New York City is one of those places that, when I visited, it felt really familiar, like I’d been there before. And in a way, I had been there before – but not in the flesh; just in the darkness of a movie theatre. And after my first visit there, I wanted to relive those NYC memories, so I rented a bunch of movies set in New York.
After Los Angeles, New York City is the second most filmed city in the world, and the IMDb lists nearly 395,000 movies set in New York. So, here’s my list of the top, most memorable movies set in New York City. They have all inspired me about New York in some way, or they remind me of the thrill of being there – and I hope they might inspire you to dream of New York, too.
It’s a long list (!), so I’ve tried to break it up into categories – but feel free to use the Table of Contents below to jump to the section or movies you’re most interested in.
Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links. These are links to products or experiences I recommend and if you were to buy something after clicking on them, I might earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. Any earnings go towards the upkeep of this blog, which I appreciate.
Table of Contents
About This List Of Movies Set In New York City
I’ve read other blogs about movies set in New York City, but I was disappointed that they seem to feature the same shortlist of movies – and I didn’t feel like it represented the rich variety of movies that bring the city to life for me. So I decided to do my own list and to try to paint a broader picture of the way cinema exports New York City and New York living to the world.
I don’t necessarily love every single movie: some, I really like a place they feature; others, I really like the film. However, they all showcase New York in a way that was memorable or moving to me. I’ve listed the movies with the reason I think they’re memorably about New York City. And, as this is a travel blog, I’ve also tried to pick movies that are set in a range of locations around the city, and to provide some details about how you can visit them, where possible.
Finally, I’ve tried to include a real mix of genres and periods here, but I guess this list inevitably does betray my taste in film – plus my age (you may notice a heavy prevalence of movies from the 1980s and 1990s, ha-ha – these were the decades in which I was a child and a teenager).
Ps. If you’re exploring New York and want to visit some of the landmarks featured in movies, consider a City Pass for savings at the top attractions, including the Empire State Building, American Museum of Natural History and Top of the Rock® Observation Deck.
Movies That Destroy NYC Landmarks
Movies love to destroy New York. Why is that? I am not sure, but it certainly makes for some dramatic cinema scenes. Here are movies that feature memorable scenes of landmarks being destroyed in NYC.
1. King Kong – Empire State Building
Arguably the most iconic building in New York City, the Empire State Building has been a movie location many times. Perhaps most memorable are the scenes of a giant gorilla climbing the skyscraper like a tree and swatting at planes in both the 1933 and 2005 King Kong movies.
The Empire State Building was also memorably destroyed by aliens in Independence Day (1996) when the alien ship unleashed its city-destroying weapon directly over the empire state (which made the poster for the movie).
Fancy scaling this skyscraper yourself? Book your tickets to visit the observation deck of the Empire State Building on the 102nd floor.
2. Godzilla – Chrysler Building
Godzilla (1998) features another memorable destruction scene. My favourite skyscraper, resplendent in its silvery art deco design, gets damaged when Godzilla is rampaging through Manhattan and the army shoots missiles at him. He dodges the missiles and they hit the pretty Chrysler Building instead.
‘That’s the goddamned Chrysler Building!’ exclaims the mayor of New York.
3. The Day After Tomorrow – New York Public Library
Who could forget the New York Public Library in The Day After Tomorrow (2004)? In this natural disaster movie, the Library becomes a shelter for desperate survivors of an apocalyptic weather event in the northern hemisphere (first a massive tidal wave, then a sudden-onset ice age – all within a day!).
The scene of survivors roaming the grandiose Rose Reading Room, selecting which books to burn for heat is kind of funny.
The New York Public Library is located at 476 Fifth Avenue, Manhattan and entry is free. It is also a stop on my self-guided FREE walking tour of midtown Manhattan.
4. Cloverfield – Statue of Liberty
The Statue of Liberty is another icon of NYC; a symbol of the freedom America strives for. And the statue features in a couple of memorable movie scenes. One is Planet of the Apes (1968), where the discovery of the Statue of Liberty is a big revelation (I guess that’s a spoiler, but hey, it’s been several decades since the movie came out!).
But my favourite is Cloverfield (2008), an under-rated found footage-style monster movie where the marauding alien swipes the head off the Statue of Liberty, sending it hurtling down a Manhattan street.
You can visit the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island on this tour.
5. I Am Legend – Brooklyn Bridge
I am Legend (2007), starring Will Smith, takes place in a time when the world has been devastated by a virus that turns people into zombies (no, it’s not 2020!). It features various sites around Manhattan in such disrepair that nature is taking over.
In a failed attempt to contain the virus, Manhattan is cut off, and the bridges and tunnels connecting the island are destroyed. So, the Brooklyn Bridge in Lower Manhattan is blown up, leaving only one of its recognizable brick towers standing, suspension cables handing forlorn.
If you want to see this movie location in NYC, you can walk across the Brooklyn Bridge, which joins lower Manhattan near City Hall with the Dumbo area of Brooklyn. By the way, this is something I have built into my self-guided walking tour of Lower Manhattan.
6. Men In Black – World’s Fair, Queens
Another Will Smith movie sees the destruction of a rare non-Manhattan landmark: the site of the World’s Fair in Queens. This movie location sees Smith and Tommy Lee Jones battle with a giant cockroach to save the planet in the climactic scene in Men In Black (1997). It is better than it sounds!
Men In Black takes place all over New York and also features a memorable scene in The Guggenheim Museum, another NYC landmark. This unique circular building features at the start of the movie, where Smith’s character chases a man (psst: he’s an alien!) up the winding circular path inside the museum.
As well as a fascinating piece of architecture, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum is an art gallery that features a collection of Impressionist, Post-Impressionist and contemporary art. It is located at 1071 Fifth Avenue at 89th Street and you can get Guggenheim tickets here.
You can also see the doorway that is used as the entrance to the MIB headquarters. It is at 504 Battery Place.
Movies Set in New York City Landmarks
Thankfully, not all movies set in New York City are about destroying the city. There are many more that feature NYC landmarks intact and these movies helped make me feel like I knew New York before I’d even been there.
7. Sleepless In Seattle – Empire State Building & The Rockefeller Centre
As well as being destroyed in many movies, the Empire State Building is also a symbol of cinematic romance, featuring as the climactic meeting point of Meg Ryan and Tom Hank’s characters in Sleepless in Seattle (1993), which is influenced by a similar scene in An Affair to Remember (1957).
The Rockefeller Centre also plays a key role in the movie, because Meg Ryan’s character Annie is having dinner in the Rainbow Room and her table has a view of the Empire State Building, which prompts her to go there to meet Sam, played by Tom Hanks.
You too can get this stunning view of the Empire State Building and the rest of Manhattan yourself – get tickets for the Top of the Rock observatory here. If this place isn’t on your NYC bucket list, it should be!
8. Ghostbusters – Hook & Ladder Company 8 Fire station & 55 Central Park West
Here’s one of the most fondly remembered movies set in New York City. If you’ve seen the 1984 Ghostbusters movie, you’ll doubtless remember the Ghostbusters’ headquarters, which was located in an old firehouse. This is a real fire station, Hook & Ladder Company 8, which you can find at 14 North Moore Street in Tribeca.
And the apartment building that gets haunted/possessed/summons the powers of evil? That’s at 55 Central Park West, but it looks different to the movie because the movie changed the top of the building in post-production. You’ll recognise it from its location, though: it is opposite Central Park, next to Tavern on The Green, where Rick Morani’s character tries to escape the Hell Dog.
9. Man On Wire – World Trade Centre (Twin Towers)
There’s a really interesting documentary about Philippe Petit, a French wire walker who dreamed of walking a high wire between the two towers of the World Trade Centre. Man On Wire (2008) was made after they were destroyed and to me, it felt like a moving love letter to the twin towers and their legacy.
It’s also incredible to watch the footage of Petit doing the wire walk in 1974 – 1,312 feet above the ground!
10. 25th Hour – Ground Zero
There’s a film by Spike Lee called 25th Hour (2002), where one of the characters lives in an apartment overlooking the Ground Zero site when it was still being cleared up and reconstructed. The sense of loss and mourning in that scene was palpable.
Ground Zero of the attack on the World Trade Centre is now a moving memorial featuring the survivor tree and two memorial pools, inscribed with the names of those that died. You can visit the 9/11 memorial at 180 Greenwich Street, which is a stop on my self-guided walking tour of Downtown Manhattan.
11. Barefoot In The Park – Washington Square Park
Barefoot in the Park (1967) is a comedy that stars two legends of the 1960s, Robert Redford and Jane Fonda, as a mismatched newly married couple living in Greenwich Village. He’s uptight; she’s a free spirit. Will they make it work? Spoiler: yes.
Washing Square Park is the park referred to in the title. It is a popular park in the heart of Greenwich Village.
12. Spider-Man trilogy – Flatiron Building
My favourite thing about the Spider-Man trilogy starring Tobey Maguire is that they feature The Flatiron building as the location of the Daily Bugle newspaper, where Peter Parker works as a photographer.
The Flatiron building is another one of my favourite New York City buildings – its narrow front is so unique and iconic. You can see the Flatiron Building from Madison Square Park. It sits on the junction of 5th Avenue and Broadway – and it is another stop on my walking tour of Manhattan.
13. North By Northwest – Grand Central Terminal
The action in Hitchcock’s classic North By Northwest (1959) starts in New York City, on Madison Avenue and then at the Plaza Hotel. But most of these scenes are in a studio. However, the tense sequence when Cary Grant tries to escape his pursuers and board a train is shot in Grand Central Terminal.
The train he boards, the 20th Century Limited from New York to Chicago, was considered one of the classic sleeper train rides. It is also where the idea of ‘red carpet treatment’ first came from. As you’ll see in the movie, there was a red carpet for passengers to walk on all the way onto their carriage.
Grand Central Terminal is in midtown at 89 East 42nd Street (near the Chrysler Building). Even if you’re not getting a train, it is worth having a wander about the impressive main concourse. There’s also a nice bar up the steps near the big windows, where you can have a cocktail.
14. The Way We Were – Pulitzer Fountain
The Pulitzer Fountain outside the Plaza Hotel is the setting for a heart-breaking scene between Robert Redford and Barbra Streisand in The Way We Were (1973). The former lovers meet by the fountain and he’s with a new woman. ‘Your Girl is lovely, Hubbell’, she says, finally letting him go.
15. Night At The Museum – American Museum of Natural History
Night at the Museum (2006) is a movie set almost entirely in The American Museum of Natural History. It tells a fun story of the exhibits coming to life after the museum closes. It’s kind of strange going into the museum after seeing the movie because they recreated the look of the museum so well!
16. Die Hard With A Vengeance – Central Park
Die Hard With a Vengeance (1995) takes place at various locations around New York, but one of the stand-out scenes is in Central Park, where Bruce Willis and Samuel L Jackson race across the park in a taxi, following a set of instructions from a mysterious bad guy in order to stop a bomb from going off. I love high-concept action movies!
Central Park is that huge expanse of parkland in the middle of Manhattan Island is a location in literally hundreds of movies. A few other memorable scenes set in Central Park are:
- Dustin Hoffman running around the reservoir in nail-biting Marathon Man (1976)
- The emotional meetings between Dustin Hoffman’s Kramer, Meryl Streep’s Kramer and Justin Henry’s Kramer Junior in Kramer vs Kramer (1979)
- Harry & Sally stroll through the park and Sally has lunch with her friends at Loeb’s Boathouse in When Harry Met Sally (1989)
- Giselle breaks into song and dance in the park in Enchanted (2007)
There are lots of different ways to get into Central Park – and don’t worry, it isn’t all action all of the time. It’s actually very lovely and, in fact, strolling it or having a picnic there is one of the most romantic things to do in NYC.
17. The Thomas Crown Affair – The Met
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, more commonly known as the Met, is the scene of some elaborate heists in both The Thomas Crown Affair (1999) and Ocean’s Eight (2018).
The Met is a major art gallery in Manhattan, located on the edge of Central Park. It is also the venue for the uber-glamorous Met Gala, where celebrities play dress up once a year. You can get tickets for the Met here.
18. Saturday Night Fever – Verrazano Narrows Bridge
Saturday Night Fever (1977) is about a group of teenagers in Brooklyn in the 1970s dreaming of escaping their grim reality. There’s plenty of glitzy disco dancing, but one of its most memorable scenes takes place on the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, which connects Brooklyn and Staten Island.
Now, before you go off and watch Saturday Night Fever thinking it is a fun disco movie, just remember it is quite dark and gritty (and includes date rape and suicide).
19. The Bourne Ultimatum – East River
To the east of Manhattan is the East River. This is the body of water with the most famous bridges: the Brooklyn Bridge and the Manhattan Bridge.
The river itself features in the final sequence of The Bourne Ultimatum (2007). Jason Bourne jumps off a building into the East River, someone shooting at him at the same time. A shot from below the water shoes his body still, then it twitches into life. No, this isn’t a spoiler because they made a fourth movie.
Confession: I’ve kind of shoe-horned this in because I really like the Bourne movies, ha-ha!
Movies Set on New York City Streets
How many New York City streets and avenues do you know? I’ll bet it is more than one! Here are some movies which are set in the streets of New York City.
20. The Seven Year Itch – steaming Manhattan streets
One of the most enduring images of Manhattan is of streets with steam billowing out of subway vents. And one of the most recognisable images of Marilyn Monroe is her holding down a silky white dress as hot air from a New York subway vent blows it up in the air.
This scene is from The Seven Year Itch (1955). However, it is worth knowing the movie isn’t about Marilyn; it is mainly about a man who fantasises about her instead of his wife. In fact, Marilyn’s character doesn’t even have a name: she’s credited as ‘The Girl’.
If you’re keen to visit the location, I read the skirt scene was originally shot on 52nd Street & Lexington Avenue, though they had to re-shoot in a studio.
21. Wall Street – Wall Street
New York is a global financial centre. The deals and power struggles around Wall Street have inspired many storylines, including:
- Inside Man (2006) is about a bank robbery that takes place in a bank on Exchange Place, near Wall Street.
- The Big Short (2015) shows how some people profited from the global financial crisis in 2008.
- Wolf of Wall Street (2013) is about a fraud who made millions selling worthless stock.
However, the most classic must be Wall Street (1987), about the power struggle between two generations of stockbrokers, starring Michael Douglas, Charlie Sheen and Darryl Hannah. The slicked-back hair…
By the way, Wall Street features in my walking tour of Lower Manhattan.
22. Vanilla Sky – Times Square
Times Square is a dense junction of busy roads and neon signs. I didn’t love being there in person, but it looks great in movies. The most memorable movie role Times Square has played has to be the nightmarish scene in Vanilla Sky (2001) when Tom Cruise’s character runs through Times Square completely empty of cars and people. It’s both familiar and eerily strange!
You can visit Times Square at the junction of Broadway, Seventh Avenue and 42nd Street – but don’t expect it to be empty. Visit here as the sun goes down – it is one of the best things to do in New York at night
23. All About Eve – Broadway
Broadway is an emblem of the playful, joyful part of New York: the theatre district where you can find the best musical and theatrical live entertainment. Technically speaking, Broadway productions are those held in one of the 41 venues that seat 500 or more patrons, and Off-Broadway productions are in smaller venues.
There’s a classic Hollywood movie that captures something of the competitive pressure of performing on Broadway: All About Eve (1950) stars Bette Davis as an older Broadway star threatened by the rise of a younger ingenue, Eve, played by Anne Baxter.
24. Birdman – also Broadway
A more recent Broadway movie, which did well at the Oscars, Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2014) gives a dizzying behind-the-scenes view of the madness involved in staging a Broadway play.
Broadway, the road, traverses the full length of Manhattan from State Street in lower Manhattan all the way to Westchester County north of New York City, but Broadway, the theatrical destination, is spread out around Broadway between 41st and the Lincoln Centre at 65th streets.
Movies Set In New York City Establishments
New York City is a commercial hotspot with some iconic stores, hotels and eateries, many of which have been featured in movies over the decades.
25. Breakfast At Tiffany’s – Tiffany & Company
What’s more famous, the jewellery shop or the movie? Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961) is a movie based on a novella by Truman Capote and helped cement the vivacious but fragile star persona of Audrey Hepburn. The film’s name comes from the main character Holly Golightly’s preference for having a takeaway breakfast and eating it whilst looking longingly at diamonds in the window of Tiffany’s & Co.
Much of the movie’s style and imagery has stayed in the zeitgeist, but sadly, some things reflect a less enlightened time, like the offensive portrayal of a Chinese person.
If you want to have breakfast at Tiffany’s, for a while, the flagship Tiffany’s & Co store opened a cafe called the Blue Box Café – but it has been closed for renovations for a while, so you’ll have to look through the window at 6 East 57th Street like Holly did.
26. Miracle on 34th Street – Macy’s
Miracle on 34th Street (1947) is a much-loved black & white Christmas movie about a department store employee who may or may not be Santa.
The department store is the very famous Macy’s which is on, well, 34th Street.
27. Home Alone 2: Lost In New York – The Plaza Hotel
The Plaza is a grand old hotel on the southeast corner of Central Park. It has featured in tonnes of films, but who could forget it as the place Macauley Culkin’s Kevin hides out in Home Alone 2: Lost In New York (1992).
28. Sex & The City – Bemelmans Bar
The Plaza is good for cocktails, but my favourite bar in New York City is Bemelmans Bar. Stepping inside feels like travelling back in time: a jazz pianist plays as patrons drink exquisite cocktails served by immaculately suited waiters. The lights are dim, but you can make out the original illustrations that decorate the bar. These are by Ludwig Bemelmans, who created the Madeline children’s books
This atmospheric bar plays a minor background role in Sex & The City (2008).
Bemelmans is in the Carlyle Hotel at 35 East 76th Street and it is one of the best bars on the Upper East Side. Top Tip: go early to avoid the hefty cover charge for when the trio plays in the evening.
29. When Harry Met Sally – Katz’s Deli
It’s one of those movie scenes which has become legend: the ‘I’m having what she’s having’ fake orgasm scene in When Harry Met Sally (1989) was filmed in this downtown diner.
If you want to check it out, go hungry: I couldn’t believe the size of the salt beef sandwiches when I went there! Katz’s Deli is at 205 East Houston Street and is the starting point of my self-guided walking tour of Lower Manhattan.
Movies Set In New York City Neighbourhoods
Some movies really bring the character of a specific neighbourhood to life or create scenes so memorable you want to go there.
30. Rear Window – Greenwich Village
Rear Window (1954) is another Hitchcock movie to make this list. This thriller is set entirely in the apartment of L.B. Jefferies, played by James Stewart, whose leg is broken and whose imagination may be running away with him. Looking out of his rear window into the windows of his neighbours, he begins to think he’s seen a crime committed.
The movie was shot on a set but recreates the closeness of NYC apartment living, where everyone feels like they’re living on top of one another. I read that the set was based on a real location at 125 Christopher Street in Greenwich Village.
If you want some tips for places to go out in the Village at night, I have some recommendations in my post on things to do in New York at night.
31. Inside Llewyn Davis – Also Greenwich Village
Greenwich Village is one of those legendary areas that used to be one thing and is now something completely different. In the 1960s, it was the epicentre of alternative culture in NYC, where penniless artists, musicians and writers lived and loved and dreamed.
The Coen brothers’ period movie Inside Llewyn Davis (2013) tries to capture that creative, beatnik era. It is a beautifully shot film starring Oscar Isaac.
These days, of course, Greenwich Village is a gentrified, tidy neighbourhood where millionaires live – but it still has a sense of independent character.
32. The Godfather Part 2 – Little Italy
Little Italy, in Lower Manhattan, is the setting for the classic gangster movie, The Godfather: Part II (1974), where we see the origin story of Don Vito Corleone. There’s a memorable sequence that shows the young Vito skilfully taking out the local mob boss near Mulberry Street, during the festival of San Gennaro.
If you’re in New York City on 19 September, you could experience the festival for yourself – stroll down Mulberry Street and enjoy the food stalls and festive atmosphere.
New York is of course the setting to other gangster movies, including Goodfellas (1990) by Martin Scorsese.
33. Desperately Seeking Susan – Battery Park & East Village
1980s-tastic Desperately Seeking Susan (1985) takes place in various New York locations including Battery Park and the East Village. Madonna’s character switches her jacket for those iconic rhinestone-studded boots at a thrift shop in the edgy East Village.
Sadly, that Thrift Shop, Love Saves the Day, closed in 2009, and the East Village is definitely less thrifty these days, but it does retain a little of its edgy character. But you can still drink in the 7B Horseshoe bar, also known as Vazacs, the bar which features in Angel Heart (1987) and Crocodile Dundee (1986).
Ps. The East Village is where my walking tour of Manhattan starts.
34. Taxi Driver – Hell’s Kitchen
Taxi Driver (1976) is one of those iconic movies set in New York City. In the dark and disturbing film, Robert De Niro drives the streets of Manhattan with hate in his heart. ‘Someday a rain will come and wipe this scum off the streets’ he says in voiceover as he stares at the people he passes. I believe a lot of the seedy, neon-lit streets he cruises through are in and around Time Square and Hell’s Kitchen.
The origin of the name Hell’s Kitchen is debated – possibly it came from the nickname for a particularly run-down tenement building in the 19th century; possibly it was a policeman’s observation after witnessing a riot there and hearing someone describe it as ‘hell: ‘Hell’s climate is mild; this is hell’s kitchen’.
35. Cocktail – Upper East Side
Cocktail (1988) is a classic 1980s movie. This movie about status, ambition and upward mobility starts in New York City when Tom Cruise’s character gets a job in a bar to pay for business school so he can learn to make millions. The main thing he learns, it seems, is how to make a redeye and how to show off while making a cocktail. Flair bartending got a real lift from this movie. I’m not sure poetry did.
Fun fact: the exterior of the first bar Tom works at was TGI Fridays at 1152 First Avenue at 63rd Street (though it’s no longer there). Whilst this address is in the Upper East Side, it’s hardly the level of poshness that we associate with that high-end area of New York.
Tom Cruise’s girlfriend, played by Elizabeth Shue, however, is Upper East Side establishment – and her parents’ apartment on Park Avenue is the scene of a domestic showdown.
36. West Side Story – Upper West Side
I’m not really a fan of musicals, but I couldn’t leave off West Side Story (1961), which tells the story of love blossoming between rival gang members in the upper west side during the 1950s. It’s a retelling of Shakespeare’s tragic Romeo & Juliet story.
These days, of course, the Upper West Side is pretty sedate and respectable.
37. If Beale Street Could Talk – Harlem
I loved a recent movie called If Beale Street Could Talk (2018), a film adapted from a book by James Baldwin. A lot of the story takes place in Harlem in the 1970s, where a young black couple in love are torn apart by a false allegation from a racist policeman.
The story is heartbreaking, and the film is beautifully made, with amazing performances, including the best I’ve ever seen from Regina King.
The heart of Harlem is Malcolm X Boulevard and a popular place to visit is Red Rooster, which has a speakeasy downstairs where you can get comfort food accompanied by amazing soul singing.
38. Do The Right Thing – Bed Stuy
Arguably Spike Lee’s best film, Do The Right Thing (1989) is one of my favourite movies set in New York and essential viewing, in my opinion. This movie is like a punch in the face – in a good way. It is so full of attitude and personality and emotion and confrontation; you’ll be left reeling. The tone is set from the opening sequence showing Rosie Perez dancing angrily to Fight The Power.
Anyway, the reason for including it in this section is that it is set in the streets of Bed Stuy in Brooklyn – and literally, most of the action is in the street, during a very hot summer day, where racial tensions boil over.
It is a visceral portrait of a particular place at a particular time in history (1989, as the song lyrics remind us), but sadly, the issues raised in the film are not consigned to history yet.
39. The Warriors – Coney Island
Coney Island is a seafront spot in the southwestern area of Brooklyn – and there are lots of unique NYC experiences to be had there, including sideshows. It’s been in several movies, like Beaches (1988) (it’s where CC and Hillary first meet as children) and Requiem For A Dream (2000) (a harrowing movie!).
For me, the movie I most associate with Coney Island, though, is The Warriors (1979), a story about the gangs of New York in the 1970s, a time when New York had a reputation for street crime and violence. The story is about some kind of ‘summit’ for all the gangs of New York in The Bronx. After violence breaks out, The Warriors gang make their way across New York back to their turf at Coney Island, whilst being chased by rival gangs.
I have no idea how realistic the costumes are – I suspect there’s been some creative licence – but the huge number of different gangs all have distinct coordinated outfits, which feels really camp!
Movies Set In New York City Boroughs
For some New York-set movies, the borough they are set in is so core to the story, that the movie becomes almost like an emblem for that borough.
40. 21 Bridges – Manhattan
Manhattan has featured in hundreds of movies, but the film 21 Bridges (2019) starring the late Chadwick Boseman, is one that really shows off the whole island. The story is about two men who commit a violent crime and run off into Chinatown. To prevent them from leaving Manhattan, the police close all bridges and tunnels to and from the island, making it easier to track the criminals.
The cinematography is amazing. There are several aerial shots of Manhattan which are really stunning. Seeing its forest of skyscrapers glisten in the sun is quite something.
If you want your own aerial tour of NYC, consider this helicopter tour.
41. Summer Of Sam – The Bronx
The Bronx is the setting for Spike Lee’s Summer of Sam (1999), about the period in 1977 when the Bronx was terrorised by a serial killer, David Berkowitz, known as the Son of Sam.
The movie is less about the crimes and the killer, and more about the people trying to live their lives while a serial killer is picking people off around them. It’s another movie that feels like a portrait of a very specific time when disco was all the rage and punk was rearing its angry head.
42. Coming To America – Queens
The first movie I think of when I think of Queens is Coming to America (1988), starring Eddie Murphy. Akim, the young African prince, chooses Queens to live in because he is looking for his Queen – and the reality of life in the borough of Queens during winter is a rude awakening. I love that moment when an elated Akim yells ‘Good morning, my neighbours!’ from his balcony and is answered by a grumpy neighbour, ‘Hey, f*** you!’
The movie is largely set around Elmhurst in Queens, though many outdoor scenes were actually shot in Brooklyn. 8507 Queens Boulevard is where McDowell’s restaurant was filmed, but it’s not there anymore – the real-life Wendy’s restaurant they used as a location was demolished a while ago.
43. Clockers – Brooklyn
Clockers (1995) is a hard-hitting film about drug dealers in the projects of Brooklyn. It shocks from the off with gruesome images of real crime scenes and dead bodies and shows a brutal world that proves hard to escape from. It has Mekhi Pfeiffer in an early role. The soundtrack is pure 1990s hip hop and RnB.
Sidebar: if you like 90s hip hop, check out the soundtrack of The Wackness (2008).
And, for a portrait of more contemporary gentrified Brooklyn, While We’re Young (2014) is about a middle-aged couple becoming enchanted by the cool insouciance of a younger couple and their hipster lifestyle. It has Adam Driver in his element, delivering a mixture of charisma and treachery.
44. The Godfather – Staten Island
The Godfather (1972) movie is shot all around New York, including Mott Street, where Don Corleone gets shot at while buying oranges.
But remember the wedding sequence in the beginning, the one where we hear the infamous line, ‘I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse’? This is in the Corleone estate, which was filmed at 110 Longfellow Avenue in Staten Island.
Of course, Staten Island is reachable from Manhattan on the free Staten Island ferry, which also takes you past the Statue of Liberty – it’s a great free thing to do in New York City!
Movies Set In New York City Houses and Apartments
My understanding of New York living has come mainly from TV and movies set in apartments and buildings in New York City, and some houses and apartments are almost like characters in the movies. But sometimes the portrayal of New York homes is hard to believe!
Tracking down some of these movie locations is one of the more unique things to do in NYC.
45. The Apartment – 55 W 69th Street
The Apartment (1960) is one of those classic movies that is edgier than you expect it to be. It stars Jack Lemmon as a man who lets his bosses use his apartment to have affairs, in exchange for promotion at work. But when he starts to fall for a girl he is having an affair with, things get difficult. Shirley MacLaine shines in an early role.
The apartment exteriors were filmed at 55 West 69th Street.
46. Ghost – Loft On Prince Street In SoHo
Ghost (1990) plays on the idea of NYC as a dangerous city: the main character, played by Patrick Swayze, gets killed during a mugging (although it turns out that the mugger was paid to kill him by someone else). However, as Demi Moore’s character mopes around the massive loft, mourning the loss of her lover, I couldn’t help but wonder how she was going to keep paying for that place on her earnings as a potter. The place is palatial!
The apartment in Ghost is one of many amazing movie apartments that its characters would never be able to afford in real life! My research tells me the location is 102 Prince Street in SoHo
47. Single White Female – The Ansonia
Another implausible address must be the stunning apartment in Single White Female (1992), a schlocky psychological thriller about a woman obsessed with Bridget Fonda. Bridget’s character lives in a huge, sprawling apartment in the Ansonia, a grand old mansion on the Upper West Side. Sure, it is dilapidated, but even so, she’s just starting out as self-employed with one client, so how’s the rent getting paid?
The Ansonia is at 2109 Broadway, between 73rd and 74th Streets.
48. Three Men And A Baby – The Prasada
Finally, another implausible NYC movie apartment is the full-floor penthouse in Three Men & A Baby (1987). You know, the one where they decorate their lift lobby with their own graffiti (it was the 80s, after all)? Sure, there are three guys splitting the bills, and one of them’ s an architect, but one of them’ s an unknown artist and the other is a (not famous) actor. The penthouse overlooks Central Park, so I’m sure the rent wasn’t cheap, even in 1987!
If you want to check out this location, it’s at The Prasada, 50 Central Park West.
49. Green Card – The Aylsmere.
Green Card (1990) introduced me to the idea of co-op boards that get to dictate who lives in their buildings. Andie MacDowell desperately wants an apartment with a rooftop garden, but the building’s co-op board is so strict about having a married tenant, she is forced to go to the horrifying, desperate measure of marrying Gérard Depardieu. I mean the apartment’s great and all, but is it worth that?
The building she lives in is The Aylsmere, 60 West 76th Street.
50. Panic Room – Brownstone On The Upper West Side
I’ll finish this list with a great movie. Finally, possibly the best movie by David Fincher, Panic Room (2002) is a tight thriller about a theft gone wrong. All the action takes place in a huge brownstone, one of those multi-story mansions that are closely associated with New York.
I really love this movie – it keeps you guessing, is pacy and tense, and feels cinematic even though everything is filmed in one house: its use of space is kind of Hitchcockian. It stars Jodie Foster, Forest Whitaker and Jared Leto, as well as Kristen Stewart in an early role.
The interiors were filmed in a studio, but the exterior was shot at 38 West 94th Street.
Phew! That was a long list! What do you think of the movies I included in this list? Are there any other movies set in New York City that you really love?
If you’d like more ideas about what to do in New York, check out my 4-Day New York itinerary, which shows you how to get the best out of this exciting city.