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

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

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  • New York movies: Black Swan (2010)

  • New York movies: Downtown 81 (1981)

  • New York movies: Death Wish (1974)

  • New York movies: Paris is Burning (1990)

  • New York movies: Broadway Danny Rose (1984)

  • New York movies: Speedy (1928)

  • New York movies: Super Fly (1972)

  • New York movies: On the Bowery (1956)

  • New York movies: Regeneration (1915)

  • New York movies: Tootsie (1982)

New York movies: Black Swan (2010)

70

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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69

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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68

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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67

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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66

Broadway Danny Rose (1984)

Don’t worry—you’ll be seeing plenty more Woody on this list. This comedy, starring a transformed Mia Farrow as an Italian mob widow, deserves promotion from minor to major. Bookended by coffee klatches in the landmark Carnegie Deli, the b&w lark also touches down on the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade (Underdog float!).—Joshua Rothkopf

 

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65

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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64

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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63

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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62

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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61

Tootsie (1982)

Dustin Hoffman plays a down-on-his-luck NYC actor who lands a soap-opera role by posing as a prim Midwestern woman. Local landmarks include the National Video Center (now home to luxury apartments and the Signature Theatre) and the Russian Tea Room (where Hoffman reveals his ploy to his agent); even Andy Warhol makes an appearance.—Keith Uhlich

 

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Users say

159 comments
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.

James
James

And no "Panic in Needle Park." The more I look at this list, the more flaws I see. Expected, though, from JR. Can't Time Out find people who know more about film?

James
James

"The Hunger?" Does the author even realize that most of that film was shot in London because it was too expensive to shoot the whole thing here? Certainly films like "The Hospital" and "Beat Street" are more deserving of this list. I pretty much don't read anything JR writes or reviews, but figured I would check out as something as simple as a list.

SouthPA
SouthPA

What about "The Front" from 1976?

Cole
Cole

No Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Being John Malkovich, or Synecdoche, New York. Pretty much everything by Charlie Kaufman should be on this list.

Alan
Alan

What about Die Hard With A Vengeance or Spiderman?

tony
tony

No "I am Legend" hmmm

mike
mike

an affair to remember should be on this list................how could you miss this......

Anthony
Anthony

This list is a joke. No Gangs of New York? And the 1974 King Kong, not the last one?? Please...