Must-See Movies

A Beginner's Guide to Seattle Film

A bingeworthy list of Seattle-set rom-coms and indie flicks.

By Stefan Milne September 21, 2018 Published in the Newcomer's Guide 2018 issue of Seattle Met

Matt Dillon is the epitome of grunge in 1992 flick Singles.

Image: Warner Bros.

Film can feel like the odd medium out in this city. We love it (see Seattle International Film Festival, Scarecrow Video, Northwest Film Forum) but don’t produce a ton. While plenty of movies are set in Seattle, few are actually filmed here, and even fewer reach a wide audience. Still, here are the ones you need to know. 

Any trope you can peg on 1992 Seattle—grunge, flannel, coffee, yuppies—manifests in Cameron Crowe’s Singles. Is it truly a classic, casting off the calculated hipness of its setting to air deep human truths about young dating life? No. But you won’t be a Seattleite until you can glibly dismiss it. 

There are movies set in Seattle; there are movies about Seattle. And then there is Sleepless in Seattle. Why and how, exactly, this 1993 romantic comedy wound its identity so tightly with this city’s—beyond the considerable charisma of Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks and the crowd-pleasing brilliance of Nora Ephron—is hard to say and doesn’t much matter. It’s the cinematic Space Needle.  

In 10 Things I Hate About You, a tale as old as Shakespeare, Julia Stiles and Heath Ledger tromp all over the city: paintballing at Gas Works Park, prom at the Paramount Theatre. It’d be easy to mock it for landmark collecting, but this comedy’s too damn charming for that.

Writer-director Lynn Shelton somehow dispatches nationally recognized indie movies while remaining a local. Her 2009 movie Humpday follows two straight male friends who decide to have sex with each other on camera. What could just yuk it up for bromance laughs instead becomes a tender, intelligent take on sexual identity, masculinity, and progressive Seattleite inclusiveness.

Somehow Seattle became the setting for a lot of bedraggled rom-coms. So 2018’s Prospect is a fine departure: a sci-fi western directed by two former Seattle Pacific University students. The story follows Cee and her father as they mine for a precious mineral on a green moon with a toxic atmosphere (they filmed near the Olympic Peninsula’s Hoh Rain Forest and in a Fremont studio). But when another miner tries to rob them, things grow menacing and darkly funny.

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