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New York movies: The 100 best films set in New York City

From King Kong's spire down to the scummiest subway tunnel, Time Out New York ranks the definitive list of the 100 best New York movies: crime dramas, romantic comedies, documentaries and more

Paradise and prison, bustling metropolis and the loneliest place on earth: New York City has a cinematic identity that infuses all walks of life. Even as we write our own narratives in this most famous of locations, we walk alongside fictional characters (and sometimes real ones, too, if we’re lucky).

In selecting the 100 most essential New York movies, we kept the city’s boldness in mind. Time Out New York Film staffers David Fear, Joshua Rothkopf and Keith Uhlich teamed up with movie experts Stephen Garrett and Alison Willmore to gather titles from all genres and eras—the widely known and the obscure—in pursuit of a complete picture of NYC on film.

Our only parameter: The movie had to be set in New York City, not Metropolis (sorry, Superman fans), Oz (ditto, you Wiz diehards), nor anywhere else. Dive in, jostle politely, find your seat or ride standing: Please tell us what we’ve missed. It’s a big town.—Joshua Rothkopf, senior Film writer

C.H.U.D. (1984)

More funny than scary, this schlock-horror Z flick articulates a primal NYC fear harbored by anyone who’s ever peered down a sewer grate: Who (or what) is living below? Not the homeless, not alligators, but cannibalistic humanoid underground dwellers. As the poster of a shimmering Manhattan skyline warned, “They’re not staying down there, anymore!”—Joshua Rothkopf

 

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Awesome; I Fuckin' Shot That! (2006)

An essential New York band plays a landmark NYC venue (MSG) as 50 fans capture the event for posterity; only the Beastie Boys could turn a crowdsourced concert movie into a time capsule, a tour of the city’s musical styles (hip-hop, punk, Latin funk) and a tribute to the power of Gotham’s DIY spirit. RIP, MCA.—David Fear

 

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Hi, Mom! (1970)

Brian De Palma’s darker-than-dark comedy stars Robert De Niro as a XXX-rated filmmaker wanna-be who peeps on his neighbors. The no-budget film captures porn-theater-era New York at its seediest; it also features an astonishing sequence satirizing downtown experimental theater, in which a white-bread audience is viciously humiliated (and they love it).—Keith Uhlich

 

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God Told Me To (1976)

Larry Cohen’s sci-fi chiller about a detective investigating murderers who claim to be carrying out God’s will is the surreal B-side to Taxi Driver: a nightmare vision of the city’s repressed rage that starts with cameoing Andy Kaufman gunning down the St. Patrick’s Day parade and ends with our hero becoming what he was trying to stop.—Alison Willmore

 

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Eyes Wide Shut (1999)

Stanley Kubrick’s polarizing swan song takes place in a Manhattan of the mind, specifically the sexually frustrated brain stem of Tom Cruise’s upper-crust physician. The film’s fantasy Greenwich Village, populated by taunting fratboys, a hard-sell hooker and a Lolita-like teen is especially weird—and disquieting.—Keith Uhlich

 

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Wolfen (1981)

Long before it was cool to go green, Woodstock director Michael Wadleigh helmed this environmentally conscious (though still pretty damned scary) werewolf movie. The South Bronx provides some memorably decayed, practically postapocalyptic terrain, and a number of vertigo-inducing scenes are shot atop the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges.—Keith Uhlich

 

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Man Push Cart (2005)

Indie filmmaker Ramin Bahrani provides an eloquent, empathetic backstory to a pushcart vendor so street-corner standard, he’s all but invisible to passersby. Bahrani explores the fictional man’s past as a Pakistani rock star and his lonely, lowly present in a New York that’s both beautiful and coolly indifferent to his Sisyphean struggle.—Alison Willmore

 

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Hamlet (2000)

Michael Almereyda transposes William Shakespeare’s seminal tragedy to the world of high finance as Ethan Hawke’s brooding prince goes up against his slick CEO stepfather. The modern-day setting—moving from grungy streets to antiseptic boardrooms and even that cylindrical mousetrap the Guggenheim—adds thematic heft to the greatest of all plays.—Keith Uhlich

 

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Three Days of the Condor (1975)

Filmed at the peak of Hollywood’s political paranoia, this CIA thriller captures a tense, spy-saturated NYC that would reappear in The Bourne Ultimatum. Choice local touches include Robert Redford’s clandestine office on 77th Street at Madison, a quiet Brooklyn Heights getaway (occupied by sultry Faye Dunaway) and a WTC window overlooking the intrigue.—Joshua Rothkopf

 

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The Last Days of Disco (1998)

Set in the “very early 1980s,” Whit Stillman’s evocation of a dying Manhattan nightlife brings back the coke-laced dance palaces—including a club similar to Studio 54—and the desperation that would have the party go on forever. Another old-NYC gesture: Our young heroines, Chloë Sevigny and Kate Beckinsale, are up-and-coming editors at a publishing house. Today they’d be bloggers.—Joshua Rothkopf

 

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The Blank Generation (1976)

The definitive visual document of the early CBGB scene, Amos Poe and Ivan Král’s out-of-sync home movie captures a who’s who of NYC musical royalty—Tom Verlaine, David Byrne, the Ramones—as they plant the seeds of punk rock. It’s a perfect encapsulation of the moment when downtown found its sound: rough, raw and revolutionary.—David Fear

 

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Hester Street (1975)

Joan Micklin Silver’s tribute to Jewish-diaspora life in the 1890s makes you feel as if you’ve stepped through a time portal. Her black-and-white re-creations of the avenues where an insulated community tried to assimilate to its new home bridges the gap between New York’s history and its present—an immigrant song straight from our city’s heart.—David Fear

 

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King Kong (1976)

Dino De Laurentiis’s lascivious production infuses the animal magnetism of the 1933 original with a pervy sensibility (the overgrown primate literally fingers a visibly aroused Jessica Lange). And with a double phallus like the World Trade Center as a final setting, there’s no better city for a big ape to be a swinger.—Stephen Garrett

 

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Summer of Sam (1999)

The Bronx represents in Spike Lee’s ominous reconstruction of the 1977 David Berkowitz serial-killer panic, taking root in a city plagued by blackouts, racial tensions and—vividly rendered—a sweltering, inescapable heat. Lee imparts a hometown boy’s feel for pizzerias, hair salons and punk clubs (including the departed CBGB).—Joshua Rothkopf

 

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The Hunger (1983)

This sexy vampire tale takes place mostly in a ridiculous realm of spacious townhouses filled with smoke and coffins. But we include it for its opening scene alone: Bloodsuckers David Bowie and Catherine Deneuve prowl a sweaty, downtown nightclub for sweet young things, while Bauhaus pounds through its classic “Bela Lugosi’s Dead.” It’s a goth NYC we remember with a tear.—Joshua Rothkopf

 

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Smithereens (1982)

The poverty chic of the early-’80s Lower East Side is romanticized these days, but Susan Seidelman’s drama drops its art-world-wanna-be heroine into an LES full of self-centered dilettantes, obnoxious opportunists and predatory perverts. It’s a snapshot of an era that doubles as its own epitaph, one that smashes hipster nostalgia into shards.—David Fear

 

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Rear Window (1954)

The iconic Greenwich Village courtyard over which a convalescing Jimmy Stewart looks out and spots something he wasn’t meant to see perfectly encapsulates the subjective blindness that allows New Yorkers to lead parallel lives in such close quarters. Hitchcock’s thriller also captures what it takes to bring those imaginary boundaries crashing down.—Alison Willmore

 

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Little Murders (1971)

Adapting Jules Feiffer’s Obie-winning play for the screen, director Alan Arkin (yes, that Alan Arkin) steers Elliott Gould through a metropolis where random shootings are the norm and there’s a heavy breather on the end of every phone line. Welcome to Horror City ’71, where every day is an endless absurdist farce.—David Fear

 

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Dressed to Kill (1980)

New York City becomes a bored housewife’s erotic playground in Brian De Palma’s funny, suspenseful chiller. A luscious Angie Dickinson wanders through the Metropolitan Museum in pursuit of a flirty stranger (a quickie in a cab follows). Later, inquisitive hooker Nancy Allen shares a too revealing lunch with übernerd Keith Gordon at WTC’s Windows on the World.—Keith Uhlich

 

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Big (1988)

A 12-year-old boy makes a wish and wakes up as 30-year-old Tom Hanks (though still with a child’s mind). Off to the big city he goes, where he turns a Grand Street apartment into a tween’s paradise (trampoline!) and, most memorably, plays “Heart and Soul” on a foot-operated keyboard at FAO Schwarz.—Keith Uhlich

 

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All About Eve (1950)

Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s peerless backstage Broadway drama uses the bright lights of the Theater District to illuminate a Darwinian world of competition, insecurity and backstabbing—one in which the fan waiting in the alleyway for a chance to meet the star would just as eagerly devour her and take her place as the lead. Not much has changed.—Alison Willmore

 

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Fort Apache the Bronx (1981)

Subversively, this police thriller is actually a lurid NYC Western that recasts the cops as the cavalry fighting in “a hostile territory.” (The producers later added an apologetic disclaimer.) But seen today, this Paul Newman vehicle offers a period-piece Polaroid of a borough that was struggling to shake off its reputation as a crime-ridden cesspool.—David Fear

 

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Cruising (1980)

Once protested by the gay community, William Friedkin’s thriller serves as an unintended snapshot of a narrow slice of the pre-AIDS Village scene, with sequences filmed at the legendary leather club Hellfire. Al Pacino serves as the audience’s enigmatic window onto S&M culture, playing an undercover cop who may be repelled by (or drawn to) everything he’s seeing.—Alison Willmore

 

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Two Lovers (2008)

Disparities of class and temperament are keenly observed in James Gray’s underseen NYC drama, starring a pre-freakout Joaquin Phoenix (never better) as a suicidal Brighton Beach bachelor living with his worried parents. With the arrival of an alluring neighbor with expensive tastes (Gwyneth Paltrow), the movie sets off for swanky midtown locations—and a cautionary shiska romance.—Joshua Rothkopf

 

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The Cool World (1964)

Taking her camera into Harlem’s streets, independent filmmaker Shirley Clarke (The Connection) turned a story about a tough kid looking to move up a local gang’s hierarchy into a vérité-like view of the neighborhood itself. Few films have captured the area (circa the mid-’60s) with such a keen journalistic eye.—David Fear

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Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle (1994)

The Jazz Age comes to thrilling life in Alan Rudolph’s ensemble drama about caustic wit Dorothy Parker. Among the many triumphs of this lovingly detailed period piece are the sequences set at the Algonquin Hotel, where the gabsters gossip around the most famous table since King Arthur and his knights.—Keith Uhlich

 

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Bad Lieutenant (1992)

Junkie officer Harvey Keitel shakes down punks for stolen cash, sexually harasses teen drivers and just can’t understand why that raped nun forgives her attackers. Abel Ferrara’s incendiary look at a corrupt cop’s Catholic guilt is consummate art-house grindhouse, typifying New York’s wide appetite for cathartic highbrow cinema and Times Square raunch alike.—Stephen Garrett

 

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The Landlord (1970)

A spoiled Manhattan WASP (Beau Bridges) buys a Brooklyn tenement and learns some hard (but hilarious) life lessons from his primarily black tenants. Director Hal Ashby, making his feature debut, vividly captures the rough-and-tumble neighborhood that was Park Slope, long before it became stroller-mom central.—Keith Uhlich

 

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Black Swan (2010)

Technically dazzling but emotionally brittle NYC dancer Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman) becomes Swan Lake’s prima ballerina, but repressed passions sabotage her sanity—until they become a font of inspiration. Darren Aronofsky turns Lincoln Center’s rarefied campus into a Grand Guignol of power, lust and ambition, all in the name of artistic perfection.—Stephen Garrett

 

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Downtown 81 (1981)

It’s a day in the life of Jean-Michel Basquiat, as the street artist is evicted, sells a canvas to a rich uptowner and hangs out at the Mudd Club. Rife with heavy-hitter cameos—Fab 5 Freddy, Glenn O’Brien, Debbie Harry—this scrapbook nails the moment when the punk, hip-hop and art worlds coalesced into a single scene.—David Fear

 

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Death Wish (1974)

A brutal NYC classic (one its star, Charles Bronson, had an uneasy time defending), this vigilante thriller crystallized the dangerous Beame-era Manhattan in the minds of millions. The pivotal scene goes down on a grungy subway car, where a furious Upper West Sider takes nickel-plated, .32-caliber vengeance on a pair of hapless muggers. Life would imitate art.—Joshua Rothkopf

 

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Paris Is Burning (1990)

“Looking head to toe, would you know?” Drag queens in Harlem and the Bronx form gay street gangs (and surrogate families) on the ball circuit, where outsize personalities like Venus Xtravaganza compete based on the “realness” of their mock-straight sartorial splendor. Jennie Livingston’s essential gender-reinvention documentary brilliantly extols the city’s outcast resilience.—Stephen Garrett

 

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Speedy (1928)

Silent icon Harold Lloyd epitomizes Gotham’s scrappy go-getters as Harold “Speedy” Swift, who fights to save the city’s last horsecar from merger-happy street rail men. Lloyd’s laffer also boasts thrilling on-location tours of a bygone New York—particularly when the multihyphenate takes Babe Ruth on a high-octane taxi ride to the Bronx’s Yankee Stadium.—Stephen Garrett

 

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Super Fly (1972)

Drug-dealing Priest (Ron O’Neal) schemes to retire early, provided he can outwit the Man. Harlem never looked so gritty and pushers so suave as in this classic from blaxploitation scion Gordon Parks Jr. A dope soundtrack, courtesy of Curtis Mayfield, and that customized Cadillac Eldorado don’t hurt, either.—Stephen Garrett

 

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On the Bowery (1956)

Lionel Rogosin spent months pounding the pavement before he began filming this singular docu-narrative hybrid, which cobbles together a skeleton of a story to unite the neighborhood’s lushes and lost boys (one of whom died only weeks after the premiere). The result is a bleary portrait of the city’s Skid Row.—Alison Willmore

 

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Regeneration (1915)

Raoul Walsh’s silent tale of a poor kid who grows up into a criminal bigwig not only gave birth to the gangster movie, it was one of the few films to use actual New York City locations (specifically, the rough-and-tumble tenements of the Bowery) to add authenticity to its gritty rise-and-fall parable. It’s the first genuine NYC movie.—David Fear

 

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Carnal Knowledge (1971)

Romantic dissatisfaction and a very Gothamite certainty that there’s always someone better out there shape Mike Nichols’s damning portrait of former college roommates (Art Garfunkel and Jack Nicholson). They navigate 25 years of shifting urban sexual mores but never find what they’re looking for.—Alison Willmore

 

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Margaret (2011)

Kenneth Lonergan’s ragged masterpiece, haunted by personal and municipal trauma, showcases better than any film the flux of 8 million individual stories going at once. It also captures the way that a life-shaking, permanently altering experience for one teenager (the riveting Anna Paquin) can be just another glittering point in the kaleidoscope of the city.—Alison Willmore

 

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Klute (1971)

Jane Fonda won an Academy Award for her portrayal of a cynical actor (this town is full of them) moonlighting as a Big Apple prostitute. After she’s caught up in the mysterious disappearance of a business executive, director Alan J. Pakula and cinematographer Gordon Willis turn the city streets and alleys into a shadowy paranoiac’s nightmare.—Keith Uhlich

 

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Kramer vs. Kramer (1979)

Robert Benton’s tale of a brutal custody battle is set during a specific, privileged era on the Upper East Side, the place to where upwardly mobile professionals aspired. It becomes Manhattan’s answer to the idyllic suburbs of other movies, beneath the surface of which lie all kinds of trouble.—Alison Willmore

 

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When Harry Met Sally… (1989)

After a casual run-in at Shakespeare & Co., an orgasmic conversation at Katz’s Deli and long walks through Central Park, a Jersey-born Jew (Billy Crystal) realizes the high-maintenance shiksa (Meg Ryan) he resented since college is actually his soulmate. Director Rob Reiner and screenwriter Nora Ephron capture Manhattan romance with splendiferous anxiety.—Stephen Garrett

 

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Fatal Attraction (1987)

Histrionic bunny-boiling revenge overshadows what is an unusually well-located NYC psychothriller—from Michael Douglas’s Upper West Side domestic stronghold to Glenn Close’s Meatpacking District loft, a fitting spot for an illicit fling with a hot dish of crazy. Subtly, the hurtful nature of five-boroughs trysting is tweaked.—Joshua Rothkopf

 

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The Crowd (1928)

An office peon (James Murray), hitched after a night at Coney Island, struggles to raise a family in the tiny Murphy-bed confines of a tenement apartment and reconcile his outsize aspirations with the noble modesty of blending in with the urban masses. King Vidor’s stunning silent is a chronicle of crushed hubris.—Stephen Garrett

 

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Desperately Seeking Susan (1985)

Soon enough, Madonna’s grungy downtownness would be buffed to a mainstream sheen. But here it is, captured for all eternity. The rom-com’s mystery meeting point is Battery Park, yet its more lovable locations include the bygone East Village thrift store Love Saves the Day (where the fought-over jacket is purchased) and Danceteria, a perfect place to get into the groove.—Joshua Rothkopf

 

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Man on Wire (2008)

Brit documentarian James Marsh enshrines the rogue-immigrant romance of New York in French equilibrist Philippe Petit, who sneaked to the top of the newly built World Trade Center in 1974 and enjoyed a death-defying tightrope walk between the Twin Towers’ lofty heights. Not even terrorists can erase this city’s most lyrical expression of skylarking.—Stephen Garrett

 

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Marty (1955)

Romance blooms on the Bronx’s Arthur Avenue, as a coupla dogs—lonely butcher Marty (Ernest Borgnine) and plain schoolteacher Clara (Betsy Blair)—meet at the Stardust Ballroom and find love against the odds. Borough native-son Paddy Chayefsky nabbed a screenplay Oscar for this Best Picture winner, a beautiful homily to homeliness.—Stephen Garrett

 

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Flaming Creatures (1963)

Jack Smith’s self-described “comedy set in a haunted music studio”—a 45-minute chronicle of delirious degeneracy—limits its vamping to a single rooftop on Grand Street, but the shock waves continue to reverberate. Having virtually created New York’s underground-film scene overnight, its influence is incalculable.—David Fear

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Network (1976)

More jeremiad than satire, Sidney Lumet’s well-oiled production of Paddy Chayefsky’s prophetic masterpiece follows an amoral TV conglomerate that exploits a mentally ill news anchor by turning his low-rated national news show into whorehouse entertainment. This still-prescient vivisection of modern culture’s vapidity crackles with the nervous energy of midtown’s hothouse broadcasters.—Stephen Garrett

 

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Kids (1995)

Marking the breakthroughs of two signature NYC voices—director Larry Clark and screenwriter Harmony Korine (age 19 when writing it)—this docu-style provocation put Washington Square’s sexually active skaters at the center of an NC-17 controversy. Critics and moral guardians tut-tutted, but New York City’s urban rep was burnished as the place where wayward youth party hardest.—Joshua Rothkopf

 

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Six Degrees of Separation (1993)

You play the Kevin Bacon game; it’s worth returning to this adaptation of John Guare’s witty, class-conscious play, costarring a rising Will Smith as a lonely Central Park hustler (would that he’d remained this adventurous). The city is the movie’s star—a cauldron of art-gallery hauteur, liberal piety and, ultimately, the need to make a difference.—Joshua Rothkopf

 

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My Dinner with Andre (1981)

A playwright (Wallace Shawn) and a stage director (Andre Gregory) chew the fat while literally chewing the fat in a tony New York restaurant—and create a philosophical feast. Cinema’s ultimate jawbreaker (the verbal script was penned by its stars and midwifed by director Louis Malle) celebrates the restless ruminations of a city’s eat-out culture.—Stephen Garrett

 

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Metropolitan (1990)

A Princeton undergrad and self-proclaimed radical (Edward Clements) unwittingly falls into a circle of Upper East Siders during black-tie debutante party season—his crosstown address and “limited resources” notwithstanding. Prep auteur Whit Stillman delivers a deeply affectionate look at the collegiate insecurities and overeducated naïveté of Park Avenue high society.—Stephen Garrett

 

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Shaft (1971)

From Harlem to midtown to Greenwich Village, no one seems to have a finger on the pulse of the city like Richard Roundtree’s impossibly badass private eye in Gordon Parks’s blaxploitation classic. He’s a man whose loyalty shifts from faction to faction but always seems to belong, quietly, to New York.—Alison Willmore

 

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Wild Style (1983)

Charlie Ahearn’s legendary docudrama captured onscreen as never before the worlds of hip-hop and graffiti, with appearances from Grandmaster Flash, Fab 5 Freddy, street artist Lee Quinones, break-dancers the Rock Steady Crew and more. It’s an unparalleled artifact of a tagging, popping and body-rocking era.—Alison Willmore

 

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Shame (2011)

Never mind Michael Fassbender’s bollocks; the real nakedness in Steve McQueen’s portrait of a sex addict comes when our city’s pleasuredome facade is stripped away. It’s as much a portrait of post-9/11 NYC as it is of a broken man, encapsulated in a rendition of “New York, New York” that melds personal trauma and public anguish.—David Fear

 

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Midnight Cowboy (1969)

John Schlesinger’s Oscar-winning drama not only offers a glimpse of the forty-deuce at its sleazy height; it captures the desperation of the hustlers and con men trying to survive in a city where everybody talks at you and nobody hears a word you say. Also, you might want to get outta Dustin Hoffman’s way—he’s walkin’ here!—David Fear

 

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West Side Story (1961)

The majority of this musical tour de force—a modern-day take on Romeo and Juliet—was shot on a soundstage. Yet it still has a fierce City That Never Sleeps flavor, helped in no small part by the stunning on-location opening sequence in which two rival gangs tussle their way from West 68th Street to 110th Street.—Keith Uhlich

 

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Once Upon a Time in America (1984)

Sergio Leone’s epic mob drama recently received an upgrade, closer to its original 269-minute running time. Can it even be improved upon? The standout section remains Leone’s heartbreaking evocation of 1920s Jewish tenement life on the LES, starring a cast of kids. Wanna-be toughs roam cart-strewn streets, chow down on deli food and flirt with a preteen Jennifer Connelly.—Joshua Rothkopf

 

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The Naked City (1948)

“There are 8 million stories in the naked city,” but only one Jules Dassin classic—a shot-entirely-on-location police procedural that had the chutzpah to tell its tale on Gotham’s actual crammed sidewalks. Doubling as a travelogue, this noir thriller established a new benchmark for verisimilitude; the real stars are the streets of New York themselves.—David Fear

 

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25th Hour (2002)

Bombastic, wrenching and heartsick, Spike Lee’s drama remains the great post-9/11 love letter to New York City—filled with American flags and displaced rage—as seen by a drug dealer (Edward Norton) about to head to jail for seven years. He bids goodbye to the messy, wounded, wonderful chaos of the city with one last night out, surrounded by everyone close to him.—Alison Willmore

 

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The Clock (1945)

A WWII soldier (Robert Walker) falls for city girl Judy Garland while on two-day leave, and he romances her in cathedral-size, extras-populated re-creations of Gotham landmarks such as Penn Station, Central Park and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Directed by Vincente Minnelli (and an uncredited Fred Zinnemann), this spellbinding romance is golden-age Hollywood at its finest.—Keith Uhlich

 

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All That Jazz (1979)

Ping-ponging from a West 58th Street pussy-hound duplex to troubled Broadway show rehearsals and endless editing on his latest motion picture, Dexedrine-fueled director Joe Gideon (Roy Scheider) makes extreme exhaustion look positively electric. Bob Fosse’s self-destructive film à clef proves it: Only in New York can workaholism be considered hedonistic.—Stephen Garrett

 

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Little Fugitive (1953)

Convinced he has killed his older brother with his toy rifle, a seven-year-old Brooklyn boy hightails it to Coney Island, where he wanders around with gaping wonder. This pioneering child’s-eye production captures its summery setting with a casual realism that François Truffaut credited as a major influence on The Four Hundred Blows.—Keith Uhlich

 

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American Psycho (2000)

Flattering Bret Easton Ellis’s stone-cold satire with a devilish Christian Bale performance and scalpel-sharp period detail, Mary Harron’s thriller is close to peerless as a picture of ’80s-era vapidity and entitlement. This is the Manhattan of chichi painted plates (and securing the impossible restaurant reservation), Phantom of the Opera visual jokes and pounding dance clubs.—Joshua Rothkopf

 

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Goodfellas (1990)

An Irish-American kid (Ray Liotta) gets his hands bloody with Brooklyn’s Italian-American wiseguys, shaking down everything from small-fry operations to JFK cargo freight. Martin Scorsese’s exhilarating biopic is a harrowing tribute to those who’d rather snake through the kitchen of the Copacabana and pistol-whip neighbors than endure law-abiding life like a schnook.—Stephen Garrett

 

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Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961)

A literary gigolo (George Peppard) and a high-class prostitute (Audrey Hepburn) are rudderless lovers in a town where lost souls are as common as Cracker Jack rings. Blake Edwards’s adaptation of Truman Capote’s novella (mostly shot on the Paramount lot but with key exteriors in NYC, including the famous Fifth Avenue jewelry store) uses its New York state of mind to infuse a staggeringly depressing story with irresistible charm.—Stephen Garrett

 

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42nd Street (1933)

“You’re going out a youngster—but you’ve got to come back a star!” Has any line captured the zero-to-famous allure of the Great White Way better? This peerless backstage musical also gave us the title song (“where the underworld can meet the elite”) and a delirious Busby Berkeley–choreographed tribute to Broadway’s own boulevard of broken dreams.—David Fear

 

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Serpico (1973)

Can a hero survive NYC’s mean streets? Just barely, as Sidney Lumet’s crime classic—based on the tragic real story of uncorrupted cop Frank Serpico—depicts. Fulsome in his righteous rage, Al Pacino uncorked a signature performance, torn between do-gooder zeal and go-it-alone anxiety. Shooting in every borough except Staten Island, the film is a near-complete portrait of the city at its grimiest.—Joshua Rothkopf

 

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Hannah and Her Sisters (1986)

Sibling rivalry doesn’t begin to describe the subtly complex dynamics within a sororal trio as each one seeks happiness among an array of (sometimes overlapping) men. Woody Allen’s vivid dissection of an Upper West Side family—stopping at sites including the Café Carlyle, Pageant Book Shop and CBGB—uses the city’s grandiose neuroses and urbane patois to convey a singular kinship.—Stephen Garrett

 

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The Warriors (1979)

New York’s real and fictional gangs have garnered their share of screen time over the years, but no one has depicted the city’s “armies of the night” as colorfully as Walter Hill. Fleeing from the Bronx to their Coney Island home turf, the Warriors encounter cabals of hoods ranging from the terrifying (Gramercy Riffs) to the campy (Baseball Furies). It’s street warfare as costume party, where fashionable psychos come out and plaaa-aaay.—David Fear

 

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Wall Street (1987)

“Greed, for lack of a better word, is good,” goes the classic line (paraphrased from an actual Ivan Boesky speech), but the richness of Oliver Stone’s morality tale comes through with every scene. Here are dizzying office views and the watering holes (the ‘21’ Club, Tavern on the Green) of the ultrarich. Who can blame Charlie Sheen for buying an automatic sushi maker and selling out?—Joshua Rothkopf

 

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On the Waterfront (1954)

The greater NYC skyline lingers in the backdrop like an unreachable dream in Elia Kazan’s bruising corruption drama, based on Malcolm Johnson’s articles for the late New York Sun. The Hoboken docks are so tough that, as one character says, they almost “ain’t part of America,” but are their own seemingly unchangeable kingdom.—Alison Willmore

 

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Chelsea Girls (1966)

Conceived at Max’s Kansas City and inspired by the Hotel Chelsea (where it was mostly shot), Andy Warhol’s three-and-a-half-hour underground opus was also an unlikely commercial hit, a split-screen endurance test of nonnarrative vignettes featuring the Pop artist’s menagerie of eccentric New York personalities—the cultural progenitors of histrionic reality TV.—Stephen Garrett

 

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After Hours (1985)

Martin Scorsese has made bigger movies—that’s inarguable—but none capture the wasteland that was ’80s Soho after midnight better than this black comedy, a time capsule of NYC weirdness. Frantic Griffin Dunne wanders through papier-mâché-strewn artist lofts, the Moondance Diner and the Emerald Pub, all on his desperate way to get back home (or at least to survive the wiles of Teri Garr).—Joshua Rothkopf

 

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Saturday Night Fever (1977)

It was the movie that took a New York nightclub subculture and turned it into a phenomenon, one Bee Gees song at a time. But this disco melodrama is really about the dream of breaking out of the outer boroughs, with Travolta’s well-coiffed, white-suited Bay Ridge mook standing in for every talented, stifled Brooklyn kid trying to stay alive.—David Fear

 

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On the Town (1949)

There are few more exuberant evocations of a visit to NYC than Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen’s adaptation of Leonard Bernstein’s musical, in which a trio of sailors (Kelly, Frank Sinatra and Jules Munshin) spend their shore leave out and about, romancing three different women. They sing, dance, flirt and even fit in a visit to the Empire State Building, with the stakes no higher than having a great time before they head back to sea. The film’s sheer, frantic joy finds time for the still-useful directional advice that “the Bronx is up, but the Battery’s down.”—Alison Willmore

 

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Escape from New York (1981)

In the not-too-distant future (of 1997), the isle of Manhattan has become a maximum-security prison, home to mohawked killers, slick con artists, gun-toting femmes fatales and other assorted crazies. John Carpenter’s gorgeously grimy thriller posits a memorably dystopian Big Apple: The spectacular opening shot—a slow rise up and over the prison wall—is like a WELCOME TO NY! postcard from an alternate universe (a young fella named James Cameron was one of the background-matte painters). Our eye-patch-sporting antihero, Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell, the epitome of sneering manliness), uses the Twin Towers as a landing platform for his glider—an unintentionally loaded image. The New York Public Library and Grand Central Terminal are villains’ trash-strewn headquarters. And all the bridges are mined! Scene by scene, Carpenter satirizes the de rigueur fears of a crime-plagued NYC—which is funny considering the film was mostly shot in St. Louis.—Keith Uhlich

 

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Shadows (1959)

Raw, intimate and spontaneous in a way that’s authentic to the city’s unpredictable rhythms, John Cassavetes’s jazz-steeped portrait of human relationships is a time capsule of Beat Generation urbanites, as well as the epitome of New York’s scrappy ethos—the template for modern independent filmmaking. This interracial drama was conceived, performed and directed in a studied but freestyle manner that grew out of the Method workshop the rogue Cassavetes had founded in his midtwenties. Bankrolled by family, friends and donations, and lensed largely in the auteur’s own apartment (as well as Times Square, Central Park and downtown), the project was a run-and-gun affair shot on weekends and without permits. It exudes a vitality and candor that still inspire. You don’t have Mean Streets without it, let alone the careers of Jim Jarmusch, Spike Lee and Lena Dunham.—Stephen Garrett

 

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King Kong (1933)

Any list of New York films has to include one of the most famous images of the city ever committed to celluloid: the giant stop-motion ape beating his chest atop the Empire State Building and swiping at the biplanes that have come to take him down. King Kong’s tragic end at the top of the tower holds up remarkably well almost eight decades later, not just because of the practical special effects (which impart a dreamlike reality of their own), but because he’s far from the only visitor to have met his downfall in the city that never sleeps. It is, of course, a jungle out there.—Alison Willmore

 

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Do the Right Thing (1989)

Placing his thumb firmly on a contemporary sore spot, Spike Lee turned up the heat on New York’s melting pot and watched things boil over. Outraged over the 1986 Howard Beach incident, Lee responded with a 360-degree look at what happens when tempers flare and breaking points are reached. Spike’s magnum opus also doubles as a vivid expressionistic portrait of his native Brooklyn, playing out in a Bed-Stuy neighborhood as colorful as any Gauguin painting: Every stoop philosopher, prophet of antigentrification rage, nosy matriarch and beat-box-loving B-boy gets his or her moment in the spotlight. In short, Do the Right Thing captures the modern urban experience in a nutshell, a movie that threatens to tear itself apart. And that’s the double truth, Ruth.—David Fear

 

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Manhattan (1979)

When you walk daily through crowded streets and rub elbows with fellow agitated citizens, it’s easy to take the titular borough for granted. Woody Allen’s love sonnet to the city he calls home reminds you what a gorgeous, grand sight this island really is from the moment that Gershwin-scored opening kicks in: the fish markets and basketball courts, the Fifth Avenue boutiques and Broadway theaters, the high-rise dwellers and lowlifes. “He adored New York,” says Allen’s nasal narrator. “He idolized it all out of proportion.” By the end of that celebrated montage, every viewer is equally dazed and drawn into the filmmaker’s vision—an everyday NYC transformed into a bustling dream metropolis straight out of the movies.—David Fear

 

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Rosemary's Baby (1968)

Released at a time when horror mostly meant Vincent Price in a goofy cape, Roman Polanski’s realistic supernatural drama was a transfusion of thick, urbane blood. Much of the movie’s revolutionary impact should be credited to the city itself: The Dakota looms menacingly, every bit the Gothic pile as any Transylvanian vampire’s mansion. A young couple, played by Mia Farrow (in a fashion-forward NYC pixie cut) and John Cassavetes, moves in—they’re recognizable enough. But in another one of the film’s clever subversions, the perennial lovable but nosy neighbor (Ruth Gordon) hides an evil intent. Weird obstetricians, mysterious night noises and even Farrow’s improvised stroll into actual oncoming traffic add up to a bustling nightmare that’s spawned many a Black Swan since.—Joshua Rothkopf

 

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Dog Day Afternoon (1975)

Al Pacino heads a stellar ensemble cast in Sidney Lumet’s tense, unbearably moving tale of a first-time crook whose plan to rob a Brooklyn bank (at 450 Avenue P) goes spectacularly awry. Though primarily confined to a single location, the film is filled to brimming with distinctly New York characters: John Cazale as a spaced-out partner in crime; Chris Sarandon as a fragile transsexual; Charles Durning as a frazzled police detective. At the center of it all is Pacino’s Sonny Wortzik, who alternates between cocky displays of street-theater bravado (his famous “Attica!” speech) and devastating moments of walls-are-closing-in introspection (the character’s lengthy phone conversations with his ex-wife and current lover are acting master classes). You can see the film’s influence in multifaceted heist movies like Reservoir Dogs and Heat (also starring Pacino), but nothing matches Dog Day’s earthy, unsentimental vision.—Keith Uhlich

 

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Sweet Smell of Success (1957)

Deliciously lethal—like a “cookie full of arsenic”—this film adaptation of Ernest Lehman’s venomous novella about a megalomaniacal gossip columnist (Burt Lancaster) and a parasitic press agent (Tony Curtis) reveals New York’s fickle heart to be less candy-colored than bloody and pumping. Inspired by much-feared newspaperman Walter Winchell, the towering drama encapsulates the show-business spin that once went down after-hours in the booths of the ‘21’ Club and the upper floors of the Brill Building. British-born director Alexander Mackendrick brings a removed anthropologist’s eye to the city’s milieu, while cinematographer James Wong Howe bestows a shimmering noir palette on every authentic location. But it’s adapting screenwriter Clifford Odets’s syncopated symphony of improbably expressionistic dialogue that really lingers: Talk fast enough in this city and anything will sound persuasive.—Stephen Garrett

 

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Taxi Driver (1976)

And so we arrive at the big daddy—the movie you quote into the mirror when you’re feeling fed up (“You talking to me?”), the film that always leaps to mind when a cab pulls through the late-night steam of a manhole cover to take you on a ride to hell. The project almost went to Hitchcock-obsessed Brian De Palma, deemed unsuitable. Instead, with great serendipity, the intense, young director of Mean Streets, Martin Scorsese, and his soft-spoken star, Robert De Niro, were attached. Nothing less than magic was captured during that difficult summer shoot, plagued by beastly heat and a Manhattan garbage strike. Travis Bickle, our cracked hero, cruises through unruly Greenwich Village and the unpredictable streets of Hell’s Kitchen. The story may be all in his head: a deranged man’s dream of vanilla romance with Cybill Shepherd, unchecked fury at political impotence and the compulsive urge to right every wrong, no matter how slight. Because Taxi Driver is so pungent and real, it tops our NYC list. Because it speaks to the lonely devil in all of us, it tops any list.—Joshua Rothkopf

 

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Comments

167 comments
Stebern F
Stebern F

i love this list and it is really do give me some knowledge in many movies

John S
John S

The one that's missing that's typically on lists like these—and for good reason—is "A Thousand Clowns," starring Jason Robards. It has terrific location photography from all over Manhattan circa the mid-1960s. But, more importantly, it captures a certain zeitgeist among the artistic community at the time trying to live a Bohemian ideal by not selling out to corporate careerism. Another miss is the 1921 documentary short "Manhatta" by painter Charles Sheeler and photographer Paul Strand. Spectacular early 20th Century on location photography of Manhattan is mixed with a critique of the contemporary urban ideal. 

SLIM c
SLIM c

 Carlitos Way and American Gangster !!!

Alan P
Alan P

Crossing Delancey is about as NY as you get and should be on this list. The Apartment too; its commission is an injustice. That said, #2, that other great 50's film, is right where it should be.

Triangulove .
Triangulove .

Black and white was a bunch of racist shit. According to this film all white men are weak and gay and all black men are strong and virile. When the hell did this happen? Oh yea, it didn't. 


Bryan J
Bryan J

aww c'mon u gotta have home alone 2 in there somewhere

Brad
Brad

An Unmarried Woman and Light Sleeper should be on this list!

charlottebartlett
charlottebartlett

"The World of Henry Orient" in which two preppy private school girls stalk their crush - an increasingly irate concert pianist played by Peter Sellers - all over mid-60s midtown.

Greg
Greg

Lets not forget the Billy Wilder classic, The Apartment.

Carrie
Carrie

Autumn in New York and Llittle Manhattan are two of my picks.

Mary Nell
Mary Nell

"Moscow on the Hudson" - Robin Williams as a Russian saxaphonist defector, with Maria Conchita Alonso, a Bloomingdales counter girl, and friends - early 1980s East Village and beyond, immigrants' story, romantic comedy, valentine to NYC, filled with the ups, downs, and ups of living here and being from somewhere else.

Adam
Adam

I completely agree with CyCC, "Moonstruck" should go without saying... And what about "Working Girl"? That movie should definitely have cracked the top 100.

Igor
Igor

Several of these movies could have been located in some other city without much change. But Prince of the City couldn't have been made in, or about, any other city. How can it not make the list?

Bocephus
Bocephus

"Juice" if it hasn't been mentioned is deserving of a mention. "Party Monster" really has to be able to crack the Top 100 at least. Club kids? Limelight? That's as 'New York' as New York got in the late 80s/early 90s.

denjski
denjski

"Street Scene" 1931 directed by King Vidor.....a one block stretch in the NYC, from dawn to night.."Dead End" 1936...shows life in NYC during the Depression and what it took to survive....Bogart is in this as a supporting role, he plsys a gangster who comes back to the neighborhood and finds his girl friend a hooker, hard to make clear in 1936 film censorship.....he is finally killed by Joel Mcrea, an other neighborhood kid who came back trying to make is as an architect

CyCC
CyCC

and btw, Taxi Driver may be a brilliant film but it does not summarize or even remotely encapsulate a particularly NY experience. This film is really about any city that exists the periphery of a normal city. These people and these situations come out at night, when it's dark, when everyone has gone home. And it happens everywhere. Even in the so called "nicer" cities. And btw, even if you ARE a 12 year old hooker, there aren't very many vets/cab drivers who are looking to liberate you. What you have in Taxi Driver is a story that's an extraordinary AMERICAN story about a wartorn, disoriented, displaced vet in need of such an extreme episode of such outrageous vengeance and violence, it gives him a justifiable and bloodsoaked gateway back to the living, to the norm.

CyCC
CyCC

How can you have a list about NY movies and not even list Moonstruck?

Alan
Alan

I watched "Saturday Night Fever" last night on DVD. I first saw the film when I was in college and in my 20s. I am now 53 and still love this film. It has aged well and I saw it through much diferent eyes at age 53 than I did in college. A terrific story with a terrfic John Travolta.

Mike
Mike

Serpico? Pope of Greenwich Village? Basketball Diaries? Marathon Man? A Bronx Story? Get outta here!

Blake
Blake

No Die Hard 3????

Jim
Jim

Awesome list but my only complaint is that Rent isn't included. Even though it was mainly shot in San Francisco the movie captures New York and especially Alphabet city in a unique way. Also Nick and Nora's infinite playlist captures NY city nightlife extremely well

STELLA
STELLA

so sweet and interesting

Nawfel
Nawfel

I think that Vanilla Sky should have a place in the classement, New York had a great influence on the movie.

Edward Stratton
Edward Stratton

There were some good choices on this list, but I was very disappointed by the low placement of "Requiem for a Dream" and complete lack of "The Basketball Diaries." Nobody sees the gritty nature of New York City like a heroin addict. And where exactly is "Se7en"? Tisk, tisk, although it's hard to do it right when you're making a list about the world's most iconic city.

John Bengtson
John Bengtson

For what is is worth, nearly all of The Crowd, aside from some preliminary establishing shots, was filmed in Los Angeles. Harold Lloyd's Speedy (1928) (Number 65) has dozens more NYC settings. You can read about Lloyd filming Speedy in New York in my book Silent Visions, and on my blog SilentLocations.Wordpress.com

LennyH
LennyH

Godfather #41 What planet are you guys from?

Renata
Renata

I'd have liked to have seen "13 Conversations About One Thing" on this list. It had the bad luck of coming out when 9/11 tore the city apart.

Dave
Dave

New Jack City with Wesley Snipes, Ice T & Judd Nelson comes to mind as a great movie filmed in NYC!!!

Hannes
Hannes

How could you dare and ignore DIE HARD 3? Isn't this a typical movie for Manhattan? I love the scene with John McClane and Zeus meeting the first time in Harlem while John is carrying his "I hate ..." board! Reconsider, please!

Matthew
Matthew

Arthur (the original) and Moonstruck should definitely both be on that list as they are both great movies that are about specific cultures within NYC.

Marc Hutzler
Marc Hutzler

Terrible that three movies didn't make the great movies of New York ... Meet John Doe, The Seven-Ups, and Quick Change. All three have great true to New York scenes! None of which ever show scenes where you can tell they shot any of it in Hollywood!

travis
travis

scent of a woman, where is it ? who ranked this list? this is beyond trash. I dont want to live on this planet anymore.

Bill Cushing
Bill Cushing

Most of htese were pretty good choices, but picking the 1976 King Kong is a real letdown. Aside from the promise shown by a young actress named Jessica Lange in that rotten movie, that one was inexcusable. Thank the lord Peter Jackson revived the franchise with his later version.

Pammy
Pammy

What about "Night Shift"?!

Mike
Mike

Oh my goodness this is a crime against humanity. Manhattan should at LEAST be number two. The city is such a big part of that story there is no question that it is the most iconic New York City movie of the 20th Century.

Greg W. Locke
Greg W. Locke

I've seen most of these movies. Good list. A few things bug me (Man Push Cart over Chop Shop? No Royal Tenenbaums? Spider-Man 2? Half Nelson? ATCW Documentary?) My biggest issue, however, is that Die Hard with a Vengeance isn't included. Sure, it's not high brow cinema art, but it's a spectacle, it's fun, and it shows more of the 90s NYC than any other movie I've seen. And, IMO, it's one of the all-time great action films. Also, how about The Cruise?!!?!!?!!?!? Classic NYC romance in such an interesting way.

Jamie
Jamie

i kinda liked "Bright Lights, Big City"...also, "Cloverfield"?

Wonderboy
Wonderboy

whoever things there are 24 movies that are set in NY that are better than Goodfellas has serious issues...

Dave
Dave

Is this supposed to represent the best movies filmed in New York, or movies that best exemplify New York. If it's the latter, a pair Adam Sandler movies, "Big Daddy," and "Mr. Deeds" would qualify.

Richard
Richard

"A Thousand Clowns" should be on this list. It's a classic!

Branden Sword
Branden Sword

Pardon me for putting a period rather than a question mark after "41" in my previous comment.

Branden Sword
Branden Sword

Unbelievable. How does "The Godfather" land at 41. Top 5, if not #1.