For the 80th anniversary of the opening of the Golden Gate Bridge this weekend, Curbed SF looked at the never-ending grandeur of the sparkling span in the eyes of photographers and at the most colorful highlights of its eight-decade history.
But that’s only part of the story. For billions of people, the Golden Gate Bridge exists not as structure of steel and concrete but as a shining vision on a movie screen. As one of the most telegenic of all human-made expanses—”a perfect amalgam of delicacy and power,” as Herb Caen called it—the bridge has a special place in film history.
Also an increasingly rough one, as Hollywood loves to wreck the bridge, particularly in recent years. Still, there’s no such as bad publicity. Here are some of the angelic arch’s best silver screen memories.
1. Dark Passage (1947)
A lot of viewers assume that’s the Golden Gate Bridge outside of Sam Spade’s office in 1941’s The Maltese Falcon (possibly because in the establishing shot the nearby Ferry Building bears a confusing sign reading “Golden Gate Bridge”). But that’s actually the Bay Bridge, of course. The Golden Gate itself wouldn’t share a scene with Humphrey Bogart until 1947’s Dark Passage, in which Bogey stares down the barrel of a gun in the shadow of Fort Point, the scale of the looming tower and cables emphasizing his vulnerability at this moment of peril. (Footage unavailable, sadly.)
2. It Came From Beneath the Sea (1955)
Speaking of peril, Hollywood’s fondness for destroying the bridge started early. This ‘50s howler about a mutant octopus wreaking havoc is a real bore for the most part, but every local loves the scenes of the marine monstrosity coming ashore in the city. Special effects pioneer Ray Harryhausen animated the octopus, but thanks to his cheapskate producers he only had enough budget to give it six arms instead of eight.
3. Vertigo (1958)
Bogart’s movies wanted to capture the seedy side of San Francisco back when it was a working class town, but 1958’s Vertigo used the city as a vibrant canvas for a story of obsession and madness. The scene of Kim Novak compulsively scattering flowers by the bridge is not only the most beautiful shot of the great span ever framed, but also among the best shots of Alfred Hitchcock’s entire filmography.
4. Superman: The Movie (1978)
The bridge is in peril once again (and hardly for the last time) in the first true superhero blockbuster, but fortunately Superman saves the day. While the use of the bridge is not terribly creative here—the filmmakers could have staged a similar scene almost anywhere—it shrewdly paired two great American icons from the 1930s, one of them a Man of Steel and the other a steel superstar in its own right.
5. A View To a Kill (1985)
Even late James Bond star Roger Moore admits this is far from Bond’s best outing, but the climactic Golden Gate Bridge fight scene makes the list simply for depicting every San Franciscan’s secret dream of climbing up to the main cable. Rarely does the bridge’s actual design and structure come into play in a movie to this degree.
6. Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986)
Recent Star Trek movies love crashing spaceships into San Francisco, but this comedic time traveling adventure from the 1980s harnesses the city’s character rather than just its scenery. While not as spectacular as many other scenes, seeing Kirk and Spock just taking a walk to the bridge like regular guys reminds viewers how natural and believable their chemistry is.
7. Interview With The Vampire (1994)
Though mostly set in New Orleans and Paris, this bloodsucking melodrama frames the historical action with San Francisco scenes. Very rarely do movies shoot the bridge at night—filmmakers prize the natural blue/orange contrast of the bridge and daylight sky too much. But in this case it was of course a necessity. The final scene of a car racing hazardously across the bridge to the tune of the Rolling Stones’ Sympathy For the Devil captures the unpredictable spirit of 20th century San Francisco just before the first tech boom.
8. X-Men: The Last Stand (2006)
Although it’s one of the least popular of the many X-Men movies, The Last Stand knew it had the makings of at least one all-time classic scene when Ian McKellen’s magnetic supervillain character levitates the bridge over to Alcatraz. Whoever designed the effect appears not to understand how suspension bridges work, but of the many depictions of Golden Gate Bridge destruction this is the most creative.
9. Zodiac (2007)
Much of the scenery in this San Francisco-saturated serial killer thriller based on the crimes of Northern California’s 1970s menace (who may still be at large) was a digital recreation, including these traffic shots of the bridge. The city doesn’t like this trend, as it denies them a chance to bring lucrative film shoots to town, but it gives film fans and bridge fans alike a chance to debate: Is the computer simulation ever as good as the real thing?
10. Big Hero 6 (2014)
This Disney robot superhero outing takes place in the fictional city of San Fransokyo, blending San Francisco’s and Tokyo’s architecture. That’s pretty confusing (what country is this, exactly?), but turning the bridge towers into Japanese torii gates is a stroke of brilliance from a design perspective.
11. Godzilla (2014)
If Hollywood must always be destroying our bridge, at least it went out in style this time via a close encounter with the most famous giant movie monster of all time. 2013’s Pacific Rim had a monster thrash the entire span pretty well, but Godzilla was comparably deft and left much of the structure intact, which qualifies as understatement in the context of giant monster movies.
12. Terminator: Genisys (2015)
This physics-defying chase scene with a school bus is nothing special, but it makes the list just for highlighting San Francisco’s increasingly elevated profile. The old Terminator movies relied on the atmosphere of LA, but SF’s reputation as a technology hub pushed the focus of newer films here. Whether the city is a working class port in the ‘40s or a tech mecca today, the Golden Gate Bridge comes through every change in every era looking that much better.
- 80 Pictures of the Golden Gate Bridge From One Day [Curbed SF]
- 80 Things About the Golden Gate Bridge [Curbed SF]