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The best movies and TV shows filmed in Chicago

Who needs LA? The famous house from Home Alone (1990) is right here in Winnetka.

Chicagoans take pride in seeing our city represented on the grand national stage of television and movies. There are plenty to choose from: across all genres, programs have been showcased countless spots across the region over the years. 

Does anyone want to take a look at some of the best? Anyone? Bueller

Yes, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986) was an easy one, but that doesn’t make it any less awesome or iconic. The same can be said for The Breakfast Club (1985). Both filmed inside Maine North High School in Des Plaines, which had already closed only 11 years after opening in 1970. 

Bueller, of course, takes place at various locations across the city and suburbs. The shot of Ferris catching a foul ball at Wrigley Field was filmed during a real Cubs game on September 24, 1985, although director John Hughes was a White Sox fan and had originally wanted Ferris to catch a foul ball at Comiskey Park. Even for this most Chicago-esque of movies, however, there were a few diversions to California: the French restaurant where Ferris plays Abe Froman, the Sausage King of Chicago, is in Los Angeles, and even the exterior of Ferris’  house is in Long Beach.

Another vintage Chicago classic is The Blues Brothers (1980). The famous car jump over a raised drawbridge was at the 95th Street bridge over the Calumet River in South Chicago, while various car chases took place on Lower Wacker Drive, Lake Street, and within the now-demolished Dixie Square Mall in Harvey, which had already closed by filming time in 1979.

LaSalle Street in the Loop was the setting for one of the ultimate Batman vs The Joker showdowns in The Dark Knight (2008).

Speaking of Lower Wacker, a whole new generation was introduced to big screen car chases there with The Dark Knight (2008), one of the film’s greatest action sequences. Batman and the Joker got quite the Chicago tour while adopting it as Gotham for that movie, most notably LaSalle Street, the Richard J. Daley Center (which Blues Brothers also used) as headquarters of Wayne Enterprises, and famous Old Town ribs spot Twin Anchors, where “Two-Face” Harvey Dent begins his rampage.

On a brighter note, youngster Kevin McCallister (played by Macaulay Culkin) makes quite a defensive stand against burglars in the 1990 classic Home Alone. The house under siege in the film is in Winnetka. It most recently sold in 2012 for nearly $1.6 million.

No mention of movies set in the North Shore is complete without the iconic Mean Girls (2004). The high school students attend in the movie was based on New Trier in Winnetka, and main actress Lindsay Lohan mentions Old Orchard Mall by name during a supposed visit there. However as with most of that movie, both of those locations were actually in the Toronto area.

Chicagoland has also been crushing it on the TV side of entertainment as well, especially recently but also historically. Chicago was put on the TV map for many by the filming of The Oprah Winfrey Show (1986-2011) for many years in the West Loop, followed by many more. While the actual emergency room used for ER (1994-2009) was on a studio in California, the entire show was set at a fictional Cook County hospital and used many location shoots in Chicago, most notably on “L” platforms downtown.

The interiors of Chicago Fire’s Firehouse 51 is now filmed in a studio on the West Side, but the exterior scenes really are at the Engine 18 firehouse in Little Italy.

NBC’s Chicago franchise (2012-present, including Chicago Fire, Chicago PD, and Chicago Med) have produced hundreds of Chicago-filled episodes in recent years. The most notable crossover between the shows is Molly’s Bar, a regular hangout for characters of all three shows. Molly’s is a real neighborhood bar called Lottie’s Pub in Bucktown.

A new addition is Comedy Central’s South Side (2019-present), which follows two ambitious yet embattled repo guys around, you guessed it, the South Side. The show is making a particular point to not only shoot, but cast and produce locally. Shameless (2011-present) is also predominantly set in the South Side’s Canaryville neighborhood, but is actually filmed in North Lawndale.

A notable recent Chicago fraud was The League (2009-2015), where the main characters’ main post-work hangout was set as Gibson’s Steakhouse on Rush Street in the Gold Coast. Despite countless stock film shots of Chicago, none of the show was filmed there.

In a near inverse of The League, Empire (2015-present) is set elsewhere, in New York City, but films in Chicago. The Lyon family estate is a mansion in Barrington, while the exterior shots of the Empire Entertainment record label headquarters is at 353 N Clark Street.

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