Or: The best bad movies ever made in Pittsburgh.
Pittsburgh has become a great place to shoot movies, due to its vast variety of looks — you can go from a Manhattan-esque (if you squint) Downtown to remote, mountainous wilderness in minutes — which is why the city continues to be a busy location for shooting this summer.
Not every movie made in Pittsburgh has been great, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t watch them.
Ever since I tried to narrow down the 16 best movies ever made in Pittsburgh, I’ve been thinking about the others. The leftovers. The stuff left on the cutting room floor.
In fact, I kind of love bad movies. I love good movies. What I really hate are mediocre movies that are instantly forgotten. Exceptionally terrible movies are simply more fun and memorable.
I became an expert on bad movies in my years as a movie critic at the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. I started out by pinch-hitting for the longtime movie critic, who asked for my help reviewing the movies he couldn’t get to (or didn’t want to see) — so I saw a lot of bad movies. It turns out that I liked them. (Well, some of them). I even became a voting member of the Razzies, which is like the Oscars for the worst movies and performances of the year.
This is a list of bad movies made in Pittsburgh. To be clear, I love some of these movies. Some of them are loads of fun, in spite of their general badness. Some of them have just stuck in my brain, despite all efforts to eradicate them. Some of them should never be seen by anyone.
So you should definitely watch some of these movies, starting with the ones at the top. Watching them all may result in permanent brain damage, however. It’s best to avoid the bottom of the list — you’ve been warned.
Feel free to let us know your favorite and/or most detested made-in-Pittsburgh movies.
1. Flashdance (1983). Despite being clobbered by critics at the time — it was on Roger Ebert’s legendary “most hated” list —“Flashdance” became an extraordinarily beloved, enduring film anyway. It made a ton of money and somehow overcame its destiny as a peculiar artifact of early MTV-era music video cliches to become a cult classic, powered by a kinetic Giorgio Moroder soundtrack full of synth hits. Jennifer Beals’ performance — as a welder at a steel mill who yearns to become a ballerina, but takes less savory dancing gigs — is hard to forget. That’s in spite of a plot that holds together half as well as her famous torn sweatshirt with the giant neck hole.
Personally, I wish one of the directors originally slated for the film actually made it. Can you imagine the body horror of David Cronenberg or the bloody bombast of Brian DePalma (who turned it down to do “Scarface”) in charge of “Flashdance?!” Recommendation: Tell Gen Z, “This was the ’80s.”
2. Sudden Death (1995). For sheer Pittsburgh content (regardless of quality), it’s kind of hard to top “Sudden Death,” which features a fight scene between Euro-karate-dude Jean-Claude Van Damme and Iceburgh, the Penguins mascot, in the kitchen of the Civic Arena, using a deli meat slicer and a deep fryer as weapons. It’s game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals, and a group of terrorists takes the vice president hostage at the game. Van Damme plays a Pittsburgh firefighter, who’s better at knocking out people than conflagrations, for some reason — and he also gets to play goalie for a bit. Yeah, nothing here makes sense, but it also has Luc Robitaille sending the game into sudden death with a goal, and a helicopter crashing into the Civic Arena ice. Recommendation: Project on the biggest screen available.
3. Striking Distance (1993). Bruce Willis and Sarah Jessica Parker are river cops! Somehow, the dialogue keeps this movie above water (My favorite, after a fight that gets bad cop Jimmy electrocuted: “Who’s the best cop now?”). The line “Take Bigelow” has become a local meme, of sorts. Bruce Willis’ character, a decorated detective, is exiled to the River Rescue after breaking ranks and turning in his partner in a police brutality case (which is … actually relevant?). Willis plays his standard hard-boiled, quip-ready cop character, but finds a way to make scooping dead bodies out of the three rivers into a goofy scavenger hunt. There are poorly-laid clues, and red herrings so obvious that they must have swum up the Mon en masse. There are car chases, boat chases, foot chases and romantic chases, and everybody seems exhausted (except Dennis Farina, who plays another cop. He provides a spark in every scene he’s in). Recommendation: Watch.