Baltimore vs. San Francisco: The Super Bowl of Movies


We’re just a few days away from the Super Bowl, which pits the Baltimore Ravens against the San Francisco 49ers. It takes a lot for a team to reach the Super Bowl. What it certainly does NOT take is possessing a rich movie scene in a team’s home city. But let’s compare the two anyway, just in case this is finally the year where that kind of thing somehow makes a difference on the field. Which city boasts a better movie scene, Baltimore or San Francisco?

First Quarter: Notable Films
There’s a surprisingly long list of films that have been made in Baltimore. The most notable films on the list include Diner (1982), Twelve Monkeys (1995), The Silence of the Lambs (1991), Mosquito Coast (1986), Sleepless in Seattle (1993),  and… uh… Major League II (1994), I guess. Additionally, part of Alfred Hitchcock’s Marnie (1964) is set in Baltimore, as are many films from John Waters and Barry Levinson. That’s a solid showing, even if The Wire can’t be counted for the extremely scientific purposes of this article since it’s a TV show.

The list of films made in San Francisco includes Dirty Harry (1971), Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), Harold and Maude (1971), Vertigo (1958), Happy Gilmore (1996), Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967), and What’s Up, Doc? (1972), amongst others. Expanding the list to include films set in, but not filmed in, San Francisco adds The Graduate (1967), The Birds (1963), The Maltese Falcon (1941), and Greed (1924). Unfortunately for San Francisco, it’s also responsible for Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986).

I’ve concocted a totally scientific and mathematical point system. It’s executed by a robot named the GridBot Filmsphere 3000. Through that, I can now award points to each city. Baltimore asserts itself as a pesky underdog with a surprising list, earning a field goal (3 points). It also earns another field goal simply because San Francisco is responsible for Star Trek IV. San Francisco, on the other hand, proves to be a juggernaut, jumping out to a whopping 21 points thanks to five AFI top 100 films and several other AFI top 100 nominees. Few cities in America could compete with San Francisco’s firepower here. At the end of the first quarter, it’s San Francisco 21, Baltimore 6.


Clint Eastwood is one of the better players on San Francisco’s roster in this game.

Second Quarter: Notable Directors
San Francisco boasts a respectable amount of natives who went on to direct movies. Mervyn LeRoy and David Butler anchor San Francisco’s list in the first half of the 20th century, each possessing healthy filmographies with reasonable quality. Since 1970, the city’s list of directors is dominated by two names- David Fincher and Clint Eastwood, each having directed Oscar Best Picture nominees.

Baltimore’s director list matches San Francisco blow-for-blow. Charley Chase worked mostly as a silent film director, and was responsible for the classic comedy, Sons of the Desert (1933). Barry Levinson hails from Baltimore (or is it Bawlmer?), as does John Waters and his army of oddball films.

San Francisco’s list gives them a decent quarter of cinefootball, earning them another touchdown with GridBot. However, Baltimore’s list earns a touchdown as well, and picks up a field goal because their directors are very true to their city. At halftime, San Francisco has opened up a 28 to 16 lead. Can Baltimore close the gap in the second half?


Edward Norton, a Baltimore native, starring in Fight Club, a film from San Franciscan David Fincher.

Third Quarter: Notable Actors
Baltimore comes out swinging in the third quarter- the one about actors- by giving the world John Astin, Julie Bowen (starlet from Happy Gilmore, a San Francisco film), Ed Wood stalwart Conrad Brooks, John Waters stalwart Divine, Charles Dutton, character actor Michael Tucker, and the big one- Edward Norton.

San Francisco’s answer includes Danny Glover, Rob Schneider (ouch), Natalie Wood, Alicia Silverstone, Liev Schreiber, Bruce Lee, Clint Eastwood, Leslie Mann, and Benjamin Bratt. Sorry, San Francisco. You’re going to have to pay for Rob Schneider.

The actor list for Baltimore is mostly underwhelming, but Edward Norton earns big points in the super-duper scientific points system, and awards Baltimore a touchdown all by himself. But once again, Baltimore can’t make up much ground. Although no single member of San Francisco’s trio of Danny Glover, Natalie Wood, and Bruce Lee is as good as Edward Norton, they add up to match Baltimore’s touchdown. Throw in Eastwood and you get three more points. Through three quarters, San Francisco has a seemingly safe 38 to 23 advantage. Are there any intangibles that will help Baltimore close the gap?

vertigo hi res-0001.showcase_3

Baltimore just can’t compete with this.

Fourth Quarter: Intangibles
John Waters’ distinct style earns Baltimore some extra credit, particularly since it’s so inexorably linked to the city. In fact, as a general rule, films associated with Baltimore- either via actors, directors, or filming locations- have a lot of very unique character, a certain charm that transcends the generic. Additionally, there’s never been a San Francisco movie scene as ridiculous as the popcorn box scene in Diner. None of these aspects are the deciding factor, although it’s more than enough for the GridBot to tack another 10 points onto Baltimore’s score.

San Francisco, on the other hand, asserts its presence every time it’s on screen. The Golden Gate bridge is a massive and unforgettable icon, and the steep incline of the city streets as well as the bay make it a highly recognizable filming location. Moreover, Baltimore has nothing that can answer for Alcatraz, the site of numerous movies. GridBot awards another 10 points to San Francisco.

That gives us a final score of 48 to 33, a high-scoring affair. Baltimore was true to its role as a scrappy underdog. Against other cities like St. Louis, Seattle, or Atlanta, Baltimore surely would have emerged victorious. However, San Francisco is not just any other city. It’s a film juggernaut, more on par with places like New York, Chicago, Boston, or Los Angeles. Now it’s time to put the GridBot away for another year, prepare a bunch of unhealthy snacks, watch some commercials, and hope for a good game.


Filed under Movies

20 responses to “Baltimore vs. San Francisco: The Super Bowl of Movies

  1. Awesome post! I had a lot of fun reading. Few cities could match up to San Fransisco in this type of thing.

    • Thanks.

      SF really is on a short list with places like Chicago, New York, LA, Boston, Paris… It’s just one of those locations that’s been the source of a LOT of movie magic.

      Most cities would be lucky to have one film the quality of The Graduate, Vertigo, etc… I live in St. Louis and it has nothing that even approaches those.

  2. This was a clever idea. I enjoyed reading it.

  3. Phil

    I don’t want to lean the scale towards Baltimore, but does it gain or lose credit for The Wire? Great show…doesn’t make me want to go near the city. It should lose points for the John Cusack’s The Raven, since they both are named after Poe’s book.

    • If I ever completely gave up on my life in every way possible, I could see wanting to live in Hamsterdam. For two days, anyway.

      I don’t know what else Baltimore has, TV-wise, but I know for sure that The Wire would be up against Full House, and that would be a slaughter for the ages.

      • The guy who met Kevin Meany

        I actually drove through the neighborhood that much of The Wire is set in. It was kind of like the beginning of Sanford and Son meets The Road. There is, however, a really good pit beef restaurant close by.

  4. Baltimore rules. Josh Charles is from Baltimore, and, um, uh, Jada Pinkett Smith, and, um… yeah. Oh. Me. 😉

  5. Great post! I’m for Baltimore so I’m partial to the city but I’m not a Ravens fan so I like this list either way you slice it.

    • Ever since I first learned a little bit about it, I’ve kind of admired Baltimore’s movie scene. It’s totally unique and places like Philly, St. Louis, Miami… pretty much every major city besides the obvious ones… can’t match Baltimore.

  6. Really good post. Totally agree about Star Trek IV a travesty of a film

  7. BALTIMORE!! Oh you know that I’ve been wanting to get in on this ever since I read this awesome post. My absence was due to having to work 8 days in a row. My shifts are all 10 to 11 hours so I’m a little drained. By the way, my beloved Ravens won. I also have so much to say that I don’t know where to start so this is sure to be grammatically unwieldy. I’m in John Waters’ ‘Crybaby’ so you know how completely biased I am.(I taught Johnny Depp everything he knows) Since I’ve only ever been a visitor to San Francisco, so I don’t know about all of its’ lesser-known filmmakers, past and present and I think to make a fair assessment, it would be better if i did. Here’s my weird breakdown of info. For fun, seek out the films of Don Dohler, most in particular, ‘The Alien Factor”. Just watch it and enjoy it. You can probably watch it on youtube or stream it or something. He died way too soon and his films are definitely of the B or C grade with flashes of brilliance, and just like Waters’ early films, the Bawlmer accent is on full display. Don Dohler fits in the “past” category. In the “present” category is Matthew Porterfield. I’ve never seen any other American filmmaker make movies that are so “French”. But they are all done with local Baltimore people. His films, ‘Putty Hill’ and ‘Hamilton’ have been receiving glowing reviews.
    since the mid 70’s, their have been nearly 100 “Hollywood” movies made in Baltimore. I know that number could very easily be eclipsed by San Fran by factoring in the amount of movies that ILM contributes to but when it comes to actual cameras on the ground, it could be a push.
    Something that many people don’t realize is that the reason that anyone has the fairly easy ability to shoot in Baltimore is that John Waters, kind of by accident I suppose, created a city full of film crew. It’s become generational. I am close to people that worked on John Waters’ earliest films and who still work on every movie that comes to town. I am close to young people, Baltimore natives, who have graduated from very good film programs at local colleges who work on every production that comes to town. Currently these folks are working on HBO’s ‘VEEP’ and Showtimes’, ‘House of Cards’. Those film programs at those local colleges weren’t
    there until Waters’ influence began to be felt. John Waters’ is a job creator! I’ll put it like this. When Baltimore’s golden boy director, Barry Levinson, comes home to make movies, he uses Waters’ people, as well as his own and other industry professionals.
    A couple of fun facts. John Astin was nominated for an Oscar for best direction of a short subject in 1968, I believe. He’s a warm, wonderful man and he and I have had great baseball conversations. His son, Mackenzie Astin and I have been friends for a number of years and his superb acting chops can be seen in many films. I’m most impressed with his work in Whit Stillman’s ‘The Last Days of Disco’.
    Barry Levinson is a minority owner of the Baltimore Orioles-at least he was at one point.
    And San Francisco shouldn’t feel too bad, even though John Waters was born and raised in Baltimore, he maintains an apartment in San Fran.

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