Top ten fish-out-of-water movies set in New York City

A small-town boy/African prince/mermaid drops into the big city and…you know the rest. Here are our fave movies about New York newbies.

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No subgenre plays into the joys of New York–style schadenfreude quite like the fish-out-of-water tale. Here are ten odes to the obliviousness of NYC visitors that will make any Gotham dweller feel appropriately smug about swimming with the current of such a vast, overwhelming stream—all while crying or laughing at (or with) those Aussie adventurers, animated princesses, country bumpkins and Muppets struggling to hack it in the urban jungle.


  • 1. Midnight Cowboy (1969)

    In this Best Picture winner, Jon Voight’s tall drink of Texan hustler quickly becomes familiar with the down-and-out essentials of New York grit: dealing with insane Park Avenue housewives, living in a shoebox apartment without heat, experimenting with psychedelic drugs and learning how to be a car-disrespecting pedestrian. Thanks for the tips, Ratso!

     Watch Midnight Cowboy now on iTunes
     Watch Midnight Cowboy now at Amazon Instant Video

  • Photograph: Moviestore collection Ltd / Alamy

    2. Coming to America (1988)

    Feeling anxious about an arranged marriage, Eddie Murphy’s pampered Prince of Zamunda searches for an independent-thinking future queen in—where else?—Queens. He gets a blue-collar job, learns how to properly woo an NYC woman, and is greeted—or rather, mistreated—by lotharios, criminals, and Randy Watson and Sexual Chocolate’s rendition of “The Greatest Love of All.”

     Watch Coming to America now on iTunes
     Watch Coming to America now at Amazon Instant Video

  • Photograph: Pictorial Press Ltd / Alamy

    3. “Crocodile” Dundee (1986)

    Before Americans got their Australian cultural cues from Outback Steakhouse, we had the authentically confident and rough-and-tumble Paul Hogan to school us on the rugged ways of the Aussie bush. He took Gotham by storm like no other, armed with nothing but a big bowie knife and a toothy grin. “Get on the right side of the road, ya pelican!”

     Watch “Crocodile” Dundee now on iTunes
     Watch “Crocodile” Dundee now at Amazon Instant Video

  • 4. The Muppets Take Manhattan (1984)

    Kermit & Co. try to hit it big on the Broadway stage in this relic of if-you-can-make-it-here-you-can-make-it-anywhere moxie. Impressively shot on location—and with cameos by Liza Minnelli, Joan Rivers and Gregory Hines—its most salient 1980s New York detail may be that a diner’s kitchen staff is made up entirely of rats.

     Watch The Muppets Take Manhattan now on iTunes
     Watch The Muppets Take Manhattan now at Amazon Instant Video

  • 5. The Out of Towners (1970)

    Jack Lemmon and Sandy Dennis’s titular Ohioans arrive in the city the night before a big job interview only to face a barrage of urban worst-day-ever absurdities. While attempting to navigate NYC in the midst of a transit strike, they get lost, rained on, mugged and kidnapped—all in one day.

     Watch The Out of Towners now on iTunes
     Watch The Out of Towners now at Amazon Instant Video

  • 6. Big (1988)

    After Zoltar works his growth-spurt magic, a 12-year-old New Jersey kid turns into Tom Hanks and makes the urban jungle his personal playground. But we think he’s got the right idea; you have to admit that anyone who scores a massive Manhattan loft and tricks it out with a trampoline, an inflatable stegosaurus and a pinball machine clearly has his priorities in order.

     Watch Big now on iTunes
     Watch Big now at Amazon Instant Video

  • Photograph: AF archive / Alamy

    7. Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936)

    A mild-mannered tuba player from Vermont (Gary Cooper) inherits a fortune and moves to the big city in this granddaddy of the subgenre. He meets a spunky lady reporter, goes on an old-fashioned bender, and is confronted by scammers and schemers on all sides. But this being a Frank Capra joint, you know that no one is keeping this small-town boy down.

     Watch Mr. Deeds Goes to Town now on iTunes
     Watch Mr. Deeds Goes to Town now at Amazon Instant Video

  • Photograph: AF archive / Alamy

    8. Splash (1984)

    Taking the fish-out-of-water label literally, Ron Howard’s flick offers the tail—er, tale—of a flaky mermaid (Daryl Hannah) who washes up on the shores of Liberty Island. She learns English from TV, takes her name from Madison Avenue and charms the pants off Tom Hanks’s despondent bachelor. Public nudity has never before or since been so riotous.

     Watch Splash now on iTunes
     Watch Splash now at Amazon Instant Video

  • Photograph: Moviestore collection Ltd / Alamy

    9. Enchanted (2007)

    Amy Adams’s squeaky-clean, dressed-by-birds animated princess pops out of a manhole and finds herself in a very real—if still pretty Disneyfied—version of Times Square. Once she adjusts to her new environs, she leads a cheery song and dance through Central Park, and recruits pigeons, rats and cockroaches to scrub down a grimy apartment. Efficient!

     Watch Enchanted now on iTunes
     Watch Enchanted now at Amazon Instant Video

  • 10. The Dictator (2012)

    After Sacha Baron Cohen’s intolerant Middle Eastern despot gets dumped beardless in the middle of Manhattan, he strikes up an unlikely alliance with a granola-chomping co-op owner (Anna Faris). There’s something quintessentially 21st-century New York about watching the two spar over concepts like “people of all or no genders.”

     Watch The Dictator now on iTunes
     Watch The Dictator now at Amazon Instant Video

1. Midnight Cowboy (1969)

In this Best Picture winner, Jon Voight’s tall drink of Texan hustler quickly becomes familiar with the down-and-out essentials of New York grit: dealing with insane Park Avenue housewives, living in a shoebox apartment without heat, experimenting with psychedelic drugs and learning how to be a car-disrespecting pedestrian. Thanks for the tips, Ratso!

 Watch Midnight Cowboy now on iTunes
 Watch Midnight Cowboy now at Amazon Instant Video


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