The Best Movies About NYC

do_the_right_thingNew Yorkers love movies centered around New York! This list is taken from

Do you agree or disagree?

1 Do the Right Thing (1989)

Hello, Brooklyn! Spike Lee and cinematographer Ernest Dickerson transform Bedford-Stuyvesant into an outer-borough version of Gauguin’s Tahiti: Every block, bodega and trash-talking B-boy suddenly becomes part of a colorful, expressionistic landscape that somehow feels hyperreal. Made as a direct response to the HowardBeach incident, Spike’s story about New York’s racial melting pot coming to a boil encompasses Brooklyn in full: the mix of ethnicity and classes, stoop culture and gentrification, pride and anger…in short, the overall volatility of the modern urban experience. All this, and Rosie Perez dancing to Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power.” How many movies can claim that fact, Jack?

2 Sweet Smell of Success (1957)

Broadway has never seemed as seductively menacing as it does in Alexander Mackendrick’s bitter farce about a venomous gossip columnist, his soulless lackey and the wreckage left in their wake. Times Square becomes a monochromatic monstrosity full of harsh lights, sad-sack lunch counters and nonstop noise; the luxe interiors of 21 and the Elysian Room double nicely for Dante’s ninth circle of Hell. The fact that the city’s notorious showbiz vultures haven’t mellowed—if anything, they’ve become exponentially worse—only makes this vision of New Yorkers behaving badly all the more chilling.

3 After Hours (1985)

Martin Scorsese’s “minor” downtown-after-dark comedy offered up some nice lessons for ’80s New York newbies: Stay out of Soho (or at least away from Spring Street’s boho lofts) once the sun goes down; hold on to your money whenever you take a taxi south of 14th Street; and never trust the city’s punk clubgoers or ice-cream-truck drivers. Even more so than Taxi Driver (that’s right, we said it!), this Scorsese picture exemplifies Gotham as a nightmarish wonderland.

4 Dog Day Afternoon (1975)

Park Slope is burning in Sidney Lumet’s scorching heister, based on the true story of a colossally botched bank robbery. Never more ablaze, Al Pacino (who first worked with Lumet in the terrific NYC cop film Serpico) has the noblest of intentions for orchestrating the holdup: to pay for his boyfriend’s sex-change operation. The following year, Lumet would direct another NYC classic about delusions of grandeur: Network.

5 Taxi Driver (1976)

Steam rises from manholes, Bernard Herrmann’s score jacks up the tension, and “God’s lonely man” rolls on into his midnight madness. Scorsese and Robert De Niro forever altered the landscape of cinematic meltdowns with this, their first masterpiece. It pulses with the authentic grit of NYC’s mid-’70s mean streets, a playground for delusional saviors and greasy pimps alike. Wanna-be presidential assassin John Hinckley Jr. may have been taking too many notes—but that only adds to the film’s cult status.

6 Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

As gothic as Gotham gets, Roman Polanski’s horror classic captures a certain kind of big-bad-city nervousness—the kind that involves being a young Mia Farrow impregnated by Satan. Forever, it would turn the elegant Dakota building into a looming beacon of evil.

7 Manhattan (1979)

It’s a cliché to refer to the Woodster’s dramedy as a valentine to his hometown, but c’mon: How else could you describe this gorgeous tribute to the skylines and city dwellers of New York? “Chapter One: He was as tough and romantic as the city he loved.… He adored Manhattan. He idolized it all out of proportion.” Take that, Brooklyn!

8 Shadows (1959)

Where else but NYC would the watershed movie of American independent cinema be shot? John Cassavetes’s debut ambles along with neurotic beats through MoMA, drifts in and out of smoky nightclubs and their denziens’ heads, and watches as cityfolk fall in love with (and betray) each other.

9 On the Town (1949)

“The Bronx is up and the Battery’s down,” sing Frank Sinatra, Gene Kelly (who codirected with Stanley Donen) and Jules Munshin, as three sailors on leave in NYC for 24 hours. Rarely has the city seemed so full of possibility.

10 The Naked City (1948)

Jules Dassin’s realistic crime drama wasn’t the first to use actual NYC locations as backdrops, but his docu-noir certainly popularized the notion that corners like 57th and Lexington look much more authentic than studio back lots. You can also thank this story (one of 8 million, according to the opening voiceover) for every New York–based TV cop show of the past 40 years.

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