Top ten NYC subway movie moments: The Warriors, Borat and more
The NYC subway has long been a favorite subject for filmmakers. See which movies made the cut for our favorite subway-on-film moments.
Wed Oct 16 2013
Photograph: AF archive / Alamy
1. The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974)
Pop culture has embraced the NYC subway from its very beginnings, for better or worse—many of the best subway moments on film depict the transit system at its most broken or bleak. (The Warriors, we're looking at you.) Relive our favorite subway moments from New York movies, and be sure to chime in with any we missed in the comments.
1. The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974)
Why would a group of color-coded terrorists want to hijack a downtown 6 train? And how the hell do they plan to get away? We’ll let Transit Authority Lieutenants Zachary Garber (Walter Matthau) and Rico Patrone (Jerry Stiller) figure that out in this comedic action film, which makes amazing use of real subway locations, both aboveground and below. Following the film’s release, the MTA ceased using 1:23 as a departure time for Pelham-bound cars.
2. The Warriors (1979)
Forget tricked-out rides: Graffiti-splattered trains are how the powerful gangs roll in Walter Hill’s cult classic, in which the titular crew outruns a host of costumed thugs (including the Rogues, who all look like a slightly tougher version of the biker from the Village People) during their transfer-heavy trip from the Bronx to Coney Island.
3. The French Connection (1971)
Before revving up for one of cinema’s most iconic car chases—shot under the tracks of Brooklyn’s West End line, the same location where John Travolta strutted his stuff with a paint can to kick off Saturday Night Fever—the target (Fernando Rey) gives NYC detective Jimmy Doyle (Gene Hackman) the slip on the platform at Grand Central Station, using only a dapper cane and his wits.
4. The Incident (1967)
Although the MTA denied director Larry Peerce permission to shoot any part of The Incident—about a pair of hoodlums (Tony Musante and Martin Sheen, in his feature debut) terrorizing a train full of passengers—on location, he did it anyway. The interior subway-car action was filmed in a 4 train reproduction, but cinematographer Gerald Hirschfeld rode the rails incognito with a hidden camera to capture the authentic backgrounds needed to show the journey from 170th Street to Grand Central.
5. Midnight Cowboy (1969)
Texas transplant Joe Buck (Jon Voight) may not be a real cowboy, but he is one hell of a stud! So he’s none too pleased when Ratso Rizzo (Dustin Hoffman) cons him into taking a meeting with local “pimp” O’Daniel (John McGiver). Once Joe realizes he’s been had, he’s dropped into a psychedelic montage in which he envisions strangling Ratso on a Coney Island–bound F train.
6. On the Town (1949)
This Oscar-winning musical is one of the first movies to feature the NYC metro—and all in glorious Technicolor, no less. Sailors Gabey (Gene Kelly), Chip (Frank Sinatra) and Ozzie (Jules Munshin) board a train at Times Square in search of “Miss Turnstiles,” the young beauty whose face is on every billboard. The story line is based on the “Miss Subways” publicity campaigns that ran from 1941 to 1976.
7. The Last Days of Disco (1998)
Whit Stillman’s talky ode to early-’80s nightlife gives the Studio 54 era a proper send-off during the end credits, when new couple Alice (Chloë Sevigny) and Josh (Matt Keeslar) board a train toward the future and dance to the O’Jays’ “Love Train.” It doesn’t take long for their fellow straphangers to join in.
8. Death Wish (1974)
Public transport provides the perfect getaway vehicle for architect-turned-vigilante Paul Kersey (Charles Bronson), who takes out ten bad guys in retaliation for the murder of his wife at the hands a young punk (Jeff Goldblum, making his big-screen debut). Among the film’s many lessons: Do not try to mug Charles Bronson.
9. Borat (2006)
Before he heads to L.A. to make sexy time with Pamela Anderson, Kazakh journalist Borat Sagdiyev (Sacha Baron Cohen) hops aboard a subway train, where his pet chicken runs amok. Borat warns everyone: “Careful, he bite.” But that didn’t stop Felix Cedeno, a Bronx-bound 4 rider, from suing the filmmakers for $2.25 million, claiming the stunt invaded his privacy.
10. Subway Stories: Tales from the Underground (1997)
Aggressive panhandlers, arguing couples, smelly dudes, lost tourists… They’re all part of the madness that is our daily commute, the subject of this anthology project from HBO in which ten true tales from everyday New Yorkers are adapted into shorts by notable directors (Jonathan Demme, Abel Ferrara) and actors (Rosie Perez, Denis Leary).
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Editor: Marley Lynch (@marleyasinbob)