8 Movies Set or Filmed in St. Louis—Part 2

24, March 2016

We're at it again! St. Louis is and has been home to mountains of movie magic. How well do you know STL's cinematic history?

1. The Hoodlum Priest (1961)

Don Murray, Larry Gates, Cindi Wood, Irvin Kershner (Director)

Hoodlum Priest Movie Poster next to a historic image of St. Louis's Produce Row in 1912Left: The Hoodlum Priest | Right: Produce Row in 1912, from the collections of the Missouri Historical Society.

The Hoodlum Priest, directed by Irvin Kershner (who directed The Empire Strikes Back in 1980), is based very loosely on the life of St. Louis Jesuit priest Charles Dismas Clark. Clark dedicated himself to helping the truly dispossessed—criminals, gang members, and the homeless. In 1959 he opened the Dismas House, a halfway house for ex-offenders trying to start life anew. Don Murray, the star of The Hoodlum Priest, had met Father Clark and was completely fascinated by his story. The movie was filmed in St. Louis and features the St. Louis City Jail and Produce Row (North Market at 1st Street) as two of its backdrops. The 1961 grand opening of the film took place at Loew’s State Theatre in downtown St. Louis; attendees included Mayor Raymond Tucker and Teamsters president James Hoffa. The film was screened at the Cannes Film Festival in May 1961.

2. Alligator (1980)

Robert Forster, Robin Riker, Michael Gazzo, Lewis Teague (Director)

Alligator movie poster with image of a 1979 Missouri license plateLeft: Alligator | Right: 1979 Missouri license plate, from the collections of the Missouri Historical Society.

Riding on the coattails of the massive 1975 box office smash Jaws, a wave of movies featuring terrifying overgrown animals poured into theatres across America. Alligator took the monster out of the ocean and into the sewers of St. Louis . . . or is it Chicago? In what may forever be a conundrum, the film’s packaging claims the setting to be Chicago, but all other signs point to St. Louis. Police officer David Madison’s (Robert Forster) troubled backstory mentions St. Louis, the police vehicles all have Missouri license plates, and the film’s beginning features an authentic Show-Me State welcome sign. Whether the scene was Chicago or St. Louis, the movie was actually filmed in Los Angeles.

3. The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

Jodie Foster, Anthony Hopkins, Ted Levine, Scott Glenn, Jonathan Demme (Director)

Silence of the Lambs movie poster next to a historic image of Lambert Airport terminal in 1956Left: The Silence of the Lambs | Right: Lambert Airport terminal shortly after its construction in 1956, from the collections of the Missouri Historical Society.

Upon its 1991 release, The Silence of the Lambs brought a new degree of complexity to the horror genre, with its creepy tone and labyrinthine plot structure creating a tension beyond that of the casual scare. A small scene of this $272 million blockbuster was filmed in St. Louis at Lambert–St. Louis International Airport. In the scene, serial killer Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) meets Senator Ruth Martin (Diane Baker) in the supposed airport of Memphis, Tennessee. Besides Lambert’s characteristic curving roof, a large giveaway is the neon McDonnell Douglas sign seen glowing in the background as the plane lands.

4. Trespass (1992)

Bill Paxton, Ice Cube, Ice T, William Sadler, Walter Hill (Director)

Trespass movie poster next to a historic image of the St. Louis Veterans Memorial (MLK) Bridge in 1950Left: Trespass | Right: Veterans Bridge (now Martin Luther King Bridge) in 1951, from the collections of the Missouri Historical Society.

Trespass opens with two Arkansas firefighters (Bill Paxton and William Sadler) pulling a mysterious treasure map from a burning building and tracing it to an abandoned East St. Louis factory. While trying to retrieve the gold, they witness a street gang murder and become the gang’s new target. When the gang realizes what the two men are looking for, it becomes a fight for the prize where only one side can walk away victorious. Coming out in the same year as the Los Angeles riots and during the height of the youth gang scare, Trespass capitalizes on the early 1990s fear of cities being uncontrollable “wild wests.” Most of the filming actually took place at an abandoned cotton mill in Georgia, but St. Louis’s Martin Luther King Bridge can be seen in one shot.

5. Larger Than Life (1996)

Bill Murray, Jeremy Piven, Janeane Garofalo, Horward Franklin (Director)

Larger Than Life movie poster next to a historic image of Cherokee Street in 1941Left: Larger Than Life | Right: Cherokee Street in 1941, from the collections of the Missouri Historical Society.

This goofy comedy stars Bill Murray as a luckless recliner salesman attempting to transport an elephant named Vera across the country. Anyone who happened to be walking down Cherokee Street on one particular day in 1996 would have had quite the surprise: A scene for the film, featuring Bill Murray and an elephant, was shot in front of the shops located at 2022 Cherokee Street.

6. One Night at McCool's (2001)

Liv Tyler, Matt Dillon, Michael Douglas, John Goodman, Harald Zwart (Director)

One Night at McCool's movie poster next to an image of Humphrey's Bar in St. LouisLeft: One Night at McCool's | Right: Humphrey's Restaurant and Tavern at 3700 Laclede Avenue in St. Louis.

One Night At McCool’s revolves around three men (Paul Reiser, Matt Dillon, and John Goodman) humorously recounting the uncertainty of a single night’s events with a seductive woman. The film takes place in a fictional St. Louis bar named McCool’s, but the movie was actually filmed in Southern California. It stars Affton native John Goodman as a detective and was written by St. Louis native Stan Seidel, who derived much of his inspiration from his days working as a bartender at Humphrey’s Restaurant and Tavern at 3700 Laclede Avenue. Humphrey’s opened on June 18, 1976, and has been a staple meeting spot for SLU students ever since.

7. The Black Hole (2006)

Kristy Swanson, Judd Nelson, David Selby, Heather Dawn, Tibor Takács (Director)

The Black Hole Movie Poster next to an image of the Missouri Athletic Club in Left: The Black Hole | Right: The Missouri Athletic Club at Fourth Street and Washington Avenue ca. 1930, from the collections of the Missouri Historical Society.

The Black Hole, a movie that features great swaths of the River City being savagely swallowed by a creature that emerges from below the Earth's surface, didn't break any cinematic records, but it is a fun watch for St. Louisans who will recognize many of the locations. Busch Memorial Stadium, St. Louis City Hall, and the Gateway Arch are all reduced to dust, while the St. Louis Science Center Planetarium stands in as an experimental research laboratory. Other notable locations include Soldiers Memorial, Kiener Plaza, and the Chain of Rocks Water Works.

8. Meet Bill (2007)

Aaron Eckhart, Jessica Alba, Elizabeth Banks, Logan Lerman, Bernie Goldmann and Melisa Wallack (Directors)

Meet Bill movie poster next to an image of the Old Courthouse with the Gateway Arch in the backgroundLeft: Meet Bill | Right: The Old Courthouse and Gateway Arch in 1970, from the collections of the Missouri Historical Society.

Meet Bill jumps into the less-than-exciting life of Bill (Aaron Eckhart), a dissatisfied, middle-aged man who tries to take a stand for his own life with the unexpected support of a high schooler on the run (Logan Lerman) and a lingerie saleswoman (Jessica Alba). Meet Bill was filmed in St. Louis in summer 2006 and suffered some serious setbacks at first. The day before filming began, the production lost actress Lindsay Lohan, who was replaced by Jessica Alba. Soon after, a series of massive storms caused the largest power outage in St. Louis history, leaving nearly 1 million people across the region in the dark and delaying filming. The production was set up in the vacant GenAmerica Building, and many other familiar St. Louis locations can be picked out, including Kaldi’s Coffee, MICDS, and the St. Louis Galleria.

—Andrew Wanko, Public Historian