In 1964, New York City played host to the premiere of Lilith, a psychological drama about a troubled Korean War veteran and an emotionally fragile young woman. The film starred Warren Beatty, Jean Seberg, Gene Hackman—and Montgomery County.
Over the years, the county has been featured in more than 100 films, according to IMDb, the online movie database. Watching some of the older films today provides a motion picture history of the area, offering nostalgic views of long-gone streetscapes and landscapes.
Rockville became the stand-in for
Lilith’s fictional town, with scenes shot along its shop-lined streets, inside Victorian residences, and around the area. Great Falls on the Maryland side provided a dramatic setting for some of the scenes; the tiny upcounty village of Barnesville was the site of a country carnival.
Lilith wasn’t the first commercially produced movie that was shot in the county. That distinction goes to the Thomas Edison documentary, Down the Old Potomac on the C&O Canal, filmed in 1917, according to the Library of Congress. IMDb identifies 49 films shot specifically in the Bethesda area in the past 50 years, from major studio releases to small independent films, shorts and documentaries.
Filmgoers can see Bethesda as it appeared in 1977 in I Never Promised You a Rose Garden, a heart-wrenching drama, and watch Julia Roberts and Denzel Washington run through the Bethesda suburbs in the 1993 legal thriller The Pelican Brief. Leonardo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe roamed Bethesda in the 2008 spy thriller Body of Lies.
The 1989 film Chances Are finds stars Cybill Shepherd and Robert Downey Jr. emoting in Glen Echo Park and at the old Rockville courthouse. Five years later, Chevy Chase served as the fictional hometown of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jamie Lee Curtis in the 1994 action movie True Lies. (Schwarzenegger’s ties to Bethesda run deep. Maria Shriver, his former wife, graduated from Westland Middle School, and her family’s home sat along
Old Georgetown Road near Rockville Pike.) The woods of Seneca Creek State Park appear in the 1999 horror classic The Blair Witch Project.
Bryan Greenberg, a star in the 2015 film A Year and Change, remarked to Montgomery Community Media that county residents were “awesome” when working with the crew as it filmed in Rockville. Atmospheric scenes for the tale of a young man’s dramatic transformation were shot at the Rockville Cemetery.
Local homes also have played starring roles. The crew of National Treasure: Book of Secrets, the 2007 thriller starring Nicolas Cage, set up shop in a Chevy Chase residence. A Colonial Revival farmhouse in Potomac was the setting for scenes in Philomena, starring Dame Judi Dench and nominated for Best Picture at the 2014 Academy Awards.
Handing over the family residence to Hollywood crews can earn the homeowner a tidy sum. Permits or payments to film in public places in Montgomery County aren’t necessary—shooting in public places only requires an application for closing roads. While payments to homeowners vary widely depending on the length and intricacy of use, residents can earn up to $10,000 for relinquishing their home. For less intrusive shoots, payments may range from $1,000 to $2,000.
After the film crews leave, the excitement subsides and life returns to normal. County homeowners are left with some extra cash—and the pride of sharing their house and hometown with moviegoers worldwide.