Probably starting with Herald Square in 1896, New York City has been the backdrop for countless movies. These twenty-one New York filming locations are among the best in the city.
1. The Apartment (1960)
An Oscar-winning film from 1960, Billy Wilder’s satirical romance lacerates the corrupt corporate politics of its time, when men treated their workplace like a brothel. Claims adjuster Jack Lemmon (Jack Baxter) discovered that giving his employers access to his Upper West Side brownstone apartment so they can sleep with their female coworkers helped him earn a promotion quickly. To his horror, Baxter discovers that the elevator operator, Shirley MacLaine, has been cheating on him with his employer, who is married to another woman (Fred MacMurray). It’s worth seeing the parts where Baxter gets sick while strolling around Central Park, meets Hope Holiday on Christmas Eve, and is chastised by his medical neighbor (Jack Kruschen). Mad Men was heavily influenced by The Apartment.
2. All About Eve (1950)
The 1950 Best Picture Oscar winner, written and directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, attacked egoism and ambition among New York theater types at a time when Broadway and Hollywood were engaged in a fierce competition. When Bette Davis hires Anne Baxter to be her personal assistant, she is shocked to discover that she plans to replace her as Broadway’s preeminent actress. Broadway, West 52nd Street, and Fifth Avenue are just some of the places where you may catch a performance of The Royale, now known as the Bernard B. Jacobs Theater. While Davis and Baxter were both nominated for Best Actress in a Supporting Role for All About Eve, neither won an Academy Award for their roles.
3. 25th Hour (2002)
On the night before Monty Brogan (Edward Norton) is sentenced to seven years in an upstate jail, Spike Lee’s rueful drama unfolds. Monty’s thoughts, recollections, and a final fantasy of escaping are all woven together in this piece; he also indulges an explosive toilet rant against New York City stereotypes. Monty and his friends (played by Philip Seymour Hoffman and Barry Pepper) look down on Ground Zero before they go clubbing in 25th Hour, a film about New York City’s collective PTSD, even if it isn’t explicitly about 9/11. Anna Paquin and Brian Cox also star in this movie.
4. In the Cut (2003)
In Jane Campion’s neo-noir, American flags flutter courageously in the Manhattan breeze, evoking the post-9/11 sense of fear and vulnerability. Based on Susanna Moore’s feminist thriller, In the Cut, Meg Ryan had her best role and performance as Frannie Avery, the writing professor who develops an intense sexual relationship with a detective (Mark Ruffalo) who is investigating the murder of a prostitute in Frannie’s neighborhood. When it comes to playing Frannie’s lovelorn sister, Jennifer Jason Leigh really nails it. 7th Street, the Lower East Side, and the Little Red Lighthouse near the George Washington Bridge are all used in a memorable and atmospheric way by Campion.
5. The Age of Innocence (1993)
New York City’s late 19th century Gilded Age is perfectly portrayed in Martin Scorsese’s lavish version of Edith Wharton’s Pulitzer-winning 1920 novel, which was primarily shot in Troy, New York. Ellen Olenska, Countess Ellen Olenska’s socially disgraced cousin, falls for well-to-do barrister Newland Archer (Daniel Day-Lewis), who is engaged to May Welland (Winona Ryder) (Michelle Pfeiffer). Newland’s generation-long love for Ellen is thwarted by social norms and his own sense of responsibility. New York City’s Park Slope neighborhood and Prospect Park’s Boathouse were used for filming by director Martin Scorsese.
6. Sweet Smell of Success (1957)
It is Alexander Mackendrick’s bitter masterpiece that captures the inherently cruel nature of New York journalism’s power brokers. Sidney Falco (Tony Curtis) is desperate to get his clients noticed in the syndicated column written by the hideous J.J. Hunsecker (Burt Lancaster), so he agrees to break up the relationship between J.J.’s sister Susie (Susie Harrison) and her jazz guitarist lover (Martin Milner). In Sidney’s mind, what is the limit? The Brill Building and the “21” Club, where J.J. mercilessly rules, provide some of the greatest scenes.
7. Do the Right Thing (1989)
An African-American man was choked to death by a white police officer in the sweltering summer heat, resulting in an outbreak of violence and the destruction of a Bedford-Stuyvesant pizza. Michael Griffith, a Trinidadian immigrant from Queens, was shot dead by a white police officer in Howards Beach, Queens, in December 1986 because of his race. Do the Right Thing was partly inspired by this incident.
8. Rear Window (1954)
As L.B. “Jeff” Jefferies, a wheelchair-bound photographer who discovers that one of his neighbors (Raymond Burr) murdered his wife, Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window stars James Stewart. Jeffries’ attractive socialite girlfriend, Grace Kelly, co-stars in the film and makes him feel even more helpless due to her constant caring over him. At “125 West Ninth Street,” Jeffries gazes onto a Greenwich Village apartment building that was based on the one at 125 Christopher Street, which still stands today. Filmed on location in New York City, Rear Window demonstrates how cramped city life can make people feel uneasy.
9. West Side Story (1961)
Immigrants from all over the world have long made New York their home. During the fights between the Sharks and Jets, the Puerto Rican and white street-gangs, Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins’ Romeo and Juliet reimagining West Side Story – based on the 1957 musical – demonstrated the gulf between the two communities. To make space for Lincoln Center’s complex in the early 1960s, the Upper West Side’s ancient Lincoln Square tenement section had to be razed first. On 110th Street, the West Side joins the East Side, where some of the filming took place.
10. Taxi Driver (1976)
A time when Times Square–42nd Street was overrun with sex clubs, brothels, and peep shows was represented in Martin Scorsese’s scathing thriller. When Robert De Niro’s Vietnam veteran turned vigilante looks out his yellow cab at vendors and customers, he hopes that rain will wipe “all this muck off the streets.” Rudolph Giuliani became mayor of New York City in the 1990s, overseeing the redevelopment of a section of Midtown Manhattan that had been under construction since the 1980s under Mayor Ed Koch.
11. Desperately Seeking Susan (1985)
After losing her memories, Rosanna Arquette (the New Jersey housewife played by Susan Seidelman) takes on the persona of a free-spirited bohemian drifter (Madonna) in Susan Seidelman’s love fantasy. New York City in the 1980s is depicted in a lighthearted way by this witty and freewheeling film. Port Authority Bus Terminal, Battery Park, St. Mark’s Place in the East Village, SoHo, West 19th Street, Washington Heights, and the long-gone Danceteria nightclub at 30th West 21st Street are all included.
12. Ghostbusters (1984)
Ghostbusters, a 100-foot-tall marshmallow man, and paranormal investigators are just some of the characters Bill Murray, Dan Ackroyd, and Harold Ramis play in this classic comedy. Columbia University, the New York Public Library, Columbus Circle, and the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel were all featured in Ghostbusters. Weaver and Moranis star in the film.
13. Chelsea Girls (1966)
Andy Warhol’s split-screen avant garde film permitted such Factory “Superstars” as Nico, Ondine, Brigid Berlin, International Velvet, and Mary Woronov to express themselves freely as they converse, rage, shoot up speed, or engage in other day-to-day activities in the Chelsea Hotel. A genuinely experimental underground film and a provocative put-on, it features a hefty dose of sadism and masochism.
14. Crossing Delancey (1988)
One of the Lower East Side’s principal thoroughfares is Delancey Street. Izzy Grossman (Amy Irving) has to choose between the world of the non-Jewish intellectuals (symbolized by Jeroen Krabbé’s handsome author) and the Jewish “pickle man” (Peter Riegert), who is found for her by a matchmaker in director Joan Micklin Silver’s beloved rom com, based on Susan Sandler’s play. Whatever one’s race, New York City dating for thirtysomethings isn’t exactly a bed of roses.
15. American Psycho (2000)
Mary Harron’s gruesome satire, based on Bret Easton Ellis’ novel, takes aim at Wall Street yuppies like serial killer investment banker Patrick Bateman for his hubris, hedonism, insipid taste, and ostentatious consumption (Christian Bale). There’s no better resource for discovering the hottest restaurants and nightclubs of the time period, including those that are now gone, some that are still operating, and those that never existed at all.
16. Saturday Night Fever (1977)
“Saturday Night Fever” is often considered to be one of the greatest homages to the disco era because of the desperation felt by a Brooklyn teen, John Travolta’s Tony Manero, who longs to escape his dead-end job, dreadful family situation, and even his foolish friends. The Verrazano Narrows Bridge, Bensonhurst, and Bay Ridge all serve as backdrops to Tony’s quest for meaning in his life. It’s all about staying alive.
17. Manhattan (1979)
The opening montage of Woody Allen’s sad comedy is the ultimate ode to Manhattan. Shots of Manhattan’s upper, mid, and lower boroughs set to George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” lead writer Isaac Davis (Allen) to wax lyrical in his voiceover narration about his love of the city. An epic tale of romantic disaster unfolds as Isaac foolishly abandons the 17-year old (Mariel Hemingway) who loves him in favor of a pretentious, neurotic intellectual (Diane Keaton) who is still in love with Isaac’s married buddy.
18. Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961)
Breakfast at Tiffany’s, filmmaker Blake Edwards’ rough adaptation of Truman Capote’s novella, opens with Holly Golightly (Audrey Hepburn), a consummately glamorous call girl who is also weirdly virginal. You’ll know which movie she’s been watching if, at 5 a.m., you spot a young woman gazing longingly through the Tiffany’s Fifth Avenue store window at the jewelry displayed inside.
Discover more about this and other New York-set films on our tailored film and TV tour, which combines activities for cinema enthusiasts with a hotel.
19. Birdman (2014)
He plays Riggan Thomson, an out-of-work actor turned writer, director, and star who tries his luck on Broadway with a stage adaptation of Raymond Carver’s short story. As All About Eve did in 1950, the Oscar-winning acid comedy by Alejandro G. Iárritu does for Broadway and the Broadway set what Iárritu has done for them. A hilarious scene shows Riggan, wearing only in his shorts, taking an impromptu walk around Times Square while surrounded by a sea of people.
20. Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)
For Joel and Ethan Coen’s wintry comedy, the Greenwich Village folk scene in 1961 is the backdrop for Oscar Isaac’s superb singer-songwriter Llewyn (who is limited by his intransigence and a self-destructive bent). Village clubs, street corners and tenements were accurately depicted by The Coen Brothers. During a trip to Washington Square Park, a married folkie (Carey Mulligan) chastises Llewyn for making her pregnant, despite the fact that she’s already had two children with him.
21. Pickup on South Street (1953)
When Skip McCoy (Richard Widmark) picks up the handbag of fellow subway passenger Candy (Jean Peters), he takes out a wallet containing microfilm of top-secret US government material she unintentionally carries for her communist spy ex-boyfriend, who is a fugitive from the FBI. Filmed largely in Hollywood, but with the help of clever use of back projection and second unit locales, noir classic Cold War by Samuel Fuller has a distinct New York City flavor. In addition to the New York Public Library, the Williamsburg shoreline, and the corner of Broome and Center streets in Little Italy, these are some of the locations that Fuller visited while working as a crime reporter in New York City’s East Village.