When it comes to depicting the US on celluloid, it doesn’t get more iconic than the bustling cities of New York and Los Angeles. But out in the Pacific Northwest, another place has developed its own down-to-earth, cinematic identity over the years. While you’re less likely to see Seattle serve as a backdrop to rowdy alien invasions or heart-pumping car chases, it has nonetheless been a significant location beloved by plenty of esteemed directors and the inspiration for some of the best rom-coms out there.
1. Tugboat Annie (1933) by Mervyn LeRoy
While much of this comedy about a quarrelsome sailor couple were shot on elaborate sound stages, Tugboat Annie’s local relevance to Seattle can’t be denied. It’s said to be the first film ever shot in the city, spotlighting local destinations such as Lake Union and Queen Anne Hill in its outdoor footage. And the story itself is decidedly Washington State: it follows the life and loves of a female tug skipper who operates within the Puget Sound; her character was apparently inspired by renowned local Thea Foss, who founded the Foss Launch & Tug Co (now known as Foss Maritime, one of the largest tug companies in the US) in Tacoma, just 30 minutes south of Seattle. The film was so popular when it first premiered, it received an extended run.
2. The Slender Thread (1965) by Sydney Pollack
Pollack’s suspenseful, character-driven drama set brings us into the life of college student Alan (played by Sidney Poitier). Volunteering for a crisis hotline, he receives a distressing call from an unknown woman, played by Anne Bancroft, and is determined to locate her. Naturally, the hunt takes Alan all over Seattle, from Ballard and Belltown to Golden Gardens Park and even Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. Most of these landmarks have since undergone development, and the film shows you a side of their history no longer visible today. For starters, you’ll be amazed by how low-rise the city’s skyline was back in the ’60s.
3. Sleepless in Seattle (1993) by Nora Ephron
You may have never set foot in Washington State, but you have no doubt heard of Nora Ephron’s iconic rom-com starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. The Emerald City truly added a layer of depth to the film’s romance, showcasing Seattle’s large open spaces and cosy eateries, making viewers far and wide covet their own love story within its city limits. Who could deny wanting to be in the middle of the action at Pike Place Market, to savour an amazing view of Gas Works Park as New Year’s Eve fireworks illuminate the night sky or to float on a boat (as your love interest chases you down) on the blue waters of Alki Beach?
4. 10 Things I Hate About You (1999), directed by Gil Junger
The wonderful thing about this movie – aside from a star-studded cast, that includes a young Heath Ledger and Julia Stiles, heart-gripping teen angst and coming-of-age reveries – is that it also takes us on a great tour of Seattle. In the opening credits, we are given a stunning view of Kerry Park; the Fremont Troll by Aurora Bridge stands behind Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Larisa Oleynik; and the film comes to a rousing climax in Paramount Theatre, where the prom scene was filmed. More than anything, Junger’s film captured the spirit of the city at the turn of the century and helped enshrine it in cinematic lore.
5. Laggies (2014), directed by Lynn Shelton
The best way to learn all about a city is through the eyes of a local – in this case, director Lynn Shelton, who grew up in Seattle. Keira Knightley plays a woman going through a quarter–life crisis, sorting out her personal goals and her love life while a wandering narrative takes us to a host of classic Seattle spots – from the historic Northgate Nordstrom (which has since closed) and Olympic Manor to the Chihuly Garden and Glass exhibit centre as well as the MV Skansonia, a retired ferry now moored on the Seattle waterfront. Most of all, Shelton prioritises geographic specificity, meaning that you’ll witness the actual physical distances between locations, rather than, say, cutting from the Space Needle to the suburbs as if they were a five-minute drive apart. It’s as authentic a cinematic tour of the city as you’ll get.