The NYC subway in film, TV, music and other pop-culture depictions

Find out which movies, album covers and TV shows have been captured in the NYC subway, and read the story of the first motion picture filmed underground.

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  • Photograph: Moviestore collection Ltd / Alamy

    Bananas (1971)

  • The Ramones Subterranean Jungle (1983)

  • Photograph: United Archives GmbH / Alamy

    C.H.U.D. (1984)

  • Thomas Edison

  • Seinfeld

Photograph: Moviestore collection Ltd / Alamy

Bananas (1971)

The NYC subway has long inspired filmmakers, musicians and other artists—just look at the plethora of NYC-set movies that have been filmed aboard underground trains. Learn the stories behind five of Time Out’s favorite pop-culture depictions of the NYC subway, including its appearance on a Ramones album cover (which you can see at the New York Transit Museum’s “Album Tracks” exhibit) and the first film shot underground, made by the Thomas A. Edison Company.


RECOMMENDED: All public transportation in NYC


BANANAS (1971) SYLVESTER STALLONE, WOODY ALLEN BNAS 009FOH

Face-off: Woody Allen versus Sly Stallone

In his 1971 film Bananas, a young Woody Allen and a younger Sylvester Stallone duke it out aboard a moving train. Stallone plays a local tough antagonizing passengers in a subway car, including an older woman whose crutches are used as weapons (comically, of course).  Allen, in true New Yorker fashion, does his best to ignore the ruckus, but eventually confronts Stallone and his hooligan friend, pushing them out the car door right before it shuts. Unfortunately for Woody, the door opens again, and his character learns that no good deed goes unpunished.

The Ramones Subterranean

Graffiti makes the Ramones look tougher…maybe?

The Ramones are perhaps the most famous band to come out of the golden era of CBGB, but you could argue that they weren’t exactly the toughest. That might explain the story behind the cover of the band’s 1983 album, Subterranean Jungle. The group was shot by photographer George DuBose at the 57th St station, but in postproduction, graffiti was airbrushed onto the car, presumably to make the punk icons seem grittier. The band was none too happy about the added street art, but it stayed, because record executives always know what’s best for rock & roll.

C.H.U.D.

A creepy urban myth is brought to life

Long before (or after, depending on your interpretation of time and space) the Morlocks terrorized the Eloi, cannibalistic humanoid underground dwellers fed on New York’s surface population. Well, sort of: The 1984 flick C.H.U.D. was inspired by the urban legend of mutant creatures occupying subway tunnels and wreaking havoc upon those aboveground. The movie was shot here in 1983, and used the anchorages on the Manhattan side of the Brooklyn Bridge as a setting. While not a critical darling upon its release, C.H.U.D. has lived on as a cult hit, earning a reference in an episode of The Simpsons (“The City of New York vs. Homer Simpson”).

Thomas Edison

Filming the subway for the first time

Long before Michael Jackson performed “Bad” on the Hoyt–Schermerhorn platform, Edwin S. Porter, a filmmaker for the Thomas A. Edison Company, made “City Hall to Harlem in 15 Seconds via the Subway Route.” The comedic short, filmed in 1904, was the first motion picture ever shot in the transit system. But that wasn’t Edison’s maiden dalliance with capturing NYC transit: In 1899, the inveterate inventor shot a short film aboard a train on the Brooklyn Bridge, showing the aboveground transport traveling from Brooklyn to Manhattan.

Seinfeld (1989-1998)

Seinfeld gets subway annoyances right

In “The Subway,” an episode from the show’s third season, the Seinfeld crew takes to the underground rails, running into just about every crappy transit experience imaginable: Kramer is saved from a mugger by an undercover cop; Elaine gets stuck underneath a dude’s armpit on a stalled train; and Jerry falls asleep on the way to Coney Island, waking to find himself seated across from a naked guy (in true NYC fashion, everyone else in the car stands at one end to avoid the weird nude person). Much about the city and the subway has changed in the past two decades, but some things—like unforeseen delays and run-ins with odd characters—probably never will.



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