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Thursday April 18th 2024

They Live | 1988

They Live film location: South Olive Street, Downtown Los Angeles
They Live film location: Nada puts on the sunglasses: South Olive Street, Downtown Los Angeles

Filmed for the most part around Downtown Los Angeles, They Live followed the pattern of so many John Carpenter movies – an initially lukewarm response followed by a fanbase gathering year-on-year. It truly has stood the test of time.

Nada (Roddy Piper) arrives penniless in LA alongside the rail tracks on Aurora Street at North Spring Street up near Elysian Park, before walking alongside the now-gone railtracks into Downtown.

They Live film location: City Hall Park, Downtown Los Angeles
They Live film location: the blind preacher warns they are among us: City Hall Park, Downtown Los Angeles

The first hints of the disturbing events to come are dire warnings from a blind street preacher (Raymond St Jacques) that we are being controlled and that "they" are among us and have already recruited the rich and powerful.

This small green space is City Hall Park on West 1st Street at Spring Street alongside Los Angeles City Hall. The curved stone monument is the Frank Pitman Flint Memorial FountainFlint was a US senator and a strong advocate for the Los Angeles Aqueduct system bringing water from the Owens Valley into the city (the city of La Cañada-Flintridge is named after him).

Nada manages to get himself a job working on a building site where co-worker Frank (Keith David) takes him to a homeless encampment run by Gilbert (Peter Jason) to get food and basic shelter.

Televisions are being hacked by pirate broadcasts full of more ominous messages, which seem somehow connected with the local episcopal church.

The empty land used for this encampment, in the area of North Boylston Street and Colton Street, northwest of Downtown, has predictably been redeveloped. There’s little, if anything, left and even the little church has gone. The business district skyline remains recognisable, apart from (the lack of) the US Bank Tower.

After a violent police raid on the church and the camp, Nada pokes around the empty church building and finds nothing of significance but a box of sunglasses.

They Live film location: Mercury Court, Downtown Los Angeles
They Live film location: Nada hides the sunglasses and later fights with Frank: Mercury Court, Downtown Los Angeles

He takes the box and stashes it in a garbage bin in an alleyway, Mercury Court at 419 7th Street. This features as a particularly significant spot later on.

The film really kicks off when Nada puts on the glasses as he walks along South Olive Street and becomes aware of a whole new way of seeing the world.

They Live film location: South Olive Street, Downtown Los Angeles
They Live film location: "OBEY": South Olive Street, Downtown Los Angeles

The huge sign reading "OBEY" is the blank wall of 631 South Olive Street. Much of the rest of this sequence plays out along this stretch of South Olive – you can see the canopy of Los Angeles Athletic Club at 431 in the background of many shots.

They Live film location: South Olive Street, Downtown Los Angeles
They Live film location: Nada sees the alien at the newsstand: South Olive Street, Downtown Los Angeles

The newsstand where Nada discovers what glossy magazines are telling us and where he gets his first shocking glimpse of what "they" look like, stood at 640 South Olive Street.

The entrance to the supermarket where he realises how many of them there are seems to be 712 South Olive, but there are no grocery stores here.

They Live film location: Hope's Market Liquor, 7th Street, Downtown Los Angeles
They Live film location: the store full of aliens: Hope's Market Liquor, 7th Street, Downtown Los Angeles

The store interior – "You look like your head fell in the cheese dip in 1957" – is Hope’s Market Liquor, 1216 7th Street at Garland Avenue, Westlake South, only a minute away from Axel Foley's apartment in Beverly Hills Cop.

They Live film location: Hope's Market Liquor, 7th Street, Downtown Los Angeles
They Live film location: "I've got one that can see!": Hope's Market Liquor, 7th Street, Downtown Los Angeles

Part of the little store was recreated in the studio to allow more space but it remains surprisingly unchanged from1988.

The cry of "I've got one that can see!" Is the cue for Nada to make his exit and run.

Threat or no threat, he's not one to resist a wisecrack. "Like pouring perfume on a pig!" he sneers to the skull-faced woman primping her hair in the window of 716 South Olive.

After seeing off a couple of alien cops in the alley alongside 712, Nada takes a gun and marches into a bank lobby where he delivers the movie's most famous line: "I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass. And I'm right out of bubblegum.".

This is the old Bank of America Building at 650 South Spring Street at 7th Street, Downtown. The bank moved out long ago and its vacant interior has become a screen regular.

Look for it in Se7en (the library), The Mask ('Edge City' bank), Ghost (a 'New York' bank); and its exterior used as 'NY' banks again, the one from which Laurence Olivier retrieves the diamonds in Marathon Man and the one robbed by Doc Ock in Spider-Man 2. It became the wedding dress store in Bridesmaids and even the 'archive' in 2013's Star Trek Into Darkness.

They Live film location: Franklin Avenue, Hollywood Hills
They Live film location: Nada stays with Holly: Franklin Avenue, Hollywood Hills | Photograph: Google Maps

Being hunted, he commandeers the car of Holly (Meg Foster) and forces her to drive to her very smart home at 8634 Franklin Avenue, up in the hills north of West Hollywood.

Surviving a fall from the rear of Holly's house – it’s one of those stilt homes built to cope with LA's hilly geography, he makes his way back to Downtown and Mercury Court, where he stashed the glasses. Here we get (according to taste) the famously classic or time-wastingly self-indulgent fight scene with Frank, who stubbornly refuses to put on the damn specs.

They Live film location: Baltimore Hotel, South Los Angeles Street, Downtown Los Angeles
They Live film location: Nada and Frank lie low in a cheap hotel: Baltimore Hotel, South Los Angeles Street, Downtown Los Angeles

After the fight, Frank finally gets on board. The pair lie low in one of Downtown's once-grand hotels which became converted to low-cost accommodation, this one is the Baltimore Hotel, 501 South Los Angeles Street at 5th Street.

You can see it's just across the road from the King Edward Hotel and King Eddy Saloon, which became ‘Huggy’s Place’ in the 2004 film of Starsky & Hutch.

If you’re visiting, be aware this is part of the city's Skid Row district – not LA's finest tourist attraction I've never actually felt threatened around here (during the daytime admittedly) but the level of poverty is distressing. It’s not themes comfortable area to stroll around carrying a flashy camera.

Gilbert, from the encampment and now a leader of the resistance, tracks them down and invites them to a makeshift HQ in the old Warehouse District, rapidly being redeveloped as the Arts District.

Another heavy-handed raid by the forces of law and order sees Nada and Frank trapped, until they inadvertently activate one of the alien ‘transportation devices’ and find themselves in a tunnel system deep below the streets of LA.

They Live film location: Crystal Ballroom, Millennium Biltmore Hotel, Downtown Los Angeles
They Live film location: Nada and Frank crash the meeting of aliens and collaborators: Crystal Ballroom, Millennium Biltmore Hotel, Downtown Los Angeles | Photograph: Wikimedia / Chris Eason

This leads them to what looks like a triumphant shareholders’ meeting of the aliens and their human collaborators.

The suitably lavish surroundings are the Crystal Ballroom of the Millennium Biltmore Hotel, 506 South Grand Avenue, on Pershing Square, Downtown, a screen regular featured in dozens of films, including The Fabulous Baker Boys, Splash!, The Bodyguard, Beverly Hills Cop, Daredevil and Speed among many others.