Monday, November 18, 2013

10 Memorable Marquees In The Movies

Regular visitors to this blog (there must be a few, right?) may be aware that I have a bit of a thing for movie theater marquees. I regularly post pictures of local theaters like the Colony Theater and the Rialto Theater’s marquees here in Raleigh on the sidebar (in the old days it would be the Varsity Theater in Chapel Hill when I lived there), and I have them collected on Facebook in the “Movie Theater Fun File!” section of my profile.

So since it’s been a while since I've put together a good ole Film Babble Blog list I thought I’d get back in the game with this top 10 of memorable marquees that have appeared in the movies throughout the years:


It was a running gag throughout Woody Allen's 1977 Oscar winner ANNIE HALL that protagonist Alvy Singer (Allen) would drag his girlfriend (Diane Keaton in the title role) to see Marcel Ophüls' THE SORROW AND THE PITY (1969). The marquee shot above comes from the end of the film, after the couple has broken up, when Allen runs into Keaton coming out of a screening of the four hour documentary about Nazis at the Thalia Theater, which used to exist on 95th Street off Broadway (it's an apartment building now). It's a long shot so it's easy to miss that Allen's date is Sigourney Weaver, in her first film appearance. A bonus Woody Allen marquee appears at the top of this post.


This is one of hundreds of well chosen details that helped Richard Linklater's 1993 cult comedy drama classic DAZED AND CONFUSED so convincingly recreate a day from May of 1976. Hitchcock's final film, released a month earlier, appears in a few early shots on a standing marquee for a drive-in in the background of the film mostly set in the suburbs of Austin, Texas. It works as both a piece of a time capsule capture, and a shout-out to the master of suspense.

This, and #4, are inside-jokes. In Don Siegel's 1971 cop classic DIRTY HARRY, Clint Eastwood's iconic Harry Callahan character enters a San Francisco burger joint in one shot in which a marquee advertising Eastwood's previous film, PLAY MISTY FOR ME (also '71) can be seen around the corner. Nice plug, Clint!

The same type of thing happens in David O. Russell's SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK from last year. While leads Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence are arguing in front of a theater midway through the film, a marquee advertising Ryûhei Kitamura's little seen 2008 thriller THE MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN, which starred Cooper, is fairly visible - partially obscured but still obvious.


During a very funny falling-in-love montage set to Herman Hermit's “I’m into Something Good” in David Zucker's 1988 comedy classic THE NAKED GUN: FROM THE FILES OF POLICE SQUAD, Leslie Neilsen and Priscilla Presley exit a Los Angeles movie theater laughing their asses off. The camera pans up to the marquee:

It's a cheap laugh, but still always gets me.

6. A double feature of A BOY'S LIFE and WATCH THE SKIES in GREMLINS

The fictitious film titles on this marquee seen in Joe Dante's 1984 classic GREMLINS are Spielbergian in-jokes. A BOY'S LIFE was the original title of E.T. and WATCH THE SKIES was the early working title of CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, so the fake double bill presents a double nod to the film's executive producer. This marquee has been mentioned before on this blog as has:


This marquee for the phony film SEE YOU NEXT WEDNESDAY (previously covered in “Film Within Film Follow-up Fun” 7/13/07), seen in the 1977 ZAZ sketch comedy movie THE KENTUCKY FRIED MOVIE is part of a running gag through many of the films of John Landis. It comes from a line from 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY that the director liked enough to feature in the form of billboards, posters, and more than one marquee.

8. A double bill of DEEP THROAT and MEATBALL in SLAP SHOT

This marquee glimpsed in the background of a parade shot on the streets of Jonestown, Pennsylvania in George Roy Hill's classic 1977 hockey comedy SLAP SHOT proudly displays a double feature of Gerard Damiano's 1972 pornos DEEP THROAT (possibly the most famous porn film ever) and his lesser known, but presumably just as filthy MEATBALL.

I also featured this one before (“10 Self Referential Or Crossover Moments In The Films Of Lucas And Spielberg” 5/20/08), but couldn't resist including the marquee of JAWS 19 that Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) encountered in the future in Robert Zemeckis' BACK TO THE FUTURE PART II (executive produced by Spielberg) here because, you know, hologram shark! Also the fact that the director of the 19th film in the JAWS franchise is credited to Spielberg's son Max Spielberg (born in 1985) is a nice touch.

I'm including this one because I used to climb up a ladder and change the marquee a lot at the Varsity Theater in Chapel Hill when I worked there from 2004-2009. So I appreciated that Quentin Tarantino's and Eli Roth's revisionist World War II romp, INGLORIOUS BASTERDS, included a scene in which Mélanie Laurent's character Shoshanna is taking down the lengthy line of letters that spell out “German Night Leni Riefernstahl in Pabst's THE WHITE HELL OF PITZ PALU.” Thankfully, I rarely had to put up that many letters.

Post note: I should definitely note the cool blog Marquees in Movies, which houses a collection of screenshots from movies showing movie theater marquees. I, ahem, borrowed that great screenshot of SLAP SHOT from them.

More later...

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