Philly Books and Movies



Journalist Steve Lopez set his hard-edged novel Third and Indiana in gritty Kensington. Philadelphia Fire by John Edgar Wideman is about the police firebombing of a black cult in West Philadelphia. Duane Swierczynski, a Northeast Philly native, is a prolific author of crime novels and comics. Philly Fiction and Philly Fiction 2, two collections of short stories set in Philadelphia by local writers, are good introductions to the city's neighborhoods and people.

Best-selling novelist Jennifer Weiner has set most of her books here, including In Her Shoes and Good in Bed. Mystery writer Lisa Scottoline grew up in South Philadelphia and writes a column for the Philadelphia Inquirer.


Frank Rizzo: The Last Big Man in Big City America by journalist Sal Paolantonio, about the city's revered and despised former mayor, and Buzz Bissinger's A Prayer for the City, about then-Mayor Ed Rendell in the 1990s, are two great introductions to local politics. Philadelphia: A 300-Year History, an essay collection, was edited by Russell F. Weigley. Catherine Drinker Bowen's Miracle at Philadelphia tells the story of the Constitution. Up South: Civil Rights and Black Power in Philadelphia, by Matthew J. Countryman, examines the postwar civil rights movement.


The stunning architectural photographs of Tom Crane, in Historic Sacred Places of Philadelphia and Historic Houses of Philadelphia, peek into some highlights. The Foundation for Architecture's Philadelphia Architecture: A Guide to the City covers almost 400 historical sites.

Movies and Television

The classic Philadelphia film is Rocky (1976), and fans still run up the Art Museum steps like the titular boxer every day. Rocky Balboa (2006) serves as a love letter to the city. The Philadelphia Story (1940) was inspired by the romantic hijinks of Helen Hope Montgomery Scott, a real-life Main Line socialite.

In the past 40 years most Philadelphia films have emphasized the city's majestic grittiness (much of which no longer exists). See the cityscape in Blow Out (1981) or Trading Places (1983) as opposed to what it looks like today. Oscar hits like Philadelphia (1993) and Silver Linings Playbook (2012) explore the beautiful and challenging aspects of the city at once.

M. Night Shyamalan's The Sixth Sense (1999) has terrific shots of Philly. Terry Gilliam's 12 Monkeys (1995) places elephants in front of City Hall and uses the Eastern State Penitentiary as an insane asylum (visit and you'll know why). National Treasure (2004) has Nicolas Cage stepping all over Independence Hall. Shame of a City (2006), a documentary by local filmmaker Tigre Hill, is an eye-opening look into city politics through the lens of the 2003 mayoral race between Sam Katz and John Street. The cast and crew of popular television shows like It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia are frequently spotted around the city.

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