The Best New York Movies: 50 Flicks About The City That Never Sleeps

These are the 50 best New York movies, the flicks shot on location that reveal something about the character of the place, and the people that call it home.

new york city


new york city

Though Hollywood serves as the metonym for the American film industry, filmmakers have been drawn to the streets of New York City since the earliest days of cinema. Because of its countless representations on the silver screen, New York occupies a massive part of our cultural imagination, leading to a plethora of movies filmed in or about New York.

When you imagine becoming an actor, you picture working in a restaurant in Soho. When you imagine becoming a writer, you picture being unemployed in Brooklyn. And so on. We have all these New York pictures to thank for that.

These are the 50 best New York movies, the flicks shot on location that reveal something about the character of the place, and the people that call it home.

RELATED: Cinematic Atlas: A Guide to Martin Scorsese's New York

RELATED: Cinematic Atlas: A Guide to Spike Lee's New York

50. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze (1991)

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Director: Michael Pressman

Leading Actors: Paige Turco, Ernie Reyes, Jr.,

NYC Neighborhoods Featured: Times Square

It lasts but a minute; however, the first sixty seconds of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze has done more for New York tourism than any other film featuring talking turtles. In those sixty seconds, the camera leaps around locations near Times Square for a montage that unites New Yorkers of every class, creed, and color through one of the Big Apple's most beloved products: the pizza slice. Yes, it's a goofy movie that only works now as a nostalgia machine for folks of a certain generation, but the opening pizza montage is golden, a cinematic shrine to the pie. If you saw it as a child, as this writer did, the idea was implanted in your soul that you would have to one day travel to NYC and eat pizza.

And that's how I started at Complex. —RS

49. C.H.U.D. (1984)

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Director: Douglas Cheek

Leading Actors: Daniel Stern, John Heard, John Goodman

NYC Neighborhoods Featured: Midtown

No, the acronym doesn't stand for some obscure city government agency, but rather for Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dweller. A film with such subject matter is not often a cinematic masterpiece and this no exception. In true New York fashion, however, there is a weird social consciousness at work, as C.H.U.D. addresses the invisibility of the homeless, irresponsible disposal of waste, and the destructive nature of bureaucratic government. It's almost as though Michael Moore and Al Gore made a b-movie horror flick. Then again, it features Daniel Stern, of Home Alone and Bushwhacked, so adjust your expectations accordingly. —BG

48. Maniac (1980)

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Director: William Lustig

Leading Actors: Joe Spinell, Caroline Munro, Tom Savini

NYC Neighborhoods Featured: Upper West Side; Fort Hamilton, Brooklyn

There's something about New York that'll turn you into a sweating murderer with interesting hair and a fondness for looping and cracked internal monologues. Though it's a vastly different film from Taxi Driver, William Lustig's Maniac walks a similar path, depicting Manhattan as a filthy nightmare where the only possible reaction is violence. Joe Spinell, something like a less hirsute Ron Jeremy, plays the titular maniac, who gets his rocks off scalping women and then nailing the bloody scalps to the heads of department store mannequins he then sleeps with. Sometimes, if he's feeling pretty, he'll style the hair of the dead. For urban cinephiles unsatisfied with Bloomberg's Newyorkland, please check out the very long build-up to a murder in the 59th Street subway station bathroom, back when the bathrooms were still open to the public. Spinell's character, Frank Zito, pursues a nurse into the station—watch her use real subway tokens!—where she seeks refuge in a bathroom stall. Admire the graffiti, and Zito's way with a sword. —RS

47. King Kong (1933)

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Director: Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack

Leading Actors: Fay Wray, Robert Armstrong, Bruce Cabot

NYC Neighborhoods Featured: Midtown

King Kong. Depending on how you watch the flick, it's either a morality tale, an uncommon love story, or a messy look at race in America. Featuring incredible special effects that still impress (despite the constantly shifting scale for Kong's size), this epic upped the ante for visuals, a true high-water mark. Though much of the film was filmed on sound stages, the shots of the city used during the climax came from real cameras pointed at Gotham. The image of Kong wrapped around the Empire State Building, fighting off prop planes, is one of the most iconic in film history. —GT

46. After Hours (1985)

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Director: Martin Scorsese

Leading Actors: Griffin Dunne, Rosanna Arquette, Linda Fiorentino

NYC Neighborhoods Featured: Soho

After Hours is a weird entry in Scorsese's filmography, easily his kookiest (how you react to that word is a good indicator of how you'll feel about the film). It follows one night in the life of Paul Hackett (Griffin Dunne), a hapless guy working a drone job who becomes embroiled in increasingly farcical situations during a visit to Soho. Punks, plaster, burglary, and suicide all come into play at various points during his odyssey. None of today's boutiques or overpriced coffee shops can be seen in Scorsese's warped take on the artsy neighborhood in the mid-'80s. —RS

45. Cruising (1980)

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Director: William Friedkin

Leading Actors: Al Pacino, Paul Sorvino, Karen Allen

NYC Neighborhoods Featured: Greenwich Village, Meatpacking District, Morningside Heights

When William Friedkin's thriller Cruising opened in February 1980, LGBT rights groups weren't happy. They protested the film as it was shooting and they protested the release, afraid that it would spread violent misconceptions about the gay community. Cruising, which follows a young police cadet (played by Al Pacino) who goes undercover to track down a serial killer butchering patrons of gay leather clubs in NYC, is a mess. It's a gutless picture that mistakes ambiguity for complexity, never letting the viewer get enough close enough to Pacino's character to fully negotiate the questions of sexuality and identity the film superficially plays with. In 2012, the fear that it would incite violence seems unfounded, but protests would still be in order for the mishandling of complicated material. Though the ideas are undercooked, the film allows contemporary viewers to look inside famous gay BDSM nightclubs like the Meatpacking District's Hellfire Club. The club scenes were shot on location and with extras made up of actual patrons (everyone owes there swag to Kenneth Anger's Scorpio Rising). Let Friedkin tell it, all he did was let the cameras roll. For that, and as an eye-opening look at how Hollywood thought it acceptable to portray gay life, Cruising is essential. —RS

44. Chelsea Girls (1966)

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Director: Andy Warhol and Paul Morrisey

Leading Actors: Brigid Berlin, Randy Borscheidt, Ari Boulogne

NYC Neighborhoods Featured: Chelsea

Calling Warhol's Chelsea Girls a film is misleading. It's really numerous films clustered around a central location, the Chelsea Hotel (222 West 23rd St.), and the collection of Factory "superstars" who live there. The film is presented in split screen, with the twelve vignettes (totaling over six hours of screen time) divided between the two, arriving at a final run time of 210 minutes. One side of the screen is photographed and (lightly) scripted as a meditation on darkness, while the other side focuses on light. For a taste of the Factory aesthetic and a look inside one of the most famous hotels in the city, you can do no better. —BG

43. Saturday Night Fever (1977)

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Director: John Badham

Leading Actors: John Travolta, Karen Lynn Gorney, Barry Miller

NYC Neighborhoods Featured: Bay Ridge, Brooklyn; Bensonhurst, Brooklyn

Equal parts family tragedy and cult dance workout, a la Grease and Hairspray, Saturday Night Fever is half an affective narrative, half a struck pose. John Travolta's Tony is a trapped Brooklyn youth who looks to dancing as his one-way ticket out of a hum-drum existence. A human peacock, he's more interested in his hair, clothes, and strut than the people around him, to the point that he's blind to romance, friendship, and family. Beyond the story, the soundtrack and incredibly choreographed dance sequences helped calcify disco's power outside of New York. —GT

42. Man Push Cart (2005)

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Director: Ramin Bahrani

Leading Actors: Ahmad Razvi, Leticia Dolera, Charles Daniel Sandoval

NYC Neighborhoods Featured: Midtown

Any New Yorker who's spent any time waiting in line for hot dogs, coffee, or Halal at a food cart knows that the gentlemen who hustle on the sidewalks and street corners must have a story. Ramin Bahrani's 2005 film zeroes in Ahmad, a Pakistani immigrant with a food cart, and his friend Noemi, who runs a newspaper stand near Ahmad's post. Man Push Cart's look at this relationship provides a stark contrast to the high-dollar glitz and glamour that so many New York films aspire to. —BG

41. Two Lovers (2008)

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Director: James Gray

Leading Actors: Joaquin Phoenix, Gwyneth Paltrow, Isabella Rossellini

NYC Neighborhoods Featured: Brighton Beach, Brooklyn

With all the attention Joaquin Phoenix will receive when he wins the Oscar for Best Actor this year for The Master (assuming the Academy doesn't fuck things up, which it usually does), hopefully viewers will seek out James Gray's criminally overlooked Two Lovers. If that doesn't happen, lovers of NYC on screen should at least check in with the film for a look at Brighton Beach, a place that hasn't received its fair share of celluloid, given how fascinating the hood is. Gray's film follows Leonard Kreditor (Phoenix), of a Russian Jewish family living in the insular community. He's troubled, suicidal, but also charming and smooth, when he can get a grip. He falls in love with two different women, and, well, things don't go great. It's art house cinema—what did you expect? —RS

40. Carlito's Way (1993)

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Director: Brian De Palma

Leading Actors: Al Pacino, Sean Penn, Penelope Ann Miller

NYC Neighborhoods Featured: Astoria, Queens; Harlem; Greenwich Village

Al Pacino stars in yet another New York film, this time playing an aging gangster on the rebound. Crime behind him, he now manages a club, trying to make enough money to leave the city altogether. He treats his workers well, lets strangers dance with his girl, and doesn't even kill all of the up-and-coming gangsters (guess why that's a problem). Sean Penn, playing his sleazy lawyer friend David, takes care of all that. The role reversals are fun, even light-hearted. Carlito's like your friendly uncle who probably used to do terrible things under the influence of alcohol, but way before your time. David's haircut provides all the gangster bravado of a kid playing dress-up. That is, until the movie turns into a dark jog to impending doom, with plenty bullets fired in Grand Central Terminal. —GT

39. West Side Story (1961)

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Director: Jerome Robbins and Robert Wise

Leading Actors: Natalie Wood, George Chakiris, Richard Beymer

NYC Neighborhoods Featured: Upper West Side

It might not be the most intimidating representation of gang violence, but West Side Story's song-and-dance numbers capture the energy and vibrancy that is New York. This remix of Romeo and Juliet captures the heat and throb of young city love in the '50s—chaste but with something real going on below the surface. Featuring one of the few performances from Natalie Wood and more classic songs than you can snap a finger at, West Side Story has reached a wider audience than your average musical, becoming an indispensable part of the cultural lexicon. Speaking of reach, the dance scenes feature many tough guys leaping in jeans. Must be the same denim technology that inspired Chuck Norris's hidden gussets. —GT

38. Juice (1992)

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Director: Ernest Dickerson

Leading Actors: Omar Epps, Tupac Shakur, Jermaine "Huggy" Hopkins, Samuel L. Jackson

NYC Neighborhoods Featured: Harlem

Long-time Spike Lee DP Ernest Dickerson stepped out from behind the lens to helm this crime drama. While Lee's allegiances usually land him in Brooklyn, Dickerson takes his project to Harlem. Juice, given its close ties to rap, has more in common with films of its era like film Boyz in the Hood than the most well-known films in Lee's filmography. Though Harlem has changed dramatically since the early nineties, stories like this one still play out in cities across the country. Just look to Dickerson's work directing episodes of The Wire, which has used strikingly similar narratives, particularly in its fourth (and best) season. —BG

37. King of New York (1990)

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Director: Abel Ferrara

Leading Actors: Christopher Walken, David Caruso, Wesley Snipes, Giancarlo Esposito, Steve Buscemi

NYC Neighborhoods Featured: Midtown

Christopher Walken's the right man for the job in King of New York. Abel Farrera's $5 million-indie feels charming and strange next to big-budget gangster exercises like Scarface, though both are beloved by rap (Biggie called himself the black Frank White, after Walken's character). Though the women, drugs, and money are present and accounted for, the characters tick with small, strange quirks and, whether intentional or not, the filmmaking often finds offbeat, atonal moments. Just like Christopher Walken zigzagging his way through a sentence with a set of inflections never before uttered, King of New York is a crime drama with a rhythm all its own. The Plaza Hotel's never seen such oddities. —BG

36. Desperately Seeking Susan (1985)

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Director: Susan Seidelman

Leading Actors: Rosanna Arquette, Madonna, Aiden Quin, Mark Blum, Laurie Metcalf

NYC Neighborhoods Featured: Lower East Side, Central Park

This mistaken identity comedy is almost Shakespearean, featuring two pairs of lovers who look strikingly similar and an "enchanted forest" that they must traverse to find happiness. Of course, that forest is the labyrinth of artist lofts and tacky lounges of the Lower East Side in the mid-'80s. It's strange watching this film, as it stars a Madonna and an LES that are both strikingly different from what we see now. Maybe today this film would take place in Bushwick and star Lady Gaga. Anybody have the number for Focus Features? —BG

35. Muppets Take Manhattan (1984)

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Director: Frank Oz

Leading Actors: Frank Oz, Jim Henson, Dave Goelz

NYC Neighborhoods Featured: Long Island City, Queens; Midtown

Open on the classic tale of a group of dreamers who outgrow their surroundings and end up in the only city big enough to hold them. The gang graduates Danhurst College to the exuberant final notes of their small-town takes on big city musicals, Manhattan Melodies, which seems to mostly be about getting married. They have two choices, the painful breakup of a group of irreplaceable friends, or taking the show on the road. After all, how hard could it be to get an amateur musical involving farm animals on Broadway? In the end, not that hard.

The Muppets take on Gotham is light and quaint, but with enough dark moments to peg this as a real New York picture: muggings, rats in kitchens, tacky and emotionless producers, and a priceless set of scenes where Kermit becomes a Mad Man. It's a wonderful achievement in puppetry, taking Muppets on location for some truly special shots. —GT

34. Wall Street (1987)

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Director: Oliver Stone

Leading Actors: Charlie Sheen, Michael Douglas, Daryl Hannah, Tamara Tunie, John C. McGinley, Hal Holbrook

NYC Neighborhoods Featured: Financial District, Times Square, Central Park

Rarely do you watch a film from 25 years ago and feel like it wouldn't play out much differently if made today. It's often too easy an out to say that nothing has changed when talking about greed and capitalism, but that doesn't make it any less true. Stories like the one told in Wall Street crop up in New York newspapers every day. Of course, now, with the Internet, we know all the sordid details in a matter of days and then move on to the next one. Watching Wall Street in 2012, you find strange moments where Oliver Stone seems to wink that viewer, as if to clue you to the timelessness of his story by making you notice about something trivial. White-collar crime personified; Gordon Gekko has this awkward miniature television that streams crappy green-hued images. He looks at naive Bud Fox and says, "This TV. Two-inch screen. Wave of the future." Just then, you look down at your iPhone and think, "Well, at least something has changed." —BG

33. Shaft (1971)

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Director: Gordon Parks

Leading Actors: Richard Roundtree, Moses Gunn

NYC Neighborhoods Featured: Harlem, Greenwich Village

While Shaft certainly has elements that scan as camp now, the social importance cannot be ignored. Even today, how often do mainstream films discuss issues of race, let alone give significant plot time to racially motivated crime, in a way that isn't so heavy-handed you can feel message-moment waiting in the wings? The film's ridiculous profit ($13 million on a $500,000 budget) owes much to the success of Melvin Van Peebles' Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song and forced studios to acknowledge the commercial viability of films with black casts. —GT

32. Wild Style (1983)

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Director: Charlie Ahearn

Leading Actors: Lee Quinones, Easy A.D., Almighty K.G., Grandmaster Caz

NYC Neighborhoods Featured: Morris Heights, the Bronx; Lower East Side

Charlie Ahearn, the director of Wild Style, didn't come from a feature film background. An artist trained at the Whitney, he'd made one narrative feature before helming the 1983 hip-hop classic, and it shows. Wild Style is, technically speaking, not a good movie. It isn't well made. The editing isn't smooth, and neither are the performances. Of course, that makes sense, because the leads didn't have acting backgrounds. Ahearn's stars were the rising stars of graffiti, b-boying, DJing, and rapping. In 1983, just letting the camera roll on people like "Lee" George Quinones, the Rock Steady Crew, Grandmaster Flash, the Cold Crush Brothers, and Fab 5 Freddy was enough. Thus, Wild Style, full of amazing shots of the bombed-out Bronx, is an important document of a by-gone era, capturing the early days of hip-hop culture. It's also fun, assuming you can dig the camp. —RS

31. The Warriors (1979)

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Director: Walter Hill

Leading Actors: Michael Beck, James Remar, Dorsey Wright, Brian Tyler, David Harris

NYC Neighborhoods Featured: Upper West Side; Coney Island, Brooklyn

Gang violence is a problem in any major city but watching The Warriors you can't help but wonder how things would play out if they swapped colors for theme costumes. Things would be a little different. In all seriousness, The Warriors is a strange film to grapple with. The way its lofty aspirations (the film is based on an ancient Greek adventure, Anabasis) contrast with the campy performance styles and striking art direction mean this flick didn't have a chance as anything other than a cult classic. If we didn't have the line "Warriors, come out to play-ay!" where would rap be? What would Diddy do? —BG

30. Big (1988)

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Director: Penny Marshall

Leading Actors: Tom Hanks, Elizabeth Perkins, Robert Loggia

NYC Neighborhoods Featured: East Village, Washington Heights, Times Square, Fort Lee, New Jersey

Inspiring millions of kids to, well, act like kids, not to mention probably doubling FAO Schwarz's stock for the next few decades, Big also contains one of the most disgustingly charming performances from Hollywood's most famous nice guy. It's a Tom Hanks vehicle about innocence and trampolines—trampolines, mind you, that sat somewhere in the office where Complex lives and works—that takes the steam out of being a kid and an adult both. —GT

29. Super Fly (1972)

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Director: Gordon Parks, Jr.

Leading Actors: Ron O'Neal, Carl Lee, Sheila Frazer

NYC Neighborhoods Featured: East Village, Harlem

Super Fly may be the most transcendental of the blaxploitation films. It starts in pretty standard generic fashion, a chase scene through abandoned alleys, cartoonish sound effects, rough close-quarters camera work, facial hair for days, et cetera. But what makes Super Fly special is the depth of Youngblood Priest, the film's cocaine-dealing hero. In a rather dreamy post-coital bridge walk with his love interest, he has one of the most existential conversations you'll ever see in a film of this genre. But not to hammer this home too hard, the screenplay dusts everything else with plentiful sexism, racism, and homophobia. If you don't feel like picking apart the social concerns, watch Super Fly for the amazing soundtrack, one of the greatest in film history, courtesy of Curtis Mayfield. And don't forget the strange slow-mo bathtub sex scene. —GT

28. 25th Hour (2002)

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Director: Spike Lee

Leading Actors: Edward Norton, Rosario Dawson, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Barry Pepper

NYC Neighborhoods Featured: Tribeca, Battery Park, Harlem, Upper East Side

25th Hour should and has received ample props for addressing the eerie years in New York following the attacks on the World Trade Center. The film succeeds when it digs into the frustration and insecurity of those times. There's no better example of this than the scene where Barry Pepper's character, who lives in a pricey loft that overlooks the wreckage, becomes irate over the aftermath, the conflicting reports of air pollution and recovery. Later Edward Norton's character breaks down into a racist tirade against every group of New Yorkers he can think of; in Lee's hands, all of this vitriol still scans as a love letter. —GT

27. The French Connection (1971)

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Director: William Friedkin

Leading Actors: Gene Hackman, Roy Schneider, Fernando Rey

NYC Neighborhoods Featured: Bushwick, Brooklyn; Harlem; Midtown

This classic take on the reckless cop genre features a driven member of the force inspired by a real-life person (and character from another significant New York film, Once Upon a Time in America): Jimmy "Popeye" Doyle. Hackman's performance as a bad cop driven to catch a bad guy turns the film into an enthralling battle of egos that abandons all traditional measures of morality. —GT

26. Kids (1995)

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Director: Larry Clark

Leading Actors: Leo Fitzpatrick, Justin Pierce, Chloë Sevigny

NYC Neighborhoods Featured: Greenwich Village

L'enfant terrible Harmony Korine was 22 when he penned the screenplay for Kids at the behest of photographer-turned-filmmaker Larry Clark, whose work has always fixated on youth in the raw. They met in Washington Square Park, where Korine was skating. The park appears in the film, when Telly and Casper, the main male characters, wander through for drugs, skateboarding, and a fight. Telly is 16 and HIV positive. The film takes no stabs at analysis, it only documents the teens as they go about their business in Manhattan, getting high, having sex, talking, and in Telly's case, spreading HIV. The matter-of-fact attitude may be too cold for some (not to mention ethically questionable), but it serves as a time capsule of Manhattan in the '90s. Look for Harold Hunter and Pater Gatien's Tunnel nightclub. —RS

25. Bad Lieutenant (1992)

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Director: Abel Ferrara

Leading Actors: Harvey Keitel, Victor Argo, Paul Calderon

NYC Neighborhoods Featured: Upper West Side, Times Square

Bad Lieutenant is Harvey Keitel's greatest achievement. That said, this potent character study, which finds a character known only as the Lieutenant gallivanting through the New York of the early '90s, isn't for the squeamish. A thoroughly corrupt cop, he visits prostitutes, smokes crack, supplies drug dealers, places ridiculous bets on a baseball series doomed to go against him, and barks at Jesus, all the while trying to solve the case of the raped nun. And yet it's an earnest story of Catholicism and forgiveness. But good luck convincing your devout mom of that while the Lieutenant masturbates on a car door. —GT

24. Metropolitan (1990)

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Director: Whit Stillman

Leading Actors: Carolyn Farina, Edward Clements, Chris Eigeman

NYC Neighborhoods Featured: Upper East Side

Whit Stillman's Metropolitan oscillates uneasily between loving and hating the group of young bourgeois at the film's center. They attend lavish parties and exchange witty dialogue in gorgeous UES apartments. At every turn, the film claims to be documenting a dying breed, but twenty-somethings in New York would beg to differ. Though most of us don't see many tuxes with tails or debutante balls these days, the socio-economic navel gazing and pseudo-intellectual statements like, "You don't have to read a book to have an opinion on it," will feel familiar to anyone who's been dragged to a hip Williamsburg rooftop party. But the film's hesitant approach to satire complicates what would otherwise be a standard comedy about the rich WASPS we all love to hate. —BG

23. Shadows (1959)

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Director: John Cassavetes

Leading Actors: Ben Carruthers, Leila Goldoni, Hugh Hurd, Anthony Ray

NYC Neighborhoods Featured: Midtown, Lower East Side

Shadows follows a black family in the '50s as they encounter racism, subtle and blatant, among the "forward-thinking" jazz set in New York. Ben manages to fit into both white and black social groups and feels frustration from both. His brother Hugh struggles to find respect as a singer in the club scene where he makes decent money, but no one seems too interested in his talents. Leila, their sister, is a beautiful young girl who wants so badly to be in love that she allows herself to become involved with a racist who doesn't realize she's black. The family's hurt plays against the wall-to-wall jazz score that mimics the improvised dialogue and frenetic editing. —GT

22. Tiny Furniture (2010)

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Director: Lena Dunham

Leading Actors: Lena Dunham, Laurie Simmons, Merrit Wever

NYC Neighborhoods Featured: Dumbo, Brooklyn; Tribeca

One of the surprise hits of the festival circuit, Lena Dunham's Tiny Furniture is a movie about a modern New York that few had thought to portray: the milieu of privilege without the extravagance of manners you encounter in a film like Metropolitan. With HBO's Girls, Dunham cemented her knack for capturing the particular unpleasantness of certain millennials, but that project began with this film. Dunham plays a character much like herself, an artist fresh out of a liberal arts education, living with her photographer mother and precocious sister. Much has been said about what Dunham's project doesn't examine, but what she does focus on is too important to be dismissed. In particular, her candid, fearless take on sex and the female body is to be applauded. We need more artists doing this kind of work. —GT

21. The Naked City (1948)

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Director: Jules Dassin

Leading Actors: Barry Fitzgerald, Howard Duff, Dorothy Hart

NYC Neighborhoods Featured: Upper West Side; Dumbo, Brooklyn; Long Island City, Queens

If you weren't clear on where The Naked City is set before the film begins, it won't take but five seconds before the narrator tells you, from a weird, Twilight Zone-like perspective, that the movie you're watching was filmed entirely on location, with extras made up of real New Yawkers, et cetera. The intro would feel too congratulatory, if it weren't for the strength of the film. The Naked City is a straightforward noir, and though it's a well-paced mystery with sufficient twists, it's the city's enormous presence that makes the picture a classic. The whodunit is cut up with interstitials of citizens in habitat, children playing in open hydrants, women dress shopping, couples at the club, but dubbed with an audio track full of their (imagined) thoughts. Think Man with a Movie Camera crossed with Wings of Desire, plus the flare of Hitchcock. The murder at the film's heart spells real change for a quiet fraction of the city's population, and yet, as the newspaper exclaims that that crime has been solved, the camera pans to show the papers lining a gutter before they're swept up, just another story in a city of millions. —GT

20. Midnight Cowboy (1969)

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Director: John Schlesinger

Leading Actors: Dustin Hoffman, Jon Voight, Sylvia Miles, Bob Balaban

NYC Neighborhoods Featured: Midtown

Midnight Cowboy proves it's tough to make it in New York City, no matter what you do. Even prostitution is tough to break into, let this controversial Best Picture-winner tell it. Though struggle and poverty are certainly part of the deal in NYC, it's hard to believe that these seedy, run-down characters ran the streets of Midtown, near Times Square, which have since been fumigated and freed of unshaven men like Dustin Hoffman's Ratso Rizzo. At least one thing remains true so many years later: If you don't get aggressive with taxis, they will run your ass over. —BG

19. Ghostbusters (1984)

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Director: Ivan Reitman

Leading Actors: Bill Murray, Dan Akroyd, Sigourney Weaver

NYC Neighborhoods Featured: Midtown, Tribeca, Central Park

If you weren't hooked by the theme song and opening scene, you don't enjoy fun. Ghostbusters remains one of the most beloved movies to come out of the weird cultural ark that is the '80s. The movie borrows from too many genres to name, with a 50/50 cast of straight men and punch-liners, and a very soft science fiction angle that provides a great excuse to open up the private lives and histories of New York's residents like a Whitman's Sampler. The business aspect of ghostbusting is as American as the Stay Puft Marshmallow man lumbering through Midtown, our own Godzilla. But Billy Murray's lip-sticking cigarette will always be the highlight in a movie that is a bag of gems and gags. —GT

18. Network (1976)

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Director: Sidney Lumet

Leading Actors: Faye Dunaway, William Holden, Peter Finch

NYC Neighborhoods Featured: Upper West Side

A movie steeped in the cynicism of the '70s, Network does more than just portray trends in TV. It offers real criticism of the medium, insight that predicts the nonsense information overload and white noise of today. Early in the film, a frustrated anchor walks rainy New York City streets, working himself into a fervor over his firing. Ratings have axed him, but he'll leave one last message with the world. His on-air tirade catches the attention of an angry public, setting into motion a dark comedy so well written and acted, it only feels like a period piece when you pay attention to the clothes. —GT

17. Requiem for a Dream (2000)

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Director: Darren Aronofsky

Leading Actors: Ellen Burstyn, Jared Leto, Jennifer Connelly, Marlon Wayans

NYC Neighborhoods Featured: Coney Island, Brooklyn; Red Hook, Brooklyn

One of the most compelling portraits of drug despair takes place in Coney Island. The main characters are linked to the place, especially the facade of the boardwalk, so full of weird energy but ugly and decrepit, too. Known for its intense editing and other formal devices that capture the highs and lows of drug use, Requiem for a Dream makes addiction the true central character. Combine those things with the powerful score, and you have a film that threatens to become the longest, most disturbing music video ever made. It's a testament to Aronofsky's gifts that he keeps the stylistic flourishes in service of the material. —GT

16. Serpico (1973)

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Director: Sidney Lumet

Leading Actors: Al Pacino, John Randolph, Jack Kehoe

NYC Neighborhoods Featured: Greenwich Village; Astoria, Queens; Greenpoint, Brooklyn

What separates Serpico from other "whistle blower" films is that the audience understands NYPD officer Frank Serpico as a fully formed, flawed man. He's not some golden boy serving his austere sense of ethics with unwavering zeal. You're made to wonder about how his ego plays into his actions, as he exposes the twisted guts of the police department. Sidney Lumet and Al Pacino have crafted a film that is just as much a character study as it is an exploration of a bloated, corrupt New York Police Department. Watching it in 2012, Serpico continues to strike a chord. —BG

15. Hannah and Her Sisters (1986)

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Director: Woody Allen

Leading Actors: Barbara Hershey, Carrie Fisher, Micheal Caine, Mia Farrow, Dianne Wiest, Max von Sydow

NYC Neighborhoods Featured: Upper East Side, Midtown

New Yorkers pride themselves on being the best at their game, whatever that may be, and this classic proves that New Yorkers even do dysfunctional holiday gatherings better than their suburban counterparts. Three sisters, over the course of three Thanksgiving dinners, contend with adultery, drug addiction, alcoholism, and emotional abuse, just to name a few. While the film name checks Ibsen, one can't help but see shades of Chekhov in this thoughtful gem that asks us at every turn, "Why do we put up with all the shit life throws at us?" Of course, the ones facing the crucible live in cozy apartments with maids. That this doesn't become glaring is proof of Allen's artistic potency. —BG

14. Mean Streets (1973)

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Director: Martin Scorsese

Leading Actors: Harvey Keitel, Robert De Niro,

NYC Neighborhoods Featured: NoLita, Little Italy

A hand held over a flame, flesh tested by fire: The image begins Scorsese's Mean Streets. It's a beautiful, concise visual metaphor for the awful Catholic guilt at the film's heart. Mean Streets follows a group of friends as they fuck themselves out of already dim futures in and around Little Italy and NoLita. Many of the most memorable scenes occur at Volpe, a bar owned by one of the characters, which is situated at the border of NoLita and Soho. That the casual violence Scorsese is known for goes down where plenty now take lunch breaks adds a layer of dismal comedy to the proceedings. In Scorsese's universe, you can pull your hand back from the fire, but there will always be some force dragging your balled fist back to blacken and smolder. You can't escape. —RS

13. He Got Game (1998)

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Director: Spike Lee

Leading Actors: Denzel Washington, Ray Allen, Rosario Dawson

NYC Neighborhoods Featured: Coney Island, Brooklyn

He Got Game is a portrait of father-son struggle set among the high rises overlooking Coney Island's boardwalk. The neighborhood is as much a character in Lee's most underrated film as Denzel Washington's compelling antagonist, Jake Shuttlesworth. As Jake and his son, Jesus, wrestle over the young man's future as a basketball player, the woozy lights of the Wonder Wheel mingle with the bright fluorescents over the ball courts dotting the housing project courtyards. Coney Island has produced a number of NBA stars, and He Got Game is about the burden of that dream. It's a long-shot of a way out, and one full of obstacles. —BG

12. Marty (1955)

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Director: Delbert Mann

Leading Actors: Ernest Borgnine, Besty Blair, Joe Mantell

NYC Neighborhoods Featured: Belmont, The Bronx

Ernest Borgnine puts on an acting clinic in this charming 1955 film that follows a lonely, awkward man on his last-ditch search for love. It's only fitting that after so many films chronicling beautiful people looking for relationships in Manhattan, this sweet story comes out of the Bronx. The Bronx is always neck and neck with Staten Island in the race for most disrespected borough, and as such, the Boogie Down makes the perfect backdrop for the love story of a portly butcher and a homely teacher. Uptown, baby. —BG

11. The Squid and the Whale (2005)

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Director: Noah Baumbach

Leading Actors: Jesse Eisenberg, Jeff Daniels, Laura Linney

NYC Neighborhoods Featured: Park Slope, Brooklyn

Like a mad earnest Woody Allen, Noah Baumbach focuses on brainy, white, artist types who excel at hurting each other. He doesn't write jokes so much as write barbs for the characters to stick in each other, and if you laugh from discomfort, know that you're not alone. The Squid and the Whale takes viewers to Park Slope circa 1986, where one marriage is falling apart, and two young brothers will deal with that dismantling in very different ways, neither positive. Not only does it encapsulate Park Slope before Brooklynland (or whatever we're supposed to call it), The Squid and the Whale pins down the squirming weirdness of budding male sexuality in a way that no contemporary film has come close to touching. —RS

10. Rosemary's Baby (1968)

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Director: Roman Polanski

Leading Actors: Mia Farrow, John Cassavetes, Ruth Gordon

NYC Neighborhoods Featured: Upper West Side

One of the greatest horror films ever made, Roman Polanski's adaptation of Ira Levin's novel captures the paranoia and isolation big cities breed. Mia Farrow plays Rosemary, the bewildered outsider tortured in the private space of her own high rise apartment and pregnancy, capturing the oxymoron of "real paranoia" with grace and precision. John Cassavetes is wonderful as the distancing husband seduced into darkness by the sweet elderly couple next door. For every New Yorker that's wondered about his or her neighbors, there's something scary waiting for them here. —GT

9. Once Upon a Time in America (1984)

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Director: Sergio Leone

Leading Actors: Robert De Niro, James Woods, Elizabeth McGovern

NYC Neighborhoods Featured: Dumbo, Brooklyn; Vinegar Hill, the Bronx; East Village

Sergio Leone's epic final film may contain some of the themes that ran through his entire career, but mostly Once Upon a Time in America is one of the bravest departures of any directorial career on the books. His 229-minute film, trimmed from the original six-hour feature he wanted to release in two parts, marks his attempt to move from the politics of the old west into a career-spanning exploration of organized crime. Robert De Niro is remarkably subdued in his role, making it an even more interesting character study than his turn as Vito Corleone in The Godfather Part II, a movie from which OUaTiA borrows heavily. But aside from time-hopping editing, OUaTiA is a very different film. The mind boggles at the amount of time and money that must've gone into recreating historic Brooklyn, which is portrayed as an old-world villa separated from the faster, sleeker Manhattan. The film, though long and harsh, is endlessly rewarding and warm. A true magnum opus. —GT

8. Dog Day Afternoon (1975)

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Director: Sidney Lumet

Leading Actors: Al Pacino, John Cazale, Penelope Allen

NYC Neighborhoods Featured: Flatbush, Brooklyn

Director Sidney Lumet pulls off a great and admirable feat with Dog Day Afternoon, a heist film inspired by a real crime committed on August 22, 1972, in Midwood, Brooklyn. While bank robberies gone awry are relatively commonplace on the silver screen, rarely has one been pulled off with the dramatic weight managed here. With Pacino in his prime, every bit of humor is a release valve as the hostage situation in the bank drags on, leaving space for another dramatic twist or emotional turn. Lumet manages to capture the tensions brewing in 1970s New York without using any one as a bludgeon. Gay rights, racial tensions, class inequality, media sensationalism, and government corruption all loom in the background of this taut, thrilling ride. —BG

7. Annie Hall (1977)

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Director: Woody Allen

Leading Actors: Woody Allen, Diane Keaton, Tony Roberts

NYC Neighborhoods Featured: Lower East Side; Coney Island, Brooklyn

You'll never think about cooking a lobster the same way again. Then again, you probably don't cook a lot of lobster. That sort of back-and-forth neuroses sums up the experience of Annie Hall pretty succinctly. Though the precise details of this romance come from a very specific milieu, one that continues to be unpacked by Woody Allen to this day, the relationship largely depicts the stages of so many love affairs. Each minute is a kind of truth. One of the first movies to capture the real charm of Allen's self-deprecating intelligence, doing massive work for the sex lives of nervous geeks everywhere, Annie Hall is as exuberant as it is cynical. —GT

6. Sweet Smell of Success (1957)

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Director: Alexander McKendrick

Leading Actors: Burt Lancaster, Tony Curtis

NYC Neighborhoods Featured: Midtown, Times Square

An absolute masterpiece that couldn't take place anywhere but New York, Sweet Smell of Success is a complex ballet of villainy. Tony Curtis plays Sidney Falco, a press agent and professional deliverer of one-liners, whose lack of morals and frustrated ambition make him the ultimate right-hand man for famous columnist J.J. Hunsecker (Burt Lancaster), who needs the unsavory coupling of his sister and a jazz magician ruined. Featuring one of the most quotable scripts put to paper, a sultry soundtrack, and Burt Lancaster's legacy performance, Sweet Smell of Success is an unforgettable morality tale set in the hardnosed New York so many of us wish we could live in. (Or at least talk like we did.) —GT

5. The Godfather (1972)

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Director: Francis Ford Coppola

Leading Actors: Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, James Caan, Robert Duvall, Diane Keaton

NYC Neighborhoods Featured: Little Italy; Midtown; Prince's Bay, Staten Island

Because The Godfather is such an iconic film, and one so readily identifiable with New York, it's easy to forget how intimate the film really is. So, few of the scenes are exteriors; most take place in cramped corridors, or dimly lit rooms, full of whispering characters. What's so moving about the film, and perhaps what's made it endure, is how quietly and casually momentous power is wielded by the characters. That says more about New York, and humanity, than mere geography (and exterior shots) ever could. —BG

4. Goodfellas (1990)

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Director: Martin Scorsese

Leading Actors: Robert De Niro, Ray Liotta, Joe Pesci, Lorraine Bracco, Paul Sorvino

NYC Neighborhoods Featured: Astoria, Queens; Red Hook, Brooklyn

Watching Goodfellas is always a wonderful experience. Those of you who haven't caught it in Intro to Film or on TBS every weekend, forgive us for assuming this isn't your first time. For the rest of you, it's worth revisiting. Though violence lurks beneath each exchange, what's best about the movie is the humor. If you didn't live in New York when you first saw it, but have since relocated here, the closed-off Italian-American community of Queens (and Jersey and Brooklyn and Long Island), these characters inhabit will be all the more striking this time around. Such a lifestyle is so foreign to the daily experience of so many of us in this wildly diverse city. Watching Goodfellas is a reminder that there isn't one New York, but infinite New Yorks, each shaped by individual boundaries of experience. —BG

3. Manhattan (1979)

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Director: Woody Allen

Leading Actors: Woody Allen, Diane Keaton, Mariel Hemingway

NYC Neighborhoods Featured: Midtown, Upper East Side

That Manhattan is first and foremost a beautiful love letter to the city can get lost amid the gross coupling of Woody Allen's character and his underage lover. But maybe that's the point. If we could just get past our hang-ups and refrain from partaking in the self-destructive actions our neurotic personalities push us toward, Allen tells us, we might just have a chance at happiness. Sure, maybe. (Probably not a get-out-of-jail-free-card for statutory rape, though.) The beauty that Allen sees in Manhattan is captured at every turn with lovely black and white photography and the Gershwin-heavy score, but these characters never have a moment to enjoy it, as they choose to roam the corridors of their own minds. —BG

2. Taxi Driver (1976)

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Director: Martin Scorsese

Leading Actors: Rober De Niro, Jodie Foster, Harvey Keitel

NYC Neighborhoods Featured: Times Square, East Village

How strange that a film so dominated by one POV—a racist, sexist, and just generally disturbed one, at that—has come to be the ultimate expression of a city made up of millions of perspectives. And yet so many of us are drawn to Travis Bickle, the cabbie who only wants to clean himself up, maybe make a friend. And if that doesn't work out, he'll settle for cleaning up his city. That's the summary minus the psychosis, but the awesome power of Taxi Driver lies in that psychosis. By watching, you commit to two hours in Bickle's headspace. There is no exit from the dripping neon seediness of Times Square porno theaters, and pimps posted up outside of East Village walk-ups. Indeed, the American imagination can't escape Taxi Driver, even 36 years after the film's release. When you hear someone who's lived in the city for just a month complain about Giuliani and Bloomberg's efforts to turn Manhattan into Disneyland, they're remembering Taxi Driver, a New York they experienced through the movies. New York is as much a film as it is a real place. —RS

1. Do the Right Thing (1989)

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Director: Spike Lee

Leading Actors: Spike Lee, Danny Aiello, Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, Giancarlo Esposito, John Turturro

NYC Neighborhoods Featured: Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn

Swinging 180 degrees away from the claustrophobic worldview of Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver, we arrive at Do the Right Thing, a polyvocal revelation of a film, shot on a single block in Bed-Stuy. The cinematography and art design create a space just left of reality—slightly larger, just slightly more heated—that forces the audience to engage with the tension of urban life, of living on top of so many different sorts of people, anew. Though there's ample talk of a possible post-racial, post-gender, post-whatever world in 2012, we have to contend with the beauty, comedy, and horror of what we've got. Even 23 years its release, Do the Right Thing remains the most immediate and alive exploration of life in the simmering melting pot. —BG

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