It’s likely that, on an average stroll down Locust Walk, a Penn student might be walking alongside future billionaires, government leaders, or technology geniuses. But what most Penn students might not know about their campus is that they are also walking around a film set every day.
While Penn and the larger Philadelphia area might not rival the most popular cities to film, like New York and Los Angeles, there's still a fair share of films that were shot in the University City district, where students can visit and study, immersing themselves in a piece of cinematic history.
M. Night Shyamalan’s Filmography
M. Night Shyamalan, a horror and supernatural director, is a Philadelphia native who uses his hometown as the backdrop for many of his movies. Shyamalan’s most famous film, The Sixth Sense, was shot in Old City and Center City, including scenes at St. Augustine’s Roman Catholic Church, where Bruce Willis' and Haley Joel Osment's characters spend significant time.
Shyamalan make significant use of Penn’s campus to film Unbreakable, a superhero thriller about a security guard named David Dunn (Bruce Willis) who is the sole survivor of a train crash that killed one hundred and thirty people. David is a security guard of none other than Franklin Field: Penn’s football stadium and venue for the Penn Relays, one of the oldest track and field competitions in the United States. Samuel L. Jackson’s Elijah Price also visits Franklin Field to meet with David and discuss his potential supernatural abilities.
The Oscar–winning Philadelphia, an emotional drama led by Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington, was one of the first mainstream Hollywood films to openly discuss the stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS. Philadelphia centers on Hanks’ Andrew Backett who, after being fired by his law firm for his HIV status, hires Washington’s Miller, the only lawyer willing to represent him in an unjust dismissal case. When Philadelphia premiered in the early 1990s, the outlook for people with HIV was grim, and it would continue to be in the years before effective treatments made it possible to control HIV. Philadelphia decided to focus on the humanity and heroism of the tragic Beckett, who champions equality while facing constant prejudice for being HIV–positive. The scene in which Miller takes Beckett’s case after seeing the discrimination against him firsthand is actually shot in Penn’s Fisher Fine Arts Library.
Hustle, one of Adam Sandler’s upcoming projects, is a sports comedy film about a former basketball scout who tries to revive his NBA career after discovering a player overseas. The film is produced by Lebron James and also stars Queen Latifah and Robert Duvall. While details are still under wraps, some lucky Penn students were able to meet the film's director and see Sandler film some scenes in September at the Palestra (Ed. note: more on this to come in the near future).
While not filmed directly on Penn’s campus, I would be remiss not to highlight the most popular Philadelphian movie: Rocky. Written by and starring Sylvester Stallone, this Best Picture–winner is a classic American sports film that tells the rags–to–riches story of Rocky Balboa, who gets a shot at the world heavyweight championship.
Some of the most iconic shots of the film are in Rocky’s training montage, which includes prominent Philadelphia landmarks like the Schuylkill River Trail and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The 72–step climb leading to the entrance of the museum—now known as the “Rocky Steps”—has become a landmark for tourists and local runners alike.