Los Angeles movies: 50 films that best capture the essence of LA

From seedy mysteries and Hollywood satires to the bounciest of beach films, we rank the greatest Los Angeles movies of all time, the ones that get it.

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  • Los Angeles movies: Speed (1994)

  • Los Angeles movies: Boyz n the Hood (1991)

  • Los Angeles movies: Killer of Sheep (1979)

  • Los Angeles movies: Barton Fink (1991)

  • Los Angeles movies: Drive (2011)

  • Los Angeles movies: Singin’ in the Rain (1952)

  • Los Angeles movies: Body Double (1984)

  • Los Angeles movies: Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)

  • Los Angeles movies: L.A. Confidential (1997)

  • Los Angeles movies: Shampoo (1975)

Los Angeles movies: Speed (1994)

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L.A. movies: Speed (1994)

Speed (1994)

Hero cop Keanu Reeves and plucky passenger Sandra Bullock can’t let an explosives-laden bus dip below 50mph (thanks a lot, mad bomber Dennis Hopper) in this relentlessly paced blockbuster. There’s tons of barreling-down-the-freeway fun to be had, and many City of Angels institutions—from LAX to Grauman’s Chinese Theatre—get in on the action.—Keith Uhlich

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29
L.A. movies: Boyz n the Hood (1991)

Boyz n the Hood (1991)

South Central native and USC grad John Singleton gives his own soul-crushing update to the PG-rated delinquency of white-bread classics like American Graffiti. In this sobering coming-of-age film, cruising doesn’t lead to pickups but to hit jobs, and getting into college isn’t as important as getting out of Compton alive.—Stephen Garrett

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28
L.A. movies: Killer of Sheep (1979)

Killer of Sheep (1979)

The neighborhood of Watts has never been as poetically rendered as it is in Charles Burnett’s iconic indie. Though its shots of the area’s riot-scarred streets double as a historical document of the African-American district, it’s the way Burnett restores dignity to the community that gives this movie its staying power.—David Fear

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L.A. movies: Barton Fink (1991)

Barton Fink (1991)

In the Coen brothers’ surreal 1940s-set comedy, an Odets-like East Coast playwright reluctantly goes West for a potentially lucrative screenwriting gig (“a wrestling picture!”) and gets tangled up in mystery, murder and writer’s block. The satire cuts deep: From lowest-common-denominator studio moguls to cynically tough-talking gals to naively idealistic artistes, no California type is let off easy.—Keith Uhlich

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26
L.A. movies: Drive (2011)

Drive (2011)

Our most recent entry on this list is, in many ways, a throwback to the neon-lit loner cinema of the 1980s, especially the brooding action pictures of Walter Hill. But Nicolas Winding Refn’s situational details are pitch-perfect, from the low-rent body shops and eateries of less-glamorous L.A. to that most recognizable of local activities: late-night cruising.—Joshua Rothkopf

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25
L.A. movies: Singin’ in the Rain (1952)

Singin’ in the Rain (1952)

The subject of this crown jewel of Hollywood musicals is, unsurprisingly, Tinseltown itself. Gene Kelly plays a silent-movie star making an uneasy transition to sound. His failed screen test is a classic comedy set piece, but it’s the giddy, astonishing musical numbers—especially the peerless title love ballad, shot on a two-block-long back-lot set—that will forever mark this as one of La-La Land’s creative peaks.—Keith Uhlich

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24
L.A. movies: Body Double (1984)

Body Double (1984)

When Brian De Palma decided to update Rear Window, he went sky-high: to the Hollywood Hills’ octagonal Chemosphere, an icon of architectural Modernism. In addition to this ominous bachelor pad, the movie visits a surfeit of L.A. landmarks (many of them now gone), such as the beloved Tail o’ the Pup hot-dog stand, the swank Rodeo Collection mall and Tower Records.—Joshua Rothkopf

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23
L.A. movies: Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)

Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)

A Valley movie through and through (though never by name), this Cameron Crowe–penned teen comedy gains as much of its authenticity from expert location work as it does from heartfelt coming-of-age performances. There’s no actual Ridgemont High School, but the Sherman Oaks Galleria is immortalized, and if you’re looking for deflowering spot “the Point,” it’s a little-league dugout in Encino.—Joshua Rothkopf

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22
L.A. movies: L.A. Confidential (1997)

L.A. Confidential (1997)

Both a gorgeous throwback to ’50s Hollywood tough guys and a piercing comment on the post–Rodney King ’90s, Curtis Hanson’s tightly wound cop drama runs on the tension between L.A.’s dream-factory mechanics and the sordid reality. It’s a place where one could run into a hooker at the Formosa Cafe who looks like Lana Turner—or into the real Turner herself.—David Fear

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21
L.A. movies: Shampoo (1975)

Shampoo (1975)

Horndog Beverly Hills hairdresser George (Warren Beatty) frantically motorcycles between a girlfriend (Goldie Hawn), a lover (Lee Grant) and an ex (Julie Christie) on the day that California’s Richard Nixon is elected President. Hippie auteur Hal Ashby and scribe Robert Towne turned a jaundiced eye to the flameout of the sexual revolution.—Stephen Garrett

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Users say

9 comments
Carl P
Carl P

How the hell did you miss out Falling Down?! It's a movie about a guy walking across L.A.

Carlos
Carlos

Really? Boyz-n-the Hood is ranked 29th? I can care less about Colors or any film after but John Singleton's masterpiece was the first real film to showcase life in South Central Los Angeles from the perspective of the people who lived there. But of course like in real life no one gives a dam about that part of the city.

Joe
Joe

I would have added Collateral, Bad Influence, Pretty Woman, El Norte, Wonderland and Species.

Alex
Alex

What About... Menace II Society, CRASH, American Me, Blood In Blood Out... ???????????? where R They?

BaronVG
BaronVG

After reading some of the other reviews, another one that stunned me was the omission of Lethal Weapon! Again, WOW! I mean, out of the many late 80s action movies set in Los Angeles, you pick DIE HARD?!?! Die Hard; a movie set mostly in a building that just happens to be in L.A. Whereas Lethal Weapon and it's action was more spread out over the city. Ridiculous. Now my rating is TWO stars.

BaronVG
BaronVG

Ok, I appreciate all the movies on this list but there were two movies I was just waiting to read about: Collateral and Pulp Fiction. Neither made the list. Wow. Just...WOW. I guess I should be happy that Heat was on here at least.

Sonny Black
Sonny Black

Average list at best. The big ones that are missing here off the top of my head would be, Lincoln Lawyer, American Gigolo, Rush Hour, Lethal Weapon, Color of Night, Beverly Hills Cop, Falling Down... One that stood out to me that shouldn't be on here was & is Blade Runner. I'm sorry but LA is non-recognizable for the most part in that film.

Chris
Chris

"Mommie Dearest" and "The Loved One"

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