You can make a strong case for The Blues Brothers as the definitive Chicago film, but Ferris Bueller’s Day Off almost seems like a 103-minute commercial from the Chicago Office Of Tourism. That was no accident. Director (and Chicagoan) John Hughes described the film as his “love letter” to the city. He wanted to capture “not just the architecture, but the spirit.”
Of course, people will take issue with the city’s “spirit” being captured in the story of a well-off kid from the northern suburbs spending the day doing touristy stuff, but to harp on that is to kind of miss the point: Chicago looks glorious in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, and it is certainly reflects the love Hughes had for his hometown.
Actually, nearly every film Hughes directed showed some of that love, though usually via a suburban setting: The Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles, Planes, Trains & Automobiles, She’s Having A Baby. His films about teenagers are the most celebrated, and their filming locations around the Chicago area have become landmarks. It was news when Cameron’s house from Ferris Bueller went on the market, just as it was when the Home Alone house did. People trying to find Ferris’ house will need to travel a little farther, though: It’s in Long Beach, California.
A few high schools were used for Ferris Bueller, though the most prominent exterior scene takes place at Glenbrook North High School in suburban Northbrook. In front of the auditorium out back is where Ferris picks up Sloan in the morning, and the nearby field is where you see Ferris’ sister, Jeanie, eyeing the kids from gym class to see if Ferris is among them.
Hughes attended Glenbrook North, so it’s not surprising he chose to film there when he needed a location. He shot The Breakfast Club just a few miles away at what was Maine North High School, which had been decommissioned a few years prior to filming. It’s currently a state police building, but the exterior looks exactly like it did in The Breakfast Club. (That luxurious library was a set constructed in the school’s gym.)
Many of the locations from Bueller are tourist destinations in themselves, like the Sears Tower (now called Willis Tower), Wrigley Field, and the Art Institute Of Chicago. The Wrigley scene was the only one from the film actually shot during the summer; the rest of the film was shot in the fall. The changing foliage occasionally proved problematic, with at least one incident where crew had to paint leaves green. Fans who’d like to re-create Ferris’ day will need several days, and by one estimate, $316. (The A.V. Club recommends skipping Willis Tower for a drink at the top of the Hancock, which has no admission fee and a better view—even with the Willis’ cool clear boxes.)
Now that Ferris has long reached legal drinking age, he can check out the Hancock in that supposed sequel that will almost certainly never happen. But hey, if it does happen, he has a bunch of new landmarks to check out: Navy Pier, Millennium Park, the new modern wing of the Art Institute. One piece of advice though: Skip anything like Chez Quis and head to Hot Doug’s instead.