Photograph: Courtesy Barry Wetch

Best New York movies: 23 movies set in NYC for kids

The Big Apple takes a starring role in these terrific kids' movies set in NYC. How many have you seen?

By Oliver Strand

There's something magical about a movie set in New York City. It doesn't matter if it's the kinda-realistic city of Ghostbusters, the Hollywood-zed fantasy of Spider-Man or the animated Gotham of the Secret Life of Pets, it's a thrill to see your hometown on the silver screen.

These kids' films set in NYC include some of the best family movies to watch together. We guarantee that they're not just great for children—these films are fun for the whole family! When was the last time you watched the original West Side Story, or streamed Harriet the Spy or put on Enchanted—which is definitely one of the best family comedy movies out there.

So fire up your streaming service, order in dinner from family restaurants in NYC doing delivery and enjoy a movie night with the kiddos.

Best New York movies for kids

Photograph: Courtesy Barry Wetcher/SMPSP

1. Enchanted (2007)

A hilarious blend of the Snow White, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty fairytales, Enchanted begins in conventional, animated Disney territory where pretty Giselle is being courted by Edward, her Prince Charming. His witchy mother, however, has an evil scheme on the boil and banishes Giselle to twenty-first-century New York City. Now the film flits jumps to live-action when Giselle, now Amy Adams, is dressed to the nines in a flowing ball gown and emerges from a midtown manhole. The fun takes off when Adams starts hamming it up. Giselle is clearly on another plane: She swans around singing inane songs and delivering amusingly mundane fantasy lingo in a princess-y voice. This is one your whole family will love. Stream on Amazon Prime, Google Play and YouTube. Rated PG.

Fozzie de Los Muppets
Photograph: Courtesy Canal Sony

2. The Muppets Take Manhattan (1984)


The Muppets find themselves in Manhattan aching to get a musical staged on Broadway: Kermit the Frog has just put together a successful variety show at Danhurst College, and although he would like to mount it on the Great White Way (bonus: If he has a hit and he'll be able to marry Miss Piggy), he cannot find backers. The Muppets are forced to take jobs to support themselves, and while working as a waiter that Kermit meets the friendly Jennie (Juliana Donald). The problem? Miss Piggy does not like competition. With stunning musical numbers involving a hundred or so Muppets and on-scene locations in New York City, the film is impressive in its merging of technical achievements and acting. Stream on Amazon Prime, Google Play and YouTube. Rated G.

The Secret Lives of Pets 2
Photograph: Courtesy Universal Pictures

3. The Secret Life of Pets (2016)

If you think your four-legged friend waits patiently by the door for your arrival then you haven't met Max, the mischievous dog who thinks he's the king of the house. Max is thrown for a loop when his owner brings home another pup, Duke. The two end up on the streets of NYC—will they make it home? A few of Max's friends join forces to help see them back to safety. Our advice? Stick with the original—the 2019 sequel is good enough but doesn't quite measure up. Stream on Amazon PrimeApple iTunes, Google Play and YouTube. Rated PG.

Photo: Courtesy of Columbia Pictures

4. Ghostbusters (1984)

Movies Comedy

Both weirder and more subtle than you remember it to be, the original Ghostbuster will captivate your kids. As you recall, after Dr. Peter Venkman, Dr. Raymond Stanz and Dr. Egon Spengler are booted from Columbia they buy an old firehouse in TriBeCa (them's the days) and go into business for themselves as "Ghostbusters," a ghost removal service. They get slimed, capture ghosts and become the toast of the town before facing off with a mega-sized Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. A note to parents: Some innuendo makes this suitable for older kids. Stream on Amazon Prime, Google Plus and YouTube. Rated PG.

Jillian Holtmann
Photograph: Courtesy Hopper Stone

5. Ghostbusters (2016)

Movies Comedy

Who wore it better? This all-female Ghostbusters reboot is subversive and often very funny. This witty rethink adds a sharp sense of sorority: The new Ghostbusters is a stealth battle of the sexes, one that spans from mansplaining college deans to a haughty New York mayor and a phalanx of male soldiers, all neutralized by a core team of four awesome women. The all-star cast helps: When you get Leslie Jones, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon and Kristen Wiig the laughs are guaranteed. Stream on Amazon PrimeApple iTunes, Google Play, YouTube and Vudu. Rated PG-13.

School of Rock
Paramount Pictures

6. School of Rock (2003)

Movies Comedy

Dewey Finn is a hell-raising guitarist with delusions of grandeur. Kicked out of his band and desperate for work, Dewey impersonates a substitute teacher and turns a class of fifth grade high-achievers into high-voltage rock and rollers. The private school's uptight and skeptical head, Principal Mullins, watches on as the 'new sub' preps the kids for Battle of the Bands—and it all takes place on beautiful Staten Island. Stream on Amazon Prime, Google Plus and YouTube. Rated PG-13.

Film Forum Jr.: West Side Story
Photograph: courtesy Photofest

7. West Side Story (1961)


A musical in which a modern-day Romeo and Juliet are involved in New York street gangs. On the harsh streets of the upper west side, two gangs battle for control of the turf. The situation becomes complicated when a gang member falls in love with a rival's sister. This is a masterpiece and one of the great odes to New York. With a score by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, choreography by Jerome Robbins and shot on location on Upper West Side streets cleared to be demolished to make way for Lincoln Center, West Side Story is one to savor. Stream on Amazon Prime, Apple iTunesGoogle Play, Hulu and YouTube. Not Rated; recommended for ages 11 and up.

Sony Pictures Animation

8. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)

4 out of 5 stars
Movies Animation

Just when you thought you reached peak Spider-Man, this movie comes along and reminds you why Spidey is a hero to generations of kids. This spectacular film embraces the most out-there elements of Spider-Man lore and forges something new from them. Yes, it rips through yet more origin stories and sets up another villain with an evil, multiverse-opening thingamajig. But by the time it’s chucked in a Spider-pig (yes, really), a sassy Aunt May and buckets of Day-Glo–bathed spectacle, resistance will be pretty much futile. “It can get weirder,” points out one character. And it really does. Nominally set in NYC, and in multiple parallel universes, this is one of those animated films that grips parents as much as kids. Stream on Amazon Prime, Google PlayNetflix and YouTube. Rated PG-13.

Photograph: Courtesy Film Forum

9. Annie (1982)

This big-budget Hollywood hit directed by John Huston brought the Broadway musical to the silver screen, and introduced "It's a Hard Knock Life" to a global audience. This is an epic drama the whole family will love. Stream on Amazon PrimeApple iTunesGoogle Play and YouTube. Rated PG.


10. Superman (1978)


There was a time when comics just didn't pull off the transition to the big screen. But then this blockbuster came along, and now we're all living in DC's universe. Do you need a plot refresher, and be reminded of the destruction of the planet Krypton and when scientist Jor-El (Marlon Brando) sends his infant son Kal-El to Earth? Raised by kindly farmers, young Clark (Christopher Reeve) discovers the source of his superhuman powers and moves to Metropolis (a very period piece NYC) to fight evil. Up, up and away! Stream on Amazon Prime, Apple iTunes, DC UniverseGoogle Play and YouTube. Rated PG. 

Night at the Museum
Night at the Museum

11. Night at the Museum (2006)

Movies Action and adventure

Larry Daley, a down-and-out dreamer who finds himself in desperate need of a job, grudgingly accepts the supposedly menial graveyard shift as a security guard at the Natural History Museum. On his very first night on the job, Larry is handed an over-sized flashlight and a dog-eared instruction manual, then left all alone in the eerily quiet, cavernous museum. At least, he thinks he's alone. But wait, what's that? Larry watches as, one by one, the primeval beasts and dioramas that surround him stir magically to life. Tyrannosaurus Rex and Attila The Hun carve a swath of destruction through the marble corridors, while lions and monkeys prowl the fragile exhibits. What's Larry to do? Why, turn to Teddy Roosevelt to save the night! Stream on Amazon PrimeApple iTunesGoogle Play Hulu, YouTube and Vudu. Rated PG.

12. I Am Big Bird: The Caroll Spinney Story (2014)

Movies Documentary

You’ve probably seen Caroll Spinney hundreds of times, but you won’t recognize him. Since 1969, he has been bringing to life two of Jim Henson’s most loved Muppets—Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch from kids’ TV show Sesame Street. This sweet doc gives a bird’s eye view of the man within that mass of yellow feathers. The softly spoken 81-year-old appears in interviews alongside Frank Oz (the voice of Yoda) and Sesame Street co-founder Joan Ganz Cooney. There are mountains of old backstage footage for Muppet fans as the film journeys from Spinney’s first foray into puppeteering in the ’60, to his remarkable life as two of the world’s most famous children’s characters. It’s an adoring portrait, and he is unquestionably an entertainer to be celebrated. Stream on Amazon PrimeApple iTunes, Google Play and YouTube. Not Rated.

Photograph: Courtesy of Warner Bros.

13. Elf (2003)

Will Ferrell stars in this Christmas flick that's now a certifiable holiday classic. He plays the overly enthusiastic Buddy the Elf, who realizes he's not quite like his peers in the North Pole—he's actually human! With this new information in mind, he goes on a quest to celebrate the holidays in NYC with his family. Although many people would jump at the chance to spend Christmas in NYC (who could blame them, right?) Buddy isn't quite getting the hang of things in Gotham. If you don't watch this one at least once, all we have to say to you is "Son of a NUT-cracker!” Stream on Amazon PrimeApple iTunes, Google PlayYouTube and VuduRated PG.


15. Oliver & Company (1988)

Movies Family and kids

This animal-tastic take on Oliver Twist has become a classic unto itself. Young Oliver (Joey Lawrence) is an orphaned kitten in the Big Apple. He's taken in by a gang of thieving dogs, led by charming canine Dodger (Billy Joel) and owned by down-and-out pickpocket Fagin (Dom DeLuise). While pulling a job in the streets of New York City, Oliver winds up being adopted by a rich girl, Jenny (Natalie Gregory), and landing on easy street. But through a series of events, a loan shark (Robert Loggia) threatens the peaceful new arrangement. Stream on Amazon Prime, Google PlayDisney+, YouTube and Vudu. Rated G.

Harriet the Spy (1996)
Harriet the Spy (1996)

16. Harriet the Spy (1996)


Meet Harriet (Michelle Trachtenberg), a mostly-friendless sixth-grader raised in Manhattan by her nanny, Golly (Rosie O'Donnell)—her parents always seem to be somewhere else, busy showing off. Harriet is also an accomplished spy, but her observant nature only gets her into trouble. Welcome to the spyhouse! The iconic novel by Louise Fitzhugh not only transfers nicely to the silver screen, it ages well. Stream on Amazon PrimeApple iTunes, Google Play, YouTube and VuduRated PG.

Spider-man: Lejos de casa
Courtesy Sony Pictures.

17. Spider-Man (2002)

Movies Action and adventure

The first is the best: The origin story of how Peter Parker (Toby Maguire) became Spider-Man centers on student Peter Parker (Toby Maguire) who, after being bitten by a genetically-altered spider, gains superhuman strength and the spider-like ability to cling to any surface. Such skills come in handy at school, where bullies gonna bully. Spider-Man is an enjoyable romp set in a Hollywood-ized version of the Big Apple: Who gets a parking spot right in front of the New York Public Library? Stream on Amazon PrimeApple iTunesGoogle PlayHulu, YouTube and Vudu. Rated PG-13.

Photograph: Courtesy Channel 5 Broadcasting

18. 13 Going on 30 (2004)

A 13-year-old tired of being a teen is magically transformed into a 30-year-old woman living in Manhattan. Guess what? Being an adult isn't as easy as it looks, although a teen's way of doing things cuts through the malarkey of grown-up life. This delightful comedy features Jennifer Garner in a star-making performance. Stream on Amazon PrimeGoogle Play, HuluYouTube and Vudu. Rated PG-13.


19. Big (1988)

Movies Comedy

After a wish turns 12-year-old Josh Baskin (David Moscow) into a 30-year-old man (Tom Hanks), he heads to New York City and gets a low-level job at MacMillan Toy Company. A chance encounter with the owner (Robert Loggia) of the company leads to a promotion testing new toys. Soon a fellow employee, Susan Lawrence (Elizabeth Perkins), takes a romantic interest in Josh. However, the pressure of living as an adult begins to overwhelm him, and he longs to return to his simple, former life as a boy. Stream on Apple iTunesGoogle Play, HBOVudu. Rated PG.

Photograph: Courtesy Twentieth Century Fox

20. Miracle on 34th Street (1947)

Is that bearded fella really Santa Claus? Macy’s hires gentle Kris Kringle to be its department store St. Nick, but his stellar commitment to the job (as well as insistence on being the genuine article) has all the kids in awe. Unfortunately for Kris, many considered his wonderful behavior and magical affect quite unusual—so unusual that he actually ends up at Bellevue! Will he be freed and his reputation redeemed? You’ll just have to watch to find out. Stream on Amazon Prime, Apple iTunesDisney+Google Play, YouTube and VuduRated G.

La pandilla. Newsies

21. Newsies (1992)

Movies Drama

Set in the sepia-toned New York of 1899, this musical tells the true story of how paperboys banded together and staged a strike that took on–and defeated–press baron Joseph Pulitzer (Robert Duvall). That the newsies were lead by a street urchin played by a young Christian Bale adds to the fun. Stream on Amazon PrimeApple iTunes, Disney+Google Play, YouTube and Vudu. Rated PG.

home alone 2
Photograph: Moviestore/REX Shutterstock

22. Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (1992)

This time, when Kevin (Macaulay Culkin) peels off from his family he ends up alone in New York—and crashing at the Plaza Hotel. Not too shabby. There are mad antics, plenty of pratfals and lots of goofy physical comedy that's either delightful (classic humor!) or masochistic (that's gotta hurt). Will the baddies get away with stealing all the toys and ruining the holidays? Not on Kevin's watch. Stream on Amazon Prime, Apple iTunes, Google PlayHBO, YouTube and Vudu. Rated PG.


23. An American Tale (1986)


Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled mouses yearning to breathe free! An American Tale is an immigrant's tale, and tells the story of Fievel Mousekewitz, a young mouse from Russia who washes up on the shores of New York City. There are mean streets to navigate, trials to overcome—good thing he meets a kindly melting pot of mice from Ireland, Italy and other far-flung lands, plus he meets a friendly cat voiced by Dom Deluise. Can the scrappy mouse make it here? In a word: Da! Stream on Amazon Prime, Apple iTunesGoogle PlayHulu, YouTube and Vudu. Rated G.


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