The Best San Francisco Movies You Probably Haven’t Seen

But some lesser-known movies shot here in the city have been forgotten over the years, one of which was seen by just 12 people in its original form.

Here are some of our favorites that you may have missed and are worth seeing on a rainy night.

‘Medicine for melancholy’ (2008)

For rent on Amazon Prime Video and Apple TV

Before director Barry Jenkins won the 2017 Best Picture Oscar for “Moonlight” (the year “La La Land” didn’t win), he made this wonderful little romance and cultural commentary set in black and white (with the occasional splash of color) on the streets of San Francisco in the mid-2000s.

Made for less than $20,000 over a 15-day period in 2007, the story follows young black couple Micah (Wyatt Cenac) and Jo (Tracey Heggins) the day after a drunken night at a random house party. . The couple struggles awkwardly with a hangover and hikes Twin Peaks to find coffee, rides the carousel at Yerba Buena Gardens and shops at Rainbow Grocery while reflecting on what it means to be black in San Francisco. Their philosophical conversations, reminiscent of Richard Linklater’s “Before…” movies, center on the hypocrisy of a very liberal city with a very small black demographic, among other things.

It’s a lonely, moving little movie, and very much of its time: the pair scroll through each other’s MySpace profiles, smoke cigarettes for fun, and debate San Francisco’s most 2007 culture wars: Navy vs. Mission.

The most enduring line in the movie comes when Jo asks Micah if he likes San Francisco.

“I hate this city, but I love it,” he tells her over a suddenly color-drenched shot of Mission Dolores Park with the downtown skyscrapers behind it. “Anyone who can find a street corner has a view. San Francisco is beautiful and has nothing to do with beatniks, hippies or yuppies. It simply is.”

‘Greed’ (1924)

For rent on Amazon Prime Video and Apple TV

Only 12 people are said to have seen the original eight-hour version of this silent-era tragedy. The MGM producers decided to cut it down to about two and a half hours and lost the other reels, a decision that devastated director Erich von Stroheim until the day he died.

One of the most impressive feats of early Hollywood cinema, this epic tale of violence and greed follows a brutal, childish San Francisco dentist to the depths of his animalistic tendencies. The film is based on Frank Norris’s 1898 book “McTeague,” which also inspired McTeague’s Saloon and the gold tooth that today hangs outside 1237 Polk Street, near the fictional location of the murderous protagonist’s dentistry. Remarkably for the time, the film was shot on location on Polk Street, in Hayes Valley, and in Death Valley, where dozens of crew members suffered from heat exhaustion.

“Greed” (1924)

The Goldwyn–Metro-Goldwyn Company

Many rumors have circulated about the existence of the legendary original eight-hour version. One claims that a print lived in a vault in South America for years and was screened annually on New Year’s Eve. The director once said that he believed that Benito Mussolini had a personal copy. The truth is that of the dozen people who saw the original version, several said it was the best movie ever made.

A four-hour version, with some of the missing reels replaced by production stills, is currently available to stream. We won’t give away spoilers (even though the movie was made a century ago), but the final scene in Death Valley’s Badwater Basin has a hauntingly brilliant twist that still amazes 100 years later.

‘The Lineup’ (1958)

Available on YouTube

One of the last great San Francisco crime novels, 1958’s “The Lineup” follows Eli Wallach of “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” as the psychopathic murderer Dancer, who hunts down residents who have unknowingly introduced heroin smuggled into the city.

The film, which is very intricately plotted but enjoyable, was directed by Don Siegel, who became San Francisco’s preeminent crime director in the 1970s. He would later also film Dirty Harry (1971) here and “Escape From Alcatraz” (1979).

As far as memorable mid-century San Francisco film locations go, “The Lineup” is a real treat. The film shows the doomed Embarcadero Freeway as it was under construction and the former Steinhart Aquarium at the California Academy of Sciences, and perhaps most notably, features a long sequence inside the Sutro Baths, then an ice skating rink and a museum. Like the freeway, that landmark too would be doomed. The baths, built in 1894, would burn down eight years later.

The lengthy sequence in the restrooms offers some of the best and most unique images of the interior of San Francisco’s historic landmark. See Wallach’s Dancer meandering ominously on ice skaters, through the ornate interior, past nuns and children playing vintage slot machines (later to end up at Musee Mecanique) below:

DOA (1950)

Available on Amazon Prime Video

Another lesser-seen noir classic, 1950’s “DOA” revolves around a simple but brilliant premise: our hero, Frank Bigelow (Edmond O’Brien) walks into a San Francisco police station to report his own murder. Our man has been poisoned, has seven days to live, and he’s running across San Francisco to find out who’s killing him and why.

The fast-paced psychological thriller was largely shot in the city. Locations include the Top of the Mark, The Westin St. Francis and the Southern Pacific Hospital; that’s the giant building that still watches over the eastern end of the Panhandle. It looks much the same today and now functions as a retirement home.

DOA (1950)

united artists

If the movie’s name seems familiar, it’s because there are at least three inferior remakes of the movie due to some weird managing editor. A typo was made in the film’s copyright renewal application in 1979, bringing the film into the public domain. This allows for redoing at will, including in a disappointing 1988 Meg Ryan and Dennis Quaid thriller, which is where the real-life couple (now divorced) first met.

‘Inner Space’ (1987)

Available to rent on Apple TV and YouTube

Speaking of Quaid and Ryan, our next underrated San Francisco classic features them in their beautiful, charismatic prime.

Of all the movies on this list, Joe Dante’s “Innerspace” is the most ridiculous diversion. Loosely based on “The Fantastic Journey,” the “Gremlins” director took Quaid’s Lt. Tuck Pendleton into the intestinal depths, as a miniature test pilot who is accidentally injected into Martin Short’s buttocks.

While it has grown cult-like over the years, upon its release in 1987, the Steven Spielberg-produced summer blockbuster was surprisingly not a hit.

It’s hard to say why. Quaid is in his prime with that Jack Nicholson smile and the twinkle in his eye, at one point jumping naked at the top of Montgomery Street. Meg Ryan is irresistible, and Martin Short’s body convulsions are hilarious. Perhaps it’s the fact that most of the film takes place not on the streets of San Francisco, but inside the Canadian comedy legend’s colon, that kept audiences away.

‘Again and Again’ (1979)

Available on HBO Max

This deranged 1979 time travel adventure is probably best known for the Cyndi Lauper hit of the same name, which the singer wrote after seeing the film on a TV Guide listing. The strange plot is not easy to explain, but essentially, the famous science fiction writer HG Wells, played by Malcolm McDowell, travels through space and time to hunt down Jack the Ripper.

For some convoluted reason, that brings both historical figures back to the 1970s in San Francisco.

the characteristics of the film one of the most interesting signs in San Francisco, one that still looks over Chinatown today. “Son, watch the weather and flee from evil,” reads the chilling warning over Old St. Mary’s Cathedral in Grant and California.

It was installed in the 1890s to warn drunken libertines to stay away from the Barbary Coast brothels and into the church. In the movie, our Victorian serial killer takes one look at the Biblical warning but decides not to run from evil; instead, he murders some sex workers in North Beach. It’s worth watching, if only to see Malcolm McDowell in a deer stalker looking dazed by some of the cheaper ’70s special effects ever filmed.

‘Pacific Heights’ (1990)

Available on Amazon Prime Video

John Schlesinger’s San Francisco thriller can be seen as a warning about gentrification, a yuppie revenge fantasy, or simply a horror movie where the monster is a maniacal tenant who breeds cockroaches in your basement.

Michael Keaton, fresh off his starring role in Tim Burton’s “Batman,” rents a room in Melanie Griffith and Matthew Modine’s new Victorian home and proceeds to terrorize them with drills, a hammer, and eventually a golf club.

As for the location, the movie doesn’t make much sense to San Franciscans. The house that the entire movie is based on is not in Pacific Heights at all; It’s on the corner of 19th and Texas. (The house, which also appears in “Nash Bridges,” was reportedly the first to be built on Potrero Hill.)

The film received decidedly mixed reviews upon its release, but regardless of the geographic error, “Pacific Heights” is worth revisiting, if only to see the moment a wealthy young couple is shocked that a historic San Francisco Victorian home Francisco’s 3,000 sf is $800,000.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *