Filming on the River

More than 100 films and countless scenes from television shows and commercials have been shot on the LA River. The 52 miles of concrete has been used as a movie set for car races, murders, science fiction scenes and more.  Here’s a list of some of the better-known Hollywood productions filmed on the River:

The Amazing Race (2009) – The 15th season of this CBS race to win a million dollars started with the 12 competing couples on the river bed in downtown L.A.

The Blue Hour (2007) – This low budget independent film features a hip-hop artist who creates a graffiti masterpiece on the LA River’s banks.

Courtesy of Paramount Pictures


The Italian Job (2003) – Mark Wahlberg and Charlize Theron starred in this heist movie in which a fleet of Mini Coopers escaped the scene of a robbery by swooping into and driving down the concrete LA River.

Gone in 60 Seconds (2000) – Nick Cage and Angelina Jolie race around the city, including in the LA River.

Volcano (1997) – Tommy Lee Jones tries to contain the lava erupting under Wilshire Boulevard by diverting it into the LA River.

Escape From L.A. (1996) – A huge earthquake floods the San Fernando Valley and the river and turns LA into an island where immoral citizens are exiled for punishment. Until a gun-wielding Kurt Russell saves the day. (And the river.)

Courtesy Carolco Pictures


Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) - Arnold Schwarzenegger escapes an 18-wheeler driven by a metallic killer cyborg by riding his Harley in the river bed, one of the most exciting chase scenes ever.

Wedlock (1991) – Rutger Hauer escapes prison and flees across LA, including into the LA River, to recover the diamonds he has stolen.

Courtesy of United Artists


To Live and Die in L.A. (1985) – William Peterson played a treasury agent obsessed with collaring Willem Dafoe, chasing him everywhere, even into the river bed.

The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension (1984) -  Peter Weller and his Banzai march next to the Sepulveda Dam.

Blue Thunder (1983) – Roy Scheider, playing an LA cop, pilots the most advanced helicopter ever over the river channel.

Escape from New York  (1981) - The Sepulveda Dam doubles as the gates of the a New York maximum security prison.

Courtesy of Paramount Pictures


Grease (1978) – The hot rods drag race on the riverbed in downtown LA. 

The Gumball Rally (1976) – As this coast-to-coast race nears its finish, Raul Julia, in his Daytona Ferrari, and Michael Sarrazin, in his Shelby Cobra, speed in the river channel.

Freaky Friday (1976) - A young Jodie Foster and her screen mom, Barbara Harris, switch places in this comedy and parachute and drive into the river. 

Chinatown (1974)

Morty: “Yeah, he drowned too.”
Gittes [Jack Nicholson]: “Come again?”
Morty: “Yeah, he got drunk. Passed out in the bottom of the river bed.” Gittes: “The LA River?
Morty: “Yeah, right under Hollenbeck Bridge. What's wrong with that?”
Gittes: “It's dry as a bone.”
Morty.?”Morty: It's not so completely dry.”
Gittes: “Well, he ain't gonna exactly drown in a damp riverbed no matter how soused he is.”
Morty: “We got water out of him. He drowned!"

[note: there is no Hollenbeck Bridge”. Roman Polanski, the director, shot next to the 7th Street and Olympic Boulevard bridges]

Point Blank (1967)  - After being shot and double-crossed by his wife and his robber-partner, Lee Marvin hunts down his adversaries..including on a dry LA river channel. 

Them! (1954) – Gigantic mutant ants, created by atomic bomb tests, menace the southwest, including the LA River’s spillways and sewer pipes.