21 Best Movies Set in San Francisco Bay Area: Exploring the City Through Film

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San Francisco, with its iconic landmarks like the Golden Gate Bridge and Lombard Street, coupled with its vibrant culture and rich history, has always been popular for Hollywood filmmakers.

From classic film noirs to modern thrillers, the Bay Area has served as a stunning backdrop for countless movies. As a San Francisco local, I love wandering around and seeing parts of famous movies like the Mrs. Doubtfire house or the church from Sister Act.

There are so many movies set in San Francisco so you’ll definitely find a few movies to enjoy from the list below. Grab some popcorn, dim the lights, and get ready to explore the best movies set in San Francisco Bay Area!

Films Showcasing the Bay Area’s Diversity

Discover the best movies set in San Francisco and explore the city through Hollywood's lens! From classic noir to modern thrillers, find your perfect film adventure.

#1 Movies Set in San Francisco – Mrs. Doubtfire (1993)

This was one of my childhood favorites that we used to watch again and again. This hilarious Robin Williams comedy tells the story of a struggling actor who disguises himself as a British nanny to maintain a relationship with his children. The film’s heartwarming story and Williams’s iconic performance make it a family favorite. San Francisco’s iconic locations, from Lombard Street to Union Square, provide a charming backdrop for the comedic chaos. I still love this movie today and highly recommend as one of the best San Francisco based movies to watch. (PG-13, 126 min)

Want to do a movie tour to see 55 of the most famous movie clips set in San Francisco? You’ll see the Mrs. Doubtfire house! Hop on this tour!

#2 Movies Set in San Francisco – The Social Network (2010)

This David Fincher-directed film chronicles the founding of Facebook by Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) and the subsequent legal battles with his former partner Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield).

The film explores themes of ambition, betrayal, and the dark side of social media. Shot on location throughout the Bay Area, including Stanford University and Palo Alto, the film captures the energy and innovation that define Silicon Valley. Not only will you see lots of the Bay Area in this movie, but it will also teach you a lot about social media (a few scary things also!) (PG-13, 120 min)

#3 Movies Set in San Francisco – Milk (2008)

This biographical drama tells the story of Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man elected to public office in California.  Sean Penn delivers a powerful performance as Milk, a charismatic activist who fought for gay rights in San Francisco’s vibrant Castro district.  The film sheds light on an important moment in San Francisco’s history and the ongoing fight for equality. (R, 128 min)

From Heartwarming Comedies to Heartbreaking Dramas

San Francisco’s beauty and complexity provide a stage for stories that explore a range of human emotions. Here are some of my other favorite movies based in San Francisco.

Discover the best movies set in San Francisco and explore the city through Hollywood's lens! From classic noir to modern thrillers, find your perfect film adventure.

#4 Movies Set in San Francisco – Sister Act (1992)

Whoopi Goldberg stars as Deloris Van Cartier, a lounge singer who witnesses a murder and is placed in protective custody in a struggling San Francisco convent. She disguises herself as a nun and invigorates the choir, turning them into a chart-topping sensation. This heartwarming comedy features catchy musical numbers and a feel-good message. Another one of my childhood favorites when I lived in Ireland. Who would have known years later, that I’d end up walking by the church often on my Noe Valley adventures. (PG, 100 min)

#5 Movies Set in San Francisco – Dr. Dolittle (1998)

This family-friendly comedy stars Eddie Murphy as Dr. John Dolittle, a San Francisco physician whose life takes an unexpected turn when he discovers he can talk to animals. Hilarity ensues as Dr. Dolittle juggles his medical practice with his newfound ability, all while navigating the charming streets of San Francisco. The film showcases iconic landmarks like Lombard Street and the Coit Tower, offering a glimpse of the city’s beauty. However, the real stars of the show are the animals. (PG, 90 min)

#6 Movies Set in San Francisco – The Pursuit of Happyness (2006)

This emotional drama based on a true story stars Will Smith as Chris Gardner, a struggling homeless single father who takes a demanding unpaid internship in hopes of a better life for himself and his son. The film’s depiction of homelessness and perseverance is both heartbreaking and inspiring. San Francisco’s iconic locations like Golden Gate Park and Market Street serve as a backdrop for this story of resilience. (PG-13, 117 min)

#7 Movies Set in San Francisco – Blue Jasmine (2013)

Craving a glimpse of San Francisco? Explore the best movies set in San Francisco for a night of action, romance, or heartwarming comedy. Lots of San Francisco-based movies await!

Cate Blanchett delivers a powerful performance as a New York socialite who falls from grace and moves to San Francisco to live with her sister after her wealthy husband’s (Alec Baldwin) financial scandal. The film explores themes of loss, regret, and the struggle to rebuild one’s life. San Francisco’s stark contrast between wealth and poverty is on display in this thought-provoking drama. This is actually a glimpse into the shocking inequality of those who live in San Francisco. (PG-13, 98 min)

#8 Movies Set in San Francisco – Moneyball (2011)

This biographical sports drama tells the story of Billy Beane (Brad Pitt), the general manager of the Oakland Athletics, who uses statistical analysis to build a winning team despite a limited budget. The film sheds light on the complex world of professional baseball and the changing nature of the sport. While not solely focused on San Francisco, Oakland’s close proximity and role in the Bay Area baseball scene makes it a relevant inclusion. Fun fact, lots of people who work in San Francisco travel in from Oakland daily as it’s just a short Bart ride (train ride) away. (PG-13, 126 min)

#9 Movies Set in San Francisco – Before Sunrise (1995)

Discover the best movies set in San Francisco and explore the city through Hollywood's lens! From classic noir to modern thrillers, find your perfect film adventure.

This romantic drama follows two strangers (Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy) who meet on a train and spend a magical night wandering around Vienna. While not solely set in San Francisco, a key scene takes place at a bookstore where the characters discuss their favorite films. (R, 105 min)

#10 Movies Set in San Francisco – The Wedding Planner (2001)

A romantic Classic Films that Capture the Essence of San Franciscostarring Jennifer Lopez as Mary Fiore, San Francisco’s most sought-after wedding planner, whose life revolves around creating dream weddings for others. Her world is turned upside down when she falls for a charming groom (Matthew McConaughey), unaware he’s about to marry one of her clients. Hilarious chaos ensues as Mary tries to navigate her professional obligations with her newfound feelings. The film showcases San Francisco’s iconic landmarks like Golden Gate Park and City Hall, adding to the romantic charm. I always love a rom-com with J.Lo. Add Matthew McConaughey and it’s the perfect light hearted movie. (PG-13, 104 min)

This San Francisco movie tour is incredibly popular and will take you to see 55 of the most famous movie clips in San Francisco!

Classic Films that Capture the Essence of San Francisco

Discover the best movies set in San Francisco and explore the city through Hollywood's lens! From classic noir to modern thrillers, find your perfect film adventure.

If you are looking for some older images of San Francisco, these are some of the most highly-rated movies set in San Francisco.

#11 Movies Set in San Francisco – The Maltese Falcon (1941)

This movie masterpiece, often considered one of the greatest film noirs ever made, stars Humphrey Bogart as Sam Spade, a San Francisco private detective hired to track down a priceless statuette. The film’s dark atmosphere and suspenseful plot perfectly capture the city’s fog-laden allure. (NR, 100 min)

#12 Movies Set in San Francisco – Vertigo (1958)

An Alfred Hitchcock classic, Vertigo is a psychological thriller starring James Stewart as a detective with a fear of heights who is hired to follow a woman exhibiting strange behavior. The film’s use of special effects and innovative camerawork creates a sense of disorientation and unease, mirroring the protagonist’s mental state. San Francisco’s iconic locations like the Golden Gate Bridge and Telegraph Hill serve as key settings in this mind-bending masterpiece. (PG, 129 min)

#13 Movies Set in San Francisco – Dirty Harry (1971)

This gritty action film stars Clint Eastwood as Harry Callahan, a tough-as-nails San Francisco police detective who takes on a sadistic serial killer. Dirty Harry became a cultural phenomenon, sparking debate about vigilantism and police brutality. The film’s portrayal of San Francisco, with its gritty streets and tough characters, stood in stark contrast to the more glamorous depictions of the city that were common at the time. (R, 102 min)

Action & Thrillers Movies With Chases and Crimes in the Bay Area

San Francisco’s steep hills and winding streets provide a thrilling backdrop for action and crime movies. Get ready for car chases, shootouts, and suspenseful investigations in these San Francisco-based movies. I prefer some of the lighter based movies based in San Francisco noted above but know others love a thrill!

Discover the best movies set in San Francisco and explore the city through Hollywood's lens! From classic noir to modern thrillers, find your perfect film adventure.

#14 Movies Set in San Francisco – Bullitt (1968)

Steve McQueen stars as Frank Bullitt, a tough San Francisco cop tasked with protecting a witness scheduled to testify against a mob boss. The film is famous for its heart-pounding car chase scene through the streets of San Francisco, considered one of the greatest in cinema history. (PG, 113 min)

#15 Movies Set in San Francisco – Basic Instinct (1992)

This thriller stars Michael Douglas as a detective investigating the brutal murder of a wealthy rock star and Sharon Stone as the seductive suspect with a mysterious past. The film’s graphic content and twisty plot kept audiences on the edge of their seats. San Francisco’s opulent high society and seedy underbelly are both on display in this stylish neo-noir. Not my favorite but others love it. (R, 128 min)

#16 Movies Set in San Francisco – Zodiac (2007)

Discover the best movies set in San Francisco and explore the city through Hollywood's lens! From classic noir to modern thrillers, find your perfect film adventure.

David Fincher directs this chilling crime thriller based on the true story of the Zodiac Killer, a serial killer who terrorized the Bay Area in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Jake Gyllenhaal and Mark Ruffalo star as detectives who become obsessed with catching the killer. The film’s meticulous attention to detail and suspenseful atmosphere create a haunting portrayal of this unsolved crime. (R, 157 min)

#17 Movies Set in San Francisco – Point Blank (1967)

This nail-biting crime thriller stars Lee Marvin as Walker, a criminal who returns to San Francisco after being betrayed by his former partner who leaves him for dead on Alcatraz Island. Now Walker is out for revenge and to recover his half of the money that was stolen from him. The film’s gritty atmosphere and San Francisco setting add to the suspense. (NR, 92 min)

#18 Movies Set in San Francisco -The Rock (1996)

This action thriller starring Sean Connery and Nicolas Cage features a daring mission to stop a group of rogue soldiers who have seized control of Alcatraz Island and are threatening to launch a chemical weapons attack on San Francisco. The film’s iconic setting and high-stakes action sequences make it a thrilling ride. (R, 129 min)

After you have watched some of these movies, hop on this San Francisco movie tour to spot the exact location where lots of movies were filmed!

Offbeat & Under the Radar Classic Movies Set in San Francisco

Discover the best movies set in San Francisco and explore the city through Hollywood's lens! From classic noir to modern thrillers, find your perfect film adventure.

San Francisco’s unique charm and diverse neighborhoods have also attracted filmmakers looking to create something special. These are some other classic movies that are set in San Francisco.

#19 Movies Set in San Francisco – The Last Black Man in San Francisco (2019)

This critically acclaimed drama tells the story of a young black man (Jimmie Fails) fighting to hold onto his childhood home in the rapidly gentrifying city. The film is a powerful focus on displacement, race, and the changing face of San Francisco. (R, 121 min)

#20 Movies Set in San Francisco – Big Trouble in Little China (1986)

This fantasy action-comedy classic stars Kurt Russell as Jack Burton, a truck driver who gets swept up in a wild adventure in San Francisco’s Chinatown to rescue a friend’s fiancee from a powerful sorcerer. The film’s blend of martial arts, special effects, and quirky humor has earned it a devoted following. (PG-13, 99 min)

#21 Movies Set in San Francisco – The Princess Diaries (2001)

Discover the best movies set in San Francisco and explore the city through Hollywood's lens! From classic noir to modern thrillers, find your perfect film adventure.

I watched this San Francisco-based movie again and again as a child. This teen comedy tells the story of a San Francisco high school student (Anne Hathaway) who discovers she’s the heir to a European throne. The film’s charming story, set against the backdrop of San Francisco landmarks like Lombard Street and Golden Gate Park, has become a favorite for young audiences. (G, 115 min)

Best Movies Set in San Francisco: A Gateway to Exploring the City

Whether you’re a movie buff or simply planning a trip to San Francisco, these are some of the best movies set in San Francisco. They offer a unique way to experience the city. From the iconic landmarks like the Golden Gate Bridge to the hidden gems tucked away in its diverse neighborhoods, San Francisco provides a captivating backdrop for stories of all genres. Next time you’re looking for a movie night or planning a trip to the Bay Area, consider these films for a glimpse into the City by the Bay’s magic and complexity.

Planning on a visit to San Francisco, these blog posts will give you some local tips to my favorite spots:

Frequently Asked Questions

Are there any family-friendly films set in San Francisco?

Yes and these are some of my favorite movies set in San Francisco. Dr. Dolittle (1998) is a hilarious adventure where a San Francisco doctor discovers he can talk to animals. The Princess Diaries (2001) tells the charming story of a San Francisco teenager who learns she’s a princess. Mrs. Doubtfire (1993) is a heartwarming comedy about a struggling actor who disguises himself as a nanny.

Can I take a movie tour to see filming locations in San Francisco?

Yes! San Francisco offers movie tours that take you to iconic filming locations, allowing you to see the city through the lens of your favorite films. You can learn about the city’s film history and discover hidden gems along the way. This is one of the most popular movie tours in San Francisco.

What are some classic films that capture the essence of San Francisco?

Classic films like Vertigo (1958), Dirty Harry (1971), and The Maltese Falcon (1941) showcase San Francisco’s iconic landmarks and distinct atmosphere, capturing the city’s history and charm through different genres.

Are there any modern movies that explore the diversity of San Francisco?

Films like Milk (2008) highlight the city’s gay rights movement, while The Social Network (2010) delves into the world of Silicon Valley innovation. The Last Black Man in San Francisco (2019) explores themes of gentrification and displacement in a changing city.

I’m looking for action and thrillers set in San Francisco’s iconic locations. Any recommendations?

San Francisco’s steep hills and winding streets provide a thrilling backdrop for films like Bullitt (1968), famous for its car chase scene, and The Rock (1996), featuring a daring mission on Alcatraz Island. Zodiac (2007) offers a suspenseful true-crime story based on the Zodiac Killer case.0

Hopefully, this list of some of the best movies set in San Francisco along with these unforgettable scenes inspires you to explore the films and embark on your own cinematic journey through San Francisco!

If you have any more questions about San Francisco, travel recommendations, or all things travel, please reach out via Instagram or my contact page. I would love to help you out!

About Lorna Ryan

Lorna's fashion & beauty journey began on runways, including NYFW, which sparked her love for all things chic. Lorna spent two years as a SephoraSquad ambassador, sharing hero beauty products. Lorna unveils coveted beauty gems, the latest fashion trends, and best-kept jetsetter escapes.