The Best New York Movies

February 20, 2024

From the bustling streets of Manhattan to the historic neighborhoods of Brooklyn and Queens, NYC provides an array of backdrops that can enhance storytelling and add depth to characters. The city’s iconic landmarks, such as the Empire State Building, Times Square, and Central Park, serve as instantly recognizable symbols that ground films in the vibrant energy of urban life.

The Best New York Movies

New York’s dynamic and ever-changing landscape reflects the pulse of contemporary culture, offering filmmakers endless opportunities for creativity and innovation. Despite the logistical challenges of shooting in a bustling metropolis, the authenticity and character that NYC brings to the screen make it a coveted destination for filmmakers seeking to capture the essence of urban life on film. From classic dramas like Taxi Driver and Manhattan to modern blockbusters like Spider-Man and The Avengers, here are a few favorites of our films shot in NYC.

Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961): Starring Audrey Hepburn, this classic film features memorable scenes set against the backdrop of Fifth Avenue and Central Park, with Tiffany & Co. serving as a central location. The film’s evocative cinematography and Hepburn’s enchanting performance as Holly Golightly create an unforgettable cinematic experience that continues to captivate audiences worldwide. Image above via theFilmTripper.

Ghostbusters (1984): Directed by Ivan Reitman, the film follows a group of eccentric parapsychologists who start a ghost-catching business. This comedy takes viewers on a wild ride through New York City’s streets, featuring iconic landmarks such as the New York Public Library and Central Park as the team battles supernatural forces. The quirky camaraderie and memorable catchphrases have made Ghostbusters a beloved classic for generations, inspiring sequels and a reboot that reopens the Ghostbusters universe.

Taxi Driver (1976): Directed by Martin Scorsese, this gritty drama, considered a must-see movie to watch before going to film school, follows a troubled Vietnam War veteran navigating the streets of NYC as a taxi driver, showcasing the city’s darker underbelly. As the protagonist, Travis Bickle (portrayed by Robert De Niro) grapples with his inner demons and the societal decay around him, the film offers a haunting portrayal of urban alienation and existential crisis in 1970s New York City.

When Harry Met Sally… (1989): Directed by NYFA Guest Speaker Rob Reiner, this beloved romantic comedy showcases the changing seasons and iconic landmarks of New York City, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Washington Square Park. Through witty dialogue and endearing performances, stars Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal explore the complexities of friendship, love, and timing, resonating with audiences for its genuine portrayal of relationships in the city that never sleeps.

Do the Right Thing (1989): Directed by Spike Lee, this powerful drama explores racial tensions in Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood during a sweltering summer day, capturing the vibrant energy of NYC streets. As the characters confront prejudice and societal injustices, Lee’s masterful storytelling prompts viewers to reflect on the complexities of race, identity, and social justice in urban America.

The Godfather (1972): While primarily set in New York, some of the most memorable scenes from Francis Ford Coppola’s masterpiece were filmed in and around iconic locations like Little Italy and Ellis Island. The film stars NYFA Guest Speaker Al Pacino, whose compelling portrayal of Michael Corleone continues to captivate audiences, solidifying the film’s status as a cinematic classic.

King Kong (1933): This iconic monster film features memorable scenes of King Kong scaling the Empire State Building, forever cementing the iconic skyscraper as a symbol of NYC. As the giant ape battles planes atop the building’s spire, the film captures the imagination of audiences worldwide with its groundbreaking (at the time) special effects and timeless tale of beauty and the beast.

In the Heights (2021) – Directed by Jon M. Chu, this musical drama, based on the stage play by Quiara Alegría Hudes and Lin-Manuel Miranda celebrates the vibrant culture of the Washington Heights neighborhood in NYC. Through its dynamic choreography and heartfelt storytelling, the film captures the dreams, struggles, and resilience of its characters, offering a heartfelt ode to the spirit of community and the pursuit of one’s dreams in the bustling cityscape.

best new york movies and tv shows

West Side Story (1961) – Directed by Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins, this classic musical adaptation is set against the backdrop of the Upper West Side of Manhattan. NYFA alum Ilda Mason, who performed in the current day Broadway show, also starred in the remake of the film, directed by NYFA Guest Speaker Steven Spielberg. The story of love and rivalry continues to enchant audiences with its poignant themes and electrifying dance sequences.

The French Connection (1971) – This classic crime thriller was directed by William Friedkin and follows NYPD detectives Popeye Doyle and Buddy Russo as they pursue a French smuggler in New York City. Known for its gritty realism, intense car chases, and memorable performances, especially Gene Hackman’s portrayal of Popeye Doyle, The French Connection remains a quintessential example of 1970s American cinema.

Birdman (2014): Directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu, this dark comedy-drama follows a washed-up actor as he tries to revive his career with a Broadway play, filmed on location in NYC’s theater district. The film is known for its stunning cinematography and innovative long takes. It is also considered one of award-winning Emma Stone’s best performances.

Paris is Burning (1990): Directed by Jennie Livingston, this gripping documentary film is one of many non-fiction films shot in NYC. The film explores New York City’s drag ball culture in the 1980s, providing a poignant and intimate look into the lives of LGBTQ+ performers of color. Its influence extends beyond the screen, having sparked critical conversations about identity, community, and acceptance within mainstream culture.

Bring Your Story to Life at NYFA New York

New York is one of the most recognizable backdrops in film. Students who choose to attend film school in New York City can hone their craft, gain technical skills, and cultivate their artistic vision in one of the best locations for filming in the world. In addition to a range of shooting locations, NYFA’s film school in New York City provides access to state-of-the-art equipment and collaboration with peers and instructors, fostering an environment of experimentation and growth. 

Ultimately, attending film school equips aspiring filmmakers with the tools, knowledge, and network necessary to transform their dreams into cinematic realities, shaping the next generation of storytellers and visionaries in the world of cinema.

Ready to learn more about our programs? Explore our film school today!