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The Best Summer Movies You Didn't Know Were Filmed in California
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The Best Summer Movies You Didn't Know Were Filmed in California

From freaky horror flicks and cult classics to funny rom-coms, with California's films, you're in for an unforgettable watch party.

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5 min read

June 06, 2021

Lights, camera, magic! California is where your favorite summer movies are filmed—from the 1920s talkies to modern era cinematography, directors have flocked to the theatrical wonderland in search of backdrops, locations, and most importantly, inspiration. They found exactly that with California’s variety of terrain, beaches, mountains, and deserts.

And there’s so much to choose from. From freaky horror flicks and cult classics to heartwarming tales of coming-of-age, in the Golden State, you're in for an unforgettable watch party. Are you ready to watch your next favorite movie? 

Awesome Summer Movies Filmed in the Golden State 

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood received 10 Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, and won Best Supporting Actor and Production Design.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood 

Director: Quentin Tarantino

While Quentin Tarantino isn’t the only director who makes movies about movies, he’s one of the few whose work feels like a real love letter to Old Hollywood. Thanks to memorable dialogues, retro color palettes, and oddly distinct character tropes, Tarantino’s movies analyze, comment—and on happier occasions—transcend the work he emulates. The 2019 Once Upon a Time In Hollywood is quite the happy film. This comedy-drama is set in the 1960s and evokes not only the pop culture of a bygone era, but also celebrates the impulse to recreate and rewrite the past.

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Leonardo Dicaprio plays Rick Dalton, a fading Western TV star struggling to find meaningful work in Hollywood. He spends most of his time wallowing and palling around with his stuntman, chauffeur, and one-man entourage Cliff Booth, played by Brad Pitt. Rick also happens to live next door to Roman Polanski and Sharon Tate, a filmmaker and budding actress whose futures play a defining role in the Golden Age of Hollywood.

“I play Miss Carlson, the klutz,” says Robbie’s Sharon Tate as she stops by to watch herself at the Regency Bruin Theater, now known as the Fox Bruin Theatre. This stunning location is found at the corner of Broxton and Weyburn in Westwood, walking distance from UCLA. Wear your vintage white boots and recreate the iconic Sharon Tate look as you cross the street on your way to the theater.

Booksmart is about two graduating high school girls who set out to finally break the rules and party. Photo courtesy of Booksmart.

 Booksmart 

Director: Olivia Wilde

The characters have fake IDs, but only so they can get into the library. Academic overachievers Amy and Molly thought that keeping their heads in the books would give them a leg up on their peers. The adorable, inseparable know-it-all duo felt good about their choices to forgo partying until—on the night of their high school graduation—they discovered that their more “irresponsible” peers also got accepted into Ivy League schools. “We chose wrong!” yelled Molly, as the girls decided to cram four years of high school fun into one night, a chaotic adventure that no amount of homework prepared them for.

Not only is this film one of the best summer movies of all time, but it also captures the quintessential valley vibe. The suburbs beyond the Hollywood Hills are a pop-culture staple, but Booksmart paints a much more realistic picture of this very real place. As Molly and Amy search for their adventure, they also take audiences on a night-long tour of real-life locations. From their Burbank high school and the Overlook Trail, to a deserted pizza shop parking lot and a legit yacht docked in Marina Del Rey, the movie gives you the retro-peach colors California is renowned for.

Recognized as one being a film that's so bad, it's good, you won't want to miss this one. Trust us, it's quite the movie.

The Disaster Artist 

Director: James Franco

If you’ve ever watched Tommy Wiseau’s cult hit The Room, then you must have many questions. The bizarre dialogue, pictures of spoons on the wall, and Wiseau’s proneness to smashing things are undoubtedly all subject to questioning. However, we suspect that you left that watch party with curiosities of a much more puzzling nature—what mind and soul did this entirely serious feature film emerge from? Why and how does an artistic statement like this exist?

The incredible true story of aspiring filmmaker and Hollywood outsider Tommy Wiseau—played by James Franco—is depicted in the 2017 film, The Disaster Artist. Franco stars alongside his brother Dave Franco, who plays Greg Sestero—a reluctant side-kick-turned-best friend to the enigmatic director/writer/producer/star. The pair defiantly pursue their Hollywood dreams, embarking on the hilariously confusing odyssey of making the now-infamous cult classic.

The summer movie is based on a book with the same title and depicts a few instances of Wiseau and Sestero playing soccer and football at the Polo Fields in Golden Gate Park. This beautiful filming location was sadly unavailable for this production, so the crew set out to find a suitable double. The most fitting spot they found was the spacious Wright Cricket Field at Woodley Park in Van Nuys. During pre-production, there was also talk of shooting at the James Dean crash site for a scene in which Wiseau and Sestero—huge fans of the Rebel Without a Cause actor—make an impromptu drive from S.F. to the junction near Cholame.

Sorry to Bother You follows a young black telemarketer who adopts a white accent to succeed at his job. Photo courtesy of Sorry to Bother You.

Sorry to Bother You 

Director: Boots Riley 

The year was 2012. A young rapper by the name of Boots Riley releases the album Sorry To Bother You alongside his band, The Coup. The songs on the album are thought-provoking, the lyrics visionary, and the context is almost worthy of its own spotlight on the silver screen. Well, the album was inspired by a screenplay of the same name, written by Riley himself. Meta, right? Turns out, the rapper-director had written this amazing social satire and needed a way to garner buzz around it in hopes of getting it made into a feature. And that he did, a mere eight years later.

“Stick to the script”—that’s the first rule at the telemarketing firm where Cassius Green finds a job. As sales reps are supposed to start calls with an obligatory “Sorry to Bother You,” the film gives you a glimpse into the monotone reality of the modern-day workforce. This monotony, however, is very short-lived. What follows is a wild ride of success, failure, and bizarre sideways antics. The Coup bursts with confidence, especially during the film’s jaw-dropping moments. Add the soundtrack to your feel-good playlist and immerse yourself in this dark comedy.

Palm Springs had its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival on January 26, 2020 and was praised for the performances and concept.

Palm Springs

Director: Max Barbakow 

Romantic comedies are chicken soup for the soul. Who doesn’t love escaping into a fictional realm where friends realize they were in love all along, enemies suddenly feel sparks fly, or two travelers become smitten while trapped together in a snowed-in cabin? Next time your couch becomes a cozy front-row seat to an adorable love story, opt for Palm Springs and you’ll get exactly what you’re looking for—and more. 

The set-up is fairly familiar. Two unconnected guests develop a budding romance at a wedding. Sarah, played by Cristin Milioti, is the sister of the bride and a cynic-turned-reluctant-maid-of-honor. And Niles, played by Andy Samberg, is a drifter so bored with usual wedding festivities that he’s just making a scene to liven things up. By the end of the night, they’re swaying clumsily, kissing under the shining stars—when bam, Niles is killed. What follows is a Groundhog Day-esque adventure, where every day starts the same and ends influenced by the pair’s antics.

While this 2020 summer movie shares its title with the sun-soaked destination of Palm Springs, you’ll be surprised to know that not a single shot was filmed in the area. The filmmakers behind this surreal rom-com found inspiration, colors, and a title—but funnily not a filming location—in the radiant Coachella Valley. Instead, Palm Springs was filmed for 21 days with Santa Clarita, Palmdale, and other Golden State locales standing in. 

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