I moved to Seattle almost a year ago this September.
My research before the 2,500-mile cross-country move from the East Coast to the Emerald City: I watched Washington-centric movies. Here’s what I learned, with recommendations for what to watch and what to skip if you’re conducting your own research.
The “Twilight” saga
“Twilight” (2008), “New Moon” (2009), “Eclipse” (2010), “Breaking Dawn — Part 1″ (2011) and “Breaking Dawn — Part 2” (2012)
Plot: Based on Stephenie Meyer’s books and set in Forks, Clallam County, the film series follows the “Romeo and Juliet”-esque love story between new Washington transplant Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) and vampire Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson).
Educational value: High. This movie was mostly filmed in Portland — not the real Forks — but it offers an atmospheric mood that I’ve used to describe Seattle winters.
Washington is gray and gloomy
When friends first asked me what Seattle’s like, I described it as living in a “Twilight” movie. Growing up in the Northeast, I’m used to four seasons and short winter days, but I wasn’t prepared for the endless gloomy, gray days or the seasonal depression succinctly illustrated in a one-minute “New Moon” montage scene where October, November and December bleed together with Bella sitting in her bedroom, missing the sparkly presence of her vampire boyfriend. When the sun occasionally comes out during these rainy winter months, my mood lifts and I feel like I, too, could sparkle like a Cullen.
Washington has really tall, green trees
Besides teaching us a lot about baseball, “Twilight” shows off Washington’s really tall and green trees — also a fascination of “Twin Peaks'” Special Agent Dale Cooper. While I’ve since grown used to the greenery, my friend — also an Arizona-to-Washington transplant like Bella — reminded me that this kind of stuff doesn’t exist in other parts of the country, which are experiencing some form of drought.
“The Half of It” (2020)
Plot: Set in the fictional Eastern Washington town of Squahamish, this poignant coming-of-age Netflix film is about Ellie Chu (Leah Lewis), a gay teenage Asian American ghostwriter who’s paid by high school football tight end Paul Munsky (Daniel Diemer) to write love letters to his (and Ellie’s) crush, Aster Flores (Alexxis Lemire).
Educational value: Medium. This didn’t rank higher on educational value since I didn’t get a strong sense of place from this film beyond the city’s fictional name. “The Half of It,” which was filmed in New York state, could have taken place in other parts of America. That said: I absolutely adored this film — which is perfect for fans of John Green novels.
Washington has Native American roots
To the non-Washington resident, it may be hard to guess which of the following places are fictional: Squahamish, Sammamish, Suquamish, Swinomish, Squamish and Snohomish. The Pacific Northwest is the ancestral home to the Coast Salish tribes, whose language helped influence Washington’s origins. This film will teach you the correct pronunciation of Wenatchee.
Dress code: Go for the plaid flannels
Plaid flannels. Stripes. Denim. Track jackets. Tees. Sweaters. Ellie Chu and the cast of “The Half of It” have an unobtrusive wardrobe that prioritizes comfort. They are also masters at the art of layering.
Washington is hilly
When I think back to this movie, I picture Ellie biking up winding rural roads with slight inclines. Seattle is also hilly (if you need evidence, see Exhibit A: Queen Anne Hill).
“10 Things I Hate About You” (1999)
Plot: In order to date Bianca Stratford (Larisa Oleynik), new kid Cameron James (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) pays Patrick Verona (Heath Ledger) to date Bianca’s older sister, Kat Stratford (Julia Stiles).
Educational value: Medium. This highlights a number of Seattle tourist attractions including Kerry Park, Lake Union, Gas Works Park and the Fremont Troll, but this modern retelling of Shakespeare’s “Taming of the Shrew” doesn’t offer more than a visual tour of Seattle and Tacoma. Still, this film gets bonus points for being filmed in Seattle rather than cinematic look-alike cities like Vancouver, B.C., or Los Angeles.
Seattle likes coffee
As student tour guide Michael Eckman (David Krumholtz) explains the cliques of Padua High School (filmed at Stadium High School in Tacoma) to new kid Cameron, Michael notes the very edgy coffee kids who crowd around a Tully’s Coffee stand. Tully’s, like Starbucks, has roots in Washington. The chain’s first location was in a shopping center near Panther Lake in Kent.
“The Paper Tigers” (2020)
Plot: Aging gung fu (this is the Cantonese pronunciation used in the film) pupils Danny (Alain Uy), Hing (Ron Yuan) and Jim (Mykel Shannon Jenkins) reunite in Seattle’s Chinatown International District for the first time in decades after the death of their teacher, Sifu Cheung (Roger Yuan).
Educational value: High. Filmed in Seattle and directed by Olympia’s Quoc Bao Tran, “The Paper Tigers” has a distinct sense of place — transporting you to dim sum and Peking duck restaurants and back alleys in Seattle’s Chinatown International District.
Seattle’s the home to a gung fu legend
“The Paper Tigers” centered on the death of a fictional gung fu master but Seattle is a city with martial arts roots. Bruce Lee, whose death gets a mention in the film, is buried in Seattle’s Lake View Cemetery. Lee lived in Seattle from 1959 to 1964. “The Paper Tigers,” which stars an Asian American cast, plays homage to Lee and his legacy.
Seattle has a vibrant Chinatown
This film is a great sizzle video for the Chinatown International District, showcasing landmarks like the Chinatown Gate, the arches and Ping-Pong tables at Hing Hay Park and the signs outside Tai Tung, Seattle’s oldest Chinese restaurant.
It’s hard to park in Seattle
There’s a scene where Danny, who’s late to pick up his son from his divorced wife, boxes in two cars in a parking lot. I’ve never done the same, but I have been late to meetings after circling around Seattle streets in attempts to find parking.
“Say Anything…” (1989)
Plot: Teen Lloyd Dobler (John Cusack) persuades his high school valedictorian crush, Diane Court (Ione Skye), to go on a series of dates with him in Seattle before she leaves for a London fellowship.
Educational value: Low. The iconic scene featuring John Cusack holding a boombox over his head is more memorable than an opening driving sequence featuring a “Welcome to Seattle” sign.
Key takeaway: None
“Sleepless in Seattle” (1993)
Plot: Baltimore Sun writer Annie Reed (Meg Ryan) flies to Seattle after hearing a radio call from recent widower Sam Baldwin (Tom Hanks) and his 8-year-old son, Jonah Baldwin (Ross Malinger).
Educational Value: Medium. This is the movie responsible for putting “Sleepless in Seattle” nightgowns in airport souvenir stores. It offers a postcard-esque view of Seattle’s Pike Place Market, Lake Union, Alki Beach and the Space Needle, but does it actually teach us that much about Seattle beyond the stereotypes?
“It rains nine months of the year in Seattle.”
In an exchange with Meg Ryan, David Hyde Pierce, who plays her brother, famously said that line when talking about the undesirability of Seattle as a place to move to. Tom Hanks walks around with a big umbrella as buckets of rain fall outside his Lake Union houseboat. Yes, it rains in Seattle — and it also drizzles, sprinkles and showers — but I don’t remember the last time I’ve seen a Seattleite actually using an umbrella.