Crowded days and lonely nights, from Manhattan and Central Park to life in Brooklyn and the Bronx, New York is represented in cinema unlike any other place in the world. It is depicted as a place loaded with opportunity, where people live in large and empty houses while others wander the streets aimlessly.
With all-time great directors like Martin Scorsese penning love letters to the city, highlighting various details and their effects on the story and characters, movies set in New York find their audiences around the world.
Here are nine movies that bring New York to you:
Taxi Driver (1976)
You talkin’ to me? With one of the greatest lines ever uttered in cinema history, Taxi Driver is perhaps most synonymous with New York City. Directed by the ever-ambitious Martin Scorsese and starring Robert De Niro in their second collaboration, Taxi Driver is widely recognized as one of the greatest films to grace the big screen.
The film follows Travis Bickle, a nocturnal Vietnam War vet, making his way through the nights in a decaying New York City, with the ‘scum on the street’ driving Travis into a declining mental state. As he fights the urge to fix everything he feels is wrong, the God’s lonely man shows us the ugly side of the city as he stumbles across unruly citizens of the night. Luckily, you can find this influential film on many AVOD platforms, allowing you to relive the powerful performances. Taxi Driver is as New York as a movie can get!
Another all-time great by Martin Scorsese, Goodfellas, follows Ray Liotta as Henry Hill, an Irish-American from Brooklyn who gets involved with the Italian-American mafia. Based on the book Wiseguys, in turn, based on the true life story of Hill, Goodfellas brings New York City to life on the screen from the famed Copacabana club where Hill and his associates spent their nights, to a raid at John F. Kennedy International Airport. Lauded by critics and audiences alike, Goodfellas remains a genre-defining classic.
The Godfather (1972)
Recognized by many as the greatest film ever made, The Godfather is largely set in New York and incorporates the city itself as a character. It is the story of an immigrant family that goes on to become influential in the mafia and presents the idea of New York as a dark place where peace might only be apparent. Some of the movie’s defining scenes use New York’s famed locations, including the Bronx, while a man inside a church orders a merciless hunt of those who threaten him. With contrasts that present the city’s dual nature, the direction and cinematography complement New York in every way possible.
The Apartment (1960)
Cited as one of the greatest romantic comedies of all time, The Apartment follows an insurance clerk desperate to climb the corporate ladder. Portraying the duality of life in New York, where the seniors of his company use the clerk’s apartment to have affairs while having families of their own, The Apartment shows the disregard for familial ties in the corporate world. While the namesake Upper West Side apartment is home to a man who is as simple as they come when it comes to love, it emphasizes what it could take to make it in the City of Dreams.
Annie Hall (1977)
Woody Allen’s Alvy Singer is a New Yorker through and through, growing up in Brooklyn–an ode to the director’s fondness for Manhattan. Annie Hall’s apartment between Lexington and Park Avenues is the director’s favorite block in the city, and his 1977 satirical drama romanticizes the Upper East End while presenting another city void of the same love and admiration. As his character reflects on a past relationship gone wrong, the contrast between the character and the city he belongs to is made evident by witty humor and a unique style.
Dog Day Afternoon (1975)
Al Pacino’s memorable role as Sonny, a robber forced to take hostages at a bank on a hot afternoon in August in Park Slope alongside John Cazale’s Sal, is what makes Dog Day Afternoon a classic. A Brooklyn crowd gathers outside the bank with police officers trying to control the situation as Sonny is contacted by his family, trying to convince him to let go of his stubbornness. With the famous “Attica! Attica!” chants initiated by Sonny’s attempt to turn the crowd against the police referencing another New York incident, the film attempts to highlight the different characters found in 1975 New York City.
When Harry Met Sally (1989)
A New York backdrop against a man and a woman trying to figure out if they could be just friends, this heartfelt rom-com is a product of New York’s own Nora Ephron. The film remains attached to some of the most famous places in New York, including Washington Square Park and Central Park West. With the city adding to the romantic epiphanies in the movie, New York makes for the perfect location for this story.
25th Hour (2002)
Spike Lee’s drama about a drug dealer spending his last day of freedom in a broken New York City is a post-9/11 story that explores the anger, self-loathing, and chaos that culminates in an unforgettable monologue. As Monty Brogan, the ill-fated protagonist, gets ready to spend seven years in jail, his realization about the world he lives in and the people he is surrounded by make his story stand out as one amongst the many in the city who share similar experiences, all messed up in their unique ways.
American Psycho (2000)
Mary Harron’s vision of New York is a twisted blend of ultra-rich investment bankers and the vulnerable poor roaming dark alleys, all at the risk of becoming victim to someone who can get away with it. Starring Christian Bale in a career-defining performance, American Psycho follows Patrick Bateman, a rich, attractive investment banker who lives at the American Gardens Building on West 81st Street and believes in taking care of himself. Also, he is a serial killer who enjoys murders and executions. The 80’s setting, with the extravagant lifestyle and premium restaurants like Dorsia (where no one can get a reservation) coupled with drug-laden nightclubs, this critique of a world ruled by greed and consumption is a cult classic and internet favorite.
In the world of film, New York City isn’t just a setting – it’s a vibrant character. These nine movies vividly bring the city to life, from its lively streets to iconic landmarks. So, grab your popcorn and let these movies paint the Big Apple’s essence on your screen!