New York: 10 Films Illustrating the City

There are plenty of films out there showcasing the wonderful city of New York (NY, US). Martin Scorsese, especially, is famed for his “New York tetralogy”: first, he portrayed New York as a vision of urban decay (the 1970s) in “Taxi Driver” (1976); then he set love torn by societal conventions in the 19th century New York in “The Age of Innocence” (1993); then he depicted the city’s violent past in “Gangs of New York” (2002); and he finished his directional tetralogy with New York’s extravaganza (the 1980s) in “The Wolf of Wall Street” (2013). What follow are some other movies (in no particular order) showcasing the corners of one of the most exciting cities on Earth. P.S. Nothing ground-breaking, just the movies we all hopefully love.         

Home Alone PosterI. Home Alone II: Lost in New York (1992)

Obviously, Chris Columbus’s entertainment-feast “Home Alone II” leads my list as it provides a great itinerary for a first-time visit to New York. In the story, Kevin (Macaulay Culkin) gets separated from his family at the airport and arrives all alone in New York, and what follows is his exciting adventure as he tries to escape two criminals already on his track. Thrashed by critics, but much loved by audiences worldwide, the film is a good home movie showcasing many of New York’s delights. Kevin enters Manhattan via the Queensboro Bridge, and proceeds to tour the city by visiting Battery Park (viewing the Statue of Liberty from it) and apparently the Fulton Fish Market, where two bandits are hiding. Kevin then settles himself comfortably into the Plaza Hotel at the Grand Army Plaza. Other interesting featured locations are the Bethesda Fountain and the Wollman Rink, Central Park; Times Square and Carnegie Hall. That mother-son reunion at the Rockefeller Centre, decorated with the giant Christmas Tree, is that emotional moment we have all been waiting for. 

You've Got MailII. You’ve Got Mail (1998) 

Don’t you love New York in the fall? It makes me want to buy school supplies. I would send you a bouquet of newly sharpened pencils if I knew your name and address” (Joe Fox (Hanks) in “You’ve Got Mail“). This film by late Nora Ephron featured in my other list on remakes, but it is impossible not to include it here. The characters of Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan (Katherine and Joe) fall in love over the Internet, not even realising that they are enemies/business competitors in real life. However, an important role is also played by New York, which is lovely to see as it experiences change of seasons in the film. “You’ve Got Mail” is pretty much a Riverside movie. Katherine lives on picturesque 328 West 89th Street while Joe’s habitat is at 210 Riverside West 93rd Street. It is autumn and we walk with Katherine and Joe the streets of Broadway (West 83rd-84th Street) and West End Avenue on their way to work. Fictitious Katherine’s Shop Around the Corner and Joe’s Fox Books Store are located at cosy 106 West 69th Street and Columbus Avenue, and the corner of West 17th Street and 7th Avenue respectively. We also visit Verdi Square and the Hudson River Valley Greenway, while being introduced to famous Zabar’s (speciality food shop), Café Lalo and Gray’s Papaya (a hot-dog place in the film). The ending of the film is the lovely 91st Street Garden, Riverside Park.  

Naked CityIII. The Naked City (1948)

This film noir murder mystery, directed by Jules Dassin and produced by Mark Hellinger, was unconventionally-by-that-time shot on location in New York City, and that benefited this film enormously in terms of appeal and the quality of images. The film takes place all over the city, from New York’s Lower East Side, for example on Orchard, Rivington and Houston Streets, moving then into Chelsea and Midtown, including Sixth and Seventh Avenues, and to Upper West Side, including Broadway and Columbus Circle. The film is fascinating to watch because some of the locations featured are either no longer present or undergone major changes. A murder site was 46 West 83rd Street, and the film was also shot on Wall Street, Financial District and on Times Square, while the final intense action between the characters takes place at the Williamsburg Bridge.  

Breakfast at Tiffanys PosterIV. Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961)

Blake Edwards’ movie “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” is loosely based on a story by Truman Capote as it stars Audrey Hepburn in the role of vivacious social butterfly Holly Golightly who desires to shed her past and embrace the fast and colourful life in New York City. The city is presented as a nostalgic city of dreams where people can indulge in their make-believe, naiveté and longing. The movie will always have one of the most iconic New York film scenes, such as Holly in her black dress standing in front of the Tiffany & Co store (727 Fifth Avenue) with a coffee in one hand and a croissant in another. Holly’s apartment is at 169 East 71st Street, Manhattan, and the film also features the New York Public Library entrance of the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building located at 476 Fifth Avenue, Manhattan, as well as Central Park, notably Conservatory Water.   

Rosemary's Baby PosterV. Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

This psychological horror film by Polanski has got to be one of the most faithful book-to-film adaptations ever, and New York showcases itself to the viewer already in the eerie opening sequence when we see the imposing Bramford, a big Gothic apartment building, with a lullaby sung in the background. The Bramford, where Guy and Rosemary Woodhouse start to live is actually the infamous Dakota building at 1 West 72nd Street. The film also notably features a building at 1271 Sixth Avenue (the Time Life Building), as well as various other streets in Manhattan, such as the Fifth Avenue and 55th Street, as the plot takes Rosemary away from her flat because, at least in Rosemary’s head, her noisy neighbours become the source of occult deeds.    

Manhattan PosterVI. Manhattan (1979)

He adored New York City. He idolised it all out of proportion,” so begins Woody Allen his film “Manhattan“, telling a story of frustrated writer Isaac Davis, who has to decide on his choice of women in his life. The director pays a cinematic tribute to his native city, which is also “all out of proportion”. The iconic shot near the bridge takes place at the Sutton Place Park near Queensboro Bridge, Upper East Side, and the film also features city museums, such as the Museum of Modern Art and Guggenheim Museum, as well as the Russian Tea Room and different places in Greenwich Village. Woody Allen also previously paid tribute to New York in “Annie Hall” (1977), featuring the Thunderbolt rollercoaster, Coney Island.

A Late Quartet PosterVII. A Late Quartet (2012)

Zilberman’s “A Late Quartet” is a picture of certain philosophical depth. It is about members of the Fugue String Quartet, who have been playing together for 25 years and are based in New York. Their founder, the cellist Peter (Christopher Walken), has recently been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, but it is not the only emerging problem for the group as it also unveils that the marriage of Robert (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and Juliette is crumbling, and Robert and Juliette’s daughter Alex embarks on an affair with the fourth member of the quartet – Daniel. The film features Central Park prominently, for example, as the place to jog in winter, as well as the Time Warner Centre at 10 Columbus Circle, Sotheby’s at 1334 York Avenue, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, as well as streets in East Village.  

When Harry Met Sally PosterVIII. When Harry Met Sally (1989)

Directed by Rob Reiner (“A Few Good Men” (1992), “Misery” (1990)) , “When Harry Met Sally” is THE romantic comedy of New York City, which is probably as famous for its fresh New York landmarks as for its brazen topic. The movie put on the map Katz’s Delicatessen, located at 205 East Houston Street, where Harry (Billy Crystal) and Sally (Meg Ryan) have their lunch and where Meg Ryan has one of her most infamous scenes on screen. Besides, it features such landmarks as the Washington Square Gardens, George Washington Bridge, Central Park, notably the Loeb Boathouse, and such establishments as the Café Luxembourg located at 200 West 70th Street, Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Puck Building’s interiors at 295 Lafayette Street.     

25th Hour PosterIX. 25th Hour (2002)   

It is impossible to do justice to this list without mentioning at least one movie by Spike Lee (“Do The Right Thing” (1989)). His “25th Hour” is different from many other films on this list because it is so essentially a post-9/11 movie, and, thus, there is inexplicable anxiety, tension, frustration, uncertainty and gloominess permeating this deeply-felt film. We follow Monty (Edward Norton) in his final 24 hours before he goes to prison for seven years for drug-related offences. Apart from imbedded social messages, Lee also injected into his film an amazingly fitting, melancholy score and potent imagery, with the lonely image of Monty and his dog quietly making its own powerful statement. The film features the Ground Zero, formerly the site of the World Trade Centre, a depressing sight since Lee shot it so recently after 9/11, as well as the Carl Schurz Park and FDR Drive promenade, among other locations. The film also boasts the performances by Brian Cox, Anna Paquin and by the late Philip Seymour Hoffman

Kate & Leopold PosterX. Kate & Leopold (2001)

This film by James Mangold may suffer from the time travel illogicality, but it is charming enough and a good comedy. Hugh Jackman is particularly appealing as Leopold, Duke of Albany from the 19th century, who gets transported to the present day and becomes romantically involved with Kate (Meg Ryan). Kate’s apartment is located where trendy White and Lafayette Streets meet at 88 White Street, NY. Leopold’s old place is the magnificent nineteenth century building also known as the India House at 1 Hanover Square, Lower Manhattan. Both visit the place with Leopold feeling strangely at home. Next, who can ever forget the exciting horse-ride of Leopold through Central Park (the action takes places near the Greyshot Arch)? Other interesting locations featured are 1 Columbus Circle (where there is the statue to Columbus at the centre) and the 7th Avenue. The film also features the Brooklyn Bridge

Numerous other films were also unmistakably filmed in New York, for example “The Lost Weekend” (1945), “Black Swan” (2010), “Shame” (2011), “Margaret” (2011) and “Still Alice” (2014). Also, for those in love with New York’s vibrant Chinatown, check out a romantic comedy “Chinese Puzzle” (2013) or an insightful documentary “Abacus: Small Enough to Jail” (2017). For my other city film locations lists, see “Rome: 10 “Must-See” Films set in the City” and “Paris: 10 Great Films set in the City“.

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12 Responses to New York: 10 Films Illustrating the City

  1. Ken Dowell says:

    One of my favorites is Dog Day Afternoon.

  2. raistlin0903 says:

    The 25th Hour was a truly great film. Such a shame that Edward Norton is hardly seen anymore these days 😉

    • dbmoviesblog says:

      Exactly, 25th hour is a great movie! And Edward Norton is such a good, versatile actor. I have a lot of respect for his talent and they way he brings his characters to life. What a debut he had in Primal Fear, and I loved him in Fight Club, American History X, The Painted Veil, etc.

      I have read he has a particular way of working in movies, wanting to have a hand in script or production sometimes, and also wants to focus on family now (maybe) – possibly these are some of the reasons we do not see him in too many major films anymore.

  3. Hello there. Near the end of the essay you mention The Lost Weekend. What a powerful movie. For a few years I was hooked on the TCM channel. That’s where I discovered it and many other films. See you —
    Neil S.

  4. alexraphael says:

    Great post. Have such a soft spot for You’ve Got Mail

  5. Paul S says:

    Funnily enough I’ve watched The French Connection and Mean Streets in the last few days, two great time capsules of grimy, pre-Giuliani New York. I’ve never been to The Big Apple although the Meg Ryan movies you feature gave me a vision of a New York filled with romance, meaning and hope. I quite enjoyed One Fine Day too. The scene where George Clooney sweeps Michelle Pfeiffer off her feet in the shadow of the Bethesda Fountain is one of my favourite New York movie moments.

    • dbmoviesblog says:

      The French Connection and Mean Streets are also both good movies, and, as for Meg Ryan, I know she is one of your favourites and I was a bit surprised that in this list of mine of only ten films she features in three. Another NY movie with her which I love is criminally underrated “In the Cut” from Jane Campion. I am looking forward to reviewing it soon.
      I saw One Fine Day quite some time ago now. I have to give it a re-watch, thanks for the excellent suggestion.

  6. Jane says:

    I must have a look at One Fine Day, I don’t know that or In the Cut – thanks!

  7. Mike says:

    Great choices! I expected Manhattan on the list, but had completely forgotten about Kate and Leopold. Thanks.

  8. A terrific list, plus some new-to-me titles. I’ll be on the lookout for A Late Quartet at The 25th Hour.

    Also: Really liked what you said about Home Alone II being a primer for first-time visitors to New York. It’s a pretty good guide to the city, I think.

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