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Queens, New York © Aleksandanr Zykov/Flickr
Queens, New York © Aleksandanr Zykov/Flickr
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10 Must-See Films Featuring Queens, New York City

Picture of JW McCormack
Updated: 8 August 2017
Compared to Manhattan and Brooklyn, Queens can seem underrepresented in the world of film, but it’s not for lack of quality. When it does appear as a backdrop—whether as the mobster paradise Ray Liotta recalls in Goodfellas or the run-down late ’80s Long Island City of fish-out-of-water comedy Coming to America—Queens tends to play itself. Films there are almost always shot on location for the simple reason that its visual cues are inimitable. The unique brownstone skyline, the pizza restaurants and Chinese takeout, the distinct mix of urban outdoor markets and suburban Long Island: these mean Queens. Here are ten films that bring out the best in New York’s largest borough, the world capital of ethnic diversity, as seen through a pop culture lens that ranges from gritty indie to Jim Henson’s Muppets.

Spider-Man (2002)

Spider-Man: Homecoming is the latest film to come out of Marvel’s film franchise and the sixth movie to star the wall-crawler in the last sixteen years. But, more importantly, it may be the most Queens movie ever made. It features everything New Yorkers love about the borough, from leafy apartment blocks and the most diverse selection of lunch counters in the world to bodega cats.

The original 2002 film arrived at a fraught time in New York history: the Twin Towers needed to be digitally scrubbed out late in production, and part of the film’s success was its triumphant touting of the New York spirit. Though much of Forest Hills is recreated via soundstage, the real Queensboro Bridge was shot for the film’s climatic showdown between Spider-Man (Tobey Maguire) and Willem Dafoe’s Green Goblin.

Coming to America (1988)

Queens is the real star of this Eddie Murphy comedy, following African prince Akeem posing as a student as he searches for a suitable queen for the fictional kingdom of Zamunda. Coming to America shot the exteriors for Akeem’s apartment at 390 South 5th Street, but the fast food restaurant where he and Semmi (Arsenio Hall) get jobs was an Elmhurst Wendy’s that was still functioning until recently. It is now slated to become a condo.

Radio Days (1987)

Rockaway Beach is the setting of Woody Allen’s nostalgic Radio Days, which looks back at a Queens boyhood in the 1940s. It prominently features the boardwalk of Ocean Promenade and PS70 on Astoria’s 42nd Street as the school where Joe (Seth Green) builds his anatomically-precise snowman.

Henry Fool (1997)

Director Hal Hartley was born in Long Island and frequently returns to Queens and its environs for his films. Henry Fool is a typical slice of blue-collar Queens, with scenes shot at Elmhurst Hospital and the streets of Woodside suffusing this tale of an eccentric writer who recruits a shy garbage man who goes on to become the country’s greatest poet. Queens also features in the two sequels, 2006’s Fay Grim, starring Parker Posey, and Ned Rifle in 2014.

Chop Shop (2007)

Ramin Bahrani’s ethnographic independent drama Chop Shop follows 12 year-old orphan Alejandro in Queens’s industrial Willets Point neighborhood. There, he works at an auto repair shop outside of Shea Stadium and grows up amid scrapyards and truck stops, cobbling together a livelihood from sales of stolen hubcaps and bootleg DVDs. By spotlighting an underbelly of urban prostitution and pickpockets, Bahrani gives an exuberant neorealist portrait of a Queens seldom seen in Hollywood films, but one that is no less essential to the city’s ecosystem.

Goodfellas (1990)

Young Henry eyes the burgeoning mobster culture of Goodfellas from his bedroom window on Astoria’s 32nd Street, but much more recognizable is the Jackson Hole Diner on 70th Street and Salerno’s Restaurant, now the Tropicana Lounge on Hillside Avenue. Billy Batts meets his gruesome end outside the Lido Cabaret (formerly The Spartan Restaurant) on Grand Avenue in Maspeth, Queens. Yet another Maspeth diner, the Clinton Diner, doubles for the Sherwood, where Robert De Niro’s Jimmy meets up with Ray Liotta’s Henry to receive news of made-man Tommy DeVito’s (Joe Pesci) murder at the hands of the mob.

A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints (2006)

Set and filmed in Astoria, A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints cuts between 1986 and the ‘present’, with Robert Downey, Jr. and Shia LeBoef as older and younger Dito Montiel. The film features Astoria Park in the opening sequence and plays out against a litany of local landmarks, like the Astoria Park Pool and the Immaculate Conception Church, while the 32nd Street residence where young Dito is raised was previously featured in Scorsese’s Goodfellas as Ray Liotta’s childhood abode.

Carlito’s Way (1993)

Filmed in Astoria, Brian De Palma’s ensemble cast gangster film Carlito’s Way also features a stunning array of New York landmarks, from the Copacabana Night Club and Grand Central Terminal to King’s Point, Long Island, where Al Pacino meets his crooked lawyer David Kleinfeld (Sean Penn) at his sprawling summer house.

This film was based on the 1985 book, After Hours, but took a different name to avoid confusion with another New York-centric film, Martin Scorsese’s 1985 comedy of errors, After Hours.

The Muppets Take Manhattan (1984)

Title notwithstanding, The Muppets Take Manhattan was largely shot in the same Long Island City soundstage as the much grimmer Dead Presidents (1995) and Sidney Lumet’s Running on Empty (1988). Queens’ contribution to Muppet lore was recognized in 2013, when 47 of Jim Henson’s original puppets were put on display at the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria.

Serpico (1973)

Serpico, the movie that made Al Pacino’s career as whistle-blowing New York City police officer Frank Serpico, made prominent use of Astoria. Scenes took place at the 114th Street Precinct on Astoria Bridge, a chase that shows off the now-nearly-unrecognizable Ditmars Blvd train station. However, the Grand Central Parkway, also featured in the film, has barely changed in over forty years.