The Frida Cinema

Orange County's Year-Round Film Festival

10 Movies Filmed in Orange County

Since the silent film era, Orange County has been used to film a variety of movies from Beaches to Iron Man. With so many movies filmed in our beloved Orange County, I picked ten movies that represent the diversity of the OC from the beaches of Dana Point, to the small town feel of Old Town Orange.


10. Big Momma’s House (2000)

Filmed: Old Town Orange, Orange

FBI agent and master of disguise Malcolm Turner (Martin Lawrence), disguises himself as the elderly “Big Momma” to watch Sherry (Nia Long), who’s suspected of helping her dangerous ex-boyfriend rob a bank. While struggling to keep up his disguise, Malcolm falls in love with Sherry and learns the truth behind the bank robbery. Although the movie is set in Cartersville, Georgia, Big Momma’s neighborhood and home was filmed in the homes surrounding Old Town Orange, on Maple Ave. and Shafer St. The house across the street was also used in the movie, as the FBI’s stakeout location.


9. Savages (2012)

Filmed: Dana Point and Laguna Main Beach, Laguna Beach

In Laguna Beach, two friends Ben (Aaron Johnson) and Chon (Taylor Kitsch), share success in an illegal drug business and openly date the same girl, Ophelia Sage (Blake Lively). After they refuse to do business with Mexican drug lord Elena (Selma Hayek), she kidnaps Ophelia, igniting a drug war between them. The main filming location was Laguna Beach, most notably the Laguna Main Beach. Private residents overlooking the ocean, with one near the popular Bluff Top Trail in Dana Point where also used in the movie.


8. Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (2006)

Filmed: The Block at Orange, Orange

One of the most outrageous comedies of the early 2000’s follows the fictional popular Kazakhstani reporter Borat (Sacha Baron Cohen) as he films a documentary in America on what makes America great. While exploring America, he falls for Pamela Anderson and makes his way cross country in the hopes of marrying her. When Borat meets and proposes to Anderson, who is a real-life friend with Cohen, it’s at the Virgin Megastore at The Orange Block. Though Virgin Megastore sadly closed in January 2009, this memorable scene brings back many memories, especially for those of us who loved shopping there.


7. Legally Blonde (2001)

Filmed: Old County Courthouse, Santa Ana

Elle Woods (Reese Witherspoon) is suddenly dumped by her boyfriend because she’s “too blonde.” Wanting to prove him wrong, Elle follows him to Harvard Law School, where she proves there’s more to her than her platinum locks. The main court trial of the movie (the murder trial of Brooke Windham) was filmed, according to Bower’s Museum, within and outside of the Old County Courthouse. After the construction of the current court house, the Old County Courthouse is now a museum opened to the public, unless there is filming in progess.


6. The Fast and the Furious (2001)

Filmed: Little Saigon, Westminster

Investigating a string of hijackings, LAPD officer Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker) goes undercover for leads on the responsible heist crew, eventually becoming an affiliate of a gang lead by Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel). As his involvement with the gang deepens, he compromises his investigation by becoming friends with Dominic and falling in love with Dominic’s sister. Two notable locations of Little Saigon where used in the film, including The Cultural Court and the Vietnamese Gate. The prior when Brian meets Dominic’s gang rivals Johnny Tran and Lance Nguyen in front of The Cultural Court. The latter as Brian and Dominic walk under the Vietnamese Gate after their confrontation with Johnny and Lance.


5. Jerry Maguire (1996)

Filmed: John Wayne Airport, Santa Ana and Fashion Island, Newport Beach

Jerry Maguire (Tom Cruise) is fired from his glossy agent job at a major sports management group and is inspired to start his own sports management group, with Dorothy’s (Renee Zellweger) help. Eventually, Dorothy and Jerry fall in love, but separate due to the pressure of the work, leading Jerry to try and win her back. Dorothy and Jerry’s by chance meeting at the airport was filmed in John Wayne Airport, specifically Terminal A, Baggage Claim 2. However, John Wayne Airport was used in multiple scenes in the movie as well as the quiet and dark hall Jerry runs through to get home to Dorothy.  


4. Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972)

Filmed: UCI (University of California, Irvine) main campus, Irvine

In 1991, speechless and primitive apes have gone from beloved pets to exploited slaves for humans. Disgusted by this severe abuse, Cesar (Roddy McDowall) decides to become the leader of an ape revolution, beginning their assertion over humans. This fourth of the five original Planet of the Apes franchise filmed many outdoor scenes at UCI, due to its futuristic style buildings. The buildings most visible in the movie are the Social Science Laboratory, the Social Science Tower, and the Langson Library.


3. Poltergeist (1982)

Filmed: UCI, Langson Library, Irvine

A family moves into their dream home in an ideal California suburb. However, mounting paranormal events engender the family, leading the relentless spirits to kidnap their youngest daughter. The main campus of UCI is a popular site for filming in Orange County, especially the Langson Library. The father of the family, Steve Freeling, goes to meet with parapsychologist at UCI, led by Dr. Lesh about the paranormal disturbances in his home.


2. Rain Man (1988)

Filmed: Santa Ana Regional Transpiration Center/Santa Ana Station, Santa Ana

Charlie Babbitt (Tom Cruise), a self-centered car dealer, learns that the bulk of his recently deceased father’s estate is left to an older autistic brother, Raymond (Dustin Hoffman), whom he never knew existed. The brothers go on a road trip, creating a bond which forces Charlie to reevaluate his own prospective, changing his life. The train station featured at the end of the film is the Santa Ana Station, with its distinct Spanish colonial and Mediterranean influenced architecture and notable features (fountain, tiles and staircases). Although the station itself was only built in 1985, its classic style is breathtaking, displaying the elegance of the architecture of yesteryear. 


1. That Thing You Do (1996)

Filmed: Old Town Orange, Orange

During the early 1960’s, The Wonders, a small-town bubblegum pop band, break into the music charts with their hit song, “That Thing You Do.” As their star ascends, the band members deal with the joys, trials, and tribulations of show business. While the hometown of The Wonders was supposed to be based in Erie, Pennsylvania, it was filmed in Old Town Orange a.k.a. The Circle. Some of the shops featured in the movie, such as Watson’s (on Chapman Ave.) and the army surplus store (on Glassell St.) are still around.

This movie holds a special place in my heart, because I was lucky enough to see the movie being filmed, in the Summer of 1995, when I was five-years-old. I stood in the area where they allowed local spectators to watch, amazed and captivated by the complexity of a movie set. The highlight of filming for me, was when I frantically waved at The Wonders as they were standing around talking in between takes, hoping they would see me. When they saw me, they waved back, saying among themselves how cute my waving was. I was ecstatic! Without a doubt, That Thing You Do was the film that truly ignited my passion for film.  


Honorable mentions of other movies filmed in Orange County:

Catch Me if you Can

Ocean’s 11

Crimson Tide

The Man Who Wasn’t There

First Daughter

Clear and Present Danger

Clockstoppers

Demolition Man

Up Close and Personal

Elizabethtown