James Ellroy’s neo-noir novel about police corruption in Los Angeles became a film in 1997. The story is set in the 1950s and follows Ed Exley (Guy Pearce), an ambitious, rule-abiding detective who is haunted by the murder of his father, who had also been on the force. Exley’s investigations and the scandal they unearth are coiled around the glamor of Hollywood. For instance, another detective, Jack Vincennes (Kevin Spacey) has the very L.A. sidegig of acting as a technical advisor on a TV police drama. Exley also encounters a prostitution ring where the women have received plastic surgery to look like various film stars. Exley mistakes actress Lana Turner for one of them at the historic Formosa Cafe, a bar that was, in real life, commonly frequented by celebrities. Another woman in the ring, Lynn Bracken (Kim Basinger) is meant to look like Veronica Lake. The film poster shows Basinger at her most glamorous, while the detectives loom in front of the Hollywood sign, silhouettes of palm trees in the distance.
La La Land
La La Land (2016) is a musical comedy-drama about aspiring actress Mia (Emma Stone) and aspiring jazz musician Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), who try to balance pursuing their dreams of stardom with the fact that they’ve been swept into a whirlwind romance with each other. The film plays with many L.A. tropes, and the poster features the pair dancing over the twinkling lights of the city below.
Angelenos acknowledge that the possibility of a very large and devastating earthquake looms overhead at all times, with news outlets offering a steady stream of articles about being prepared. Yet for some reason, the studios that are rooted here are also really into making movies in which Los Angeles is destroyed in such a fashion. Take San Andreas (2015) in which Dwayne ‘the Rock’ Johnson plays an LAFD pilot who struggles to save his family in the midst of several massive earthquakes. One of L.A.’s most notable skyscrapers, the U.S. Bank Tower, is seen crumbling due to the tremors.
Clueless (1995) parodies the lifestyle of the stylish, fabulously wealthy, and occasionally vapid Beverly Hills teen. Cher (Alicia Silverstone), whose mother died while undergoing plastic surgery, is concerned with boys and shopping for much of the film, but matures by the end of the story, as in most coming-of-age teen films. The poster depicts her and her glamorous friends, donning outfits far too on-trend (at least for the ’90s) for your average high-schooler.
Beverly Hills Cop
Eddie Murphy plays a Detroit cop who gets sucked into a crime caper while on vacation in Beverly Hills in this fish-out-of-water comedy franchise. The poster below is from Beverly Hills Cop II, featuring Murphy standing on a palm-tree lined street, leaning casually against the sign designating the tony neighborhood, while donning a Detroit Lions jacket.
People complain a lot in L.A. about rush hour traffic (or really any kind of traffic), but have you ever tried taking the bus? It’s not always as intense as being trapped on a bus that will explode if its speed drops below 50 mph, but sometimes it’s close! And while the city’s public transit has made a lot of improvements in the last few years, at least some Angelenos are so car-focused that this 1994 thriller is probably their only frame of reference for what bussing around L.A. is like. Part of the film also takes place in Los Angeles’ subway system.
A classic tale of fame and obsession, Sunset Boulevard revolves around an aspiring screenwriter who, unfortunately for him, begins a doomed working relationship with a forgotten silent film star. The poster depicts an ominously tightening strip of film and the looming face of the deranged star, while declaring this award-winning film “a Hollywood story”.
To Live and Die in L.A.
In this 1985 movie, U.S. Secret Service agent Richard Chance’s partner, Jimmy Hart, is killed just three days shy of retirement, and he and his new partner, John Vokovich, go on the hunt for a counterfeiter. It’s a gritty crime drama, and its poster depicts Los Angeles as a sweltering, hazy kind of place. Which, sometimes, it can be.
The Beverly Hillbillies
It can be hard to fit in in L.A., as is the case for the Clampetts. As you must know from the long-running TV series, the Clampetts suddenly come into fortune when they discover oil on their land. With their newly found wealth, they end up moving to Beverly Hills, the antithesis of their down-to-earth lifestyle. Many transplants have done the same – usually without the black gold. Sure, it’s a silly film, but at least one thing’s true: all sorts of people make up the fabric of Los Angeles.
Los Angeles Plays Itself
Thom Andersen’s Los Angeles Plays Itself (2003) is a documentary that examines the role Los Angeles itself plays in movies. Numerous clips from films throughout the years are shown, while examining the use of Los Angeles architecture in other narratives. While Los Angeles can often appear like a bizarre dystopia in the monumental crime thrillers that are set in the city (some of which are mentioned in this very article), this documentary examines why that is. It’s a must-see for L.A. history buffs. The poster is full of small thumbnails of various L.A. landmarks.