The Nine Quintessential San Jose Movies


San Francisco has starred in scores of films, and nearby Oakland has recently had some time in the spotlight thanks to Fruitvale Station, Sorry to Bother You, etc. But what of lowly San Jose and its environs? Silicon Valley is driving the world's culture right now, but motion pictures shot in Santa Clara County – or with stories set in same – are shockingly few. (TV shows The Good Doctor and Silicon Valley are set there, albeit filmed elsewhere.) However, as a Cupertino/San Jose lad myself, I've endeavored to give you the definitive list.

  1. Winchester (2018). San Jose's most enduring tourist attraction is the Winchester Mystery House, and the story of heiress Sarah Winchester and her sprawling Victorian mansion, well embellished with ghostly hogwash, was bound to get the big screen treatment eventually. Alas, the middling spookhouse flick Winchester was mostly shot in Australia, although some of the mansion's actual rooms and exteriors made it into the final cut.
  2. Searching (2018). Two San Jose films in one year may point to a trend; only time will tell. The low-budget mystery Searching was shot in LA, and it all unfolds upon a computer screen, but its story explicitly takes place in San Jose, even if local institutions are laughably renamed (e.g., the San Jose Police Department becomes the "Silicon Valley Police Department").
  3. Steve Jobs (2015). There aren't many movies about Silicon Valley companies. Parts of The Social Network take place in Menlo Park (but were shot in LA), and The Internship is set at the "Googleplex" in Mountain View (but was shot in Atlanta), but I consider both to be "San Francisco Peninsula Films", so they don't count for this list. Anyway, Steve Jobs, the larger-than-life Apple cofounder, was the subject of two Hollywood movies. Technically I should include the wan Ashton Kutcher entry Jobs, but Danny Boyle's Oscar nominee is leagues ahead, and the first third of it was shot in Cupertino – specifically, at De Anza College's Flint Center, where Jobs introduced the Macintosh in 1984.
  4. The Tillman Story (2010). Pat Tillman was a football star who, after 9/11, quit the NFL to join the Army. When he was killed by friendly fire in Iraq, his true cause of death was covered up so that he could be promoted as a war hero. Pat Tillman was also a San Jose boy, having grown up in the Almaden neighborhood. The Tillman Story is an excellent documentary about his family's fight to have the government acknowledge the truth about his death. As far as I know, the Tillmans still live in SJ; Pat's memorial took place in the city's municipal Rose Garden, where, following John McCain's and Maria Shriver's empty platitudes about Pat going to heaven, Pat's foulmouthed brother Richard informed the crowd that Pat was an atheist. It's a startling scene in the film.
  5. Mad City (1997). I remember liking this John Travolta-Dustin Hoffman hostage drama, even though it flopped. The "Mad" of the title refers to the fictitious town of Madeline, California, though Mad City was primarily shot in San Jose, for reasons that remain unclear.
  6. Flubber (1997). During Robin Williams's 1990s heyday, most of the late comedian's vehicles were filmed within driving distance of San Francisco, so that Williams could be near his home and kids. And so it went with Mrs. Doubtfire, Patch Adams, What Dreams May Come, Jack, Bicentennial Man, etc. Flubber had by far the most San Jose locations of the bunch; in fact, Williams's character's "house" is in SJ's Rose Garden district. (That is, the house's exteriors were shot there.)
  7. Beverly Hills Cop III (1994). This disappointing sequel is centered around a Beverly Hills amusement park called "Wonder World". Of course Beverly Hills doesn't have an amusement park, but Santa Clara does – it's called Great America. (A note to those unfamiliar with the region: San Jose, Santa Clara, Cupertino, Sunnyvale, and Campbell are more or less clumped together; you could enter one city and not know you'd left another.) When BHC3 finally went into production, its studio Paramount just happened to own Great America. This "cheap" location didn't stop the movie from going tremendously over budget.
  8. Kill the Messenger (2014). Not enough people know about San Jose Mercury News reporter Gary Webb, who in 1996 exposed connections between the crack cocaine trade in Los Angeles, the Contra rebels in Nicaragua, and the CIA. Unfortunately, Kill the Messenger, starring Jeremy Renner as Webb, fizzled at the box office. In any event, while the film was shot in Georgia, it's still a San Jose story.
  9. The Cheerleaders (1973). How could I forget the first feature film to be shot in Cupertino and Sunnyvale – even if it was softcore porn? (Ah, the early '70s, when softcore porn was a thing.) This film's title pretty much sums up its plot. Shot on location at Cupertino's Monta Vista High School and surroundings, this X-rated curio spawned three sequels, none of which were filmed in the area. Somewhere there's someone who knows why director Paul Glickler chose Cupertino, of all places, for his movie. I am not that someone.