The 25 Best New York Movies of All Time

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New York City is the most populous city in the United States and one of the most culturally influential places in the world. As a result of the city’s overwhelming clout, it has been the setting for numerous movies over the years. Whether the film is realistic or fantastical, New York City’s overwhelming presence can be felt hanging over the action and dictating how people dress, act and speak.

Thanks to the movies, audiences have seen monsters and mobsters alike make their mark on New York City and its distinct boroughs. Every genre imaginable, from romantic comedy to historical fiction, has been set in the sprawling city. Grab a bacon, egg, and cheese and hop on the train because it’s time to learn about the 25 Best New York Movies of All Time!

25. Cloverfield (2008)

Long before he was chosen to direct The Batman, Matt Reeves unleashed monster mayhem on New York City in Cloverfield. Rob (Michael Stahl-David) is having a farewell party before he leaves the country for a new job in Japan, but the night takes a quick turn when an “earthquake” knocks out the city’s power. As people start taking to the street to see what happened, they slowly realize something much more terrifying and unnatural caused all the destruction. A found-footage film that shows the audience everything the characters see as the story unwinds, Cloverfield is a tense, exciting movie that breathed new life into the kaiju genre.   


24. After Hours (1985)

The first Martin Scorsese film on this list, After Hours, follows Paul Hackett (Griffin Dunne) on one chaotic and misfortune-laden night out in New York City. On his way to a woman’s house, Paul accidentally lets his money fly out of a taxi window and kick starts a series of unfortunate and dangerous events that make it seemingly impossible for him to get home safely. A smaller-scale story than what Scorsese normally tells, After Hours is entertaining and full of dark humor.   


23. The Warriors (1979)

After being framed for murdering the leader of a rival gang as part of a turf war gone wrong, The Warriors have to survive the 30-mile journey from The Bronx back to their home turf in Coney Island. Directed by Walter Hill, The Warriors follows the titular gang as they outmaneuver and try to outfight all of the gangs now intent on taking them down. Stylized and action-packed, The Warriors is based on Sol Yurick’s novel and has overcome its initial negative reception to become a much-loved cult film.


22. Wall Street (1987)

Directed by Oliver Stone, Wall Street is a film about the excesses of Wall Street during the 1980s and the greediness of those who rise to the top. Bud Fox (Charlie Sheen) is an up-and-coming stockbroker who gets in over his head after he starts being mentored by the selfish and sharkish Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas). The film is best known for Gordon’s quote “greed is [...] good,” but Wall Street tells an interesting story that shows the moral dilemmas and personal costs of corporate raiding and intense focus on profit. 


21. The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)

Sticking with the finance theme for a moment, Martin Scorsese’s adaptation of The Wolf of Wall Street, a memoir by the fraudulent-prone stockbroker Jordan Belfort, is an adrenaline-filled view inside the duplicitous and often drug-fueled nature of Wall Street in the late 1980s. As the movie tracks Belfort’s career and the crazy parties he liked to attend, the character often breaks the fourth wall to describe his vices or the ethical boundaries to some of his actions. The Wolf of Wall Street features an amazing ensemble cast and helped put Margot Robbie on people’s radar for her performance as Jordan’s wife Naomi, but it’s really Leonardo DiCaprio’s lead performance that steals the show and gives the film its overwhelming energy. 


20. King Kong (1933)

Long before King Kong and Godzilla duked it out on the big screen, King Kong introduced audiences to the notorious ape and his misunderstood anger. Co-Directed by Merian Cooper and Ernest Schoedsack, King Kong follows filmmaker Carl Denham (Robert Armstrong), as he assembles a crew to shoot a movie at a mysterious location. What he doesn’t tell the ensemble of performers and crewmembers is that he intends to film a movie on the mysterious Skull Island and he is intent on seeking out the ancient beast known as “Kong.”  While much of the film takes place on Skull Island, the film’s most iconic shot includes Kong climbing atop the Empire State Building and swatting at fighter planes like they were flies. 


19. Man on Wire (2008)

The only documentary on the list, James Marsh’s Man on Wire is a look back at Philippe Petit’s 1974 attempt to high-wire walk between the Twin Towers. To match the fact that it is actually an illegal act, the documentary is stylized and structured to appear like a heist film that breaks down how Phillippe and his crew prepared for the tense wire walk. Featuring archival footage, present-day interviews, and dramatic reenactments, Man on Wire is an incredibly unique film and ended up winning the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.


18. Birdman (or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2014)

Birdman is an incredibly meta film that follows Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton), an actor best known for portraying the superhero Birdman on the big screen earlier in his life, as he tries to re-spark his career by directing and starring in a new Broadway show.  Directed and co-written by Alejandro Iñárritu, Birdman peels back the curtain on Riggan’s frantic mind and symbolically allows audiences to see just how stressed and overstretched the flailing actor is thanks to a shooting technique that makes most of the movie appear to be one continuous take. The uniquely entertaining film received nine nominations at the 2014 Academy Awards and ended up winning Best Picture, Best Director, Best Cinematography, and Best Original Screenplay.


17. Dog Day Afternoon (1975)

Directed by the legendary Sidney Lumet, Dog Day Afternoon is based on the real-world robbery and subsequent hostage situation at a Chase bank in Brooklyn back in 1972. Starring Al Pacino as the charismatic, anti-establishment thief Sonny Wortzik, the film follows Sonny and his accomplice Sal (John Cazale) as they desperately try to complete a bank heist after their third partner ditches them. As Sonny and Sal try to stay in control of the situation, media and law enforcement agents begin to add additional pressure from outside the building. 


16. Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961)

Directed by Blake Edwards, Breakfast at Tiffany’s follows Holly Golightly (Audrey Hepburn), a young New York socialite intent on having a fun time and finding a rich man to marry. After a young writer named Paul Varjak (George Peppard) moves into her building, the two develop a bond that suddenly pulls him outside his comfort zone and into a life of empty glitz and glamor. Based on a novella by Truman Capote, the film was released to immediate acclaim and won Oscars for both best score and best original song. 


15. If Beale Street Could Talk (2018)

Director Barry Jenkins’ followup to his Oscar-winning Moonlight, If Beale Street Could Talk is a tender romance film based on a book by James Baldwin.  Set in Harlem during the early 1970s, If Beale Street Could Talk follows Clementine “Tish” Rivers (KiKi Layne), as she contemplates her surroundings and tries to help her lifelong friend and lover Alonzo “Fonny” Hunt (Stephan James) after he is falsely accused of a crime. Told in a nonlinear fashion, Beale Street cuts back and forth between the present and the past to give the audience glimpses at the life the expecting Tish and Fonny were planning together before the racially charged realities of the justice system destroyed those hopes.


14. When Harry Met Sally (1989)

A different kind of romance film entirely, Rob Reiner’s When Harry Met Sally is a romantic comedy about the perceived difficulties of a man and woman maintaining a platonic friendship. Starring Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan as the titular Harry and Sally, the film follows two friends as they try to maintain a friendship over a number of years despite an attraction to one another. Full of one-liners and dramatic moments, the entertaining film is based on Reiner and author Nora Ephron's own real-life musings on whether or not men and women ever truly could be friends.


13. Eyes Wide Shut (1999)

Stanley Kubrick’s final film, Eyes Wide Shut is a sexually charged psychological drama unlike anything else I’ve ever seen. On the surface, Eyes Wide Shut is about Dr. Bill Harford (Tom Cruise) and his wife Alice (Nicole Kidman), and the emotional problems and external urges the two experience, but the film delves into themes of paranoia and interesting topics like secret societies as well. Out for the night, Bill finds himself at an erotic party hosted by a masked group, and both his life and perspective on the world are forever changed as a result of what he experiences.  


12. Spider-Man 2 (2004)

A lot of DC superheroes protect fictional cities based on New York, but part of what makes the friendly neighborhood Spider-Man so special is that he spends his time actually living in and defending The Big Apple. In Spider-Man 2, the second installment in director Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy, Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) struggles to balance his superheroic and social responsibilities and has to figure out what to do when his powers start mysteriously disappearing. The emotion and action-packed film is incredibly entertaining and features a fantastic performance from Alfred Molina as Otto Octavius, Peter’s former scientific role model who turns into the supervillain Doctor Octopus after a freak accident.   


11. Kids (1995)

Directed by Larry Clark and written by Harmony Korine, Kids follows a group of street kids in New York City as they go about their lives. Set on a single day in 1994, the film follows the ensemble -including Rosario Dawson in her feature film debut as Ruby- as they have sex, steal booze and look for places to party with their friends. Far from an innocent coming-of-age story, the film deals with themes of sexual violence, groupthink, and the impact STDs can have on someone’s life. 


10. You Were Never Really Here (2017)

Based on a Jonathan Ames novella, Lynne Ramsay’s You Were Never Really Here is a methodical and violent film that follows Joe (Joaquin Phoenix), a mercenary with a traumatic and dark past who is hired to help a New York state senator rescue his daughter from a human trafficking group. As Joe stalks out brothels and tries to discover Nina (Ekaterina Samsonov), he uncovers a deadly network of powerful figures working to keep all of the sex crimes going on a secret.    


9. Do the Right Thing (1989)

Spike Lee’s star-studded film about racial tensions in a Brooklyn neighborhood, Do the Right Thing follows what happens after customers cause an uproar at Sal’s Pizzeria for only including pictures of Italian-American celebrities on its “Wall of Fame '' even though it’s located in a predominantly Black neighborhood. Set during a 24-hour heatwave, the film is thought-provoking and emotionally charged, but Lee and the cast do a great job of inserting humor and levity throughout the film as the characters struggle to overcome the heat and the prejudice they feel in their local community. 


8. Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

Things aren’t quite as they seem in Rosemary Woodhouse (Mia Farrow) and her husband Guy’s (John Cassavetes) new Manhattan apartment. Not only are their neighbors rather peculiar and overbearing, but right after moving into the building Guy’s acting career inexplicably takes off. To celebrate the good news, the couple decides to have a baby, but on the night the two of them actually plan to be intimate things take a strange and violent turn. Directed by Roman Polanski, Rosemary’s Baby is a psychological thriller that explores themes of women's liberation against the backdrop of occult groups and the overbearing pressure of Catholicism.  


7. Uncut Gems (2019)

New York City has so many rich environments to explore, but the Safdie brothers’ Uncut Gems is one of the first to really explore and focus on the city’s world-famous diamond district. Starring Adam Sandler as Howard Ratner, a jeweler and gambling addict who quickly finds himself in over his head after a series of bad bets, Uncut Gems follows Howard as his life slowly unravels. With everything on the line over a bet on the Boston Celtics, Howard has to outmaneuver his bookies and deal with the emotional strain of going through a divorce in this high-stress and often explosive drama. 


6. Escape From New York (1981)

In the dystopian future of 1997, the United States is so crime-ridden that Manhattan has been turned into a maximum-security prison. John Carpenter’s Escape From New York follows former soldier turned inmate Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell) as he is tasked with rescuing the President after a hijacking results in Air Force one crashing down in the area. An entertaining action film that features an incredible theme and some fantastic sets, Escape From New York has a politically nihilistic viewpoint that undergirds everything and complicates the former soldier Snake Plissken as the audience never learns why the former soldier is now a prisoner. 


5. Goodfellas (1990)

Based on reporter Nicholas Pileggi’s Wiseguy, a nonfiction book about mafia member turned informant Henry Hill, Goodfellas is a fast-paced gangster epic that follows Hill (Ray Liotta) as he grows inside a mafia organization and slowly gets addicted to the lavish, narcotic filled lifestyle that comes with it. Directed and co-written by Martin Scorcese, the film doesn’t shy away from showing the negative behavioral effects of climbing up the mafia ladder and what happens to people’s relationships when they get that level of corrupting power. The film has a stacked ensemble performing at the top of their game, but Joe Pesci’s entertaining and terrifying performance as Tommy DeVito earned him the Best Actor in a Supporting Role Oscar that year.


4. Ghostbusters (1984)

We all know New York City has a rodent problem and a robust sanitation crew to combat it, but it’s not as obvious who people should contact when they have a paranormal problem. Luckily, Ivan Reitman’s comedy-adventure film tells people exactly who they should call: The Ghostbusters! Ghostbusters is a stacked ensemble film, featuring SNL alum like Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd as ghost hunters, that focuses on a group of scientists turned small-business owners who have a unique service they want to market to customers. As the Ghostbusters slowly try to drum up awareness for their ghost hunting business, an ancient entity known as Gozer the Destroyer prepares to enter New York City and destroy the world. 


3. The Godfather (1972)

One could say The Godfather is the Godfather of gangster films, but for the sake of this list what is most important is that Francis Ford Coppola’s gangster epic is one of the best movies to ever be set in New York City. Starring Marlon Brando as Vito Corleone, the patriarch of the Corleone crime family, Godfather is a dramatic and slow-paced film that tracks how the deadly family business impacts different members of the family and their relationships. As Michael (Al Pacino) comes of age and joins the mafia, he slowly contends with new challenges as he tries to keep his family safe and also lead the business in a new direction.  


2. Taxi Driver (1976)

Okay, I promise this is the last Scorsese film on the list, but how could Taxi Driver not make the cut? Starring Robert De Niro as Travis Bickle, a Vietnam War veteran turned emotionally struggling New York City taxi driver, the film follows Bickle as he searches for meaning and an escape from the loneliness his PTSD brings to his life. A socially awkward fellow who loves to write in his journal, Travis starts to fantasize about rescuing a young prostitute named Iris (Jodie Foster) from her pimp as a way to deal with his violent thoughts. An intense film that puts the term anti-hero to the test, Taxi Driver is a morally gray film that compels the audience to think about the long-term human consequences of sending people off to war and then not adequately helping them readjust to normal society.


1. West Side Story (1961)

There are a few gangster films on this list already, but West Side Story may have the most dangerous gangs of the bunch. When the Jets and the Sharks square off, entire city blocks clear out to give the deadly gangs room to show off their… amazing dance moves.
Based on the smash stage show, Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins's West Side Story is a musical reimagining of Romeo and Juliet based in New York City’s Upper West Side during the 1950s. As the Jets, a white gang, and Sharks, a Puerto Rican gang, compete for territory and dominance, Tony (Richard Beymer), a member of the Jets, strikes up a relationship with Maria (Natalie Wood), the younger sister of the Sharks’ leader. As the two of them get closer and closer, the tensions between the gangs get worse and worse, threatening the bond the two of them are trying to form.

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