drive (2001)

Mulholland Drive (2001)

How many aspiring starlets have come to the entertainment capital of the world, only to have their dreams smashed? David Lynch’s hallucinatory tale of a perky blond ingenue (the extraordinary Naomi Watts) caught up in a mystery involving an amnesiac brunette (Laura Elena Harring) begins with a bone-crunching car accident on the eponymous roadway and basks in the city’s boozy, nightmarish atmosphere. But look beyond Lynch’s expectedly surreal sights (a demonic homeless man living behind a Gardena diner, a soothsaying albino cowboy, Billy Ray Cyrus) and you’ll witness one of the director’s most devastatingly emotional works—a mournful love poem to all those who have been chewed up and spit out by the Hollywood machine.—Keith Uhlich

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L.A. movies: Sunset Blvd. (1950)

Sunset Boulevard (1950)

Arguably Hollywood’s first zombie movie, Billy Wilder’s memento mori is a grotesquerie of Tinseltown decrepitude, populated with the walking waxworks of a bygone era. Desperate to keep his Plymouth from repossession, deadbeat screenwriter Joe Gillis (William Holden) takes shelter at fictitious 10086 Sunset Boulevard, a mansion-turned-mausoleum that contains the silent-screen star Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson). Hired to do a polish on her vanity revamp of Salomé, Gillis becomes a kept man, swathed in bespoke suits and smothered by self-loathing. No drama better epitomizes the film industry’s pathological nostalgia for past glories, manufacturing celebrities forever addicted to fickle adoration. Buster Keaton, Hedda Hopper, Cecil B. DeMille and Schwab’s Pharmacy all make appearances, but the best cameo is saved for Melrose Avenue’s poisoned dream factory, Paramount Pictures.—Stephen Garrett

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L.A. movies: Kiss Me Deadly (1955)

Kiss Me Deadly (1955)

If you know only the Lita Ford song, you’ve got some viewing to do. In this wonderfully seedy L.A. private-eye tale, the murder plot skips from pavement-bound criminality to the frightening reaches of apocalyptic doom, courtesy of a glowing, radioactive suitcase. (Quentin Tarantino’s a fan.) Our hero—the Mickey Spillane–created Mike Hammer (Ralph Meeker)—is close to a thug himself, leading with his fists and smugness. But the real reason this mighty noir charts so high on our list is clear in nearly every background, from the soon-to-be-razed tenements of Bunker Hill to the Hollywood Athletic Club and a bopping jazz bar on Figueroa. Director Robert Aldrich would go on to huge budgets and studio luxuries (The Dirty Dozen), but he never eclipsed this movie’s pungent sense of place, a corruption seeping out of every bruised face and busted, dead-end apartment.—Joshua Rothkopf

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L.A. movies: Short Cuts (1993)

Short Cuts (1993)

Robert Altman masterfully skewered the Angeleno psyche in many of his pictures, but those shrewd observational tools were especially incisive (and damning) in his L.A. swan song, a tragicomic tapestry that stretches from lofty homes in the Hollywood Hills and the earthy hiking trails of Griffith Park, to the trailer-park lows of working-class Downey. A sprawling latticework based on the stories of Raymond Carver and transposed seamlessly from the writer’s native Pacific Northwest, Altman’s magnum opus of minor lives shimmers with a chronic anxiety aptly suited for a region haunted by earthquakes. Pool cleaner, limo driver, newscaster, doctor, artist, lounge singer, policeman—all hide emotional fault lines that vein throughout the city’s sprawl. As if this weren’t L.A. enough, check out the film’s Thomas Guide end credits.—Stephen Garrett

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L.A. movies: Blade Runner (1982)

Blade Runner (1982)

Were it not for the title card and the familiar site of the Bonaventure Hotel’s towers peeking through the skyline in Blade Runner’s opening shot, you’d think you were looking at a Bosch painting instead of gliding over the City of Angels circa 2019. Flames shoot out of smokestacks and people are living on top of each other; if ever a movie deserved to have the overused phrase Hell-Ay applied to its aesthetic, it’s Ridley Scott’s dystopic noir. “Visual futurist” Syd Mead’s conception of a metropolitan nightmare recasts tomorrow’s Los Angeles as a glorious ruin, lovingly turning landmarks like the Union train station into a dirty police precinct and the Deco Bradbury Building into an acid-rain-soaked battleground. It’s no surprise that, when the director’s cut was released in 1992 at the Nuart Theatre, the lines were around the block. Angelenos know a dark valentine when they see it.—David Fear

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L.A. movies: The Player (1992)

The Player (1992)

In the years between Robert Altman’s seemingly uninterrupted string of ’70s studio masterpieces and this 1992 comeback, he didn’t really disappear so much as shift to a more intimate canvas. But when the revered director returned to make a definitive Hollywood satire, the town rose up to welcome him. Dozens of celebrities—from Cher and Julia Roberts to Malcolm McDowell and Buck Henry—happily contributed cameos, adding immeasurably to the film’s verisimilitude. But apart from backstabbing life on the lot, there are dynamic set pieces establishing a desperate city: A screenwriter is stalked and murdered at the legendary Rialto Theatre; the killer, a studio executive (Tim Robbins), escapes to an exclusive spa in Desert Hot Springs; finally, his crime closing in on him, he succumbs to the Pasadena police, a world away from his sphere of entitlement.—Joshua Rothkopf

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The Big Lebowski, movie screenings

The Big Lebowski (1998)

Every era gets the white knight it deserves; for Los Angeles in the early ’90s, that man was a shaggy-haired stoner who went by “The Dude.” Joel and Ethan Coen’s cult comedy riffs heavily on Raymond Chandler’s 1940 detective stories (it even borrows a famous line from the author’s classic Farewell, My Lovely), but the film’s skewed paradise of kooks and freaks is completely its own. Joel himself has claimed that the movie was a tribute to the “marginal Los Angeles” he encountered in Venice Beach, Pasadena and parts of the Valley, and the film works beautifully as a celebration of the city’s fringe dwellers: the hippie dreamers, ex-military nutjobs, far-out feminist artists and lonesome cowboys who call L.A. home.—David Fear

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L.A. movies: In a Lonely Place (1950)

In a Lonely Place (1950)

Fading screenwriter Dixon Steele (Humphrey Bogart) gets accused of strangling a checkroom girl and throwing her body into Benedict Canyon. His alibi? Laurel Gray (Gloria Grahame), a neighbor in his Beverly Hills apartment complex. Nicholas Ray’s tragedy is a deeply forlorn look at Los Angeles, where road rage is a matter of course and the most tender relationship often ends up being with your agent.—Stephen Garrett

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L.A. movies: Double Indemnity (1944)

Double Indemnity (1944)

Los Feliz housewife Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck) seduces insurance salesman Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray) into killing her husband—they stage his death on the train to Palo Alto—and then things get dirty. Directing one of the shadiest film noirs ever made, Billy Wilder bathes his femme fatale in pitch-black sunlight and bad intentions.—Stephen Garrett

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L.A. movies: The Limey (1999)

The Limey (1999)

Terence Stamp plays a rugged Brit out of water, an ex-con come to L.A. to avenge his daughter’s death in Steven Soderbergh’s gloriously time-jumbled thriller. The urban environs are filmed like an existential playground, and costar Luis Guzmán hilariously sums up the town’s hazy climate: “You could see the sea out there, if you could see it.”—Keith Uhlich

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L.A. movies: Safe (1995)

Safe (1995)

Julianne Moore is an affluent San Fernando Valley housewife who becomes allergic to her environment—literally and figuratively—in Todd Haynes’s unsettling character study. The threat of illness is everywhere for this silver-spoon suburbanite who seems to be adversely reacting to everything from the omnipresent Los Angeles smog to her own banal lifestyle. Haynes’s tour de force speaks brilliantly to L.A.’s anxiety-inducing influence.—Keith Uhlich

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Jackie Brown

Jackie Brown (1997)

Quentin Tarantino’s adaptation of Elmore Leonard’s Rum Punch adds the perfect sense of lived-in verisimilitude by grounding it in the less-than-glamorous South Bay region. Shooting in the area’s actual dive bars and bail-bond offices, the film offers the kind of pulp-perfect L.A. where career criminals hold court and desperate working-class stiffs concoct escape plans.—David Fear

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L.A. movies: Los Angeles Plays Itself (2003)

Los Angeles Plays Itself (2003)

Because it’s made up almost entirely of clips from other movies, you’re never going to be able to rent or purchase this seminal study of the city’s onscreen presence (assembled by CalArts film theorist Thom Andersen). But if you ever hear of a public screening, clear your schedule: The connections are humorous, with nods to everything from Female (1933) to Swordfish (2001).—Joshua Rothkopf

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Movies, Drama


Dan Gilroy’s dazzling directorial debut transforms the gory horrors of the nightly news into a playground for a closet psycho, expertly portrayed by a hollowed-out Jake Gyllenhaal. We’re in the presence of a new Travis Bickle, one who haunts the seedy diners on Sepulveda, and plots his excursions from an apartment in Echo Park.—Joshua Rothkopf

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L.A. movies: Heat (1995)

Heat (1995)

Truthfully, it takes place in Michael Mann country: a cool urban landscape of postmodern interiors bathed in gunmetal-blue twilight. (Few filmmakers have staked out a terrain as stylishly.) That said, the movie’s heist centerpiece, spilling out violently onto downtown Flower Street, is undeniably Los Angeles, and one of Hollywood’s finest bits of mayhem.—Joshua Rothkopf

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L.A. movies: Magnolia (1999)

Magnolia (1999)

One is the loneliest number in Paul Thomas Anderson’s kaleidoscopic fever dream of Valley alienation. A former child prodigy (William H. Macy), a simpleminded cop (John C. Reilly), a despondent trophy wife (Julianne Moore) and a misogynistic motivational speaker (Tom Cruise) are among the emotionally stunted. Respect the cock—so long as it’s not raining frogs.—Stephen Garrett

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Tangerine (2015)

Set in an unglamorous stretch of Hollywood, with its sun-faded donut shops, mini-mall laundromats and fleabag motels, Sean Baker’s mesmerizing feature opens like a shot of indie adrenaline and doesn’t let up. Filmed completely on an iPhone, this day-in-the-life of two trans hustlers (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez’s fresh-out-of-jail firecracker, Mya Taylor’s voice of reason) is the kind of fresh modern story Tinseltown just doesn’t tell—even though it’s happening right in its backyard.—Tim Lowery

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Inherent Vice
Movies, Drama

Inherent Vice (2015)

Something tells us that Paul Thomas Anderson’s turn-of-the-’70s stoner odyssey will rise in estimation over the years. There’s simply nothing like it, certainly not from its evolving director, riding the herky-jerky rhythms of “unfilmable” novelist Thomas Pynchon and arriving at something gloriously weird and wonky.—Joshua Rothkopf

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Repo Man

Repo Man (1984)

“The more you drive, the less intelligent you are,” goes a line of wisdom: Alex Cox’s brilliantly bonkers debut is a punk-tinged riff on aliens, generic supermarket products, Scientology, G-men and jaded youth. Its Los Angeles is a town where the automobile is king, but car repossessors rule. The casual lunacy is intoxicating, with a blasé acceptance of anarchy that epitomizes L.A. cool.—Stephen Garrett

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L.A. movies: The Big Sleep (1946)

The Big Sleep (1946)

Howard Hawks’s sizzling adaptation of Raymond Chandler’s mystery novel casts Humphrey Bogart as private dick Philip Marlowe and Lauren Bacall as the alluring dame who assists him. More about atmosphere than plot (and shot entirely on the Warner Bros. back lot), this quintessential noir turns L.A. into an immersive, shadowy dreamscape filled with gun-toting mystery men and goggle-eyed femme fatales.—Keith Uhlich

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L.A. movies: Model Shop (1969)

Model Shop (1969)

French filmmaker Jacques Demy (The Umbrellas of Cherbourg) brought his inimitable romantic sensibility stateside with this tale of a troubled architect (Gary Lockwood) who has a fateful meeting with an erotic model (Anouk Aimée, reprising her role from the director’s Lola). Lockwood wanders gauzy Dockweiler Beach with mesmeric aimlessness, the perfect complement to his character’s melancholy longing.—Keith Uhlich

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L.A. movies: Shampoo (1975)

Shampoo (1975)

Horndog Beverly Hills hairdresser George (Warren Beatty) frantically motorcycles between a girlfriend (Goldie Hawn), a lover (Lee Grant) and an ex (Julie Christie) on the day that California’s Richard Nixon is elected President. Hippie auteur Hal Ashby and scribe Robert Towne turned a jaundiced eye to the flameout of the sexual revolution.—Stephen Garrett

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L.A. movies: L.A. Confidential (1997)

L.A. Confidential (1997)

Both a gorgeous throwback to ’50s Hollywood tough guys and a piercing comment on the post–Rodney King ’90s, Curtis Hanson’s tightly wound cop drama runs on the tension between L.A.’s dream-factory mechanics and the sordid reality. It’s a place where one could run into a hooker at the Formosa Cafe who looks like Lana Turner—or into the real Turner herself.—David Fear

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L.A. movies: Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)

Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)

A Valley movie through and through (though never by name), this Cameron Crowe–penned teen comedy gains as much of its authenticity from expert location work as it does from heartfelt coming-of-age performances. There’s no actual Ridgemont High School, but the Sherman Oaks Galleria is immortalized, and if you’re looking for deflowering spot “the Point,” it’s a little-league dugout in Encino.—Joshua Rothkopf

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L.A. movies: Body Double (1984)

Body Double (1984)

When Brian De Palma decided to update Rear Window, he went sky-high: to the Hollywood Hills’ octagonal Chemosphere, an icon of architectural Modernism. In addition to this ominous bachelor pad, the movie visits a surfeit of L.A. landmarks (many of them now gone), such as the beloved Tail o’ the Pup hot-dog stand, the swank Rodeo Collection mall and Tower Records.—Joshua Rothkopf

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L.A. movies: Singin’ in the Rain (1952)

Singin’ in the Rain (1952)

The subject of this crown jewel of Hollywood musicals is, unsurprisingly, Tinseltown itself. Gene Kelly plays a silent-movie star making an uneasy transition to sound. His failed screen test is a classic comedy set piece, but it’s the giddy, astonishing musical numbers—especially the peerless title love ballad, shot on a two-block-long back-lot set—that will forever mark this as one of La-La Land’s creative peaks.—Keith Uhlich

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L.A. movies: Drive (2011)

Drive (2011)

Nicolas Winding Refn’s thriller (starring Ryan Gosling as a stoic stick man) is a throwback to the neon-lit loner cinema of the 1980s, especially the brooding action pictures of Walter Hill. Refn gets the situational details pitch-perfect, from the low-rent body shops and eateries of less-glamorous L.A. to that most recognizable of local activities: late-night cruising.—Joshua Rothkopf

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L.A. movies: Barton Fink (1991)

Barton Fink (1991)

In the Coen brothers’ surreal 1940s-set comedy, an Odets-like East Coast playwright reluctantly goes West for a potentially lucrative screenwriting gig (“a wrestling picture!”) and gets tangled up in mystery, murder and writer’s block. The satire cuts deep: From lowest-common-denominator studio moguls to cynically tough-talking gals to naively idealistic artistes, no California type is let off easy.—Keith Uhlich

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L.A. movies: Killer of Sheep (1979)

Killer of Sheep (1979)

The neighborhood of Watts has never been as poetically rendered as it is in Charles Burnett’s iconic indie. Though its shots of the area’s riot-scarred streets double as a historical document of the African-American district, it’s the way Burnett restores dignity to the community that gives this movie its staying power.—David Fear

L.A. movies: Boyz n the Hood (1991)

Boyz n the Hood (1991)

South Central native and USC grad John Singleton gives his own soul-crushing update to the PG-rated delinquency of white-bread classics like American Graffiti. In this sobering coming-of-age film, cruising doesn’t lead to pickups but to hit jobs, and getting into college isn’t as important as getting out of Compton alive.—Stephen Garrett

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L.A. movies: Speed (1994)

Speed (1994)

Hero cop Keanu Reeves and plucky passenger Sandra Bullock can’t let an explosives-laden bus dip below 50mph (thanks a lot, mad bomber Dennis Hopper) in this relentlessly paced blockbuster. There’s tons of barreling-down-the-freeway fun to be had, and many City of Angels institutions—from LAX to Grauman’s Chinese Theatre—get in on the action.—Keith Uhlich

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L.A. movies: Rebel Without a Cause (1955)

Rebel Without a Cause (1955)

Teen angst finds its charter mascot as James Dean pouts through a switchblade duel outside Griffith Observatory. Later, a tragic game of chicken at fictitious Millertown bluff (shot near Palos Verdes) puts him on the lam with crush Natalie Wood and troubled Sal Mineo. Only in L.A. could a hunk be a loner.—Stephen Garrett

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L.A. movies: Less than Zero (1987)

Less than Zero (1987)

Bret Easton Ellis’s debut novel, an essential piece of L.A. fiction, deserves a movie version more faithful than this one, which emphasizes glamour over despair. Still, the well-chosen locations—from Bel Air to Malibu—capture the city well, and Tinseltown’s favorite comeback kid, Robert Downey Jr., announces himself as a major talent.—Joshua Rothkopf

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L.A. movies: Devil in a Blue Dress (1995)

Devil in a Blue Dress (1995)

Accidental detective Easy Rawlins (Denzel Washington) is hired to find a wily white woman (Jennifer Beals), but is sucked into a world of corrupt politicians and dirty murders. Novelist Walter Mosley’s sly private eye gets superb big-screen treatment in this sumptuous look at the racial dynamics percolating in 1948 Los Angeles.—Stephen Garrett

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L.A. movies: Swingers (1996)

Swingers (1996)

L.A.’s neolounge movement and big-band revival were already in full swing when writer-star Jon Favreau’s tale of a lonely wanna-be comedian offered a peek at the city’s retro-chic culture. Thanks to this indie hit, suddenly everybody wanted to sip cocktails at the Dresden and look “money” on the Derby’s dance floor.—David Fear

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The Bling Ring
Movies, Drama

The Bling Ring (2013)

Deceptively shallow but ultimately fascinating, Sofia Coppola’s crime drama doesn’t quite take the side of the real-life teen thieves who raided the Hollywood Hills homes of Paris Hilton, Megan Fox and others. But it doesn’t depict them as monsters, either—or anything worse than the nincompoops that bored kids can often be—and that’s provocative. Fun fact: Hilton let the crew shoot scenes at her actual pad on Clerendon Road.—Joshua Rothkopf

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L.A. movies: Punch-Drunk Love (2002)

Punch-Drunk Love (2002)

The poet of the San Fernando Valley, Paul Thomas Anderson, set his delirious love story amid the Chatsworth area’s industrial warehouses and ticky-tacky apartment complexes—which, strangely, seem like the most romantic places on earth when turned into backdrops for Adam Sandler and Emily Watson’s swooning soulmate connection.—David Fear

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L.A. movies: Die Hard (1988)

Die Hard (1988)

John McClane (Bruce Willis) is a New York City cop, so already he’s a fish out of water. But when his estranged wife and others are taken hostage at the top of the sleek “Nakatomi Plaza” building (the recently completed headquarters of Twentieth Century Fox), our hero springs into action with honed urban instincts. A classic Hollywood action picture, it also evokes the catty maelstrom of L.A. media.—Joshua Rothkopf

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L.A. movies: Clueless (1995)

Clueless (1995)

Not a skewering of the archetypical Valley girl so much as an affectionate portrait of a spoiled Beverly Hills do-gooder, Amy Heckerling’s modernization of Jane Austen’s Emma swaddles itself in shallowness, until the final result is warmth. Mall culture at the Westside Pavilion is captured, as is a scary driver’s-ed scene on the freeway.—Joshua Rothkopf

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To Live and Die in L.A. (1985)

To Live and Die in L.A. (1985)

This West Coast cousin to director William Friedkin’s French Connection (with even sleazier cops) takes us on a vivid, Wang Chung–scored tour of the L.A. underground. Memorable set pieces abound, from a terrorist attack at the Beverly Hilton to a wrong-way car chase along the Terminal Island Freeway.—Keith Uhlich

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L.A. movies: Ed Wood (1994)

Ed Wood (1994)

The awful cult auteur Edward D. Wood Jr. inspired Tim Burton to make his most humane and adult film, filled with keen views of the Pantages Theatre and seedy Hollywood hangouts like Boardner’s. Most evocative of L.A., though, is the sad specter of Bela Lugosi (Martin Landau), the first celebrity to publicly enter rehab.—Joshua Rothkopf

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L.A. movies: L.A. Story (1991)

L.A. Story (1991)

The City of Angels as a land of enchantment? Steve Martin wrote and starred in this whimsical love letter to his adopted hometown, where highway signs flash personal advice, French restaurants are named L’Idiot, and museumgoers wear roller skates. Best of all: Quintessential Gotham girl Sarah Jessica Parker plays vivacious Venice bunny SanDeE*. (Yes, she insists on that punctuation.)—Stephen Garrett

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Movies, Drama

Straight Outta Compton (2015)

There’s enjoyable humor (and beautiful acting) as brow-furrowed, rhyme-scribbling teen Ice Cube (O’Shea Jackson Jr., Cube’s real son), shrewd drug dealer Eric “Eazy-E” Wright (Jason Mitchell) and frustrated DJ Andre (Corey Hawkins as the future Dr. Dre) come together in the studio, hatch N.W.A. and set off on an incendiary path. Outside, director F. Gary Gray captures the L.A. riots and even that old Tower Records sign on Sunset.—Joshua Rothkopf

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L.A. movies: The Graduate (1967)

The Graduate (1967)

Virginal college grad Benjamin Braddock (Dustin Hoffman) was educated on the East Coast, but it’s in L.A. that he gets schooled in the real world. Beverly Hills MILF Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft) tutors him at the Taft—the old Ambassador Hotel—and upends a generation’s definition of the California girl.—Stephen Garrett

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L.A. movies: Them! (1954)

Them! (1954)

A profoundly influential 1950s fear film, this is the one about giant radioactive ants laying waste to the human population. The gargantuan pests are spawned in New Mexico’s A-bomb deserts, but make their way to the sewers of L.A., where soldiers descend (via the Los Angeles River spillway) to do fiery battle.—Joshua Rothkopf

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L.A. movies: The Decline of Western Civilization (1981)

The Decline of Western Civilization (1981)

The definitive record of a crucial moment in the city’s musical history, this doc puts you right where the action was, from the dingy church where X practiced to the mosh pit at a Germs show at the Masque. This is L.A. punk, year zero, in all its uncut glory—an ’80s time capsule that doubles as a note from the California underground.—David Fear

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L.A. movies: Training Day (2001)

Training Day (2001)

Rogue narc-squad chief Alonzo Harris (Denzel Washington) straddles law enforcement and street justice to ferment his own brew of swaggering vigilantism and wet-beak opportunism, while undercover rookie Jake Hoyt (Ethan Hawke) watches mortified, even as his sleazy superior slips him a PCP-laced joint. The chronically maligned LAPD never looked so demonic (at the movies, at least).—Stephen Garrett

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L.A. movies: The Exiles (1961)

The Exiles (1961)

Kent MacKenzie’s near-forgotten fugue for the urbanized Native American is a heartbreaking look at the down-and-out denizens of now-razed Bunker Hill, an ethnic enclave and de facto reservation within the city limits. Luscious black-and-white cinematography (including views of the beloved Angels Flight funicular railway) impart a noir sheen to the nocturnal high jinks and existential dilapidation.—Stephen Garrett

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L.A. movies: Boogie Nights (1997)

Boogie Nights (1997)

From Reseda’s disco palaces to the hot-tub-adorned backyards of West Covina and Van Nuys, Paul Thomas Anderson’s supercharged portrait of the porn industry boasts an enviable precision with local details. Dirk Diggler’s rise and fall is a distinctly L.A. tale of hedonistic reinvention—an X-rated echo of the mainstream movie business playing out just to the south.—Joshua Rothkopf

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L.A. movies: The Day of the Locust (1975)

The Day of the Locust (1975)

John Schlesinger’s surreal adaptation of Nathanael West’s bitter novel turns “Hollywoodland” into a Depression-era hellscape, epitomized by the desperate residents of the San Bernardino Arms: a broken-down vaudevillian, a two-bit actress and a simple man on the edge of psychosis. The most horrifying scene is an apocalyptic movie premiere set at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre.—Stephen Garrett

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L.A. movies: Greenberg (2010)

Greenberg (2010)

New Yorker Noah Baumbach’s movie about a fortysomething failure may seem like it’s marinating in East Coast haterade. But its blindingly bright yet perpetually smoggy L.A. perfectly mirrors the mind-set of Ben Stiller’s mopey protagonist; few movies have better captured how this beautiful city can seem like one big storm cloud to its losers.—David Fear

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L.A. movies: Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)

Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)

As viewed from Elysian Park, Los Angeles is obliterated in nuclear fire, in one of James Cameron’s most nightmarish sequences—Hollywood blockbusting at its darkest. But the director recaptures some municipal goodwill via a landmark chase scene set in the cement waterway of the L.A. River.—Joshua Rothkopf

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L.A. movies: Gidget (1959)

Gidget (1959)

Squeaky-clean SoCal teen Sandra Dee hits the beach, and America gets its first good look at Malibu’s surfer culture. This adolescent rom-com didn’t just inspire a wave of fun-in-the-sun movies; it would serve as an advertisement for L.A.’s world of tanned bodies and good vibrations.—David Fear

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Movies, Thriller


The place is today’s L.A., but almost completely denatured of glitz. Instead, we get cool-blue reflections in glass, illuminated by the glow of ubiquitous cell-phone screens. Aaron Katz’s thriller is just so-so as a murder mystery, but visually, his film is a knockout, attuned to swirling night drives in the hills and the free-floating anxiety of identities in flux.—Joshua Rothkopf

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Discover the best things to do in L.A.

Eastern Columbia Building

Photograph: Courtesy Sterling Davis

Things to do
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