February 22, 2015

And the Oscar Goes To … Historic Sites in This Year’s Academy Award-Nominated Films


In this day of green screens, CGI, and other special effects techniques, it’s easy for filmmakers to fake reality. But when it comes to historic places, many of this year’s Oscar contenders opted for the real deal.

Below, we look at five Academy Award-nominated films that shot on-location at historic sites across the country.


On Sunday, March 7, 1965, hundreds of civil rights marchers heading east out of Selma, Alabama, toward Montgomery were violently confronted by state and local law enforcement at the Edmund Winston Pettus Bridge, built in 1940. The day became known as Bloody Sunday. Two days later, Martin Luther King Jr. led a symbolic march to the bridge. And on Sunday, March 21, some 3,200 marchers continued the journey across the bridge arriving in Montgomery four days later as a crowd of 25,000.

Nearly 50 years later, those marches were re-created at the Edmund Winston Pettus Bridge for the Oscar-nominated film Selma. Local residents, including the mayor of Selma, were cast as extras. Some of those residents participated in the marches back in 1965.

Filming at the actual location of the marches lends those scenes their power. Director Ava DuVernay told 60 Minutes’ Bob Simon in a recent interview, “I took great pleasure in directing scenes on this bridge.”


Mark (Edward Norton) and Sam (Emma Stone) on the roof of the St. James Theatre.

Leading man Michael Keaton got the Best Actor nomination for "Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)," but to us, the star of the show was New York’s St. James Theatre.

Opened as Erlanger’s Theatre in 1927, the St. James was designed by architectural firm Warren & Wetmore. (It was built by Broadway booking agent Abraham Erlanger and renamed in 1932.) It hosted the Broadway premieres of "Oklahoma!" in 1943 and "The King and I" in 1951.

Director Alejandro González Iñárritu considered a couple different Broadway theaters in which to film the story of a once-famous movie star, played by Keaton, seeking to revive his career through a stage adaptation of Raymond Carver’s "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love."

The St. James won out, and filming took place over the course of 30 days, largely in the theater’s lobby and stage as well as outside, using its actual exterior as a backdrop.

Still Alice

The hamlet of Lido Beach in Hempstead, New York, was planned in the 1920s and envisioned as a summer colony. A number of houses were built during the Depression era. Army tents were situated there during World War II; other Navy facilities were established nearby.

The beaches here remain pristine, and the homes are charming and historic. In "Still Alice," Julianne Moore and Kristen Stewart, who play mother and daughter, stroll the boardwalk.

Gone Girl

You won’t find North Carthage, Missouri, on a map. The town where Nick (played by Ben Affleck) and Amy (played by Rosamund Pike) live in "Gone Girl" was actually filmed in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, located along the Mississippi River 115 miles south of St. Louis.

Before it made its big-screen debut, Cape Girardeau found its roots as a small trading post. Lewis and Clark stopped there on their journey west. When the steamboat came in 1835, Cape Girardeau became the busiest port between St. Louis and Memphis. It was occupied by Union forces during the Civil War. After the war, the town continued to grow into the bustling college town it is today.

It’s a town that wears its history proudly. Director David Fincher told the Southeast Missourian that author Gillian Flynn had Cape Girardeau in mind when she wrote the book that eventually became the movie.

Filming took place at roughly 30 locations in Cape Girardeau over the course of six weeks. The historic downtown district was front and center of the action. Many of the shops provided props and costumes for the set. (Old Town Cape is an accredited National Main Street program.) The stairs, terraces, and gazebo of the Common Pleas Courthouse, completed in 1854, were used, as was the 1.5-acre Riverfront Park. Interior and exterior shots of The Bar, a watering hole run by Nick and his sister Margo (played by Carrie Coon), was filmed at a former restaurant in a historic building downtown.

American Sniper

Seal Beach, California

In "American Sniper," Navy SEAL Chris Kyle (played by Bradley Cooper) walks with his future wife Taya (played by Sienna Miller) down a pier in what is supposed to be San Diego. That scene was actually shot up the coast in Seal Beach, California, on the historic pier, which, at 1,865 feet long, is considered to be the second longest wooden pier in the state.

Seal Beach Pier dates back to 1916 (although the original pier was built in 1906). It was ravaged in 1939 and sustained further damage years later in an electrical fire and earthquakes. Residents rallied to rebuild it after it was severely damaged again during harsh storms in 1983.

Today, the pier is a popular destination for tourists, beach-goers, and anyone looking to cast a fishing line. It’s a popular location for filming, too, though mostly for television shows. Seal Beach city recreation manager Tim Kelsey told the Orange County Register, “This brought excitement and is a new thing for us. As far as a major motion picture, we haven’t had one for a long time.”

Jamesha Gibson contributed to research for this post.

Lauren Walser served as the Los Angeles-based field editor of Preservation magazine. She enjoys writing and thinking about art, architecture, and public space, and hopes to one day restore her very own Arts and Crafts-style bungalow.

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