While the many neighborhoods and various cultures that spread across major metropolitan areas such as New York City and Los Angeles constantly play host to film and television productions, Tampa Bay and its surrounding areas aren’t the first places you’d expect Hollywood to play make-believe.
Hollywood has used many of Tampa’s historical landmarks and popular locations as far back as the 1943 Spencer Tracy film “A Guy Named Joe,” in which Drew Field – now Drew Park – served as a location and backdrop for many scenes of airplanes soaring across the sky.
Whether minor, as with “A Guy Named Joe” and 2001’s “Ocean’s Eleven,” or well-publicized, as with 2004’s “The Punisher,” the area has continually been host for film productions. This includes recent films such as the blockbuster family film “Dolphin Tale” and the upcoming “Sunlight Jr.,” starring Matt Dillon and Naomi Watts and directed by Laurie Collyer.
The Oracle takes a look at a few of the notable films that make use of the Tampa Bay area.
“Magic Mike” (2012)
Facebook and Twitter recently lit up with rumors that Hollywood heartthrob Channing Tatum was spotted in the Tampa Bay area in early October. As confirmed by publications such as The St. Petersburg Times, Tatum was indeed here working with Academy Award-winning director Steven Soderbergh on the 2012 release, “Magic Mike.”
Based on Tatum’s early life as a stripper right here in Tampa, “Magic Mike” reportedly made great use of scenic locales such as Treasure Island’s Sunset Beach and Fort De Soto Park in St. Petersburg for several beach party sequences.
The filming spanned much of the first two weeks of October, according to the Times, which also involved shooting in Ybor City and an undisclosed Pinellas County construction site. Along with Tampa native Tatum, this is Soderbergh’s second trip filming in the area, following “Ocean’s Eleven.”
“Dolphin Tale” (2011)
The light-hearted family adventure film “Dolphin Tale” made quite the splash when a cast including Harry Connick Jr. and Morgan Freeman invaded the shores of Pinellas County in late 2010. Filming took place throughout Pinellas locations such as Clearwater Beach and the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, which were used to chronicle the story of a young boy’s relationship with an injured dolphin.
The film was based on the true story of Winter, a dolphin with a prosthetic tail that was cared for in the Clearwater area in 2005. St. Petersburg Times writer Steve Persall called the film a “polished production showcasing Tampa Bay on an artistic and commercial level that hasn’t been reached since ‘Cocoon’ back in 1985.”
Persall is referring to the other nautically themed adventure film “Cocoon,” which used a lot of the same areas as “Dolphin Tale” and also shares the trait of being both a critical and commercial success.
“The Punisher” (2004)
The live-action comic book adaptation “The Punisher” opened up Tampa’s streets for vigilante justice during its summer 2003 production. “Boogie Nights” actor Thomas Jane starred as the hardened Frank Castle, who becomes “The Punisher” after the slaying of his family at the hands of Tampa’s crime lord Howard Saint, played by John Travolta.
Not only is the film specifically set in the Bay area, it offers a visual feast of the city and its surrounding landscapes from sweeping helicopter shots of the skyline to Saint’s headquarters, located at the bottom of the cylindrical John Sykes building downtown. “The Punisher” is a major Hollywood film with the city of Tampa at its very heart.
Along with shooting at locations such as Fort De Soto Park and a theater at the University of Tampa, USF’s own golf course, The Claw, makes an appearance.
While films from legendary director Sergio Leone’s “Once Upon A Time In America” to 2001’s “Ocean’s Eleven” briefly used locales such as the Don Cesar Hotel and Derby Lane Greyhound Track in St. Petersburg, perhaps the most memorable one-off with an area location is in Martin Scorsese’s crime masterpiece “Goodfellas.”
When mobsters Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) and Jimmy Conway (Robert De Niro) are sent to carry out a job in Tampa, they decide to dangle an indebted gambler over the lion’s den at Lowry Park Zoo. The gambler eventually pays up, but not before telling the story to his sister, a typist for the FBI.
It’s a pivotal moment in the film because the gambler’s sister is the first link in a chain that sees all the “Goodfellas” tossed in jail, which then initiates Hill’s downward spiral in the film’s final act. In the film, however, Lowry Park Zoo is referred to as merely Tampa City Zoo.
“Edward Scissorhands” (1990)
The grim conformity of houses and neighborhoods that make up suburban sprawl is given a colorful makeover by “Beetlejuice” director Tim Burton in his 1990 film “Edward Scissorhands.” When the titular character comes down from his fairytale castle upon an imposing cliff to interact with the locals, he’s brought into a world of suburban dread, as well as the humid Florida weather.
Using the small street of Tinsmith Circle in the Carpenter’s Run housing development located in Lutz, Burton staged his stylish and successful fantasy amid the clutter and uniformity of Tampa’s suburban life. Where Edward’s castle once stood is now a dead end into a ditch, but the small Lutz neighborhood is now immortalized on film.
Burton also shot throughout parts of the Dade City and Wesley Chapel areas, and, most notably, at the easily recognizable Southgate Shopping Center in Lakeland.