Sign In
The Best Dystopian Films Set in New York
Save to wishlist

The Best Dystopian Films Set in New York

Picture of Daniel Horowitz
Updated: 3 August 2018
As the second most populous city after Tokyo, New York City boasts some of the most iconic sights in the world, including the Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty.These are especially recognizable in popular culture and movies, where monsters, disasters and oppressive regimes can wreak havoc in fictional versions of New York City. With that in mind, here are several of the most prominent films that feature a destroyed or deformed version of New York City completely unlike anything going on there now or likely in the future.

Escape from New York

Perhaps the film that capitulated Kurt Russel to 80s action star status, Escape from New York reimagines Manhattan as a maximum security prison where all inmates serve a life sentence. Former U.S Special Forces soldier “Snake” Pilssken (played by Russel) is sent in to find the President of the United States after Air Force One crashes and the President is captured by prisoners. With a ticking clock of 22 hours to complete his mission, Escape from New York is the 24 of the 1980s, and spawned a sequel and successful tie-in franchises.

I Am Legend

Although the original novel of the same name took place in Los Angeles, I Am Legend moves the action to New York City, where star Will Smith executes vampiric cancer victims with impunity. Probably best remembered for predicting Batman vs Superman well before its upcoming release date, I Am Legend showcases US Army virologist Robert Neville (Smith) living in a deserted New York City for over three years, memorizing every line from Shrek and stalking the South Street Seaport with his beloved german shepherd in tow.

The Day After Tomorrow

One of several Roland Emmerich directed disaster flicks, The Day After Tomorrow is almost a modern parable on the extreme effects of climate change, and shows prominent NYC locations, such as the New York Public Library, become frozen under the effects of global cooling. While the weather-related disaster is never actually resolved, and destroys everywhere from Siberia to Scotland, NYC is caught in eye of the super storm, with flooding closing the much-maligned subway system and Grand Central Station to be completely annihilated.


A found footage monster film that features such elaborate displays as the decapitated Statue of Liberty (inspired by the previously mentioned Escape from New York) and the wanton destruction of the Brooklyn Bridge, Cloverfield is a dystopian movie that feels more tied to New York and its meticulous destruction than anything before it, including 1998’s Godzilla. Taken from a personal camera found in Central Park, Cloverfield features an all-new monster wreaking havoc like never before, from what feels like a real New York perspective.