In 2008, Governor Jennifer Granholm signed the Michigan Film and Digital Media Incentive into law and it became one of her administration’s most successful acts, bringing millions of dollars and a high level of prestige to a down-and-out, recession-shattered Detroit. Since then, many great major films, as well as independent movies, have been created here in Michigan. Even before the Michigan Film and Digital Media Incentive, Detroit has long been a sought-after location to film gritty and exciting movies looking to tell a specific story. Many films take place in Detroit, but are often filmed elsewhere. These below are some of the best that have ever been filmed in the Motor City.
Gran Torino (2008)
13140 Charlevoix St.
Detroit, MI 48215
www.imdb.com

Perhaps no film better exemplifies the Detroit of the last century as Gran Torino. Considered one of master filmmaker Clint Eastwood’s best films as he starred in and directed the film, Gran Torino tells the story of a retired auto worker, Walt, living in Highland Park, one of two cities (the other being Hamtramck) that lies completely within the much-larger city of Detroit. Walt refuses to move to the suburbs like so many other white groups did back in the middle of the 20th Century during the “white flight” and race riots of many major American cities. The movie was shot entirely on location in Detroit and Highland Park and Eastwood recruited many local actors, production assistants, and talents, pumping money into the local economy and was one of the first films to take advantage of the new tax incentives for the area.

8 Mile (2002)
19946 Dresden St.
Detroit, MI 48205
www.imdb.com

When you mention the city of Detroit and films of the last two decades, many younger folks will undoubtedly remember Eminem’s breakout film, 8 Mile. Filmed entirely in the Motor City, 8 Mile tells a story of Jimmy “B-Rabbit” Smith, which parallels young Eminem’s own story growing up in Motown. Exploring some of the seedier parts of the late 20th century Detroit, the film showcases a poverty-stricken Detroit that was nonetheless swelling with talent and ambition. It told the tale of being on the wrong side of a difficult boundary line, often leading to conflicts between gangs. Some of these areas in Detroit have seen better times, but the people who inhabit them, such as Slim Shady, are often worthy of having their story told.

Much of Detroit's more "worn" areas of downtown were featured in the film "Narc." Photo Credit: Michael Ferro.

Much of Detroit’s more “worn” areas of downtown were featured in the film “Narc.” Photo Credit: Michael Ferro.


Narc (2002)
1 Hart Plaza
Detroit, MI 48226
www.imdb.com

Not one of the biggest or highest-grossing films ever made in Detroit, Narc is one of the most highly-respected. This gritty crime and cop-filled thriller stars Ray Liotta and Jason Patric as two Detroit police officers who each have a secret that begins to consume their personal and professional lives. Critics loved this smaller-scale movie where Detroit plays its own part as a harsh and brutal landscape, giving credence to the atmosphere for many of the tense scenes. It is altogether unforgiving. When you’re looking to shoot an inner-city scene in a location for characters who are complex, rich, and often deep-thinking, Detroit offers the perfect landscape. Narc stands out as one of the most critically-acclaimed films to come out of the Motor City.

Related:  A Walking Tour Of Detroit’s Downtown

Robocop (1987)
7744 Vernor Highway
Detroit, MI 48209
www.imdb.com

Okay, so perhaps Robocop isn’t entirely filmed in Detroit. A good portion of the film was shot in Dallas, with the Dallas Municipal Building standing in for Detroit City Hall, but nothing really says Detroit like Robocop. Centered around a slain Detroit City police officer who is turned into a half-man/half-machine to preserve his life, the film focuses it’s gritty storytelling on elements of the late 1980s Motor City, such as crime, corruption, and gang activity. Though Robocop takes all of these elements to the extreme, it was certainly a thrill for the people of Detroit to see the nation talk about their city once again, and have people asking around for the mechanized cyborg cop looking to clean up Detroit. Recently one group has paid for and created an elaborate larger-than-life Robocop sculpture that will stand in downtown Detroit.

Many areas of downtown Detroit were closed off and shut down for months while filming progressed for the monumental new film. Photo Credit: Michael Ferro

Many areas of downtown Detroit were closed off and shut down for months while filming progressed for the monumental new film. Photo Credit: Michael Ferro


Batman v. Superman: Dawn Of Justice (2016)
500 Griswold St.
Detroit, MI 48226
www.imdb.com

Sure, it may not be completely fair to put a film that has yet to be released onto this list, but if any of the excitement and publicity around the upcoming Batman v. Superman crossover movie is any indication, then Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice could be the biggest movie ever filmed in Detroit. For the first time ever, Detroit will play host in the film as the legendary fictional home of Superman: Metropolis. For the first time ever, every part of Detroit and Metro Detroit has been used from the suburbs, to the many historic downtown skyscrapers. All of which will play a major role as one of the comic book world’s most iconic locations. Just as Chicago became Gotham City for The Dark Knight, Detroit will become Metropolis for this film and the rest of the world is just as anxious as the residents of Detroit to see the results.

Related: A Breakdown Of Detroit Neighborhoods

Michael Ferro is freelance writer and a graduate of Michigan State University where he majored in Creative Writing and received the Jim Cash Creative Writing Award. Born and bred in Detroit, he currently resides in Ypsilanti Township. Additional writing can be found at Examiner.com.
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