Missing Los Angeles even though you’re still here? Feeling like you live in an apartment in Anytown USA instead of our expansive, magical, mucky city? Luckily, the City Angeles is also the city of celluloid—and there are countless movies to watch to get out of the house and into the city, without ever leaving your bed. (We recommend pairing your viewing with take-out from a local restaurant.)
The Kid (1921)
Silent Hollywood constantly utilized Los Angeles locations, and Charlie Chaplin was no exception. In the heartwarming (at times nauseating) The Kid, we get glimpses of everything from pre-Disneyfied Olvera Street to Pasadena’s famed Suicide Bridge.
Available to rent on Amazon; stream free on Kanopy using your L.A. library card.
Double Indemnity (1944)
This legendary Los Angeles noir, Starring Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray, takes viewers on a dark journey through deceptively sunny midcentury Los Angeles. Stanwyck’s anklet-wearing femme fatale lives in a Spanish-Revival pile on Beachwood Canyon, and MacMurray’s morally dubious insurance agent stalks the city from downtown Los Angeles to Hollywood Boulevard to the Glendale Station.
Streaming for free for Starz subscribers; available to rent on Amazon, YouTube, and iTunes.
The Big Sleep (1946)
This noir classic based on a Raymond Chandler novel takes detective Philip Marlowe (Humphrey Bogart) to locations (created on the Warner Brothers lot) inspired by real locales including the Security Pacific Building and the Stanley Rose Bookshop.
Available to rent on Amazon, YouTube Movies, Google Play, and iTunes.
He Walked by Night (1949)
As screenwriter Henry Gayden notes, many low-budget noirs were filmed around L.A.—particularly downtown Los Angeles because it was cheap. He Walked by Night is one of the best examples, and includes an early view of the Hollywood Sign.
Sunset Blvd (1951)
This Billy Wilder takedown of Hollywood is also about Los Angeles as a whole, and features Paramount Studios and long-gone L.A. treasures like the legendary Schwab’s Drugstore and 641 South Irving Boulevard, the fabled Sunset Boulevard mansion of Norma Desmond, which was torn down in the late 1950s.
Stream for free on Prime Video, the Criterion Channel, Crackle, and Pluto TV; available to rent on Amazon, YouTube, iTunes, and Google Play.
Based on the true story of SoCal surfer Kathy “Gidget” Kohner, this sun-drenched Malibu romp stars the delightful Sandra Dee. A runaway splash hit, it started a whole genre of Surf USA jiggle films filmed in L.A., including Beach Blanket Bingo and Beach Party.
Available to rent on Amazon, Vudu, Fandango Now, Google Play, and iTunes.
Riot on the Sunset Strip(1967)
For an entirely different take on youth-driven rebellion, try this counter-culture exploitation movie which was inspired by the curfew riots on the Sunset Strip. For trippy documentary footage of the time, check out Mondo Hollywood, called by Variety a “flippy, trippy psychedelic guide to Hollywood.”
Stream for free on Prime Video; available to rent on Amazon.
The Way We Were (1973)
Set in the 1930s through ’50s, this romantic, gold-lit weepy stars Barbra Streisand and Robert Redford as sophisticated, star-crossed lovers. Everything falls apart in Los Angeles, when even the stunning beaches, mammoth mansions, and shiny movie studios aren’t enough to keep the couple in the mood for love.
Stream for free on Crackle; available to rent on Amazon, Vudu, Redbox, Google Play, YouTube, and iTunes.
No movie has done more to define L.A. in popular culture than Chinatown. Moving from City Hall to Point Fermin Park to the Pig & Whistle to Echo Park and more, Jack Nicholson’s private eye epitomizes the seedy shadiness associated with L.A. “Forget it Jake, it’s Chinatown” could really be the mantra for all of Los Angeles.
Free to stream for Starz subscribers; available to rent on Amazon, YouTube, Google Play, and iTunes.
This sexy, stylish Hal Ashby sex comedy takes a look at hip Hollywood, starring peak-cool Julie Christie, Warren Beatty, and Goldie Hawn. Said to be based in part on the life of hairdresser (and Manson victim) Jay Sebring, it features gloriously bright locations shot in both West Hollywood and Beverly Hills.
Stream for free on Crackle; available to rent on Amazon, YouTube, Google Play, and iTunes.
Night of the Comet (1984)
Set in apocalyptic, zombie-infested Los Angeles, this film follows two Valley Girls as they roam L.A., searching for survivors and getting a little shopping done along the way. Includes glimpses of the El Rey, the Bank of America Plaza, and Whittier Boulevard.
Stream on Tubi, Pluto TV, and Shudder; available to rent on Amazon.
Into the Night (1985)
Jeff Goldblum and Michelle Pfeiffer star in this comedic thriller that features everything from Randy’s Donuts to Tommy’s Burgers to the International Terminal at LAX.
Available to rent on Amazon, YouTube, Google Play, Vudu, and iTunes.
Los Angeles Plays Itself (2004)
Thom Andersen’s 169-minute love letter to L.A. explores how Los Angeles has been presented and portrayed in film over Hollywood’s first century.
Streaming for free on Kanopy; available to rent on Vudu, YouTube, Google Play, and iTunes.
The Source Family (2013)
Take a groovy trip down the Sunset Strip in this documentary about the health-food-loving, music-tripping, free-love-having, only-in-L.A. cult.
Stream for free on Prime Video, Hoopla, and Kanopy; available to rent on Amazon, Vudu, iTunes, and Fandango Now.
Los Punks: We Are All We Have (2016)
This hard-hitting documentary takes a look at the Latino punk scene in East Los Angeles and features the fraught days and revolutionary nights of this homegrown music scene.
Streaming for free on Prime Video and Kanopy; available to rent on Amazon and iTunes.
Hungry for more L.A.-centric recs? How about … L.A. Story, Them!, Straight Out of Compton, In a Lonely Place, La La Land, 500 Days of Summer, Valley Girl, Swingers, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Mommie Dearest, Kiss Me Deadly, Show People, Rebel Without a Cause, Mildred Pierce, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Clueless, Devil in a Blue Dress, Point Break, The Long Goodbye, Singing in the Rain, Jackie Brown, and The Big Lebowski.