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The verdant 843-acre navel of the city, Central Park is filled with scenic dog walks, lawns, streams, and landmarks, and an estimated 35 million visit the park every year. And American movies have been particularly generous in their depiction of the park, running the gamut from the crime-ridden ’70s and ’80s—when the park was a byword for muggings—to its much more bucolic present. Below are a few of the many movies using Central Park for a chase scene, romantic backdrop, or tranquil montage.
Actually, the titular park in the adaptation of Neil Simon’s play Barefoot in the Park, starring Jane Fonda and Robert Redford, is not Central Park but Washington Square. But Central Park South still gets to show off its landmark Plaza Hotel, the 20-story luxury resort that is immediately identifiable by the many flags hanging over its Grand Army Plaza entrance and where the two stars arrive in a horse-drawn carriage.
Terry Gilliam’s The Fisher King boasts one of Robin Williams’s most charmingly unhinged performance as a homeless man living in an Arthurian fantasy. While there are many excellent New York locations scattered throughout the film, by far the most memorable is the lawns of Central Park, where Williams goes in for some nude cloud-gazing with Jeff Bridges.
Central Park plays a featured role in the haunting and underrated Birth, in which Nicole Kidman’s protagonist meets a 10-year-old child claiming to be the reincarnation of her husband, years after he died while jogging in the Park at none other than the Greyshot Arch.
Sergeant Raymond Shaw (Laurence Harvey) jumps into a Central Park lake after walking the along the Bethesda Terrace in the taut and classic thriller The Manchurian Candidate. Shaw is still dripping when he is met by the star, Frank Sinatra, who is the first to suspect that Shaw may have become compromised while captive in Communist China.
The Apartment, the classic romantic comedy starring Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine, features a bachelor forced to yield his apartment to his company’s managers so they can carry on their extramarital peccadilloes. The shot of Lemmon retiring to Central Park’s West Drive to sleep on one of a row of benches has been endlessly imitated in other shows and films and remains a crushing, iconic image.
Albert Finney and Edward James Omos starred in the politically conscious and atmospheric horror movie Wolfen, which features a memorable scuffle between a killer—possibly a werewolf—and an unfortunate zoologist (played by Manhunter’s Tom Noonan) inside one of the Park’s pedestrian tunnels.
It makes sense that Central Park, where hundreds of joggers train daily, would feature in John Schlesinger’s Marathon Man, in which a jogger (played by Dustin Hoffman) faces off with a Nazi war criminal over stolen diamonds. In fact, the film traverses an impressive amount of park acreage, ending with one of the most memorable climaxes of the ’70s at the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir.
Best chase scene in history or just the best chase scene in a Die Hard movie? Either way, the off-road route Lt. John McClane (Bruce Willis) takes through Central Park in a taxi during Die Hard: With a Vengeance remains one of the most striking action sequences ever filmed. As McClane says: “72nd and Broadway to Central Park South in three minutes. Gotta be a record.”
Luc Besson’s Leon (known as The Professional in the U.S.) stars Jean Reno as a hitman who becomes the unlikely custodian of a young Natalie Portman. This film rewards repeat viewers, who are unlikely to forget the scenic Pine Bank Arch Bridge as it appears in this movie (nor its slightly-less famed appearance in Elf).
Howard Haws’s beautiful Ball of Fire remains one of the greatest screwball comedies in history, concerning Gary Cooper as one of a group of wise but sheltered intellectuals who are compiling an encyclopedia of all human knowledge and begin each day with a constitutional through Central Park.
The otherwise obscure Prisoner of Second Avenue deserves mention for one reason alone: it features an incredible foot chase between Jack Lemmon and then-unknown Sylvester Stallone in one of his first roles, as the mealy mouthed pickpocket trying to take Lemmon’s wallet. Central Park was rather well-served in the 1970s and early 1980s (though The Warriors used Riverside Park and Escape From New York was mostly shot on sound stages), and Prisoner of Second Avenue is one of its finest moments.