Captain Marvel Takes LA Metro, But She's Not The First Movie Hero To Go For A Ride
Los Angeles' transit system has a major cameo in the latest superhero film from Marvel, which opens Thursday night. But it's just the latest in a long string of movies filmed on our region's subways and buses, and in its stations.
Our public transit is frequently used to pass for other cities' subway systems, like New York and Boston, according to Ana Vallianatos, manager of marketing and communication for L.A. Metro.
"I just always find it kind of ironic that L.A. has this reputation of being a car city, but our subway system has stood in many times on screen for cities where public transit's more well known," she told LAist.
One film locations rep also told us that, when the TV show New Girl wanted it to play New York's subway, dressing the set accurately meant bringing in a lot of trash (sorry, New York!).
Let's look at how Metro goes '90s in Captain Marvel (though nothing could be as utterly '90s as this Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Metro video), and how our transit system has been used in blockbuster after blockbuster.
A word of warning: there may be some spoilers ahead for some of the older films (but honestly, if we ruined the ending of a movie you should have watched 15 years ago, that's on you).
The movie had a 75-day shooting schedule in L.A., and to give the film a real feel, they shot on location as much as possible, according to the film's executive producer in a press release.
We'll avoid spoiling any major details, but the trailers show our hero walking in costume through the 7th Street/Metro Center station and onto a Blue Line train (with that trademark '90s-style upholstery), eyeing wary passengers. She lands on a smiling old lady — who turns out to be a shapeshifting alien! — and we get a full Metro fight scene that dents one of the subway poles with said alien's face.
"This is by far the biggest film, and process, Metro has ever worked with," Hollywood Locations' Tommy Nierman told LAist. He and Metro officials were bound by NDAs keeping them from telling us too many details about the scenes, but they were able to tell us about how it all came together.
Vallianatos told LAist that productions can request a retired, older-era train car "and do things with it to temporarily dress it."
"They can put posters inside that are consistent with an era of the past or another location, they can wrap the outside in an older-style fleet design that would kind of make that car appear as if was in a different time period," she said.
Nierman said background actors are also a key part of the time shifting process.
"Because you can make the space look however you want, but those are the people who are interacting bringing it to life. So if you have a lot of people dressed for early 2000s, or kind of that grunge look, you know what you're seeing," Nierman said.
But, Captain Marvel leaping onto a Metro train and firing energy blasts on the train's roof? That's just good old-fashioned movie magic.
"Like, you can't just have someone jump on the side of a moving train," Nierman said.
Fun fact: even before appearing on screen, Captain Marvel is already an award winner: the location manager, assistant location manager, and full location team all won California On Location Awards last year for the filming of the movie.
In Michael Mann's 2004 neo-noir L.A. thriller, the final showdown between Jamie Foxx's cabbie and Tom Cruise's stone-cold hitman takes place on a Metro train.
After Foxx saves his crush, played by Jada Pinkett Smith, from the assassin, they escape down to the 7th Street/Metro Center Station and hop on a Blue Line train, with the professional killer in pursuit.
Then, everyone is magically transported onto the Green Line for the tense showdown, as Cruise's Vincent forces his would-be victims to the front car.
Along the way, they stop at a station and Cruise steps onto the platform, waiting for them to get off (they don't and everyone keeps riding the line).
Eventually, the two men face each other on the train with guns blazing. Foxx's character mortally wounds Cruise, who sits down and dies as the train approaches it's next stop — the Redondo Beach Station.
Scenes like the ones in Collateral that use Metro stations and platforms have to be done in the dead of night, as Metro officials "do not interrupt transit service or disrupt it in any way," according to Vallianatos.
That means film crews and actors can only use Metro rail lines once service has ended for the night.
"[Film] crews will be loading in just as our service is finishing up for the night," said Vallianatos, and they have to wrap before service resumes in the morning.
SPEED (aka THE BUS THAT COULDN'T SLOW DOWN)
Relax, nerds — we know the bus that's the centerpiece of the 1994 action flick was not an L.A. Metro bus (it was a Santa Monica Big Blue Bus, or course). But when Dennis Hopper's evil bomber takes Sandra Bullock hostage, the transit-fueled thriller ends up on an underground section of the new Metro Red Line (its first phase opened in 1993).
Keanu Reeves bests the villain in a fight on the roof of the rail car before the train blows through the still-under-construction line, crashing onto Hollywood Boulevard and grinding to a convenient halt in front of Grauman's Chinese Theatre. The heroes kiss in the mangled train car as tourists look on and the credits roll.
Of course, the filmmakers didn't actually use a Metro tunnel to blast a train car out onto the street, Metro spokesman Rick Jager explained, though the Red Line does run under Hollywood Boulevard as the movie depicts.
"At the time the movie was released in June of 1994, (the tunnel) was not operational as we had just started construction on that segment of the Red Line under Hollywood Boulevard," he said. "The Hollywood segment of the Red Line didn't open until 1999."
ROMAN J. ISRAEL, ESQ.
There's not a lot of Metro in this 2017 film with Denzel Washington as an idealistic defense attorney, but the production did use a brand new technique for shooting on Metro, called "splitting the headway," Vallianatos explained. This allows film crews to avoid the scramble of overnight filming.
As Washington's Roman rides the Expo Line, they used a special filming train that runs between trains that are in service. It passes right through crowded Metro stations with an "out of service" sign lit, and no everyday transit rider would know that Denzel Washington just rolled by in his custom subway car.
"We took a train from downtown Santa Monica to Seventh and Metro and back during the day, without stopping at any stations," Nierman said.
LETHAL WEAPON 3
In the third installment of the action series, LAPD detectives Riggs and Murtaugh (whose high shooting rate should have definitely raised some red flags) chase some bad guys into the under-construction Pershing Square Station, complete with its very '90s neon art. A rookie cop even registers shock when he learns L.A. has subways.
After shootout No. 164-ish in the franchise, the villains flee through a subway tunnel using a rail-ready truck, with Mel Gibson's character Riggs in pursuit. The hero eventually makes his way to a crowded Metro station and jumps on the front of a departing Blue Line train, ordering the operator to speed up so he can catch the bad guys.
The 1992 film was in some ways the unofficial debut of Metro's new rail system as a Hollywood set piece, Nierman explained.
"That was really the first to kind of kick off with the Metro (and) it wasn't even open yet," he said. "You could say that's how Metro kind of got introduced to the entertainment industry."
We've listened to KPCC/LAist's The Big One podcast, so we're pretty sure that when the big one does hit, it won't create a giant volcano in the center of Los Angeles. The 1997 Tommy Lee Jones movie Volcano disagrees.
The movie features a major Metro subway storyline, with bureaucratic infighting leading to trouble in the subways, including a subway train derailing underground. Magma flows through the Red Line before exploding out of the ground.
"It's kind of a B-movie," Nierman said. "They did use the Metro, and it has this scene where the Metro conductor saves the passengers from the oncoming lava."
It was "very nineties," Nierman said — just like Captain Marvel.
THE ITALIAN JOB
The 2003 remake of the '60s-era heist film features Mark Wahlberg's crew plotting to steal back a bunch of gold that a double-crossing Edward Norton stole from them after they'd both stolen it from someone else.
The thieves kick off their big score by driving mini Coopers onto the Hollywood Walk of Fame, then down into Metro's Hollywood/Highland station, where they race past an arriving Red Line train just in time to zip into a tunnel for phase two of the heist.
It's a thrilling sequence, but of course, that's why post-production exists.
"The details of how they made that happen had a lot to do with movie magic," Vallianatos said. "Re-timing, reversing footage, all the stuff that can be done in post, because of course we did not drive Mini Coopers into the station."
When the Coen brothers' comedy set in 1950's Hollywood needed a prestigious-looking entrance to a classic movie studio, they turned to L.A. Metro. See if you can tell what location they used.
Josh Brolin's Hollywood fixer enters the fictional Capitol Pictures studio lot via the front facade and gardens of Union Station. A sea of studio buildings were digitally added behind the station to punctuate Hollywood's Golden Age.
A version of of the tranist map can be spotted in the background of some scenes, but here's the full image. Graphic designer Geoff McFetridge created this map to show what our subway system could look like — with a lot of money and political will in an idealized/whimsical near-future.
In the actual Los Angeles of today, a real-world Metro expansion is currently underway.
The agency is working to build new lines, and extend and upgrade several existing lines in time for the Olympics in 2028.