Lights, Camera, Action: Tacoma’s South Sound Goes Hollywood While Filming Blockbuster Hit Movies

Nearly 17 hours on the dot and 1,100 miles on the nose, the South Sound community is quite a ways away from the bright lights and shining stars that can only be found on Hollywood Boulevard, or is it? Believe it or not, despite the distance, Tacoma’s South Sound region has become a filming destination in its own right, having rolled out the red carpet numerous times over the decades and found its way onto the big screen thanks to these major motion pictures filmed right here in our backyard!

Movies in Tacoma
Heath Ledger captured the hearts of many in his breakout role in “10 Things I Hate About You,” with much of the film being shot in Stadium High School in Tacoma. Photo courtesy: Touchstone Pictures/Alamy

10 Things I Hate About You” Brings Love to Tacoma

One of the most iconic romantic comedies of the 90s was filmed in Tacoma. A modern-day retelling of Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew, “10 Things I Hate About You,” defined a generation as it portrayed the ins and outs of navigating high school and teen romance. The film would also go down in history as the breakout role of legendary actor Heath Ledger, who went from unknown in Hollywood to landing the lead role.

His woe-worthy song-and-dance routine that captured the heart of every teenage girl was filmed in Tacoma’s Stadium High School, with the school serving as the backdrop for a majority of the film. Character’s Kat and Bianca’s house was also located at a private residence on North Junett Street.

Tacoma Finds Psychological Thrills in “The Hand That Rocks the Cradle

In 1992, the psychological thriller “The Hand That Rocks the Cradle” made its way to the silver screen, grossing approximately $140 million worldwide. The film’s title is taken from an 1865 poem by William Ross Wallace.

The plot follows the pregnant wife of a Seattle obstetrician who kills himself after he is accused of sexual misconduct by his patients. While most of the film was filmed in Seattle to fit the storyline, the home of the Bartel family, whose wife was the first victim to report the doctor, was right here in Tacoma on North Yakima Avenue.

Action-Packed “Get Carter” Runs Tacoma Streets

Whether you know him as Rambo, Rocky, or simply Expendable, superstar Sylvester Stallone never ceases to excite the masses while appearing on the big screen. In the 2000 American action thriller “Get Carter,” Stallone finds himself in the role of mob enforcer Jack Carter in this remake of the 1971 film by the same name. When his brother, Ritchie, is killed in a drunk driving crash, Carter leaves Las Vegas to return to his Seattle home, with these two cities making up the majority of the film’s set.

Still, Seattle streets aren’t exactly cut out for car chases, so when it is time for Carter to get his man while on a path of vengeance, the cast and crew hit up the city streets of Tacoma, with the chase scene following the steep hills of downtown, including views of South 15th Street along the way.

Movies in Tacoma
Jennifer Lopez’s character’s harrowing journey in “Enough” takes her to Gig Harbor’s very own Rosedale Market at a pivotal gas station scene in the movie. Photo courtesy: Rosedale Market – Gig Harbor

Gig Harbor Has Had “Enough

Based on the 1998 novel “Black and Blue,” the 2002 thriller film “Enough” portrays the harrowing journey of an abused wife who has finally reached her limit. The Queen of Dance herself, Jennifer Lopez, plays the role of battered housewife Slim, who’s come to realize the real monster hiding behind the eyes of her otherwise charming husband. Fearing for her life and that of their daughter, Slim hatches an escape plan, managing to get away from her maniacal husband, yet sadly, she does not make it out unscathed, as he nearly foils her plans and beats her once again.

The rest of the film follows Slim and her daughter’s new life on the run as her husband threatens to regain control of their lives, eventually pushing Slim to the point of no return once she’s finally had enough. Many of the pivotal moments of this gut-wrenching drama were filmed in South Sound’s Gig Harbor. The gas station scene in particular, where Slim is talking to her mother and asking for advice, should look eerily familiar to area residents, as it was shot at none other than Rosedale Market on 86th Avenue.

Movies in Tacoma
“I Love You to Death” isn’t the only movie that Bob’s Java Jive is in. Keep an eye out for the historic teapot as John Cusack drives his car down South Tacoma Way in the 1980s teen romantic comedy “Say Anything.” Photo credit: John Gateley

A Twisted Love Story Comes to Tacoma in “I Love You to Death

The little-known dark, romantic comedy “I Love You to Death” may have been loosely based on an attempted murder that happened in Allentown, Pennsylvania, in 1983. Still, the City of Destiny found itself written into John Kostmayer’s screenplay about the scandalous series of events that made headlines. The film follows the life of Italian American Joey Boca, who runs a pizza parlor with his wife Rosalie, along with owning an apartment building in their home city of you guessed it, Tacoma. In the opening scene, Joey goes to church, where in the confessional, he admits to a priest to cheating on his wife, thus setting the scene for the movie. But Joey’s not just at any church. He’s at the Holy Rosary Church on South 30th Street.

This would be one of many local locations found throughout the movie. The Boca family home showcased a spectacular view of Commencement Bay from its location on North C Street. The apartment owned by Joey was the Bostwick Building at St Helens Avenue on Tacoma’s Antique’s Row, and Bob’s Java Jive welcomed stars River Phoenix, William Hurt, and Keanu Reeves for their hitman-for-hire scene. Just a block north, the then-vacant Elks Club Building became the police station where, in the end, just about everybody pleads guilty to attempted murder.

Movies in Tacoma
On the outside these days, Thornewood Castle really does look like a stunning castle fit for a king, but for the filming of “Rose Red,” this particular castle took on a vibe fit for that of one Stephen King and was showcased as being much spookier on the big screen. Photo credit: Joe Mabel

Rose Red” Finds Horrors in Lakewood (or Lakewood Bleeds Rose Red?)

King of Horror Stephen King pitched the idea for “Rose Red” to Steven Spielberg in 1996, envisioning a series that would be a loose remake of Robert Wise’s 1963 film “The Haunting.” Cut to a 1999 feature film remake of the 1963 version, after which King’s script was revised and expanded into a three-part miniseries focusing on a reputedly haunted mansion in Seattle.

With the house itself taking on the role of the main character in the story, the project was surely going to need a castle fit for a King, or in this case, Stephen King. They found such a setting in Lakewood’s very own Thornewood Castle. It was selected out of 30 proposed locations across the United States and Canada for filming, having matched almost identically with all the major characteristics of the house in King’s adaptation.

Movies in Tacoma
Tacoma’s Old City Hall set the stage in the film “Three Fugitives” about an unusual trio of criminals in a heist gone bad. Photo courtesy: SounderBruce

Three Fugitives” Run Amuck in Tacoma

Nick Nolte, Martin Short, and Sarah Doroff find themselves as the three fugitives in the 1989 crime comedy by the same name, trying to outrun the law, or in this case, James Earl Jones as he plays the role of Detective Marvin Dugan. Grossing more than $11.9 million in its first two weeks of release in 1989, “Three Fugitives” is a hilarious take on an untraditional heist flick with a comedy of errors along the way, much to the characters’ expense and the audience’s amusement.

Setting the first scene for the would-be criminals is the McNeil Island Prison in Tacoma when the character James Lucas (Nolte) is shown leaving the prison after a five-year sentence. From there, the movie makes its way through the rest of the city’s streets, with the appearance of the Old City Hall and the ferry dock at Steilacoom.

These are only a few of the fabulous movies that have been filmed right here in the Tacoma area and South Sound community! Teens fell in love in Tacoma in “Say Anything,” Jared Leto visited us to film “Prefontaine,” and “Come See the Paradise” showed off this little slice of paradise, along with many more blockbuster hits. Needless to say, if you wanted to enjoy a movie marathon of films in which the beloved South Sound made its way to the big screen, you’re going to be in for an epic movie night. So, grab the popcorn and let’s make some magic!