Chicago may not be Los Angeles when it comes to filming movies, but we’ve had our fair share of major Blockbusters filmed in this city. If you love movies, keep scrolling to explore these 15 cinematic experiences that you must do in Chicago! From stepping into the Wizarding World at Harry Potter™: Magic at Play to venturing to an old-school theater to watch the latest rom-com or thriller, there’s so much to discover for film lovers all over the city.
1. Venture to the Harry Potter™ franchise’s most famous film locations at this magical experience
Step into the most iconic moments of the Harry Potter films at this 30,000-square-foot experience that is open in Chicago for a limited time! Witches, wizards, and muggles can interact, explore, play, and climb through the best parts of the Wizarding World™ like venturing to King’s Cross St. Pancras Station and the famed Platform 9 ¾™ equipped with push carts and luggage for the ultimate photo op. Marvel at the iconic Hogwarts Express™, board the boats to Hogwarts (just like first-year students) and finally step into the iconic Great Hall with hundreds of floating candles to delight you.
🪄Potterheads are snagging their tickets at lightning speed since this magical experience disappears from the Magnificent Mile on Labor Day!
📍Location: Water Tower Place, 835 Michigan Avenue, Chicago, IL 60611
2. See a moving play at Steppenwolf’s stunning space
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It’s no secret that Steppenwolf Theatre Company is one of our most iconic places in Chicago for live theater. The historic company was founded in 1974 by Terry Kinney, Jeff Perry, and Gary Sinise and has captivated audiences for decades. In 2021, Steppenwolf’s Lincoln Park location underwent a $73 million campus expansion project, building a 400-seat theater, an education center, a two-story atrium lobby, a wine bar, and a sidewalk lounge.
So, we suggest checking out their beautiful new theater by seeing a stellar production this spring and summer of 2023, like ‘Last Night and the Night Before,’ which runs until May 14th, ‘Another Marriage’ (June 15th – July 23rd, 2023), and ‘No Man’s Land’ (July 13th – August 20th, 2023).
Of course, if you want to rub shoulders with your favorite celebrities who shine on the big screen, check out Steppenwolf’s annual gala in May. This celebration is notorious for attracting big names, and at past events, we’ve spotted actors like John C. Reilly, Michael Shannon, Chris Rock, and Kelsey Grammar. Actor Gary Cole emceed this year’s fête, so be sure to add it to your social calendar!
🎭 See the latest plays at Steppenwolf.org.
📍Location: 1650 N. Halsted Street, Chicago, IL 60614
3-5. Enjoy a Candlelight concert with iconic film songs
The beloved concert series known simply as “Candlelight” invites you to relive the greatest musical works by top musicians in an incredibly unique atmosphere with hundreds of romantic flickering candles. If you love movies, you must venture to one of the many Candlelight concerts featuring music from iconic films. Upcoming concerts featuring songs from some of your favorite movies include:
- The Best of Hans Zimmer at Music Box Theatre on June 14 will showcase music like Time from ‘Inception,’ This Land from ‘The Lion King,’ and A Dark Knight from ‘The Dark Knight,’ among many other popular performances!
- The Best of Danny Elfman at Music Box Theatre on July 5, featuring iconic tunes from ‘Beetlejuice’ (1988), Netflix’s ‘Wednesday’ (2022), Overture from ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’ (1993), and so much more!
- Candlelight: From Bach to The Beatles at the Free Church on July 30 will highlight music, including Por una Cabeza Tango from ‘Scent of a Woman’ by Carlos Gardel, and the Love Theme from ‘The Godfather’ by Nino Rota.
🕯️See the full list of concerts here
📍Locations throughout the city and suburbs
6. Discover Chicago’s best filming locations
As we said, Chicago may not be Hollywood, but so many world-famous movies have been filmed in our fair city, it often becomes the main character. A famous example of Chicago taking the spotlight in movies includes 2008’s ‘The Dark Knight’ when it turns into Gotham City. The filming locations are the IBM Building as the Wayne Enterprises boardroom, the chase scene between Joker and Batman on Lower Wacker Drive, and, of course, the famed aerial shot from the Willis Tower when Batman admires Gotham City.
Other top movies filmed all over the city are ‘Ferris Bueller’s Day Off’ and ‘Home Alone’, mostly filmed just north of downtown in Winnetka, but we can’t leave out the most famous scene at O’Hare International Airport when the McCallister family is running to catch their flight to Paris.
📍Multiple locations throughout Chicago
7. Go see a film at one of these unique movie theaters
If you want to see the latest film at a unique movie theater, you must check out our guide to the best movie theaters and vintage cinemas across the city. These theaters offer top-class cinematic experiences in the most beautiful historic venues. A few of our favorites are the historic Music Box Theatre for independent, foreign, and classic films or the Gene Siskel Film Center, an iconic destination for film festivals or the place to watch indie movies.
📍Locations across the city
🍿Discover all 10 of our favorite places to watch a film!
8. See Tina Fey and Amy Poehler on tour
Comedy duo Tina Fey and Amy Poehler are stopping in four major cities for their Restless Leg Tour! They stopped in Washington D.C. at the end of April and are planning to come to the Rosemont Theatre and Chicago Theatre from May 19- 21st, along with Boston, and Atlantic City, New Jersey. They kicked off their careers at Chicago’s very own iconic Second City, spent years performing popular skits on SNL, and of course, gave us films like ‘Baby Mama,’ ‘Sisters,’ and ‘Mean Girls’.
📍175 N. State Street, Chicago, IL 60601🎤Find out how to snag tickets!
9. Enter the Dark Side at the Star Wars Burlesque Show ‘The Empire Strips Back’
Get ready to see this sensual sci-fi production, taking you into the Star Wars universe as you’ve never seen it! Whether you’re a fan of the many films or want to see Stormtroopers perform a sexy burlesque show, you won’t want to miss out.
The show is coming to Chicago’s Logan Square Auditorium on May 23rd. Go ahead and find out what’s underneath C-3PO’s plating, admire a bodacious Boba Fett, a gorgeous Darth Vadar, and so much more at this outrageous show! Broadway World gave a rave review of the show by sharing how it melds “elements of traditional striptease with a knowledge and deep affection of the Star Wars franchise.”
📍Logan Square Auditorium at 2539 N. Kedzie Blvd.
👀🥵Grab your tickets to see what all of the fuss is about!
10-12. Enjoy an outdoor movie
Take advantage of the London-based Rooftop Cinema Club at this luxe Fulton Market location in Chicago with glorious city views, tropical decor, outdoor games, plush seating that include everything from lounge chairs to loveseats, delicious food, and drinks.
For the 21st season, the Chicago Park District offers outdoor movies for free at spaces across the entire city. These family-friendly movies range from popular Blockbuster films to favorites from your childhood. See the full movie lineup here.
And, if you want to make the trek, we suggest venturing to McHenry Outdoor Theater – Golden Age Cinemas, which was refurbished in 2022 with a six-story high, 100-foot-wide screen, new lighting, and new lenses for the digital projector, making those movies look better than ever!
Rooftop Cinema Club: The Emily Hotel, 311 N. Morgan Street, Chicago, IL 60607
Chicago Park District’s Movies in the Park: Various locations throughout the city – map
McHenry Outdoor Theater – Golden Age Cinemas: 1510 N. Chapel Hill Road, McHenry, IL 60051
13. Check out this Drunk Shakespeare show
“The Drunk Shakespeare Society” meets up to do a tipsy rendition of a Shakespearean play, and we are absolutely here for it. After one of the actors takes around five shots of whiskey, the character gives a hilarious performance that will undoubtedly entertain the crowd. Meanwhile, the other four actors, who remain sober, attempt to keep the show running as smoothly as possible. Take it from us; it’s one show you won’t want to miss.
📍 Location: The Lounge at The Lion, 182 N. Wabash Avenue, Chicago
🥃Grab tickets to Drunk Shakespeare here!
14. Rent out Cinespace Studios for the ultimate film-loving fête
How fun would a party at Cinespace Chicago Film Studios be? According to Choose Chicago, you can rent out this popular film hub that opened in 2010 in the Lawndale neighborhood, just 15 minutes from downtown, for a spectacular event.
This studio has become the go-to place to film in Chicago, operating within 1.6 million sq. ft. of film space at the former Ryerson Steel Company. The 60-acre campus focuses on ‘development, management, and operation’ to support producing some of your favorite award-winning TV shows and movies in the industry. These shows include “Fargo,” “The Bear,” “Chicago Fire,” “Empire,” and movies like “Good Will Hunting,” “Divergent,” “Pompeii,” “Resident Evil,” “Taken,” and more!
📍Location: Main studios at 2621 W. 15th Place in North Lawndale
15. Want to get behind the camera? Take a class at Chicago Filmmakers
If you want to make a career out of your love of movies, consider current classes at Chicago Filmmakers, like Intro Into Film Production or Directing: Prep for Production, taught by professional filmmakers and university professors. They even have filmmaking camps for kids aged 9-17 to kick-start their interest early on. But the coolest part has to be the location. Chicago Filmmakers is located on the city’s far north side, in the Edgewater neighborhood, and housed in an ornate former firehouse built in 1928.
If you want to watch movies and connect with other passionate Chicago film lovers, they even host regular indie film screenings in their 75-seat theater. Also, check out their annual film festivals like Reeling: The Chicago LGBTQ+ International Film Festival and The Onion City Experimental Film Festival. It’s the perfect spot to come together if you want to get behind the camera or if you’re a film aficionado.
📍Location: 1326 W. Hollywood Avenue, Chicago, IL 60660
🎥Check out classes, and watch for upcoming film screenings at chicagofilmmakers.org