New York City was made for filming. From the high-action streets of Midtown Manhattan to the streets of Brooklyn that feel almost suburban, the wealth of diversity in the city makes for a variety of places to tell a million different stories. And it’s been like this since the advent of film. Over the past 100 years, countless movies and TV shows have filmed in practically every part of the city. But we’ve whittled down the list to some modern and classic must-sees. In order to really get to the heart of the city, here are the 21 TV shows and movies you should check out before booking your trip to New York.
Is there a 20-something New Yorker who has not seen Girls? The show officially put Brooklyn on the map and in the minds of viewers across the country. And although the show stopped being so relatable in its later seasons, their location scout was excellent. From coffee shops to restaurants to parties, follow the show’s lead when looking for a spot to hang out.
Broad City (2014–present)
This hysterical show takes the everyday problems of every New Yorker and amplifies them to levels that are over the top. There are certain scenes (riding the subway, shopping at Bed, Bath & Beyond, or hunting for an air conditioner in the summer) that ring uncomfortably true for New Yorkers.
Master of None (2015–present)
When Master of None came out in 2015, the rest of the country may have watched the show to see Aziz Ansari bumble through the antics of modern dating. But New Yorkers were watching the show to figure out which of their favorite streets (Lower East Side), restaurants (Mission Chinese), and venues (Baby’s All Right) would be featured.
Sex and the City (1998–2004)
This series enticed many people to move to the Big Apple. Whether you identified with Carrie, Charlotte, Samantha, Miranda or one of the men, Sex and the City turned New York City into a magical place full of glamour, romance, and (most importantly) friendship. Also, it highlighted the city’s awesome, ever-changing and occasionally funny restaurant and club scene.
30 Rock (2006–2013)
You aren’t a real New Yorker until you start quoting 30 Rock and start referring to the city as a “concrete bunghole where dreams are made up.”
When Harry Met Sally (1989)
The rom-com to end all rom-coms was, naturally, all wrapped up in New York. Nora Ephron, When Harry Met Sally’s much-lauded screenwriter, was a New Yorker through and through and wrote the script to feature several New York highlights such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Katz’s Delicatessen, and the Loeb Boathouse at Central Park.
Rear Window (1954)
Every day, more and more people try to cram themselves into Manhattan. Rear Window, a Hitchcock thriller, takes place during a hot New York summer when everybody in their apartment buildings keeps their windows wide open. For those who think that New Yorkers never get to know their neighbors, this movie proves them all wrong.
West Side Story (1961)
New York is, historically, a city of immigrants. West Side Story, a musical classic, portrays, unfortunately, just how deep the cultural divides of the city can go. Many of the NYC shots were filmed all the way uptown (around 110th Street) for the rumbles between the Sharks and the Jets.
Taxi Driver (1976)
The New Yorkers with the most insane stories are always the cab drivers. The tough, gritty New York of the ’70s is perfectly encapsulated in this portrait of a Vietnam War vet who comes back to the city and drives people around town. Taxi Driver is especially great for its capturing of the sleazy XXX theaters that used to populate Times Square.
Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
New York’s got a darker, scarier side too. Rosemary’s Baby is a horror classic that not only cemented Mia Farrow’s status as a star but immortalized the Dakota Building (on the Upper West Side) for something more than John Lennon’s final home. It’s a perfect uptown contrast to the downtown, artier movies that were also coming out of Manhattan in the ’60s.
The Devil Wears Prada (2006)
Every year, thousands of people relocate to the city in hopes of landing their dream jobs and launching their careers. Andie Sachs (as played by Anne Hathaway) is the embodiment of the thousands of bad jobs new New Yorkers have had to take—right down to the annoying ring tone assigned to that terrible boss. The Devil Wears Prada only goes to show how far some New Yorkers will go to get into their dream career.
New York City can be a scary place sometimes—but there’s always somebody to come through and clean up the mess. Bill Murray, Dan Akroyd, and Harold Ramis save the city from a ghost infestation and a 100-foot marshmallow man. Ghostbusters immortalizes New York institutions such as Columbia University, the New York Public Library, Columbus Circle, the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, and many, many others.
Chelsea Girls (1966)
New York City is a place for artists. Chelsea Girls, an experimental film from Andy Warhol, encompasses the dreamy, hazy lifestyles of the bright young things who floated around Union Square during the 1960s. It starred many iconic NYC factory girls at the time, including Nico, Brigid Berlin, and Ondine.
New York City is a magical place. Few other movies can lift the city up to such iconic levels as Enchanted, especially when the dirty city streets turn into (literally) the backdrop of a fairytale. And who can forget that elaborate Disney musical scene staged all around Central Park?
The Godfather (1972)
Few films provide as deep a look into the dark corners of Little Italy as The Godfather. About 90% of the movie was filmed in New York City or the nearby suburbs. From East Harlem to Staten Island to the infamous Mulberry Street, this all-star gangster motion picture is a perfect one to watch for those who want to skulk around dark NYC streets.
American Psycho (2000)
New York City is home to all sorts of characters. For the Wall Street set, their most nefarious icon is Patrick Bateman, as brought to life in Brett Easton Ellis’s novel and the movie adaptation, starring Christian Bale. American Psycho perfectly encapsulates the worst of the label-obsessed New Yorkers who run from uptown to downtown.
Saturday Night Fever (1977)
There’s much, much more to New York than Manhattan. This paean to disco stars John Travolta as a kid in 1970s Brooklyn (specifically down in Bay Ridge and Bensonhurst) who’s looking for a way out. Saturday Night Fever is worth watching for the perfect snapshot of the outer boroughs of New York during the age of disco.
It’s not a list of “best New York films” without mentioning Woody Allen. Although some may prefer Annie Hall, there’s something about New York City shot in black and white that makes Manhattan one of the most iconic New York films of all time. And not to mention the fact that that scene where Diane Keaton and Woody Allen share a bench overlooking the river has embedded itself in the minds of New Yorkers as the perfect ending to a date.
Uptown Girls (2003)
Although the film may be called Uptown Girls, the movie takes place all around town. There is the early ’00s party life in downtown, strolls through Central Park, and a scene that will make you consider running away to Coney Island to escape all of your problems.
Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961)
“Ah, I just love New York,” Audrey Hepburn sighs as New York’s most charming party girl Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Still, to this day, you’ll see girls following in Holly’s footsteps, walking up and down Fifth Avenue early in the morning and stopping in front of the windows at Tiffany’s with a danish and a cup of coffee in hand.
It’s basically a universal law that children in New York City are going to be wilder than kids anywhere else. Harmony Korine’s portraits of downtown youth in the ’90s is raw, gritty and a vital part of New York indie cinema history. If nothing else, watch Kids so that you can remember how downright cool Chloe Sevigny was in the ’90s.