Top 15 Essential New York Movies

New York Movies

New York City – Photo: Brian Kachejian 2017

Our Top 15 New York Movies list takes a look at fifteen films that were not just filmed in New York City, but utilized the City in an important role in the film. There have been thousands of movies filmed in New York City’s five boroughs of Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn, The Bronx and Staten Island. Many movies have also been filmed on Long Island and Upstate New York. However the best films that brought the city of New York alive were usually filmed in the boroughs of Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn, and The Bronx. It’s hard to create a list of just 15 New York Movies, but that’s what makes this fun to do. Undoubtedly, we will miss some of you favorites. In honor of so many of the great films we also added an honorary list of New York Movies at the end of our article.

# 15 – The Seven Up’s

Opening up out top 15 New York Movies list is the great Roy Scheider film “The Seven Up’s.” The film provided audiences with one of the greatest car chase scenes ever released. I first saw this film when it was  released at the Bainbridge Movie Theater in the Bronx. While we were all watching the film, the famous car chase scene went through the same neighborhood that the theater was in. The crowd in the theater went absolutely nuts. The Seven Ups was directed by Philip D’Antoni. The acclaimed director was only responsible for directing films such as The French Connection starring Gene Hackman and Bullet starring Steve McQueen. D’Antonio was known for making gritty detective movies that featured stunning chase scenes.

 # 14 – Midnight Cowboy

Midnight Cowboy was released on May 25th 1969. The film starred Dustin Hoffman and Jon Voight. The movie was directed by John Schlesinger.A brilliant move that defines the dark side of the streets of New York like so many of the films on this list. One of the key historical aspects of the film Midnight Cowboy was that the move was Rated X.

The film Midnight Cowboy was the Oscar for best Motion Picture in 1969 making it the first Rated X film to ever win an Academy Award. The film also won Academy Awards for Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay. New York’s Hotel Claridge which was located at Broadway and 44th Street serves as the hotel in which Jon Voight’s character stayed throughout the movie. And who could ever forget the incredible theme song?

# 13 – The Naked City

The brilliant 1948 film The Naked City defined the look of New York in the 1940’s. The cinematography of the city was jaw dropping. The Academy thought so too as the film won the Academy Award for cinematography in 1948. The film The Naked City was directed by Jules Dassin. The Naked City is a film that is studied in film schools worldwide. It is often refereed to as “film noir.” Some critics argue that the film was inspired by Italian neo realism. Other’s argue that the movie was heavily influenced by the work of New York photographer Arthur (Usher) Fellig who was known as Weegee. In fact, Fellig was hired by the filmmakers of The Naked City as a consultant. The images in the film The Naked City really were inspired by the work of the famed photographer who had earlier published a photographic book entitled Naked City in 1945.

# 12 – Prince of the City

Prince of the City is the second of two New York movies on this list to feature Treat Williams in the starring role.Treat Williams role as New York Detective Daniel Ciello was a complete 360 degree turn from the role he played in the 1979 film Hair. Sidney Lumet directed this 1981 three and a half hour film based on the story of New York City Police corruption. The film featured an ensemble of some of the finest New York actors to appear on the screen. The film starred veteran New York Actor Jerry Orbach along with Richard Foronjy, Don Billett, Kenny Marino, Lindsay Crouse  and James Tolkan who movie fans would recognize as the Hill Valley High School Principal Gerald Strickland in the Back To The Future Movie Series.   A complete New York film in every aspect.

# 11 – Mean Streets

If there ever was a director who exhibited the personality of an old school New Yorker it is none other than Martin Scorsese. The man understood the streets of New York and the personalities that were born and raised in the city’s five boroughs. This one was a real work of art. The film was released in 1973. Mean Street starred Harvey Keitel and Robert De Niro. The film was based on real events that Martin Scorsese explained he had seen on a regular basis while growing up on the streets of New York’s Little Italy. The film feature a very young Robert DeNiro in one of his first starring roles. The chemistry between Robert De Niro and Harvey Keitel  is spectacular. Martin Scorsese also appeared in the film in the role of Jimmy Shorts.

 # 10 – A Bronx Tale

As a child who grew up in the Bronx in the 1960’s I got chills every time I watched the movie The Bronx Tale. Robert DeNiro nailed the feel of the 1960’s Bronx neighborhood perfectly. The lighting the buses, the clothes and the characters were all people, places and things I knew so well in the 1960’s. This one was authentic as it gets. Released in 1993 and written by Chazz Palminteri. The movie also starred Lillo Brancato, Jr. who would years later be arrested and charged with second-degree murder of a real life off-duty police officer in the Bronx. In 2013 ,Lillo Brancato, Jr. was released out on parole.

Chazz Palminteri’s performance as Sonny was the role of a lifetime for the New York Actor. The film would also eventually be turned into a Broadway play opening at the Longacre Theatre on Broadway in 2016.


# 9 – Hair

The impact that the Broadway play Hair had on 1960’s youth culture was so powerful that when the film was released in 1979 critics jumped at the chance to tear it apart. That was unfortunate, because the film was brilliantly directed by Miloš Forman. We have chosen this film for our top 15 New York Movies list because of the way it portrayed the culture of Central Park in the 1960’s The division between the elite, the hippies and all the racial tensions of the 1960’s were all depicted on the grand stage of the most iconic city park in the world. A truly magnificent film that defines New York hippie culture of the 1960’s. The Film starred Treat Williams, Beverly D’Angelo who would later gain fame as the wife of Chevy Chase in the Vacation movies. The film also starred veteran actor John Savage.

# 8 – Saturday Night Fever

The film Saturday Night Fever was the polar opposite cultural film when compared to a movie like Hair. However, the film defines the streets of Brooklyn in the 1970’s and the cultural juggernaut that was the disco movement. In many ways, John Travolta and Treat Williams characters were not that different from each other. Both films contained scenes in which the characters sat in their city apartments with their families and fought with their parents over what they looked like and what they were going to do with their lives. The movies are very much connected, yet symbolized two completely different musical genres and concepts while both utilizing the city of New York and its culture. Saturday Night Fever represented far moire than a film, it defined a cultural shift in music, dance. politics, and philosophy in the shadows of Vietnam and The Watergate Crisis.

# 7 – The Warriors

The Warriors might not have been a favorite of critics, but it was an incredibly fun movie that found a true balance between comic book fantasy and street life drama. The plot centered around a truce between all city gangs gone bad. As the gang leader Cyrus is murdered by Rouges gang member Luther. A member of The Warriors is wrongly blamed for the murder. The gang than has to fight their way back on the run from Van Cortland Park in the Bronx to their home base of Coney Island in Brooklyn. Most of the movie is filmed at night. However, the parks, streets and subways of New York play a very prominent role in the film making it one of the purist New York Movies ever made. The movie starred the great James Remar as Ajax, and the iconic David Patrick Kelly  as Luther.

# 6 – The French Connection

I never exited an L Train the same way after seeing the film The French Connection. Visions of Gene Hackman’s character Popeye Doyle standing at the bottom of the L Train shooting down his suspect is irreversibly edged in my memory. This 1971 film won various Academy Awards. It is one of the mist essential movies firmed on the streets of New York. The essence of the city plays a huge role in the film. The film also starred veteran New York actor Roy Scheider who was nominated for Best Supporting Actor at the 1972 Academy Awards. And speaking of Academy Awards, the film won five Academy Award in 1972. The French Connection won for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Film Editing.

# 5 – Taxi Driver

Just the opening scene alone depicting Robert DeNiro’s character driving through the streets of 1970’s Times Square, describing what he saw, is enough to warrant the film Taxi Driver to stand in the top 10 of our Top 10 New York Movies list. The movie starred Robert DeNiro as Travis Bickle. His character was a discharged ex-Marine who was fed up with the criminal element he viewed every night as a Taxi Driver. Bicele falls for a young pre-teen prostitute played by a very young Jodi Foster. The movie also stars Cybill Shepherd as Betsy, another character Travis Bickle falls for early on in the film. Also appearing in the film is Martin Scorsese. regular Harvey Keitel This is essential New York Movie film making done by the master himself Mr. Martin Scorsese.

 # 4 – Manhattan / Annie Hall

Along with Martin Scorsese, Woody Allen was the quintessential New York film maker who understood the streets and cultural of New York better than anyone. Most of Woody Allen’ s movies were filmed on the streets of New York. We could not decided between the two films Manhattan and Annie Hall. The film Manhattan was released in 1979. It starred Mariel Hemingway Diane Keaton and Meryl Streep. The movie was filmed in black and white in an extreme widescreen format. The utilization of black and white with the wide format made for a film of stunning images of New York City. The film Annie Hall had been released a couple of years earlier in 1978. The film also featured Diane Keaton in a starring role. Both movies utilized the backdrop of New York City in almost every scenes. These are consummate New York Movies.

# 3 – The Godfather

What can be written about the Godfather movies that has not already been written. The movies were driven by some of the greatest films characters to ever grace the silver screen. The film featured legendary actors and actresses Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, James Caan, Robert Duvall, John Cazale, Diane Keaton, Talia Shire, and Abe Vigida. The film was directed by Francis Ford Coppola. The story was based on the Mario Puzzo Novel The Godfather. The film was released by Paramount Pictures  in 1972. It spurned one of the most successful movie sequels of all time with the release of The Godfather Part II in 1974. The backdrop of the film depicting the changing New York city landscapes and the impact the city had on the culture that circumvented in and out of the shadows made the Godfather film a classic New York Movie.


# 2 – Serpico

So many our of our essential New York Movies were released in the early 1970’s. It was a time before special effects took over Hollywood and most films centered around human drama and characters. Al Pacino’s Serpico characters was one of the most complex characters to hit the silver screen. The streets of New York once again played a major role in he film.

The rundown apartments buildings of New York City played a prominent role in the conflict that Al Pacino’s character faced throughout the film. The film was released in 1973. It was directed by the acclaimed director Sidney Lumet. The movie was based on the real life story of New York City Police Detective Frank Serpico.

# 1 – West Side Story

The Film West Side Story  was released in theaters in 1961. The film was adapted from the Broadway play West Side Story that had appeared on Broadway in 1957. Both the play and the film were based on a modern-day retelling of William Shakespeare’s play Romeo and Juliet. The film was directed by Robert Wise with significant contributions from Jerome Robbins who had directed the Broadway play. The movie defined the issues of race and acceptance, immigration, gangs, family all juxtaposed against a backdrop of New York City apartments buildings, fire escapes. school yards and street corners. It is one of the most powerful films ever made. The music and choreography easily trumps any other Broadway play adapted for the silver screen. Not just the greatest New York Movie ever produced but one of the finest films of all time.

Honorary New York Movies list

There are so many more New York Movies than the ones on the list below. These are just some of our favorites that came close to making our Top 15 Essential New York Movies list.

After Hours (1985)

All That Jazz (1979)

Angels With Dirty Faces (1983)

Arthur (1981)

Barefoot in the Park (1967)

Big (1988)

Blackboard Jungle (1955)

Bonfire of the Vanities (1990)

Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961)

Bright Lights Big City (1988)

Broadway Danny Rose (1984)

Bullets over Broadway (1994)

Carlito’s Way (1993)

A Chorus Line (1985)

Cinderella Man (2005)

City Hall (1996)

Coming To America (1988)

The Cotton Club (1984)

Daredevil (2003)

Death Wish (1974)

The Devil Wears Prada (2006)

Do The Right Thing (1989)

Dog Day Afternoon (1975)

Elf (2003)

Enchanted (2007)

Escape From New York (1981)

Fame (1980)

Fort Apache The Bronx (1981)

Frankie and Johnny (1991)

Funny Girl (1968)

Gangs of New York (2002)

Ghost (1990)

Ghostbusters (1984)

Gloria (1980)

Godspell (1973)

Hannah and Her Sisters (1986)

He Got Game (1988)

Hoffa (1992)

Independence Day (1996)

It Could Happen To You (1994)

The Jazz Singer (1980)

King Kong (1933, 1976, 2005)

The King Of Comedy (1982)

King of New York  (1990)

Kramer vs. Kramer (1979)

Last Exit To Brooklyn (1990)

Live and Let Die (1973)

Look Who’s Talking (1989)

The Lords of Flatbush (1974)

The Manchurian Candidate (1962, 2004)

Men in Black (1997)

Miracle on 34th Street (1947)

The Money Train (1995)

Moonstruck (1987)

Moscow on the Hudson (1984)

Network (1976)

New Jack City (1991)

Night Shift (1982)

Nighthawks (1981)

On the Waterfront (1954)

Panic Room (2002)

The Pope of Greewich Village (1984)

Pride of the Yankees (1942)

Q & A (1990)

Quiz Show (1994)

Raging Bull (1980)

Ragtime (1981)

Ransome (1996)

Rent (2005)

Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

Rumble in the Bronx (1995)

Scent of a Woman (1992)

Sea Of Love (1989_

Serendipty (2001)

Sex and The City: The Movie (2008)

Shaft (1971, 2000)

She’s The One (1996)

Spider Man (2002,2004, 2007)

Summer of Sam (1999)

Taking of Pelham 1 2 3

Tootsie (1982)

Trading Places (1983)

Wall Street (2009)

Year of the Dragon (1985)

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