Chicago is recognizable for its iconic skyline and lakefront. One reason that so many people all over the world are familiar with Chicago’s landmarks could be the multitude of movies and TV shows that are filmed in the city each year. With a deep resumé of films shot on location in Chicago, from classic 80s flicks such as Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and The Blues Brothers, to modern blockbusters like Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight film franchise, Chicago makes its mark on the film industry over and over again. And with TV entering a golden age of sorts, Chicago has emerged as a solid base for some of the more popular shows in the television lineup. Locally inspired network dramas Chicago Fire, Empire (set in New York but actually filmed in Chicago) and The Good Wife are recent entries in the city’s roster of small screen hits. Chicago has actually been making the rounds on TV for quite a while, going back to the earlier days of prestige TV drama with modern classics such as ER, the hit medical drama of the 90s and early 2000s.
Lately, the city has been enjoying a small renaissance of filming locations for Chicago-based TV shows. The stable of shows from creators Michael Brandt and Derek Haas has been churning out stories and characters inspired by Chicago’s public services sector. NBC has been airing episodes of Chicago Fire since 2012, and that show’s success quickly spawned spinoff series in a sprawling media franchise that includes Chicago PD, Chicago Med and Chicago Justice.
Other networks have been catching up to NBC’s mini-universe of Chicago-based shows, like FOX's small screen adaptation of The Exorcist, which filmed its first season in Chicago. The film-making duo behind The Matrix has also made Chicago a favorite spot to produce movies and TV shows in recent years. The Netflix series Sense8 was the brainchild of the Wachowski sisters and they based some of the show's storylines in their native Chicago.
Reality TV drops into Chicago from time to time as well. The CNBC series The Profit follows investor Marcus Lemonis, who’s based in suburban Chicago, around the country as he tries to rev up small businesses. The Lifetime series Married at First Sight has also produced shows in Chicago, even using the downtown ping pong bar AceBounce as one of its filming locations.
Tourists and locals walking the streets of Chicago’s bustling downtown are now accustomed to the sight of film crews, trailers and even helicopters flying overhead to get shots of the city. Major production companies have set up shop in the southwest side home of former steel mills, turning Chicago’s heavily industrial past into de facto sound stages and production halls. Is Chicago the Hollywood of the Midwest? As more and more productions choose it for filming locations, it’s looking increasingly evident that the city has a solid foothold in the entertainment industry.