Inspiración Andrea González

Washington: a cinematic city

Marvel blockbusters such as Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014), Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017) and Wonder Woman 1984 (2020), have relied on the streets of Washington for some of their action scenes. The capital boasts unparalleled natural settings, large monuments filled with symbolism due to their political relevance – such as the Capitol, the White House and the Supreme Court – and an enviable network of museums. These have all shared the spotlight with well-known Hollywood stars such as Tom Hanks, whose inimitable Forrest Gump turns three decades old this year. Discover the iconic places behind the films.

When it comes to distinguished buildings, there’s nothing quite like the White House. The beating heart of power, its spaces have given much of themselves, such as the West Wing – where the Oval Office is located – and the Truman Balcony. Many productions have been set in the complex, from action classics such as Independence Day (1996) and political thrillers including Seven Days in May (1964), to critically acclaimed television series such as The West Wing (1999), romantic comedies including The American President (1995) – the film that inspired Aaron Sorkin to write the aforementioned West Wing – and biopics such as Jackie (2016), which won the Golden Lion at the Venice Festival and earned Natalie Portman her third Oscar nomination. Among the most recent productions are Don’t Look Up (2021), in which Meryl Streep occupies the Oval Office, and Oppenheimer, which is leading this year’s competition at the Oscars, with 13 nominations.

The White House has been the star of many successful film productions

But if there is an epicentre for action-filled blockbusters, it is the National Mall, one of the most internationally recognised landscapes in the US capital. The list is headed by movies such as Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014), Wonder Woman 1984 (2020) – which also visits the White House – and Spiderman: Homecoming (2017). And few scenes remain as vivid in our minds as Tom Hanks’ race in Forrest Gump (1994) towards the Washington Obelisk, which to this day is considered a landmark in American cinema. Other monuments on the National Mall such as the Lincoln Memorial have served as sets for the dystopian Handmaid’s Tale (2017), where a ‘destroyed’ version of it can be seen, and comedies such as the 2005 commercial success Wedding Crashers and Election (1999) with Reese Witherspoon.

The Washington Obelisk during springtime, next to the blooming cherry blossom trees

From the National Mall, you can access the Smithsonian, Washington, D.C.’s great museum. All kinds of films have been made in its halls since 1951, when The Day the Earth Stood Still was shot. One of the first science-fiction classics, it’s been preserved in the United States Library of Congress’ National Film Registry for its cultural and historical value, as it was one of the first productions that – instead of being carried away by the warmongering spirit of the Cold War – chose a pacifist discourse. Other classics have been inspired by the Smithsonian, such as The Silence of the Lambs (1991) which, although not filmed inside, has some scenes set in this institution. While younger cinemagoers have been thrilled by the films shot in this enormous museum complex, with hits such as Night at the Museum: The Battle of the Smithsonian (2009).

Smithsonian: National Air and Space Museum

Starring Nicolas Cage, Sean Bean and Diane Kruger, National Treasure (2004) tells the story of a hidden treasure in Washington, D.C., forcing the characters to travel through some of the capital’s most recognisable landscapes, including the Lincoln Memorial with the National Mall in the background, the National Archives, the FBI headquarters in the J Edgar Hoover Building (which also appears in productions such as All the President’s Men) and the Library of Congress. This film was so successful that it has become part of the US collective imagination. Today, fans of the production organise tours through the city to follow in the footsteps of the protagonists in search of a fabled treasure.

The National Archives are an additional character in the film 'National Treasure'

Another of the settings that has appeared in multiple productions is the Supreme Court, where decisions that change the course of the country are taken every day. TV series of huge impact have been set in it, such as House of Cards (2013) and How to Get Away with Murder (2014), along with countless films. The very first one was The Talk of the Town (1942) with Cary Grant, and one of the most commented films on social networks in recent years was On the Basis of Sex (2018), a biopic of the life of Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg, considered an icon of public resistance and the feminist struggle. When it comes to the Capitol, one of the most powerful centres of political power in the world, we find classics such as Mr Smith goes to Washington (1939), a drama by Frank Capra that has also been recognised for its cultural and historical value by the Library of Congress, where it was filmed. Other political dramas that have led us to the inner workings of institutions such as the Senate are Advise & Consent (1962) and the aforementioned Oppenheimer – in both we attend an evaluation committee for two possible Secretaries of State that unleashes a huge storm in US politics.

The Library of Congress, a hugely important location on the Capitol Hill

However, when talking about political thrillers, the first that will come to mind for many readers will be All the President’s Men (1976), a tribute to D.C. and the investigative journalism that shows how the Watergate scandal came to light, subsequently leading to the resignation of President Richard Nixon. In the steps of this production, winner of four Oscars, you can visit locations such as the Library of Congress, the luxurious Watergate Hotel– epicentre of the scandal – the headquarters of the Washington Post and, once again, the FBI base on Pennsylvania Avenue. A short distance away is the famous Willard Hotel, where most US presidents have stayed at least once and where Martin Luther King wrote his famous ‘I Have a Dream’ speech before the famous March on Washington. Steven Spielberg filmed the end of the film Minority Report (2002) using the Willard Room, Peacock Alley and the kitchen as a setting, while he had a replica of the rooftop built in the studio.

Exterior of the legendary hotel, which was at the centre of the most important political scandal in the US capital. Photo courtesy of the Watergate Hotel.
Exterior of the legendary hotel, which was at the centre of the most important political scandal in the US capital. Photo courtesy of the Watergate Hotel.

The end of the route is reserved for horror film enthusiasts, with two locations that have appeared in cult films. Georgetown University is the location of the famous staircase in The Exorcist (1973), which offers the same terrifying aspect that can be seen in the film if you visit at night. And before leaving the city, pay a visit to Washington Union Station, which appears in Hannibal (2001), the sequel to The Silence of the Lambs, starring Anthony Hopkins and Julianne Moore.

Washington Union Station, the city's central station