How many times have you seen Home Alone (1990)? Or Die Hard (1988)? Probably enough times to know the name of, say, the skyscraper that John McClane almost blows up (it’s the Nakatomi Plaza). And the fact that you know these festive favourites inside out – every frame, every word, every bauble on every Christmas tree – means you’d probably be able to figure out exactly where the camera was, should you visit the real-life locations today.
Armchair detectives need only look to Google Street View to observe how these places have changed. Just don’t expect to find middle-aged men in elf costumes or shoppers elbowing each other for a Turbo Man doll.
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Die Hard (1988)
The fictional ‘Nakatomi Plaza’ is the swanky office building where John McClane (Bruce Willis) turns back to his limo driver, Christmas tree in hand, and says “You’re alright, Argyle.” In reality, Nakatomi was Fox Plaza, a 493-foot skyscraper in Century City, LA. The damage to Fox Plaza that you thought you saw was actually done to a scale model. The building itself was only one year old when director John McTiernan and his crew turned up, which explains why no one was in a rush to scratch the marble work. Oh, and 1994’s Airheads was shot here too.
Director Todd Haynes made remarkable use of existing locations for his 1950s-set romance. One of which was Shillito’s Department Store in Cincinnati, where much of the film was shot. It’s here where Carol (Cate Blanchett) picks up Therese (Rooney Mara) before spending the day together. Founded in 1830, Shillito’s was Cincinnati’s first department store. The building’s old-school glamour was perfect for Carol, in which the storefront was made to look as though the department store was open for business. Sadly, it’s not. It was converted into luxury apartments known as the ‘Lofts at Shillito Place’, and reportedly three real estate companies are currently pursuing redevelopment of one half of the building. Fingers crossed they don’t touch that art deco clock.
The iconic diner from Barry Levinson’s Christmas classic – in which Daniel Stern’s character utters the famous last words “We’ve always got the diner” – was gone shortly after filming. Its history is a complicated one. The diner you see in the movie, overlooking the Northwest Harbor in Baltimore, was rented from New Jersey, brought to Baltimore, and set up on a vacant lot by Fells Point – meaning ‘Fells Point Diner’ didn’t actually exist. After filming wrapped, the diner returned to its owners in New Jersey. Then it was brought back to Baltimore by Mayor Schaefer following a local radio station’s successful campaign to return it to Baltimore. It was renamed The Hollywood Diner and relocated just off the Jones Falls expressway. As for the Fells Point location, you can’t see much today other than the new houses built on the same lot. RIP Fells Point Diner.
Home Alone (1990)
Since the McCallister residence is currently blurred out on Google Street View (because not everyone wants movie fans turning up on their doorstep daily), we’ve dug up another memorable location. This is the church where Kevin comes face-to-face with Old Man Marley on Christmas Eve. Google reveals it as the Trinity Methodist Church, in a squeaky-clean suburb north of downtown Chicago. The interiors were actually shot at another Chicago church but the exterior above is unmistakable, even without the nativity and the excessive Christmas lights.
Jingle All the Way (1996)
Our second Christmas movie diner is Mickey’s Dining Car, where Jingle All the Way’s Howard (Arnie) goes for a solitary coffee, after many failed attempts to purchase a Turbo Man doll for his son. The art deco-style eatery – located in the heart of Minneapolis, where the majority of the movie was shot – was built in the late 1930s and is open 24/7. Some 20 years later, it still stands, now next door to the Minnesota Children’s Museum, still with free parking. Add a sprinkling of snow, a wreath and a tree, and you might expect to spot Howard pushing his broken-down car outside. (Side note for true film nerds: all three Mighty Ducks movies also featured scenes shot on location here.)
Trading Places (1983)
In John Landis’s 1980s Christmas caper, which was mostly shot in Philadelphia, this is the place where we’re first introduced to Billy Ray (Eddie Murphy), a homeless street hustler pretending to be a legless Vietnam vet, wearing a sign that reads “A grateful war veteran, Merry Christmas.” The scene takes place in Rittenhouse Square, a stone’s throw from the Dukes’ Heritage Club at 1726 Locust Street, which is now the Curtis Institute of Music. On the other side of the street there’s now a fancy French restaurant, while the square itself hasn’t really changed.
Everyone remembers the route Buddy (Will Ferrell) takes in order to find his dad in New York City: through the seven levels of the Candy Cane forest, through the sea of swirly twirly gumdrops, and then through the Lincoln Tunnel. This is where we see him emerge, on the Manhattan side, still sporting his elf threads. Can you spot the two main differences? First, the signs that prohibit pedestrians and cyclists, then the all-caps STOP sign that was presumably lit up for the crew to safely film Ferrell. Somehow I doubt he walked the full 1.5-mile-long distance under the Hudson River.