Los Angeles may be the entertainment capital of the world, but depicting the diverse and complicated city on film is easier said than done. Here are 40 movies that got it right, for better or worse, presented in chronological order.
Sunset Boulevard (1950)
Director: Billy Wilder
One of the darkest (and darkly comedic) looks at Hollywood on screen, Sunset Boulevard is an unrivaled classic. William Holden stars as failed screenwriter Joe Gillis alongside Gloria Swanson as has-been silent film star Norma Desmond. The characters became types in later Hollywood satires, but they were never more biting.
Rebel Without a Cause (1955)
Director: Nicholas Ray
James Dean's most famous role was as Jim Stark in Rebel Without a Cause, released less than one month after his death. Central to the film is the Griffith Observatory, where Jim gets in a knife fight on a field trip, and where the movie reaches its tragic conclusion. Go for the views, stay for the pathos.
Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (1970)
Director: Russ Meyer
While Valley of the Dolls is about the moral decay of the entertainment industry as a whole, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls is about the cesspool that is L.A. Oh, it's not all that bad — but watching Russ Meyer's schlocky satire, you'd likely believe it was. The gruesome climax was inspired by the real-life Tate-LaBianca murders.
20th Century Fox
Director: Roman Polanski
Chinatown was the first of Robert Towne's planned trilogy about Jack Nicholson's J.J. Gittes and the corruption of powerful men in Los Angeles seeking control over resources. The sequel flopped and the third film was abandoned, but Chinatown remains a classic. And it all comes down to the most precious resource of all, water.