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Empire's City Guide: Philadelphia

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Rocky was unleashed on US audiences 35 years ago this month, prompting the city’s commerce director to say the film had “done more for the city's image than anyone since Ben Franklin”. But America’s first capital is often overlooked by directors as a setting, routinely used as a ‘New York’ location by filmmakers taking advantage of Philadelphia’s similar architecture and generous tax credits. Here we pay tribute to ten films – good and bad - that make a main feature of the city of liberty, independence and brotherly love.

Movie: Trading Places (1983)

How did it feature in the movie?
Eddie Murphy tramps around this city park as lovable hustler Billy Ray Valentine, metres away but worlds apart from uptight banker Louis Winthorpe III (Dan Aykroyd). In an elaborate life swap engineered by the latter’s bosses for a nature versus nurture wager, Billy Ray is handed Louis's privileged life while Louis, demented with confusion at his push from social grace, relies on tart-with-a-heart Ophelia (Jamie Lee Curtis). Once the pair realise they’ve been pitted against each other, all three set about getting revenge.

What is it in real life?
The tree-filled park is small but plush, surrounded by high-rise apartments and a stones throw from a shopping haven in Walnut Street and some brilliant delis.

Is it easy to get to?
Yes, it’s four blocks from Walnut-Locust station and SEPTA buses 9, 12, 21, and 42 will take you there.

Worth seeing?
The area is a cultural hub. Visit one of the surrounding museums or just join commuters for a park-lunch.

Movie: National Treasure (2004)

How did it feature in the movie?
Peppered with dialogue that’s as obvious as the treasure they’re looking for is hidden, Nicolas Cage and co.’s romp through Philadelphia with the stolen Declaration Of Independence takes a turn into this market. Romantic interest and sassy history buff Abigail Chase (Diane Kruger) chooses a meat counter to crouch behind with the irreplaceable document.

What is it in real life?
The bustling farmers' market has been the go-to place for locals since 1859 for its fresh fruit and veg stalls and mini-restaurants, milkshake bars and Philadelphia’s infamous cheesesteaks.

Is it easy to get to?
Very. Get off at one of four nearby subway stations or catch a SEPTA bus.

Worth seeing?
Definitely. Wander down after a trip to the Liberty Bell for fresh produce and some clam chowder.

Movie: Twelve Monkeys (1995)

How did it feature in the movie?
A virus spread by the mysterious ‘Army of the Twelve Monkeys’ has wiped billions from the planet, so convict James Cole (deftly played by Bruce Willis) is sent back in time to 1996 gather information about the infant virus so scientists can prevent it. He ends up in a nightmarish 1990 instead, locked up in a mental institution.

What is it in real life?
Al Capone was one of the notorious criminals kept at the Eastern State Penitentiary (admittedly in quite snazzy digs), considered the world’s first prison designed to inspire repentance in the hearts of its convicts. It’s now a creepy crumbling ruin and open all year for visits and tours.

Is it easy to get to?
Surprisingly central for what it is, five blocks from the Rocky Steps at the Philadelphia Art Museum.

Worth seeing?
Avoid if you’re easily creeped out. Shudder-worthy tours will show you how prisoners were punished and what real life death row controls look like.

Movie: The Sixth Sense (1999)

How did it feature in the movie?
Director M. Night Shyamalan avoids his home city’s iconic landmarks to create an anonymous landscape for Dr Malcolm Crowe’s (Bruce Willis) world, as psychiatrist to Haley Joel Osment’s haunted eight year-old Cole. As Crowe’s marriage reaches breaking point he meets his wife at Striped Bass, an upmarket restaurant at 1500 Walnut Street.

What is it in real life?
Striped Bass has since shut and equally fashionable eatery Butcher & Singer stands in its place. The imposing high-rise building, of which the restaurant has ground floor, houses more businesses.

Is it easy to get to?
Yes, it’s right in the centre of Philadelphia, accessible by subway or bus.

Worth seeing?
Definitely. This ‘steaks and chops’ restaurant is all low lights and dark woods, a self-styled homage to old Hollywood.

Movie: Witness (1985)

How did it feature in the movie?
A little boy witnesses a murder in one of the bathrooms at Philadelphia’s humungous 30th Street Station, and Harrison Ford is the hardened city cop who moves to the boy’s Amish community in Pennsylvania to protect him - there he adjusts to the strict lifestyle and develops feelings for the boy’s mother.

What is it in real life?
Also featured M. Night Shyamalan’s Unbreakable, 30th Street Station is the city's imposing rail terminus, taking passengers everywhere from Washington to New York.

Is it easy to get to?
Yes, use the subway or any number of city buses.

Worth seeing?
It’s a beautiful building and handy for a day trip - an Amtrak train will take you to New York's Penn Station in 90 minutes for $30 return.

Movie: In Her Shoes (2005)

How did it feature in the movie?
Two Philadelphian sisters fall out in this affable story about sibling rivalry and bereavement. In just one of numerous shots of the famous road, sensible lawyer Rose (Toni Collette) takes her mind off wayward Maggie (Cameron Diaz) with a date at Jim’s Steaks, South Street, after a Sixers game.

What is it in real life?
Considered the hippest street in Philadelphia, South Street is known for its diversity and bohemian atmosphere. Hip-hop sneaker stores sit alongside vintage boutiques and countless food joints.

Is it easy to get to?
Yes, get a bus from Centre City to Front Street and amble down to 7th for the best of the area.

Worth seeing?
Without a doubt. Jim’s Steaks and Jamaican Jerk Hut both starred in the film, but make sure to drop into South Street institution Lorenzo’s for a gigantic pizza slice, $2.75.

Movie: Philadelphia (1993)

How did it feature in the movie?
The iconic, most heart-tugging scenes in this double Oscar winner take place in court as you root for ‘excellent lawyer’ and HIV-positive Andrew Beckett (Tom Hanks), working with his outwardly homophobic attorney (Denzel Washington) to prove he was fired because he has AIDS.

What is it in real life?
The court scenes took place in Courtroom 243 in City Hall, home to Philadelphia’s government. The largest municipal building in the United States was originally built to be the tallest building in the world, but it took 30 years to construct and was pipped to the status.

Is it easy to get to?
Yes, it’s in Philadelphia city centre.

Worth seeing?
If you’re an art fan, it’s a visual treat – the impressive architecture houses 250 sculptures inside and out.

Movie: Rocky (1976)

How did it feature in the movie?
In the training montage of all training montages, grey-tracksuited amateur boxer Rocky scales 72 stone steps to prepare for his first shot at a professional fight - as David to heavyweight Apollo Creed’s Goliath. Sylvester Stallone’s script became a 200 per cent profit box-office smash and the man-conquers-loads-of-stairs sequence may have had something to do with it. In the iconic scene Rocky celebrates his triumphant strides with an overhead fist-pump.

What is it in real life?
The “Rocky Steps” lead to the entrance of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, one of the largest museums in the US, and supplier of the best view in the city. A bronze statue of Rocky (commissioned by Stallone) has sat at the bottom of the steps since 1982.

Is it easy to get to?
Yes, it’s very central. Catch the subway or the 38 bus from Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station (or jog there with a large group of kids in tow).

Worth seeing?
The museum’s impressive, but it’s worth going just for the view - and the obligatory tourist photo by the Rocky statue.

Movie: Blow Out (1981)

How did it feature in the movie?
When he accidently witnesses and records a car plunging headfirst into Philadelphia’s Wissahickon Creek, Brian De Palma’s thriller sees movie sound mixer Jack Terry (John Travolta) inadvertently sucked into a murky assassination conspiracy, and become the only lifeline for a woman who knows too much.

What is it in real life?
The 23-mile expanse of water is recognised as an ‘outstanding example’ of natural history in the US and inspired poet Edgar Allan Poe with its dramatic geography, dropping over 100 feet in altitude in some places.

Is it easy to get to?
Use one of the many entrances depending on where you want to go, some are accessible by public transport, others will require a car.

Worth seeing?
If only to visit the mythically-named Devil's Pool, Lover's Leap or Forbidden Drive. You can also get horseback rides through the forest.

Movie: Unbreakable (2000)

How did it feature in the movie?
Having given up a career in football, listless security guard David Dunn (Bruce Willis) works at Philadelphia’s Franklin Fields stadium and worries about his lifeless marriage. But soon there’s more to concern him when, after a train wreck in which he’s the sole survivor, he’s led to discover his ‘superhero’ status by frail Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson) - who isn’t all he seems to be.

What is it in real life?
The stadium has a rich history, having aired the first football radio broadcast in 1922. Formerly the home field of the Philadelphia Eagles, it’s now a general sports stadium for the University of Pennsylvania.

Is it easy to get to?
It’s on the opposite side of Philadelphia’s Schuylkill River to most of the tourist hotspots, get there with the Market-Frankford (Blue) Line to the 34th street.

Worth seeing?
Only if you can get tickets to see a football game or concert, otherwise it’s pretty much just a sports stadium.

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