John G. Avildsen’s underdog epic didn’t just win Best Picture (and Best Director and Best Actor), it’s come to represent Philly in a way we just can’t shake. Like Sylvester Stallone’s bum boxer who doesn’t know when to quit, this city and this franchise always seem to have more fight in them than people give them credit for. Counting 2015’s Creed, the saga is now seven films deep and boasts more ups than downs, but nothing matches the visceral images of the low-budget original: sweat-suited Stallone gulping down raw eggs in his crappy Kenzo apartment, punching frozen sides of beef at the meat packing plant, running past burning barrels in the trash-strewn Italian Market, leaping into the air at the top of the Art Museum steps with a lopsided smile on his face like a beaten horse. Here’s to ugly losers who work their asses off.
There's a reason there are so many great Philadelphia movies: This city was Hollywood back when Hollywood was nothing. In the early days of American filmmaking there was pretty much just Thomas Edison and Siegmund Lubin—and both of them had movie studios in the area. The movie biz eventually left us, of course, but it still pays a visit now and again, partly because Center City is so photogenic and partly because we give a sweet tax credit. Which brings us to this list of the most essential Philadelphia movies, the ones that capture something essential about our city—whether it’s a cameo by one of our Philadelphia attractions or an ode to one of our neighborhoods, like North Philly or the Italian Market. See if you can find them streaming or, if you’re lucky, catch them on the big screen again at one of the better movie theaters in Philadelphia.