Central MA on the Big Screen
Central Massachusetts has earned its spot in the limelight.
Ryan Reynolds and Will Ferrell visited a Central Massachusetts staple during the filming of their holiday film "Spirited." Mechanics Hall makes its on-screen cameo during a modern-day musical take on "A Christmas Carol," during which Reynolds plays a Scrooge-like representation and Ferrell depicts the Ghost of Christmas Present. Renowned for its elegance and sound qualities, Mechanics Hall's cultural significance, its stunning décor and architectural detail have earned it a listing on the National Register of Historic Places. The Hall is known as the finest pre-Civil War performance hall in America, an acoustical masterpiece sought after by musicians and recording artists worldwide and a beloved local meeting space suited for special events.
"Don’t Look Up"
A key scene of Netflix’s "Don’t Look Up," an American political satire disaster comedy starring the beloved Meryl Streep, Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence and Kate Blanchett, was filmed at the DCU Center in December 2020. Netflix rented the arena for four days, and the DCU center had 75 of its own employees, including security, housekeepers and stagehands, work on production. The DCU center, typically hosting events, concerts, family shows, sporting events, conventions and meetings, was used as a “rally in an arena environment” for Streep’s scene, according to DCU Center General Manager Sandy Dunn. In it, DiCaprio and Lawrence play star-crossed astronomers that discover a devastating meteor is on a collision course with earth, while Streep plays President Janie Orlean, who shrugs off the warnings and spreads “fake news” to her rabid fan base about the severity of the impending impact.
Another film starring Ryan Reynolds, “Free Guy” found itself at a Worcester favorite called Brew on the Grid, as well as on Portland and Franklin streets across from Worcester Common. The cast and crew also utilized several storefronts along the street for equipment, makeup and other related production work. In the open world video game Free City, Guy (Reynolds) is the leading man playing a non-player character (NPC) working as a bank teller. Thanks to a program developed by programmers Milly (Comer) and Keys (Keery) inserted into Free City by the publisher Antoine (Waititi), Guy becomes aware of his world being a video game, and takes steps to make himself the hero, creating a race against time to save the game before the developers can shut it down.
Written by Worcester writer and public school teacher Caitlin McCarthy, "Wonder Drug" features the quiet neighborhood and houses on Blue Bell Road and Burncoat Street. "This will be my first produced, future screenplay and what better way to bring it to life than here in my hometown,” McCarthy tells Spectrum News 1. “Especially with the pandemic taking place, I am thinking of all the businesses that could really benefit from having a production here. I would love to give back to the community that has given me so much.” McCarthy’s screenplay, produced by Rhino films, tells the jarring story of the side effects of a drug known as DES, a drug given to pregnant women decades ago, in an effort to raise awareness about the topic.
"Dexter: New Blood"
A Showtime revival for the well-known serial killer "Dexter" puts Massachusetts at the forefront of the first trailer for "Dexter: New Blood" (2021). The production crew filmed primarily west of I-495 in towns like Boylston, Devens, Gardner, Lancaster, Sterling, West Boylston and Worcester—in notable spots like the Tantiusques hiking area in Sturbridge and in small neighborhoods in Worcester, turning the sunny 70 degree days into a winter wonderland.
In the fall of 2019, “Taken” star and Oscar and Golden Globe-nominated actor Liam Neeson and a film crew shot several scenes in Worcester: at the AC Mariott hotel, City Square, Federal Square, Main Street in front of deadhorse hill, and the 200 Block of Commercial Street, among others. Filmmakers staged a car crash in the Salisbury and Lancaster streets in Worcester, and scenes were also shot in Oxford, Fitchburg, Leicester and Boston. Directed by Mark Williams, “Honest Thief” casts Neeson as a bank robber who tries to go straight, yet realizes that federal agents are more corrupt than he ever was.
"Christmas on Ice"
Worcester seems to be the perfect setting for a Lifetime movie, and “Christmas on Ice” was just that, filmed Downtown at Worcester Common Oval, City Hall, and at Fidelity Bank Worcester Ice Center and BirchTree Bread Co. in the Canal District. “Christmas on Ice” tells the story of Courtney Bennett (Abigail Klein), a former U.S. figure skating hopeful, as she runs her city’s public skating rink—until the Mayor (Will Lyman) announces its closing. Determined to save it, heartbroken Courtney enlists the help of a professional hockey player (Ryan Cooper), and of course, we know how the rest goes.
Films at Worcester Regional Airport
Starring Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz, the opening scene of "Knight and Day" (2010) was filmed right at the Worcester Regional Airport, which was made to be Wichita, Kansas, in the movie. "Knight and Day" is a 2010 American action comedy film directed by James Mangold, and was the second on-screen collaboration of Cruise and Diaz, following the 2001 film Vanilla Sky. Diaz plays June Havens, a classic car restorer who unwittingly gets caught up with the eccentric secret agent Roy Miller, played by Cruise, who is on the run from the CIA.
Another popular flick filmed in parts at the local airport is Ava, a thriller starring Jessica Chastain, which involves a female assassin traveling the world whose job goes dangerously wrong. You'll catch this Central Massachusetts staple in the first few moments of the film, posing as what was once Paris’ principal plane space in Le Bourget, France—where Ava picks up the next target on her kill list.
A movie based primarily in Shelburne Falls, Mass., also used Worcester Regional as a backdrop for scenes. The drama/comedy "The Judge" (2014) stars Robert Downey Jr. and Robert Duvall, during which the production crew worked their magic and turned small-town Massachusetts into small-town Indiana. Before your next flight out of the Worcester Regional Airport, grab some brunch from Livia’s Dish or Puerto Rican fare from Nuestra.
Films at Worcester Art Museum
"American Hustle" gave Worcester a taste of Hollywood through a flurry of celebrity sightings, bringing new energy to the city. Starring Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jeremy Renner and Jennifer Lawrence. Scenes were filmed at Nick’s Bar and Restaurant on Millbury Street, Union Station and the Worcester Art Museum. Directed by David O. Russell, the film follows up his last movie, “Silver Linings Playbook,” as Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) dabbles in forgery and loan-sharking, but things change in a big way when he falls for fellow grifter Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams). Caught by FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper), Irving and Sydney are forced to work under cover as part of DiMaso's sting operation to nail a New Jersey mayor (Jeremy Renner). Meanwhile, Irving's jealous wife (Jennifer Lawrence) will potentially tear everything apart. The movie is based on the 1970s Abscam case and was nominated for 10 Academy Awards.
Another flick that used WAM as a star of the show: "The Maiden Heist" (2009)—a crime comedy film involving three museum security guards that devise a plan to steal the artworks they've grown so attached to. This one flaunts big names like Christopher Walken, Morgan Freeman and William H. Macy.
Films on Main Street
"Surrogates" (2009), starring Bruce Willis, was filmed in the old Central District Court building (now luxury apartments) and the former Boys' Vocational High School on the north end of Main Street.
Another big name to grace Main Street: Marvel Studios closed down more than a dozen streets in Worcester for the highly acclaimed film.
More Films in Downtown Worcester
"Tumbledown" (2016): A romantic comedy with scenes on Grove Street and at Worcester State University
"Julia" (2022): HBO TV series based on the life of Julia Child with scenes in Downtown Worcester
"The Tender Bar" (2021): George Clooney's adaptation of journalist J.R. Moehringer’s memoir with Downtown Worcester as the backdrop
"We Don't Belong Here" (2017): A drama film about a dysfunctional family whose son goes missing, starring names like Catherine Keener, Kaitlyn Dever, Molly Shannon and Maya Rudolph
More to Discover
Central Massachusetts, especially Worcester, has earned a reputation of being eager to cooperate and collaborate, making it an even more attractive filming destination. Take a peek at a local movie scavenger hunt by using the Discover Central MA App & Itinerary here. Looking for more adventures? Check out this list of scenic destinations and mysterious & unique places in Central Massachusetts.