New York Film Locations

Charting the History of New York Through Film

23 May 2014

New York is without doubt one of the most iconic cities in the world, and this fact certainly hasn’t been lost on film directors over the ages. The city has become a hub of film activity and locations today, but this wasn’t always the case. In the early days of the film industry, according to ‘Films were mostly made in Hollywood and London at the time, and occasionally went on location to places like Las Vegas or Paris.’. Over time, however, directors and producers began to see the possibilities inherent in the city’s iconic landmarks and locations. Additionally, the stories of the city itself have proved to enrapture audiences across the globe, and perhaps some of the most stand out films produced in New York are about New York herself, and her inhabitants lives. As we’ll see, there are a number of seminal films that chart not hot only aspects of the city’s history, but the myriad of relationships that New Yorkers have with their city.

Crime and Punishment

The crime caper has often found a unique home New York, whether it’s the dark exploration of police corruption (Bad Lieutenant), the struggle to leave the shady criminal underworld that bubbles under the city’s surface (Carlito’s Way), or real life escapades (Dog Day Afternoon, Donnie Brasco). New York has long had a reputation for being a tough city, and although things have greatly improved over time, these films (especially the true life stories) offer us a preserved slice of the city’s history. In fact, the city has seen some of the most impressive drops in crime rates in the country, as BerkleyLaw points out: ’For the past two decades New Yorkers have been the beneficiaries of the largest and longest sustained drop in street crime ever experienced by a big city in the developed world.’. Drug crime has been a major problem for the city, but also inspired some inspiring real life film adaptations such as ‘The Basketball Diaries’, a biographical account of poet Jim Carroll’s battle with cocaine and heroin addiction. ‘Requiem for a Dream’, the critically acclaimed work of Aronofsky, also gives a dark, emotional but gripping insight into the descent into addiction.

Film: Requiem for a Dream

Although it received a mixed response from critics, IMDB users voted the film one the most realistic when it comes to depicting drug addiction, with IMDB reviews stating that: ‘It shows the road that one walks to being addicted to drugs’. Accurate portrayal of the real life effects of addiction to cocaine, for example, can be easily referenced thanks to sites like, which inform us that: ‘The psychological and social effects ranging from mood swings, relationship loss and discord, family issues, financial and job difficulty and arrest.’ We can see all of these impacts carefully represented in both of our film examples. Today, as discussed by ‘New York has the sixth lowest drug overdose mortality rate in the United States.’, but film can help us remember that this wasn’t always the case in the city, and that drugs and crime are a dangerous, fascinating tapestry for real life stories (and fictional ones) that serve as a both a warning and reminder of the city’s past and present problems.

Everyday Life and Invisible Inhabitants

There have been a number of films that, in addition to exploring the gritty locations of New York (as well as the stunning ones), offer us an insight into some of the city’s inhabitants. Over the ages, this can give us a real insight into trends, living conditions, and the ups and downs of people in the city since film first made its home here. Man Push Cart’ for example is a great testament to the everyday lives that we often forget to look at.

Film: Push Man Cart

As Robert Egbert states, the film is: ’Free of contrived melodrama and phony suspense, it ennobles the hard work by which its hero earns his daily bread.’. In general, even the everyday stories that are abundant in New York can translate well into film, and there’s a number of places you can watch them too, that have become iconic in their own right. The IFC Center, Nitehawk Cinema, and Museum of the Moving Image are all excellent places to watch any films, especially ones that depict the varied and striking urban sprawl or New York.

Submitted by Eve Robinson


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