10 Oscar-winning films set or shot in Pennsylvania

American actor Sylvester Stallone as Rocky Balboa, during the filming of the training montage for the boxing film 'Rocky', 1976. He is standing by the Schuylkill River in Fairmount Park, Philadelphia, with the old Pennsylvania Railroad Bridge in the background. (Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images)

By Kalena Thomhave

March 6, 2024

On Sunday, the 96th Academy Awards will honor the best films of 2023. To get you in the spirit, we’ve put together a list of Oscar-winning films with ties to the Keystone State.

The Academy Awards, popularly known as the Oscars, are the biggest awards in American movie making. Because millions of people watch the awards each year, studios spend millions of dollars to promote their films in the hopes that their movies may take home a little gold statuette for acting, writing, directing — or the biggest award of all — Best Picture.

In the near century that the Oscars have been presented, a good number of movies set or shot in Pennsylvania have been recognized for storytelling, artistic, or technical feats in film. Whether the film tells a story of Philadelphians, or the film crew wanted to feature the architecture or varied landscapes of Pittsburgh, you’ll find Pennsylvania well-represented among the canon of Oscar-winning films.

On Sunday, the 96th Academy Awards will honor the best films of 2023. To get you in the Hollywood spirit, we’ve put together a list of Oscar-winning films with ties to the Keystone State.

Silence of the Lambs (1991)

Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (Anthony Hopkins), Best Actress (Jodie Foster), and Best Adapted Screenplay

“Silence of the Lambs,” which depicts the brilliant serial killer Hannibal Lecter as he advises FBI agent Clarice Starling in her attempt to catch another serial killer, swept the Academy Awards by winning all “Big Five” awards: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Screenplay.

While the story isn’t set in Pennsylvania, much of the filming took place in and around Pittsburgh. The University of Pittsburgh’s Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall served as the Memphis Town Hall while an abandoned Westinghouse Factory was the setting for many interior scenes. The killer Buffalo Bill’s home was an old Perryopolis house, which now operates as an inn.

The Deer Hunter (1978)

Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor (Christopher Walken), Best Sound, Best Film Editing

“The Deer Hunter” is a war drama about three friends returning to Western Pennsylvania after witnessing the horrors of the Vietnam War. Though much of the domestic filming occurred in Ohio, the story unfolds in Clairton, a tight-knit steel town south of Pittsburgh on the Allegheny River, before the action shifts to Vietnam. Lead actor Robert DeNiro reportedly prepared for his role by visiting steelworkers at their homes and in local bars. The preparation paid off, as “The Deer Hunter” ended up taking home awards for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor, Best Sound, and Best Film Editing.

“The Deer Hunter” may seem to have similar themes to a 2022 film nominated for Best Picture, “All Quiet on the Western Front.” Indeed, both explore the effects of war on soldiers themselves — and many believe “The Deer Hunter” was loosely inspired by a book by Erich Maria Remarque, the author of the novel “All Quiet on the Western Front.” If you liked the 2022 remake of “All Quiet on the Western Front,” you may want to check out “The Deer Hunter.”

10 Oscar-winning films set or shot in Pennsylvania
10 Oscar-winning films set or shot in Pennsylvania

American actor Robert de Niro on the set of The Deer Hunter, written and directed by Michael Cimino. (Photo by Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images)

Rocky (1976)

Best Picture, Best Director, Best Film Editing

“Rocky” is essential to the identity of Philadelphia — after all, there’s a statue of Rocky outside the Philadelphia Museum of Art to commemorate the steps South Philly boxer Rocky Balboa climbed in the movie. But the movie has also become an American classic. It should be no surprise that the story of the small-time fighter who gets a shot at heavyweight glory garnered three Academy Awards: Best Director, Best Film Editing, and the most significant, Best Picture.

While Sylvester Stallone plays the main character, the city of Philadelphia is almost a supporting character in its own right, with the film’s story of rugged determination set against a backdrop of a city striving forward in the very same way.

The Philadelphia Story (1940)

Best Actor (Jimmy Stewart), Best Adapted Screenplay

“The Philadelphia Story” is a classic romantic comedy based on a 1939 Broadway play. Katherine Hepburn plays a Philadelphia socialite about to marry one man while discovering she may still have feelings for her ex-husband — and may even have feelings for the tabloid reporter meant to cover her upcoming wedding. Her character was based on Helen Hope Montgomery Scott, a real-life socialite from Philadelphia. The film, however, was not filmed anywhere near Philly — all scenes were shot at MGM Studios in California.

Jimmy Stewart took home the Best Actor award for his role as the reporter and the film also won Best Adapted Screenplay.

10 Oscar-winning films set or shot in Pennsylvania
10 Oscar-winning films set or shot in Pennsylvania

Ginger Rogers and Jimmy Stewart hold the Oscars they won for best actress and best actor, respectively, at the 13th Annual Academy Awards, March 3, 1941, in Los Angeles, Calif. Miss Rogers was chosen for her portrayal in “Kitty Foyle”; Jimmy Stewart in the “The Philadelphia Story.” (AP Photo)

Philadelphia (1993)

Best Actor (Tom Hanks), Best Original Song (Bruce Springsteen)

“Philadelphia” tells the story of a gay man who, after being fired when his employer finds out he has AIDS, teams up with an African-American lawyer to sue for discrimination. The film was both set and shot in its namesake city, with the City Hall serving as the courthouse and real offices downtown used for office scenes.

The legal drama earned Tom Hanks an Oscar for Best Actor. Bruce Springsteen also won for his original song “Streets of Philadelphia,” written for the movie.

Silver Linings Playbook (2012)

Best Actress (Jennifer Lawrence)

“Silver Linings Playbook” was the rare romantic comedy to be nominated for several Academy Awards. Bradley Cooper plays a man with bipolar disorder aiming to reconcile with his ex-wife. In pursuit of this goal, he enters a dance competition with a new friend, played by Jennifer Lawrence, who is also suffering from mental illness. The film takes place in the Philadelphia suburbs, shot primarily in Delaware and Montgomery counties. The use of well-known locations like Upper Darby’s Llanerch Diner isn’t the only way the Philly area is key to the movie. The Philadelphia Eagles are also essential to the film’s plot.

10 Oscar-winning films set or shot in Pennsylvania
10 Oscar-winning films set or shot in Pennsylvania

Jennifer Lawrence poses with her award for best actress in a leading role for “Silver Linings Playbook” during the Oscars at the Dolby Theatre on Sunday Feb. 24, 2013, in Los Angeles. (Photo by John Shearer/Invision/AP)

Fences (2016)

Best Supporting Actress (Viola Davis)

“Fences” was adapted from a play by Pittsburgh native August Wilson, about a working-class family in the mid-twentieth century. The period drama was nominated for several Academy Awards, including Best Picture, but received only one: Viola Davis for Best Supporting Actress.

The story follows Pittsburgh sanitation worker Troy Maxon and the struggles of his family in Pittsburgh’s historically-Black Hill District (where Wilson was born). Sadly, most of the Lower Hill District was destroyed between the late 1950s and early 1960s, so the movie was filmed in other Pittsburgh neighborhoods, with the streets carefully rendered to immerse the audience in the Pittsburgh Hill District of the 1950s.

10 Oscar-winning films set or shot in Pennsylvania
10 Oscar-winning films set or shot in Pennsylvania

Viola Davis, the award winner of actress in a supporting role for “Fences”, arrives at the Vanity Fair Oscar Party on Monday, Feb. 27, 2017, in Beverly Hills, Calif. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

Girl, Interrupted (1999)

Best Supporting Actress (Angelina Jolie)

“Girl, Interrupted” tells the story of a young woman’s experience in a psychiatric hospital in the late 1960s. Based on a memoir by Susanna Kaysen, the film follows the protagonist (Susanna) as she builds relationships, both constructive and damaging, with the other troubled women in the hospital. Though the movie is set in New England, it was filmed in Central Pennsylvania. Hospital scenes took place at the historic Harrisburg State Hospital and the characters go out for ice cream at a shop in nearby Mechanicsburg.

Angelina Jolie won Best Supporting Actress for her intense portrayal of the charismatic sociopath Lisa.

Witness (1985)

Best Original Screenplay, Best Film Editing

“Witness” lets viewers experience Amish life in Lancaster County through the lens of a crime drama. In the film, a detective (played by Harrison Ford) needs to protect an Amish mother and her young son after the child witnesses the murder of an undercover cop. While thrilling, the movie also depicts the collision of two distinct societies: the Amish and everyone else. “Witness” was nominated for eight academy awards, including Best Picture and Best Actor for Ford, and won Best Original Screenplay and Best Film Editing.

Wonder Boys (2000)

Best Original Song (Bob Dylan)

“Wonder Boys,” a film about a creative writing professor at a Pennsylvania university working on his second novel, won best original song for Bob Dylan’s “Things Have Changed.” It was also nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Film Editing. The film was shot on location in Pittsburgh at both Carnegie Mellon University and Chatham University.


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