Seeing Chicago Reality in Hollywood’s Fiction

There are several iconic films which showcase Chicago’s buildings, streets, and urban life.  The next time you hit Netflix looking for a bit of Windy City flavor, skip Ferris and the Blues Brothers and check out Stranger Than Fiction.

The 2006 Will Ferrel / Emma Thompson / Maggie Gyllenhaal flick was filmed in Chicago, and while the city isn’t specifically mentioned by name, it’s easily recognizable to people who live here.

Particularly heavily showcased are the buses and trains of the Chicago Transit Authority.  The CTA is featured so much that it’s almost a character unto itself.

Whether you like the film’s story or not, here are some things to look for:

  • The man hosing down the sidewalk is doing it in front of Sears on State Street
  • The building she fantasizes about leaping off of is the Chicago Building on State Street.
  • CNA Building visible in the window of the IRS office where Harold works.  It might be Mid-Continental Plaza.  The lobby of his building, however, is the Daley Center.
  • Harold’s bus stop on the way home from work is in front of the Federal Plaza Post Office.  The stop is fictional and on the wrong side of the street for a bus to pick people up.
  • Harold gets off the bus too early, in front of the John Hancock Center.  Water Tower Place’s Drury Lane Theater is visible in the background.
  • Harold walks in the rain past the Little Village laundromat.
  • Harold’s friend Dave lives in River City.
  • The Book Channel interview was filed at WMAQ’s studio with Pioneer Plaza visible in the background.
  • The lobby of the fictional Banneker Press is actually the residential lobby of the John Hancock Center.  The “175” that is normally on the lobby’s awning is replaced with “2267” in the movie.
  • Harold makes a phone call from a fake bank of pay phones in the tunnel connecting the blue and red line subways.
  • All of the college shots are the University of Illinois at Chicago.
  • Harold’s hospital room is in Tribune Tower.

Author: Editor

Editor founded the Chicago Architecture Blog in 2003, after a long career in journalism. He can be reached at

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