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The Dude © Polygram Filmed Entertainment
The Dude © Polygram Filmed Entertainment

13 Movies That Define Life In LA

Picture of Mary Pettas
Updated: 4 November 2016
Movie-making itself defines the entire culture of LA. It is its main source of industry, inspiration, and its claim to fame is that it is here where people are made famous via film. But which people and movies paid homage to the city in order to lend it its renowned and sometimes stereotypical culture? The answer is many and varied, but here are the top picks that best capture the essence of LA.



Loosely adapted from the plot of Jane Austen’s beloved novel Emma, the protagonist Cher is the modern-day sassy equivalent, living the charmed life in LA while struggling to relate to the peasants the surround her. Her struggle is surprisingly heartwarming and always hilarious.


L.A. Story

Set in the early ’90s, Martin is hysterical as a weatherman whose life has become as predictable as the Southern California weather.  This is Steve Martin’s love letter to all the quirks and idiosyncrasies of the people that embody LA. Nobody can simultaneously poke fun at a place and revere it better than Martin.


Pulp Fiction

A quintessentially Quentin Tarantino movie; one of LA’s most esteemed and stylish directors examines drugs and violent gang crime in Los Angeles. This movie included memorable roles for all of its main actors including Samuel L. Jackson and Uma Thurman (who continued to work with Tarantino on the Kill Bill movies), but especially for John Travolta as it wildly differs from the ‘Grease’ character that made him so famous.



This movie is considered an eye-opening expose of corruption related to the California water wars. Not only is this an important topic, it is one that has been central to LA’s history for years and whose ramifications are still being felt today as California faces years of drought. This film is essential to the history of the city and expertly exposes the issues that have been plaguing us for decades.


L.A. Confidential

Centered on the corruption in glamorous 1950s Hollywood and the police force who were complicit in covering up their crimes, this legal drama won multiple Academy Awards. Three policemen work together to solve a murder that is linked personally to all of them in some way, and in doing so achieve their revenge. This is film noir at its finest, and is often compared to Chinatown in quality and tone.


The Big Lebowski

Jeff Bridges is ‘The Dude,’ the stereotypical — yet always surprising — Venice Beach hippie who gets himself involved in a hostage situation, always with a White Russian in hand. The film also follows The Dude’s best friends, including John Goodman’s larger than life character, a crazy Vietnam War veteran named Walter, and Donny who is the strange and quiet hero. The psychedelic and surreal feel of this movie leave the audience wondering what exactly it is about, but may be just the point as ‘The Dude’ doesn’t care about much at all. Except bowling.


Beverly Hills Cop

Eddie Murphy runs loose as a former police officer running amok in Beverly Hills in search of revenge for his best friend’s murder. Sounds serious, but of course Murphy manages to turn everything into a laugh riot. This movie shot him to superstardom because of the improvisation he brought to the script to add more humor and lightness to the typically intense action genre.


Straight Outta Compton

This movie explores the rise of gangsta rap from the community of Compton in the 1980s through the success of N.W.A., a group who came from the area and caused a revolution. Featuring Ice Cube’s doppelganger son playing his younger self and an incredible performance from Jason Mitchell as Easy-E who battles AIDS in beginnings of the disease’s epidemic.


Mulholland Drive

One of David Lynch’s most famous works, named after the street that winds through the Santa Monica mountains. This is a mystery film that investigates the identity of one of its main characters, who cannot remember who she is after surviving in a devastating car crash.


The Graduate

One of the most iconic films in history, which follows recent college graduate Benjamin as he struggles to find his place in society and momentarily finds himself accepted and seduced by a bored housewife named Mrs. Robinson. Things get even more complicate for Benjamin when he falls in love with her daughter and has to decide whether to stand up for something he wants, or to drift through life never quite sure of what that is.


Fast Times At Ridgemont High

This movie defines what is was like to be a teenager in 1980’s Southern California, and what a ride it is. While this film followed a diverse cast of high school students as a teen coming of age story, it is notably remembered for Sean Penn’s unforgettable performance as a typical Californian high school stoner named Jeff Spicoli, who can’t deal with strict authority figures such as his teacher, Mr. Hand.


Boyz n the Hood

Starring Cuba Gooding Jr. and a young Ice Cube, this film was one of the first honest depictions of urban life in South Central Los Angeles as it followed its inhabitants through their daily struggles. John Singleton was the first African American to be nominated for Best Director because of his work on this historically significant piece.


Sunset Boulevard

Often described as the best movie ever made about Hollywood and another drama from the great film noir genre. This film focuses on an aging silent movie star Norma Desmond and her tempestuous relationships with both her screenwriter and her dwindling fame. As the screenwriter tries to manipulate her, she strikes back leading to a shocking end, and her former fame is only replaced with madness and despair.