Evanston has served as a filming location in more than a dozen movies, providing the setting for a mobster’s mansion, a booby-trapped home and a militarized park along the way.
Here is a recap of a few memorable cameos the town has made over the years.
Road to Perdition is set almost entirely in a Depression-era Chicagoland, and much of the film was shot throughout the city and suburban locations. Seven minutes into this 2002, Sam Mendes, crime drama based on Max Allan Collins’ graphic novel, a group of mobsters hold a wake for a slain associate on the ground floor of mob boss, John Rooney’s, Rock Island mansion.
Though it is unclear what location was chosen to represent the interior of the home, mobsters can be seen pulling into the driveway of Evanston’s famed Charles Gates Dawes House, 225 Greenwood St. before the wake scene. The National Historic Landmark, built in 1894, currently houses the Evanston History Center and was home to 30th U.S. Vice President Charles Dawes from 1909 to 1951. The exterior of the home can be seen again 13 minutes later when characters depart from the wake.
Portions of this 2005 Nicholas Cage vehicle were set in Evanston, but the majority of the film – which tells the story of David Spritz, a successful, yet depressed Chicago news weatherman in the midst of a midlife crisis – was shot elsewhere.
When it came to finding an home for Spritz’s estranged wife, Noreen, filmmakers chose a recognizable Evanston home located at 2430 Lincolnwood Dr., just west of the T-bone intersection of Lincolnwood Drive and Lincoln Street.
The Weather Man takes place largely during the dreariness of a long Chicago winter, but was shot during a season when Evanston was without snow. To recreate an environment as frosty as Spritz’s deteriorating disposition, filmmakers lugged a giant snow machine onto the set to cover the house and surrounding property in phony flakes. The home’s exterior can be seen 22 minutes into the film.
3. Uncle Buck
When Chicago-suburbanite Cindy Russell’s father suffers a heart attack, she and her husband make plans to visit the elderly man in Indianapolis. With no one to care for their children, the couple calls upon Cindy’s brother-in-law, the deadbeat Uncle Buck (John Candy), to babysit for a few days.
When Buck first arrives in town at 2:00 a.m., he repeatedly knocks on the door of the wrong house and begins yelling before his brother rushes outside from a home across the street and hurries him into the correct address.
“Do you have any idea how many big white houses there are on this street?” Buck yells.
Two Evanston homes were used to the scene, the mistaken house is at 2609 Lincoln St. and the Russell residence at 2602 Lincoln St.
John Hughes’ 1984 Brat Pack classic opens with a shot of a brown pickup truck slowly lurching down the center of a tree-lined road while two passengers casually toss newspapers out the open windows. One paper flies farther than others, hitting the front door of Samantha Baker’s (Molly Ringwald) home, triggering an alarm system and waking the family.
The home of Ringwald’s character, in the film that launched her career, is located at 3022 Payne St. It is unclear whether later scenes set within the Baker home were shot at the same house, but a distinct exterior front door seen in both inside and outside shots suggest it might be the same location.
Later in the film, shortly after the 70-minute mark, viewers get to see the home’s exterior again, this time when a golden retriever begins licking Long Duk Dong's face, a foreign exchange student who has passed out on the Baker’s front lawn.
The story of a 12-year-old suburban kid who breaks his arm, begins throwing 103-mile-per-hour fastballs and helps the 1993 Chicago Cubs win their division is only slightly less plausible than an early-90s Cubs team winning anything. The fantastic plotline of the sports comedy hinges partially on a scene 10 minutes into the film when protagonist Henry Rowengartner fractures his ulna and damages his rotator cartilage after he slips while trying to catch a fly ball outside his middle school during recess.
The scene of Henry’s fateful injury? None other than Haven Middle School, 2417 Prairie Ave. A five-second establishing shot of the building’s westward entrance introduces the school day, while the school’s southern field serves as the backdrop to Henry’s accident.
In the 2003 film, Cheaper by the Dozen, Steve Martin plays a father of 12 who coaches football at a small, rural college until he gets offered his dream job as head coach of the Illinois Poly University Stallions – his fictional, Evanston-based alma mater.
As is often the case, the film’s representation of Evanston seems off, and the fact that it was filmed almost entirely in Los Angeles County is likely to blame. Yet filmmakers at least had the diligence to include a bird’s-eye, flyover shot of Evanston’s shoreline, and 20 minutes into the film, viewers catch a glimpse of Grosse Point Lighthouse, parts of Northwestern University and Floyd Long Field.
Both sequels to the highest-grossing live-action comedy of all time both had scenes shot in Evanston. In Home Alone 2: Lost in New York, the establishing shot outside Kevin McCallister’s school, shown just before he bombs his Christmas pageant concert solo, is of Haven Middle School, 2417 Prairie Ave. In Home Alone 3, the shooting location for the booby-trapped house of eight-year-old protagonist and series-usurper, Alex Pruitt, was at 3026 Normandy Pl.
Steven Soderbergh’s 2011 thriller tells the story of a deadly, fast-spreading virus from several points of view. One thread follows Mitch Emhoff (Matt Damon), a man who has lost his wife and son to the disease, as he fights to prevent his daughter from contracting the virus while the two are quarantined in a Minneapolis suburb.
To shoot a scene in which National Guard helicopters drop food and supplies to desperate survivors, the film’s crew transformed the former Kendall College site, near the intersection of Lincoln Street and Orrington Avenue, into a Minneapolis park, complete with FEMA tents and military Humvees.
Though little of the shoot seemed to make the final cut, a few Evanston residents managed to track down Matt Damon while he was on set.
Bonus: More Films Shot in Evanston
- In Major League, catcher Jake Taylor attempts to win back a woman while speaking with her inside Northwestern University’s Charles Deering Library.
- In the 1993 film adaptation of Dennis the Menace, an Evanston house at 1618 Ashland Ave. was Mr. Wilson’s home, Dennis’s home was at 1624 Ashland Ave. and Lincolnwood Elementary School, 2600 Colfax St., is used in one shot.
- The Express, a 2008 film about Ernie Davis, the first African American man to win the Heisman Trophy, shot several football game scenes at Northwestern University’s Ryan Field. Many Northwestern students and Evanston residents were used as extras during filming.
- Curly Sue features an external shot of Haven Middle School.
Double Bonus: The Playboy Club
The Charles Gates Dawes House was adorned with 60s-style furniture and paintings in an attempt to recreate the interior of Chicago’s famed Playboy Club for a short-lived 2011 NBC television show of the same name.
Triple Bonus: The Sting
Most of this Depression-era caper film, about two grifters (Paul Newman and Robert Redford) running “the big con” on an Irish mob boss, takes place in Joliet and Chicago. In fact, Evanston is only mentioned by name. Toward the beginning of the film, a man helping to operate an expansive numbers racket (illegal lottery) from a central location on the South Side of Chicago rattles off how much money the criminal enterprise took in from each of its five Chicagoland locations. Chicago’s South Side brought in over $22,000, Gary made $16,500, Cicero took $20,000, Joliet cleared $10,000 and Evanston netted $14,000.