10 Movies With Iconic Architecture in a Starring Role

When done thoughtfully, architecture in a movie can play a role more akin to a character than a setting.

Liana Hayles Liana Hayles

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Mia Farrow in Rosemary’s Baby, Jack Nicolson in The Shining, Diane Keaton in Annie Hall — some characters are so memorable that they stay with us long after the credits roll. And in some cases, the same is true for the location where the film is set. When done thoughtfully, architecture in a movie can play a role more akin to a character than a setting. These 10 films feature architecture in starring roles:

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1. The Dakota in Rosemary’s Baby

While Mia Farrow is clearly the star of Roman Polanski’s 1968 thriller Rosemary’s Baby, her co-star is one of the most well-known apartment buildings in Manhattan. The Dakota on the Upper West Side (renamed the Bramford in the film) sets the stage for horror as opening credits roll over aerial footage of the building’s Gothic exterior. Though interior shots were mostly filmed at The Osborne on West 57th St., the image of The Dakota as the location where the sinister plot unfolds remains deeply ingrained.

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2. The Bradbury Building in Blade Runner

Of all the chilling imagery in Ridley Scott’s 1982 Blade Runner, the Bradbury Building transformed as a rundown, post-apocalyptic apartment building stands out as one of the most memorable. The architectural landmark in downtown Los Angeles that famously served as home for Harrison Ford’s character, Rick Deckard, is perfect for this sci-fi noir classic. The Bradbury was built in 1893 in a pre-Hollywood Los Angeles and began starring in films as early as the 1940s. Though it is still used to this day, and as recently as 2011 in The Artist, most film enthusiasts will always think of it as the Blade Runner building.

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3. The Chemosphere House in Body Double

In 1984, Brian De Palma terrified audiences with his stylish thriller, Body Double, a story that borrows heavily from Hitchcock’s Rear Window and yet manages to feel modern when told through De Palma’s stylistic perspective. Playing a major role in the film is John Lautner’s unforgettable retro-futuristic Chemosphere house. Perched on a pole high in the hills above Mulholland Drive in Los Angeles, the home is so unique that filmgoers questioned its very existence — convinced that it was merely a model built for the movie.

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4. The Ben Rose House in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

Who can forget the scene where Ferris and Cameron let a Ferrari 250 GTO shoot through the wall of an all-glass, freestanding modernist garage nestled in a quiet forest? The Highland Park garage (and the home it belongs to) is forever seared into the collective memory of a generation.

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5. The Palace Bristol Hotel in The Grand Budapest Hotel

Though it was based on the features of several different hotels, Wes Anderson’s Grand Budapest Hotel collectively carries the film. Anderson dreams up a hotel with a multigenerational history at the center of the story based on the writing of Stefan Zweig. For those who long to visit the hotel at the center of the story, the Palace Bristol Hotel in Valencia bears a strong resemblance, featuring the same ornate pink façade, grandeur, and surrounding landscape as the Budapest.

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6. The Schaffer Residence in A Single Man

It’s no surprise that designer-turned-director Tom Ford would use design in a strong way to tell the story of the inner life of his main character. In A Single Man, Colin Firth plays a professor with a very composed outer life expressed visibly by his home. The Schaffer Residence, the second by architect John Lautner on our list, makes an excellent example of a home as an analogy for a character in a film. And, of course, it’s also a seductive example of mid-century architecture.

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7. The Elrod House in Diamonds are Forever

In another classic example of the home speaking to the nature of the character who lives there, we have the Elrod House in the James Bond film Diamonds are Forever. Sleek, modern, and a little bit out of this world, this Palm Springs home makes the perfect evil lair.

Image via Timberline Lodge

8. The Stanley Hotel/ The Timberline Lodge in The Shining

In Stanley Kubrick’s terrifying tale of madness (and possibly the most famous cinematic example of extreme cabin fever, the Torrance family makes the unfortunate decision to take on the role of innkeepers during the off season at a hotel with a dark history. The ambiance becomes ever darker and more sinister as the plot unfolds, with the hotel starring as much more than a stunning backdrop to the plot. Exterior shots were filmed at the Timberline Lodge in Oregon while interiors belong to the Stanley Hotel in Colorado.

Images via Exhibition Inquisition

9. The Ennis House in The House on Haunted Hill

One of the older structures on our list, built in 1924 and used in the film in 1959, the Ennis House sits perched in the hills of Los Feliz and has sparked the imagination of countless filmmakers. Built by Frank Lloyd Wright Jr., this Mayan revival stunner (also an important set in Blade Runner) is so distinct and mysterious that it’s a natural fit to play the role of a haunted house in an early classic example of the genre.

10. The Vandamm House in North by Northwest

In Hitchcock’s North by Northwest, the action culminates much in the way it does in the Bond film, Diamonds are Forever: at a modernist evil lair. In this case, the home set atop Mount Rushmore was entirely dreamt up on a sound stage. Though the filmmaker wanted to have something resembling a Frank Lloyd Wright house built above the monument, they had neither the budget for an actual Wright home nor the ability to build anything on a national monument. In the end, the home that so many remember from the classic film was simply Hollywood illusion.

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