The Windy City In Motion: 5 Films Featuring Chicago Transport

Union Station | © Velvet/WikiCommons
Union Station | © Velvet/WikiCommons
Photo of Elizabeth Newhart
6 October 2016

Chicago has a long history of representation on the silver screen – some good and some that stand above the rest. A new pop-up exhibit at Union Station celebrates the city’s transit system in film, so read on to discover the best flicks for your next movie night.

Over the decades, movies set in Chicago have had a tendency to be filmed in a mixture of places. The Chicago suburbs are certainly a popular location and can still make for a successful film (The Breakfast Club, Mean Girls, etc.), but the best are those that have a true Chicago authenticity. These movies have local touches that make the audience feel at home, whether they hail from here or not.

A long-standing mark of the best films feature characters who know their way around and are seen in places apart from the requisite lakefront, Navy Pier, and skyscraper landmarks – characters who take the L trains and brave the harsh winters that dominate the majority of the year. That isn’t to say that Chicago movies in the summertime can’t be great, but they often succeed in a different way.

Some movies on this list have earned the title of ‘iconic,’ while others fly under the radar. But they all have one thing in common, and that’s the representation of Chicago transit.

DePaul University and Lake Forest College have set up a small exhibit celebrating this subsection of movies in none other than Union Station. Commuters and guests alike can wander the boards of Windy City in Motion: Movies + Travel in Chicago and learn a little more while they wait for their bus or train.

The display includes a history and commentary on Chicago’s place in films and the role the transit system often plays in them. The exhibit is up and running, but there will be an opening reception for the work on September 13th from 4:45-6 p.m. in the Great Hall.

While you wait for the chance to see the exhibit in person, watch one of these recommended films that prominently feature an authentic display of Chicago and a healthy dose of the city in motion.

While You Were Sleeping

This 1995 Sandra Bullock rom-com gets ahead of the pack early as the opening shots feature a ride along the L. Bullock plays a CTA token-taker (pre-Ventra days) who saves a man’s life after he falls onto the tracks. The ensuing complications get her involved with his family and take viewers to Northwestern Memorial Hospital, hot dog stands on the river, and even out to the suburbs for Christmas. The Callahans are every working-class Chicago family through and through.

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

John Hughes brought to life every kid’s fantasy of skipping school when Ferris Bueller was introduced to the world in 1986. This movie has cemented itself as a classic, delivering all the best Chicago eye candy for which a viewer can hope. The trio might not ride any L trains, but their picturesque rides down Lakeshore Drive and the parade float route through the Loop are enough to earn it a place on this list.

The Fugitive

Harrison Ford won critical acclaim in this 1993 thriller in which he plays a man wrongfully convicted of murdering his wife. While on the run from the authorities, he hunts for the real killer throughout Chicago. Though only about half of the movie is set in the city, it has several noteworthy scenes, including the St. Patrick’s Day Parade and a long ride on the L, where his character is spotted and attacked before the conclusion of the film.

My Best Friend’s Wedding

This oft-forgotten 1997 Julia Roberts blockbuster has all the glamorous summer shots of Chicago down. Roberts plays a woman in love with her best friend (Dermot Mulroney) who is planning his wedding to another woman (Cameron Diaz). It departs a bit from the typical rom-com formula, and the city setting is the perfect backdrop for all the drama. Chicago transit-heavy scenes include a romantic architecture boat tour, arrivals at O’Hare Airport, and an emotional climax at Union Station.

The Blues Brothers

It doesn’t get much more Chicago than the cult classic The Blues Brothers. John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd play two brothers who reunite their band to raise money and save the Catholic orphanage in which they grew up. The movie was born from a sketch on Saturday Night Live of the same name and was one of the most expensive comedies Universal Studios ever produced. The movie is chock-full of Chicago but excels in the famous car chase the brothers lead the Chicago Police Department on through Lower Wacker Drive, resulting in dozens of trashed police cars and an estimated $3.5 million in production costs.

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