Stumptown as a Moody Cinematic Backdrop
You don’t have to have grown up here and spent your high school days cutting class to work as an extra on Keanu Reeves’s 1988 film Permanent Record to understand that Portland has long been a favorite location for filmmakers looking to invoke a certain mood for their films. Heck, local directing legend Gus Van Sant has practically based his entire career on the moodiness of the light in this town.
But, you may not realize just how many films have been shot in Stumptown over the years. Here’s a list of ten of the best (all available on Netflix) films shot mostly or entirely in PDX. Please note that we did not include films shot mostly in Eugene (Stand By Me, River’s Edge, Animal House), mostly in Astoria (Kindergarten Cop, Goonies), or in Central and Eastern Oregon (The Postman)—because that would’ve been too easy.
1 – Are We There Yet?
Who doesn’t like gangster rappers turned actors? And who can’t get enough of comedies featuring bratty children? In the 2005 Ice Cube vehicle Are We There Yet? you get both. And with the Portland and the nearby great outdoors as a backdrop you have a winning combination that broke 10% on Rotten Tomatoes.
2 – Bongwater
If there were a substance other than Rainier pounders and before drinking chocolate, double IPA, and small-batch roasted coffee that could represent the Portland of the late nineties, than perhaps that substance is Bongwater. A Richard Sears film based on the novel of the same name by Michael Hornburg, Bongwater gives you the opportunity to see a young Luke Wilson in action, if little else.
3 – Pay it Forward
Do you like young Haley Joel Osment? How about Kevin Spacey when he’s not yelling? And peak-career Helen Hunt? If you said yes to all three questions then Pay it Forward might be the Portland film for you.
4 – Mr. Holland’s Opus
And while we’re feeling good about life, let’s talk about Richard Dreyfus, in what many suburban moms (at least those that played flute or clarinet in high school band) consider to be the best role of his career. Mr. Holland’s Opus may not be for everyone, but it might be just right for you.
5 – Untraceable
Now that we’ve dispensed with the feel good titles, we can get into the grittier side of Portland’s film history. Diane Lane’s 2008 vehicle Untraceable follows FBI agent Jennifer Marsh (Lane) as she chases a serial killer through the internet and some of Portland’s nicer neighborhoods.
6 – The Hunted
If Diane Lane isn’t your idea of an action star, perhaps you’d rather watch Benicio Del Toro and Tommy Lee Jones knife fight on the top of a moving MAX car as it crosses the Hawthorne Bridge (not making this up). In The Hunted, one is a FBI backwoods tracker, the other a trained assassin, and nobody really cares which is which when you’re watching a knife fight on a speeding MAX car crossing the Hawthorne Bridge.
BTW – In Permanent Record (see the intro, above) the Hawthorne Bridge connects downtown Portland with the Oregon Coast (because no one ever goes to Portland so who would even care, right?).
7 – Freddy Got Fingered
Switching gears to comedy (if you can call what Tom Green does comedy) action thrillers, Tom Green shot his 2001 swan song Freddy Got Fingered here in Portland. It’s about an out of work cartoonist (pretty Portland) who moves back in with his Parents (very Portland) and then blackmails them into letting him stay by threatening to accuse them of sexually molesting his younger brother (ew).
8 – John Tucker Must Die
From serial killers to assassins to whatever Tom Green is to serial cheaters we go, landing on the 2006 comedy John Tucker Must Die. It’s a high school-ish tale of sweet revenge that IMBD says you’ll like if you liked She’s the Man or She’s All That.
9 – C. O. G.
Finally some art. A small, quiet independent adaptation of one of the short stories David Sedaris’s Naked, C.O.G. follows a young man to a Portland-area apple farm, where he learns something about life by having his every idea challenged by those around him.
10 – Mala Noche, Drugstore Cowboy, My Own Private Idaho, Paranoid Park
Yes we lumped four of Gus Van Sant’s films together here. Yes, we don’t care. Two of these are truly great films and the other two are based on great novels written by local Portland authors. We leave it to you to figure out which are which. These people actually live here.
Film in the City of Rain and Roses
There you have it. A less than complete list of films shot in Portland that are available through Netflix. Some are fantastic, some less so. All are Portland in that they were filmed here. Only a handful capture the feel of the city.