Fun fact: That's not just a storm drain system, that's what's left of the Los Angeles River (which would be dry in the summer if not for lawn runoff, and which has been put into concrete channels for almost its entire length). The river is pretty much gone now (except during sudden downpours), mostly due to urban development and diverting its tributaries. A major 1938 flood (yes, the river was once substantial enough that it overflowed its banks from time to time) that forced the recall of the then-mayor caused the Army Corps of Engineers to concrete the living daylights out of large portions of it, resulting in the grey manmade ditch you see today. Note that this is not the same as the L.A. sewer system.
Basically, these large concrete channels get a lot of mileage for chase scenes in movies because they look interesting, they allow for a lot of speed, there's no traffic you need to block or divert for filming, and they're conveniently nearby for any shows or movies produced in the Los Angeles area (that is to say, anything produced in Hollywood, which is quite a bit of stuff).
If you want to see the river in something approaching its natural state, go north to Van Nuys and the Sepulveda flood-control basin (another result of the aforementioned 1938 flood), east of Griffith Park for a 3-mile stretch (now open since 2013 to kayaking and boating), or south to San Pedro and Long Beach, where the river still flows into the sea, sans concrete. There have been many calls to try and restore the rest of the river to a natural state, but none of them seem to have gained much traction at local, state or Federal levels.
Compare with Artificial Riverbank for the Japanese equivalent built for similar reasons.
- Something that looks suspiciously like the LA river drain system can be seen in exterior shots of the Torumekian capital city of Tolas in the manga version of Nausicaš of the Valley of the Wind, suggesting Tolas may in fact be a post-apocalyptic Los Angeles.note
- In Ralph Breaks the Internet, the Car Chase between Vanellope and Shank leads them into an area reminiscent of the LA river drainage system.
- A drag race in the river plays a pivotal role in Turbo. It's where the main character, a snail that wants to be fast, gets Super-Speed after getting caught inside one of the cars' engines, and gets an infusion of nitrous oxide.
- The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension was shot at the Sepulveda Dam, which holds back part of the river as a flood control measure.
- The eponymous critter in Big Ass Spider! takes up residence here for a brief time during its rampage; obviously intended as a homage to Them!
- The final scene of Blood In Blood Out takes place in the L.A. storm drains where Paco meets Cruz to see one of his murals and where he comes to accept that he is responsible for everything that has happened to Miklo.
- In Boulevard Nights, Raymond's neighborhood directly abuts the LA "River"; in the opening scene he and a buddy scamper down into the concrete ditch to drink beer. Later, after Chuco gets shot, Raymond takes the car on a wild careening ride through the drain as he races to the hospital.
- The film Brick involves a murder that took place in a tunnel in the viaduct system.
- The plot of Chinatown revolves around the LA water system. The concrete structures are featured.
- The final scene of Circle is set here, before moving out to a nearby street.
- A car chase in Cleopatra Jones takes us through here.
- Early in The Core, the crew of the Space Shuttle has to make an emergency landing here after Earth's collapsing magnetic field causes the Shuttle's navigation systems to go haywire during reentry.
- There's some driving down the L.A. river in the film Drive (2011). Since The Driver seems to see himself as a character in a film, this is a direct nod to the trope itself.
- Freaky Friday (1976): The madcap chase Annabel leads the cops on ends here, as a wild ride through the LA River basin ends with both cop cars getting wrecked.
- Gone in 60 Seconds (2000) has an L.A. river chase scene.
- It's the site of the car race in the film version of Grease.
- The end of The Gumball Rally included a race down the LA river.
- The 2003 Mark Wahlberg remake of The Italian Job has the heroes driving through the viaducts in Mini Coopers as part of their getaway.
- Discussed in a Mystery Science Theater 3000 movie. They're having a Grease-style car race in the river, and Crow riffs "The L.A. River, for all your car-chase needs!"
- In the film Point Break (1991), Utah chases one of the "Ex-President" bank robbers on foot, ending with him injuring his knee after jumping into the viaduct and his quarry getting away.
- The car chase in Repo Man goes into the drains as well.
- Terminator 2: Judgment Day, when the T-800 first encounters and rescues John Connor from the T-1000 (the motorcycle vs. truck scene), was filmed at the corner of Plummer and Hayvenhurst in Northridge, in the Bull Creek wash, a tributary to the L.A. river.
- Where the giant ants ended up in Them!.
- As well as the murderous mutant baby in It's Alive.
- The car chase in To Live and Die in L.A. includes a section where Chance and Vukovich are pursued through the L.A. storm drains.
- In Transformers (2007), Sector Seven are chasing after the Autobots, Sam, and Mikaela, and they wind up there, as well subsequently capturing Bumblebee not far from the 4th Street bridge.
- In the finale of Volcano, they demolished an empty high-rise so it would fall into the path of a stream of lava flowing down a street, directing it into a storm drain where it would flow into the sea.
- In The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit, Villanazul metaphorically uses this as part of his "No More Holding Back" Speech to inspire the people of the barrio to "cross the river" from the Wrong Side of the Tracks.
Villanazul: Got to swim across that river. When I get across, what then? Hey, now. Wait. There's no water in that river. There's no river in that bed. There's just the empty desert lies there, all cement and concrete. And no rain to fill the river, but the river's in my head. So I'm going to walk on water, though there is no water there. But I got to cross that river, somehow. So I'll get my share.
- 24: Near the end of season three, jet fighters launch a bombing run to destroy a villain's helicopter parked here.
- The guys of Adam-12 visit it a time or two in the series.
- Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 4 has Phil Coulson race Robbie Reyes into here.
- The fifteenth season of The Amazing Race started there. In one of the crueler eliminations ever, one team was eliminated right there in the concrete ditch, without ever getting to go to another country.
- Frequently used by Angel on Angel.
- The Beverly Hillbillies: In "Christmas at the Clampetts", the hillbillies receive a boat as a gift from Mr. Drysdale. Jed, having heard of the Los Angeles River, directs Jethro to take the family down to the "stream". The hillbillies are disappointed, to say the least.
Elly May: Well, there ainít enough water down there to wet down a good-sized crawdad, is there Pa?
Jed: Pitiful, pitiful.
- Bosch and Irving stroll down the LA River and talk about how the city's spruced it up a little bit, but it's still an ugly concrete ditch. In episode 4, Bosch's pursuit of Reynard Waits through the sewers ends up with Bosch in the concrete ditch, having lost Waits.
- In episode 4-3 Drake meets Sheehan at the LA River and comments about how much he hates it.
- Seen a lot in Stock Footage on CHiPs, with the cops riding their motorcycles through it to get wherever they were going.
- The Discovery Channel show The Colony was a "survival experiment" set in a What If? After the End setting where Humanity has been wiped out by a disease. The gathered "survivors" had to band together to survive by any means that they could. Housing and warmth, defenses from animals and raiders, food, running water- all the necessities needed to survive. The 1st installment was filmed in an abandoned industrial park surrounding the Los Angeles river channels. The surrounding area was cordoned off from the public to ensure that the immersion wasn't broken. This also included making sure that no cars or planes were heard passing by.
- CSI: Cyber: In "Gone in 6 Seconds", the FBI catch the hacker responsible for the Murder by Remote Control Vehicle in the Los Angeles river channels. This was the spot of the car crash that cost him the use of his legs, so that is why he chose it for his ultimate revenge.
- Emergency! visited the drains once. A car somehow wound up upside-down in one of the river channels, and the men of Station 51 have to rescue the driver.
- In the Quantum Leap episode "The Kamikaze Kid" [sic] Sam leaps into a 17-year-old racing enthusiast in San Gabriel Valley, CA. He and the bad guy of the episode have their climactic race in the drains.
- Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles Season 2 premiere included a chase here.
- An episode of Top Gear (US) uses this to test three-period muscle cars and their 21st-century replacements.
- During a race from the Valley of Fire down to Palm Springs (and later onto the US/Mexico border) in Season 19, the UK version of Top Gear made a stop at one of these. Though, after a bout of tire-spinning from Clarkson, Hammond, and May, they had to make a swift exit.
- The Calling's music video for "Wherever You Will Go" is shot almost entirely in the river.
- The music video for Chicago's Stay the Night was filmed in and around the LA River. Legend has it that then-lead singer Peter Cetera did his own stunts. (The link in the first sentence is blocked in the US; Americans can go here for the video.)
- The Swirling Eddies song "What a World, What a World" has the repeated lyrics, "Roll LA River, roll / and take me to a better world."
- In Pharrell Williams' "24 Hours of Happy" (various people dancing to his hit song "Happy" in and around Los Angeles over the course of 24 hours) several clips take place in the LA River, starting at 7:56 am.
- Kim Lip of LOONA runs down one of these channels in "Girl Front".
- Another video shot there is "The Statue Got Me High" by They Might Be Giants.
- The Crew, of course, has them in its representation of LA. Bonus points for your introduction to Vincent: he's working as a stunt driver on a movie filming in the LA River.
- The Fairport canals visited early on in F.E.A.R.: Perseus Mandate are almost a carbon copy of the Los Angeles riverbed ditches.
- Grand Theft Auto
- The Los Santos storm drain system appears in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, and is where most of the mission "Just Business" takes place; it can also be visited in "Gray Imports". Before and after that, it's a good way to slink around half the city, as it has slopes that lead to street level everywhere, and there's absolutely no traffic.
- Grand Theft Auto V also has them in its version of Los Santos, and they get used in several missions.
- The climax of the Jewel Store Job has the player escape from the cops through the sewers and out into the river.
- In the mission "Hood Safari", after Franklin, Trevor, and Lamar get into a huge shootout with the Ballas, they escape from the cops by jet skiing through the river.
- In the mission "Fame or Shame", Michael and Trevor chase Lazlow up the river and humiliate him as revenge for him embarrassing Michael's daughter Tracey on national television.
- Sometimes when switching to Trevor, he'll be in the middle of throwing some poor sap off a bridge and into the canal.
- You can drive the LA river in the video game L.A. Noire.
- A DLC mission culminates in a car chase down the river.
- The final mission takes you into the Absurdly-Spacious Sewer beneath the river channel.
- Midnight Club: Los Angeles: Also happens to be a drivable location there.◊
- Need for Speed: Underground, which is set in a No Communities Were Harmed version of LA, has several races that take you through empty storm drains.
- Snapper Canal in Splatoon 2 is a playable stage set in a large urban canal running under a train bridge, which bears several similarities to the L.A. River. According to Pearl, the canal may also be used for filming high-speed chase scenes in action movies.
- A few tracks in Split/Second (2010) are set in a storm drain system obviously based on LA's.
- In Twisted Metal (1995), set in Los Angeles, a canal similar to the LA river runs through the Cyburbia stage.
- BoJack Horseman: BoJack meets a sketchy drug dealer here in "Ancient History". While no car chases happen (although Officer Meow-Meow Fuzzycheeks does take the drug dealer down), its importance as a setting to the film industry is talked about.
Hollyhock: This looks super sketchy. It looks like where they did the drag race in Grease.
BoJack: Yeah, it is where they did the drag race in Grease. Where do you think they make movies?
- An episode of The Critic when Jay is working as a screenwriter has him chase down the producer in a car chase that ends at the Los Angeles River, complete with helpful sign lampshading its overuse for this purpose in media.
- DuckTales (1987): In "New Gizmo Kids on the Block", the police chase Ma Beagle and the Beagle Boys along a Los Angeles River lookalike ditch.
- Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated: How the Mystery Van enters the underground tunnels in "Gates of Gloom".
- The Simpsons:
- In "Bye Bye Nerdie", Bart and Lisa miss the school bus, and Marge chases the bus around the drain system so that it stops and they can catch it.
- This location's overuse in car chase scenes was made fun of in "The Old Man And The Key", when Abe races a rival group of seniors through a similar ditch in Springfield.
- In The Simpsons Movie, Homer uses part of a similar ditch to get onto the dome.
- Trollhunters the riverbed in Arcadia is clearly inspired by the L.A. River. It's dry and concreted most of the time other than when there's a storm. Jim and Toby deciding to cut through it on their bikes as a shortcut to school set's up the plot as it's where Jim finds the Trollhunter amulet, the entrance to Trollmarket is also under one of it's bridges.
- The Venture Brothers mostly avoided real-world locations until season six, but "The Family That Slays Together, Stays Together, Part 2" does have a scene set in the L.A. River. The Cleaner drops the Ventures off thereafter freeing them from the L.A.P.D.