The Death of an Iconic Movie Location

By  · Published on February 4th, 2016

Point Blank (Warner Bros.)

I’m not very familiar with Los Angeles. Aside from how it’s depicted in the movies, that is. And even then, I need a documentary like Thom Andersen’s Los Angeles Plays Itself to help me navigate the sprawl and its filmography. Yet that doc doesn’t help me much with one of the most famous landmarks of the city, the Sixth Street Bridge. There’s a brief mention of the Los Angeles River with a clip from Repo Man filmed underneath, but that’s it. There are actually a few iconic bridges crossing the concrete riverbed in that area, with the Sixth Street being the least interesting-looking. You know it when you see it on screen, though, and it’s been on screen a whole bunch.

The viaduct bridge is recognizable and beloved enough that its demolition tomorrow night seems to mark the end of an era. Built in 1932, it was a significantly engineered structure for its time but it’s also long been difficult to maintain, and after almost 85 years the bridge has been deemed potentially unsound, at least as far as major seismic activity is concerned. Residents and fans of the bridge and of movies have held farewell parties and screenings, and last week the bridge was closed off for good. Its destruction begins this weekend, but it will take nine months for complete removal. Then the very modern replacement begins construction with an expectation for it to open in 2019.

Movies shot in L.A. will never be the same. The thing about the river and those bridge crossings is much of their landscape has looked relatively the same for decades. Not only could the Sixth Street and its surroundings pass for any period, but they make for a visual challenge where only the cars driving over or under give a hint of a time stamp, though not always for the production year. For instance, the most famous scene shot there is probably the race in Grease, and that’s shot in 1977 but set in 1959. There’s also In Time, which takes place in the future and alters the bridge because of that. But that’s not supposed to be L.A. anyway. Nor is the Sixth Street Bridge’s use in The Dark Knight Rises.

The location has seen plenty of car chases (including the big one in Gone in 60 Seconds), the introduction of one of the most iconic villains of all time (Terminator 2: Judgment Day) and even a jet landing (S.W.A.T.). Its final appearance, at least in a major movie, seems to be Terrence Malick’s Knight of Cups.

In memory of the bridge, and just to show you all how often you’ve seen it, even if you weren’t aware, below is a sampling of clips of its better featured and cameo roles through the years.

Grease (1978)

You can’t really see the bridge straight on, but the Thunder Road race begins under the Sixth Street, pointing toward the 4th Street and First Street bridges.

Repo Man (1984)

Much of the same ground and background can be seen in this scene highlighted in Los Angeles Plays Itself, in which Otto and Bud have a run in with the Rodriguez brothers in the L.A. River.

To Live and Die in L.A. (1985)

More cars can be seen racing under the bridge, as well as all around it in a great chase sequence from this William Friedkin movie, which also has another moment that seems to copy the overhead sniper bit from the bridge in Point Blank (pictured at the top of this post).

Armed and Dangerous (1986)

The Sixth Street saw some action on top in this comedy where John Candy and a smash-happy trucker find a way to beat the L.A. traffic problem.

Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgandy (2004)

It’s more difficult to identify in this movie, which of course is actually set in San Diego, but that’s the Sixth Street in the background of the news team rumble.

Drive (2011)

Ryan Gosling’s getaway maneuvers at the start of this movie takes him over the bridge and then back around and under to hide from the police helicopter.

The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

Christopher Nolan used a lot of different locations for this sequel’s portrayal of Gotham City, even using multiple spots mashed up for one place, as done here.

And here’s a great new video by Vashi Nedomansky compiling more appearances in The Mask and other movies mentioned, where the isolated clip isn’t available online (via Vashi Visuals):

Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.