Self-Storage Goes Hollywood: Film & TV Depictions of the Industry

Posted by Brad Hadfield on Feb 21, 2024 12:16:13 PM

It’s probably the most famous – and infamous – self-storage scene in movie history. In 1990’s The Silence of the Lambs, FBI agent Clarice Starling, played by Jodie Foster, follows a lead to “Your Self Storage.” While hunting through a huge storage unit, alongside a stash of dismantled mannequins, she finds – 34 year old spoiler alert! – the head of one of Hannibal Lecter’s victims in a jar of formaldehyde.



While it’s nice to be featured alongside superstars like Foster and Anthony Hopkins in an Oscar-winning film, the fact remains that the scene presents self-storage as dark and scary, as if body parts could be found in any unit at any time. 

Of course, it’s not the only time a serial killer rents a self storage facility in film or television. In the Showtime series Dexter, a serial killer known as "The Tooth Fairy" rents a unit in which to keep his trophies – teeth, of course. And in the movie Monster, starring Charlize Theron as serial murderess Aileen Wuornos, she keeps her belongings in self-storage because of her roaming lifestyle (as this movie is based on fact, we can’t fault them for this depiction; at least she never kept bodies in there).



So, with the announcement of a new horror movie called Self Storage starring wrestler, rocker, and occasional actor Chris Jericho coming to a theater streaming service near you, I decided to look back at self-storage through the Hollywood lens. The mission? To find the good, the bad, and the ugly depictions of self storage.


Proudest Self Storage Moments at the movies

It’s rare, but there are occasions when self-storage isn’t made out to be scary and is actually used for a good purpose. Here are three films that any self-storage owner should be proud to be associated with!


Citizen Kane

It may surprise you to know that self-storage is mentioned in Citizen Kane, despite being released in 1941 before our industry had even made a splash. Written, directed by, and starring Orson Welles, the movie tells the story of a publishing tycoon who longs for more in his life. 


Screenshot 2024-02-04 at 5.03.52 PMIn one scene, Kane tells his wife Susan that he is on his way to a Manhattan storage warehouse. “You see, my mother died... Her things were put into storage out west because I had no place to put them then.” he says. “And tonight I'd planned to make a sort of sentimental journey to the scenes of my youth – my childhood, I suppose.”


While Kane was likely not talking about self-storage as we know it today – historians say self-storage first showed up in Florida in the late 1950s or Texas in the early 1960s – I still consider a mention in the “greatest film of all time” to be a big win for self storage. Read more about self-storage’s beginnings in MSM’s story Phoenix Rising: The Capital of Self-Storage.



There are not too many people cooler than James Bond, and in the 2012 entry Skyfall we learn that he keeps his iconic Aston Martin DB5 in self-storage. Now, if you can trust a vehicle like this to our industry, we’re doing something right!



Larry Crowne

In 2011’s Larry Crowne, Tom Hanks plays a man who has found himself on the unemployment line after a wave of corporate downsizing. Now directionless, he enrolls in a community college where he meets and falls for his instructor (she's played by Julia Roberts, so of course he does).


Screenshot 2024-02-12 at 12.46.07 PM In one scene, she takes him to her storage unit to find some new clothes (she’s been storing the garments hoping to one day open a boutique). The movie shows them getting to the unit – Bellflower Self Storage in California to be exact – via scooters.


Self Storage on Television

Self storage can be seen in many popular television shows (and we’re not talking about true crime shows, in which a self-storage facility is undoubtedly used for nefarious purposes and a roll up door is always pulled open only to reveal something dead or illegal). So, here’s a look at some shows featuring self storage and a few honorable mentions.


Agents of SHIELD

The MCU is arguably the biggest franchise on the planet, so even though self storage only appeared on the small screen, it’s nice to be part of that cinematic universe. In this scene, two agents are pursued by the villain Hellfire and cornered in a vacant unit after he blows the door from its frame. Who comes to the rescue? Ghost Rider, who uses the unit’s chain hoist as a weapon (if this doesn’t get you thinking about your self-storage doors, you need to read our story on Door Diligence).



The Big C

This is a big spoiler so if you intend to watch this show, you’ve been warned. In this scene from the final episode, a son finds out that his mother (Laura Linney), who has passed from cancer, had been squirreling away presents for him in her self-storage unit. As he goes through stacked and wrapped gifts, he finds that she has left behind presents for every birthday and Christmas she would not be there for. There’s even a shiny new Ford Mustang convertible for him. Get the tissues ready if you watch this one!



True Detective

This series was a massive critical and commercial success for HBO (it’s currently in its fourth season with Jodie Foster – yes, her again – at the helm). In the first season, which premiered in 2014, Rust (Matthew McConaughey) hunts down a mysterious killer that has eluded him for years. In the first episode, Rust reconnects with his former partner Marty (Woody Harrelson) who brings him to his storage unit where he has set up a makeshift investigation, complete with items that should probably be in an evidence locker. But, we’re glad Marty feels his unit is secure enough to house all this important stuff!



The Vampire Diaries

Okay, I never watched this show so I don’t really know the details – all you need to know is that an all-powerful vampire named Klaus has been locked in a coffin and hidden in a self-storage facility. In this scene, someone tears apart several units in search of Klaus, managing to break off disc locks with his bare hands – yeah, right. But I guess anything is possible in a world where vampires exist. In the meantime, read more about self-storage locks here.



Breaking Bad

This hugely popular, Emmy-award winning show – if you haven’t seen it, surely you know the basic plot – contains a scene that any self-storage auction bidder could only dream of. In it, teacher-turned-meth-maker Walter White joins his wife Skyler at her storage unit, where she has been storing his illegal earnings – approximately $80 million worth! Fun fact: The U-Store-It where the cash was stored is located in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where you can also swing by The Breaking Bad Store to pick up some Los Pollos Hermanos swag and more. 




Seinfeld Self StorageIn one of television’s most popular sitcoms, it’s revealed that Jerry and Kramer share a self-storage unit. One day, when dropping off some items, they discover the unit is completely filled up with mail bags.Turns out Newman the mailman got hold of Kramer’s key and, tired of delivering mail, decided to just toss it in storage. Hilarity ensues. Now, just imagine if the unit had been equipped with today’s smart technology – Jerry and Kramer would’ve known when someone else was accessing their unit!


Honorable mentions:

  • Married With Children
    The Bundy’s neighbor Marci rents a self-storage unit to keep her childhood toys in order to one day give them to her daughter. Her husband Jefferson forgets to pay the rent and everything is eventually auctioned off. Read more about self-storage auction laws.
  • The Big Bang Theory
    Late in the series’ run, we learn Sheldon rents a self-storage unit to house all his unused childhood books, clothes, electronics, and more. He refers to it as his “Fortress of Shame” – not a ringing endorsement but hey, it allowed him to hang on to his childhood a little bit longer.
  • Girls
    In one episode, our main character Hannah leaves New York. When she later returns, she finds that her boyfriend has moved in with another woman and has put all her items in self-storage. Heartbroken, she winds up sleeping with her belongings in the facility for the night. Pro-tip: It was only one night, but don’t make self-storage your home.
  • Dead To Me
    Throughout season one, the Mercedes involved in a hit-and-run accident is hidden away in self-storage. While not as sexy as the James Bond example for obvious reasons, I still appreciate that a self-storage facility was trusted enough to house the vehicle.

Dead to me car storage


The Self Storage Horror Trend

So, back to where we started. At least The Silence of the Lambs won Oscars. Today, self-storage has become a setting for all types of low-budget thrillers, mostly of the horror variety. Sure, there have been a few attempts to make something centered around self-storage less scary – in 2010, there was a short-lived series with the creatively-challenged title Self Storage about a couple, suffering the consequences of the Great Recession, who find themselves living in a storage unit (again, let’s not give people any ideas). But for the most part, self-storage is presented as scary. Not including the upcoming and aforementioned Chris Jericho project, take a look at these doozies:

  • Locked In (2021). A young woman and her daughter are stalked by thieves following a heist gone wrong at a self-storage facility.
  • The Hoarder (2015). A young woman is stalked by a killer after entering an underground storage facility.
  • Blood Shed (2014). A homeless man living in a self storage facility is stalked by an otherworldly creature that lives there too.
  • Self Storage (2013). A self-storage employee and his friends are stalked by a psycho (Eric Roberts, Julia's brother – not featured in Larry Crowne!) during an after-hours party on the premises.
  • Storage 24 (2012). Several people are stalked by a creature in a self-storage facility following its release from a military aircraft.


Are you seeing a common thread? Anyhow, making self-storage horrific has become lazy. It’s easy to understand why it’s done though – facilities may be thought of as big, empty mazes on the dark outskirts of town. But this generally is no longer true, and it doesn’t seem that some of these Hollywood types have ever visited a modern storage facility – the Class-A kind that feature high levels of technology and security, beautiful aesthetics, and strict access control.


So perhaps someday they will visit them, and Hollywood will feature the industry in a more positive light and get itself out of the horror gutter. May I suggest a rags-to-riches comedy about a self-storage auction turning someone into a millionaire? A National Treasure-style adventure involving a scavenger hunt throughout various facilities? Or how about your classic rom-com, in which two people meet-cute at their adjacent storage units? Come on Hollywood. Give me a call.



Brad Hadfield is a news writer for Modern Storage Media and manages the website.