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The 20 Best SF Movies You Can Watch

Below is a list of the 20 Best SF Movies You Can Watch.

These movies are in general order of how good I think these SF movies are. Good is determined by how much of the old SF outdoors and indoors are shown plus the usual things for judging movies such as the actors. Some of these movies add to the mystique of SF. The first three of the movies were easy to place up at the top. I was not aware of some of the other movies until the last year or two. This list may change as I may not have seen all of the SF movies yet. There are some other movies that may have made this list, but they are not available for rent or watching for free. NC=Netflix streaming on computer. NM=Netflix on mailing.

1. VERTIGO. 1958, NM
This is generally regarded as the #1 SF movie. It is in color and stars Kim Novak and Jimmy Stewart. Also Barbara Bel Geddes has a significant role. Luckily Jimmy Stewart plays this as a normal man and not as his usual exaggerated character who talks very slow. Kim Novak is hauntingly beautiful in this movie. Alfred Hitchcock is the directer and it is widely regarded as one of the best movies ever made.

Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall star in this black and white movie. Also, Agnes Morehead and Bruce Bennett play important supporting roles. The outdoor scenes were filmed on Telegraph Hill and Russian Hill. The apartment where Lauren Bacall's character lived still looks the same spectacular way it looked in 1947. We visit this movie shrine when we do our Telegraph Hill Walk.

3. PAL JOEY. 1957, NM
Frank Sinatra, Kim Novak and Rita Hayworth star in this color movie musical. Frank Sinatra sings several songs, and while Novak and Hayworth appear to be singing they were actually dubbed by better singers. Some of the scenes were filmed around and possibly inside the great Spreckles mansion on Washington across from the Lafayette Square Park. There were other SF film sites including the center of the old Barbary Coast on Pacific Street.

This movie is not famous and its name sounds like 2 other movies that are more famous: THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO and THE TREASURE OF SIERRA MADRE. This black and white movie goes all over SF. There is even a movie with this exact same name that had its name changed to THE SECRET OF MONTE CRISTO. This is the one that has Bobby Jordan who was one of the "Dead End Kids" and also is in many of the other movies with the never ending juveniles Leo Georcy and Huntz Hall.

This black and white movie shows the area in and around where the Embarcadero Center is now and other places between Telegraph Hill and the waterfront as it was in 1949. This part of SF has drastically changed. It used to be a real waterfront with ships unloading passengers and freight with railroad trains and old warehouses, factories, and slaughter houses. It was a rough area that we can see in this movie and also in THE TREASURE OF MONTE CRISTO, and THE SNIPER. It stars Richard Conte, Valentina Cortese, Lee J. Cobb, and Jack Oakie.

6. THE LINEUP, 1958, NM & Free
This black and white movie shows a 1950s SF with the police fighting gangsters played by Eli Walach, Robert Keith, Vaughn Taylor and Richard Jaeckel. The police, gangsters, and other things looks real partly because it is based on a TV series of the same name portraying the police fighting criminals in SF. The TV series was a SF version of LA's Dragnet TV series. One can watch this movie for free at the link below:

This black and white movie is a giant Hollywood effort of many people that took San Francisco of 1948 and turned it into San Francisco 1911. The transformation to 1911 is complete with horses and carriages and everything. Filming was done on Liberty Street between Castro & Noe, Telegraph Hill, Russian Hill, and perhaps other SF locations. Actors included Irene Dunne, Barbara Bel Geddes, Rudy Vallee, Cedric Hardwicke, and Edgar Bergen.

8. D.O.A., 1950, NM, NC & Free
This black and white movie is filmed on location about equally in SF and LA. We get to see an old nightclub where the Justin Herman Plaza is now. The star is Edmond O'Brien and there is a scene where he is running on Market Street and colliding with real life pedestrians, not extras. One can watch this movie for free at the link below:

9. THE PENALTY, 1920, NM & Free
This black and white silent movie was the first big movie for actor Lon Chaney. Lon Chaney died in 1930 and his son Lon Chaney Jr. was also famous in the movies in later decades. This movie was filmed mainly on location in SF. Part of the film was shot where the Embarcadero Center is now and part was filmed in SF's Chinatown. I was able to pinpoint that part of the movie was filmed on Wentworth Street between Jackson and Washington. I may be able in the near future to pinpoint other locations in this film. Below is a link to watch this movie for free:

This color movie is a giant Hollywood production with an impressive list of big stars in 1960 such as Lana Turner, Anthony Quinn, Sandra Dee, John Saxon, Richard Basehart, Ray Walston, Virginia Grey, Anna May Wong, and Lloyd Nolan. Lana Turner lived in SF when she was a little girl and her father was murdered in SF in 1930. This movie is the last movie staring Anna May Wong who was the only Asian woman who was a big star during her time in the movies. She stared in a bunch of SF movies. This movie is centered in and partly filmed in the part of SF now known as "Billionaires' Row" because the billionaires live there. We go there on our "Walk by the Greatest Mansions in SF."

11. SUDDEN FEAR, 1952, NM & Free
This black and white movie, is of the film noir type staring Joan Crawford, Jack Palance, Gloria Grahame, Bruce Bennett, Virginia Huston, and Mike Connors. This movie starts in New York, but soon goes to SF and it has many outdoor SF scenes on Russian Hill and Pacific Heights. Part of it is in and around the Tamalpais Building which is where DARK PASSAGE and also GEORGE OF THE JUNGLE were partly filmed. In the movie dialogue they use the real name of the building. There are scenes where Joan Crawford is being chased by a killer around Russian Hill at night. Below is a link to watch it for free:

Here is another black and white film noir type movie. The stars are Lee J. Cobb, Jane Wyatt, John Dall, and Lisa Howard. This movie goes all over SF including inside Fort Point. Jane Wyatt was the mother on the long time TV comedy family show "Father Knows Best." Below is a link to watch it for free:

13. OUTSIDE THE LAW, 1920, NM, Free
Lon Chaney is a major actor in this other 1920 movie filled in SF. I am not sure yet if the Chinatown scenes were filled in SF or Hollywood. However, there is no doubt that some of the scenes were shot at the corner of Stockton and California Street. Below is a link to watch it for free:

Originally a black and white movie, it has been colorized. Here a giant octopus about 500 feet across attacks SF by first destroying the Golden Gate Bridge and then destroying the Ferry Building. It was filmed in SF and has special effects by a famed expert named Ray Harryhausen. Below is a link to watch it for free:

15. WHAT'S UP DOC?, 1972, NM
This color movie stars Barbara Streisand and Ryan O'Neal in a big production comedy that also stars Madeline Kahn. Barbara sings the song "As Time Goes By" and even does a little comical impression of Bogart at the top of a skyscraper that was just being finished building.

16. PETULIA, 1968, NM
This color movie has many significant stars such as George C. Scott, Julie Christie, Joseph Cotton, Richard Chamberlain, plus musical groups such as the Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, Big Brother and the Holding Company. Part of it was filmed in and near the Filbert Street Steps where we go when on Telegraph Hill. George C. Scott's character lived right there.

This black and white noir style film stars Richard Basehart, Valentina Cortese and William Lundigan. This is another movie with many scenes filmed on Telegraph Hill. Below is a link to watch this movie for free:

18. WOMAN ON THE RUN, 1950, NM, Free
This is another blank and white noir movie with lots of location shots in SF including Telegraph Hill. However, one researcher has proven that the first scenes were actually filmed in LA which is why I do not put this up at the top of these SF movies. On the other hand one can watch this movie for free at the below link:

I had to add this movie because it was such a big production. This was the era of the disaster movies and two different movies were going to be made each with a skyscraper on fire so the two productions got together and made one super production with an incredible number of big stars. Here is a partial list: Steve McQueen, Paul Newman, William Holden, Faye Dunaway, Fred Astaire, Susan Blakely, Richard Chamberlain, Jennifer Jones, Robert Vaugh, and Robert Wagner. Some of the filming locations were the big Bank of America building, the Hyatt Regency Hotel, and a house in Pacific Heights.

20. GREED, 1924, Free
This black and white silent movie was directed by the legendary Erich von Stroheim and stared Zasu Pitts, Gibson Goland and Jean Hersholt. Stroheim was an over the top character even in his own time dressed up in a military uniform, with a cocked hat, a monical, a sword, a bald head, and a cane all at the same time. He pretended to be a German count, but he was an Austrian Jew. This movie was 4 hours originally and then Hollywood executives removed 2 hours of film. The missing film has never been recovered, but since then there is a new version which was an attempt to make the movie whole again. On our "Tank Hill Walk" we go by a building on Hayes Street that was central to the movie. You can watch it for free at the link below:

Table of Contents

Page title Most recent update Last edited by
Disclaimer May 11, 2014 1:23 PM Howard S.
Short Walk Heavy on History August 12, 2013 9:06 AM Howard S.
Some Unexpected Things on Our Walks December 17, 2014 11:36 AM Howard S.
The 20 Best SF Movies You Can Watch September 8, 2014 4:16 PM Howard S.
Mosaic Stairway Walk June 19, 2017 10:45 AM Howard S.
Page 3 January 3, 2014 11:02 PM Howard S.
Page 2 September 11, 2014 3:08 PM Howard S.
About Walking in San Francisco for Health and History April 9, 2015 11:11 AM Howard S.

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