As we continue to adhere to proper social distancing guidelines, it seems wandering through the neighborhood and swerving in grocery store aisles are the closest we get to a change of scenery. And, if moving from room to room in your house during the workday isn’t fulfilling that urge either, a cinematic journey or two may be able to provide that solace you’re looking for—especially if that journey features notable local sites like Arlington National Cemetery, the CIA Headquarters in McLean or even Chantilly’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center.
Over the years, directors, producers and famous actors alike have made their way to Northern Virginia to use the local landscape to best set the scene for creative storylines, with biographies and dramas being the most common. From retellings of history to Oscar-winning originals, these locally made films are worth a watch during quarantine.
Genre: Biography / Drama
This film starring Steve Carrell, Mark Ruffalo and Channing Tatum depicts the true story of wrestling champions Mark Shultz and Dave Shultz as they train for the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul, South Korea under the leadership of multimillionaire John du Pont (played by Carrell). While the majority of this Oscar-nominated drama was filmed in Western Pennsylvania, the exterior of philanthropist John du Pont’s home portrayed is Leesburg-based Morven Park, the 1,000-acre historic estate known for equestrian competitions, museums and an athletic field complex.
Genre: Biography / Drama / Thriller
Directed by Ben Affleck, Argo is perhaps the most well-known movie filmed partially in Northern Virginia, as well as the District, Turkey and parts of California. Throughout the three-time Academy-Award winning film, which recounts the true story of a CIA agent’s risky operation to rescue six Americans during the U.S. hostage crisis in Iran in 1979, you’ll notice snapshots of NoVA, such as McLean Cleaners on Chain Bridge Road, the CIA Headquarters and Dulles Airport.
Genre: Biography / Drama
Leonardo DiCaprio takes on the role of former director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, J. Edgar Hoover, in this 2011 drama directed by Clint Eastwood. In addition to landmarks of Washington, DC, there are a few scenes shot in Fauquier County, which take place at the Fauquier County General District Court (depicted in the screenplay as Flemington, New Jersey) and in The Plains.
Genre: Action / Adventure
Fairfax County’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center is used as the backdrop for a climactic scene in Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen starring Shia LaBeouf and Megan Fox as characters who are forced to fight in a war with the Transformers. The Chantilly museum is one of 30 other filming locations, including sites as far as Luxor, Egypt and Petra, Jordan.
Genre: Action / Adventure
The fictional character of Ben Gates (played by Nicholas Cage) has been a favorite of history buffs since the early 2000s when he made his debut on the big screen in National Treasure. This action-packed sequel surrounds the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, so it’s no surprise that several scenes are shot in Washington, DC, as well as the George Washington Masonic National Memorial located in the city of Alexandria. Plus, Gates crashes a party hosted at Mount Vernon. While the climactic scene only lasts about 10 minutes on screen, it actually took a week to master the complicated affair on film.
Biography / Crime
Based on the true story of two FBI employees, agent Robern Hanssen and his assistant Eric O’Neill, Breach is an intense crime story starring actors Chris Cooper and Ryan Phillippe. The film includes moments at Arlington County, as well as a pivotal scene, featuring the arrest of Hanssen, shot in Vienna-based Foxstone Park.
Genre: Action / Crime
Directed by critically acclaimed Steven Spielberg, Minority Report depicts a futuristic world set in 2054 where a special police unit has the ability to arrest murderers before crimes are even committed. While primarily set in Washington, DC and Los Angeles, paired with digital simulation, one scene features the main character (Tom Cruise) flying across the Potomac River with the picturesque Rosslyn skyline shining in the backdrop.
Genre: Drama / War
The very first scene of this dramatic tale about an attorney defending a U.S. officer on trial takes place in the Manassas-based restaurant Philadelphia Tavern, which still exists today, 20 years later. Two military bases are also depicted in the film, including the former U.S. Army post that gathered intelligence during World War II, Vint Hill Farm Station, located in Warrenton.
Genre: Drama / Sci-Fi
If you’re a fan of extraterrestrials, you should definitely consider adding Contact—featuring Jodie Foster and Mattthew McConaughey as the leads—to your list of must-see movies. Throughout the film, there are flashbacks to the main character Eleanor Arroway’s childhood, which all take place in a beautiful home. While the interior of the house is actually filmed on a soundstage in Los Angeles, the exterior is really a mansion in Herndon.
Genre: Crime / Drama
Put Julia Roberts and Denzel Washington together on screen and you’re bound to get an entertaining drama worth watching. So is the case in The Pelican Brief, a mystery that follows the life of a law student attempting to uncover an age-old conspiracy. This flick was shot in various locations throughout the United States, including the east lawn of George Washington’s Mount Vernon, which sets the scene for a suspenseful conversation between a newspaper reporter (Denzel Washington) and his editor.
Genre: Drama / History
We all know that John F. Kennedy was assassinated, but in this adaptation of reality written by Oliver Stone we learn there may just be more to the story. As the 35th American president really is buried in Arlington National Cemetery, it’s no surprise that one of the final scenes of this movie was filmed on the grounds.
Genre: Comedy / Romance
Seven years after the 24-hour news cycle was introduced to the world, Broadcast News made its way to big screens across the United States. While the opening scene of this romantic comedy (featuring a love triangle between two reporters and one producer) takes place in Clifton, Virginia, there are several other scenes featuring the main characters strolling through Old Town, Alexandria.
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