New York is indisputably the Center of the Universe, and though Hollywood might be all the way out in a little city called Los Angeles, some of the most iconic films in cinematic history take place in our town. We could list the Best NYC Movie Scenes of All Time, or the Most Memorable Movie Scenes Of All Time, or the Best NYC-Based Movies That Want You To Pretend Tom Hanks Is A Suitable Romantic Interest. But, really, there are just too many, Here are Gothamist staffers' favorite NYC-based movie scenes: we expect you'll leave yours for us in the comments.
BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY'S: It's so iconic that it's now borderline cliche, but the opening scene of Breakfast At Tiffany's is still a great one, especially if you space your viewings apart with a handful of years. The now iconic scene shows Audrey Hepburn, as Holly Golightly, stepping out of a cab that has just barreled down an empty 5th Avenue—she's wearing a formal dress in an early morning Manhattan, staring into the window of Tiffany's with a breakfast of coffee and a croissant. (Many have recreated the scene on their own since the movie came out in 1961.) When I first saw the movie, and this scene, it was already so ingrained in the pop culture landscape that it felt familiar, and almost surprising that there was something behind the famous black & white images of Hepburn in her dark sunglasses standing outside of the store.
Fun fact: The script called for an early morning vibe, "a moment of limbo as the street lamps fade in the face of the purple onrush of dawn." One account of the shoot noted that it happened at 5 a.m. on October 2nd, 1960—"there was one brief moment when, the director Blake Edwards recalls, every car and every person seemed to melt away. 'It was as if God said, 'I’m going to give you a break now, but for the rest of your career you’re going to have to live off this one.'" (Jen Carlson)
MOONSTRUCK: It's probably unwise to admit you learned about love from a one-handed Nicolas Cage, but when I first saw damaged lone-wolf baker Ronny Cammareri take widow Loretta Castorini to the Metropolitan Opera in this 1987 Norman Jewison flick about an Italian-American Brooklyn woman's complicated love life, my little, yet-untested heart melted. The pre-construction Lincoln Center plaza fountain! The Met Opera House! La Boheme! Forbidden love! Cher!
And Ronny and Loretta's trip to the Upper West Side isn't the only iconic city locale lingered on in the film. The majority of the movie was shot in Brooklyn Heights, where Loretta lived with her madcap Italian family (Olympia Dukakis, Vincent Gardenia, Feodor Chaliapin Jr.); the Cranberry Street brownstone that served as the film's primary setting was sold for nearly $4 million in 2008. (Rebecca Fishbein)
GHOSTBUSTERS: I grew up near Columbus Circle, so it's probably best my parents kept Ghostbusters' Stay Puft Marshmallow Man scene from me until I was a little older, lest I'd spend every Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade cowering under the couch in fear the floats would break free and come kill me. But now that I'm old enough to know there's only a slim chance of a giant demonic marshmallow wreaking havoc on Central Park South, the scene—in which Ghostbusting team Dan Aykroyd, Bill Murray, Harold Ramis and Ernie Hudson have their final showdown with destroyer demon Gozer the Gozerian—is probably my favorite of all the New York-ey movie scenes in the cinemaverse. It's a classic, from the moment Aykroyd's bumbling Ray announces he's inadvertently picked the Marshmallow Man to be the destroyer, to the climactic moment in which they [SPOILER] zap the demon and cover midtown in marshmallow goo.
The whole movie is filled with hilarious city-centric scenes, like when Rick Moranis, chased by an invisible demon, smashes up against the windows at Tavern on the Green. Or when Murray's Peter Venkman drinks away his unemployment on Columbia University's campus, or the entire opening scene at the New York Public Library. What a wonderful slice of 1980s New York—hopefully this theoretical Ghostbusters III doesn't come along and ruin the franchise. (Rebecca Fishbein)
HACKERS: Oh, how I love this movie. Angelina Jolie in leather, maniacal Fisher Stevens, a shrill Lorraine Bracco. Penn Jilette! That guy from The Wire! During the climax of this 1995 cyber thriller (ha), the young hackers embark on an epic rollerblading journey, beginning with a game of chess in Washington Square Park and ending up in the bowels of Grand Central Terminal. Along the way, the kids wreak havoc on the city streets: cars smash into taxis, enraged motorists scream and shake their fists, and Johnny Lee Miller and his crew just blow through on their skates.
It's a short scene, barely a minute, but damn it's an exciting one, especially as it leads up to the takedown of Plague and his Gibson supercomputer mainframe. If it doesn't make you want to strap on inline skates, cue up Prodigy on your iPod and Hack The Planet then there's something wrong with you. (Nell Casey)
WHEN HARRY MET SALLY: That silly fake orgasm scene has been written about thousands of times, but it's this 1989 film's quieter scenes that make my heart swell with love and hometown pride. Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan's funny voiced exchange next to the Temple of Dendur at the Metropolitan Museum of Art has humor, affection and just a touch of hidden longing, which is exactly what you want out of a high caliber romantic comedy.
It's the first moment we see that maybe there's something more to this friendship than a shared affection for Oklahoma! and playing Pictionary. The gorgeous temple serves as the perfect backdrop for the scene, with views of the changing foliage in Central Park visible through the enormous museum windows like a New York City set piece. Waiter, there's too much pepper in my paprika...and that's why my eyes are watering. (Nell Casey)
WORKING GIRLWorking Girl is one of my favorite movies. It's about a woman with the wrong credentials—she's a Staten Island girl from the secretarial pool—with enough smarts and ambition to make it in the cutthroat high-stakes business of mergers and acquisitions. (My mom took the bus from our NJ home to her job in Manhattan when I was young, so... ) Melanie Griffith, as Tess McGill, undergoes a makeover to take out the teased hair and tacky clothes to become a poised career woman, though her best friend Cyn disdainfully says of a fancy dress, "Six thousand dollars? It's not even leath-uh!"
A Hostess 30th birthday cupcake for Tess on the Staten Island Ferry!
As adorable as Harrison Ford is as her love interest and as fantastic as Sigourney Weaver is as her backstabbing boss, it's Tess's outer-borough heart (read: integrity) that makes her special. So I love all the scenes where Tess and Cyn are commuting to work on the Staten Island Ferry or they are walking through crowded Manhattan streets headed to their jobs (40-second mark) or when Tess changes her sneakers for her work shoes. Also, how about drinking a beer on the ferry (5-second mark) after your scumbag boyfriend (Alec Baldwin, natch) BREAKS your heart? (Jen Chung)
MARRIED TO THE MOB Jonathan Demme may have won an Oscar for The Silence of the Lambs, but Married to the Mob is a masterpiece in screwball comedy (trailer). After her mob hitman husband (Alec Baldwin) gets whacked for banging the mob boss's mistress, Michelle Pfeiffer's Angela de Marco decides to leave the mobbed-up Long Island for welcoming yet very gritty Lower East Side. In fact, the new tenement apartment that she and her young son shares has a bathtub in the middle of the room. Welcome to New York!
Your new home, Angela
The building Angela moves into is apparently 71 Clinton Street, and her son goes to school near Delancey Street. There's also a great scene of Matthew Modine, as an FBI agent, tailing Pfeiffer on the Upper West Side on Broadway near West 73rd Street. Why someone decided to upload the clip with a Devandra Barnhart song is beyond me. (Jen Chung)
TOOTSIE Dustin Hoffman won his second Oscar for Rain Man, but it was obviously more of a "Sorry we didn't you give an Oscar for Tootsie because you won one for Kramer vs. Kramer three years before Tootsie" Oscar. Because Tootsie is one of the greatest American movies ever!
A struggling actor named Michael Dorsey is told by his agent George, played by an excellent Sydney Pollak who also directed the film, that he can't get a gig because he's a pain in the ass. So Michael transforms himself into Dorothy Michaels, a sweet Southern actress—and it's great when Michael/Dorothy ambushes George at the Russian Tea Room (RIP). Also fabulous in the movie: Bill Murray as Michael's roommate. (Jen Chung)
THE WARRIORS Every moment of The Warriors could qualify as a great New York City movie scene, from the opening filmed in Riverside Park to the ending at Coney Island, but my favorite is the fight between the Warriors and the Punks at the Union Square subway's bathroom. Besides being a great brawl, who knew dystopian New York has really pristine subway bathrooms? (Jen Chung)
REAR WINDOW Fine, so this Alfred Hitchcock film was technically filmed on a soundstage in Los Angeles. But Hitchcock modeled the apartment building of James Stewart's L.B. Jeffries on 125 Christopher Street (his address in the film was made up) and apparently had four photographers document the West Village "from all angles, in all weather and under all lighting conditions, from dawn to midnight." And it's definitely a familiar sight to New Yorkers: The courtyard where many other buildings and lives can be seen, thought we don't know our neighbors very well.
Throw in two murders (one human, the other canine), a battered photographer and his nosy socialite girlfriend (the kind of girl who orders dinner to his studio apartment from The 21 Club), and you've got a classic. (Jen Chung)
SCENT OF A WOMAN Most people remember Scent of a Woman for the classic "hoo-ha" that marked Al Pacino's turn from an actor into an meme-producing machine. But New Yorkers remember the movie for insane drive scene, where Al Pacino's blind Colonel takes Chris O'Donnell prep school boy through the streets of DUMBO in a rented Ferrari. This is the DUMBO of the late '80s and early '90s—all dusty, abandoned streets and crumbling docks. (Jake Dobkin)
GODFATHER 2 AND GODFATHER 3 Little Italy is the real star of the Godfather series, appearing in a number of scenes. Our favorites include the one of the Don getting shot outside the fruit stand, while Fredo fumbles his gun, and the two epic murder sequences, first in Godfather 2, where the Don kills Don Fannuci and escapes on the rooftops, and the second in Godfather 3, where Andy Garcia's Vincent Mancini murders Joey Zasa while disguised as a cop on horseback. (Jake Dobkin)
COMING TO AMERICA: Queens has generally gotten the short end of the stick when it comes to its depiction in film, with one hilarious exception. One of Eddie Murphy's greatest cinematic works finds its way to the borough in spectacularly logical fashion: Prince Akeem needs a queen, so why would he look anywhere else?
And considering the fact he wants to live as humbly as possible, the graffiti-laden Queens of 1988 is the perfect place for him. There's a crappy apartment building, foul-mouthed barbers, grimy subways, and of course, the legendary McDowell's. It says a whole lot about how much people love this film that they were very upset when it was announced that the location will soon be demolished to make way for a $105-million, six-story structure with luxury apartments and ground-floor stores. (Ben Yakas)
HANNAH AND HER SISTERS: If we're being totally honest, the Gershwin-laden opening scene of Manhattan is probably Woody Allen's greatest filmic tribute to this city. No matter how many times it gets parodied, no matter what happens in Allen's real life, that scene still sends chills down our spine. But Hannah And Her Sisters is Allen's quintessential NYC film, his greatest melding of adult comedy and pathos.
Because while Manhattan may have the more iconic scenes, Hannah takes a deeper look at how residents interact with the borough. And there's no more brilliant, heartfelt scene than the one in the video above, in which Allen's Mickey recounts contemplating suicide, only to be saved by sweaty fingers and the Marx Brothers. There is something quintessentially NYC about a suicidal person wandering into a movie house in the afternoon, stumbling upon Duck Soup, and falling in love with life again. (Ben Yakas)
DO THE RIGHT THING: Spike Lee grappled with gentrification in the neighborhood of Bed-Stuy decades before LES couples started spending $1 million on penthouse apartments. Of course, Lee's seminal film about racial tensions and pizza, which celebrated its 24th anniversary this weekend, is so much more than that. It's a brilliant film that captures the personality of a neighborhood on the brink of change. And it takes all the eccentric personalities seriously, giving each a moment or two to shine, from the drunk Da Mayor to the brass knuckles of Radio Raheem, from Sal the entrenched pizza owner to Buggin' Out and his beloved Air Jordans. (Ben Yakas)
SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS: Alexander Mackendrick's classic 1957 film is one of the first talkies (perhaps the first) to shoot major stars on the busy streets of New York City, as opposed to a soundstage. The film, starring a magnificently malignant Burt Lancaster and an unctuously conniving Tony Curtis, works off a dazzlingly brilliant screenplay by Clifford Odets, who gave us such memorable lines as "The cat's in a bag and the bag's in the river," and "If you're funny, I'm a pretzel." The latter riposte is angrily shouted by Curtis outside 21, the inimitable prohibition-era restaurant that was, for a while, a regular haunt of feared gossip columnist Walter Winchell, who inspired Lancaster's character J.J. Hunsecker.
(Via DVD Beaver)
The exterior of 21 was used in multiple scenes, including a classic scene on West 52nd Street between Lancaster and Curtis. Shooting in the area was challenging—Curtis fans repeatedly broke through police barricades to get at the heartthrob, and Odets tinkered with the dialogue right up until the final moments. Mackendrick remembered, "We started shooting in Times Square at rush hour, and we had high-powered actors and a camera crane and police help and all the rest of it, but we didn’t have any script. We knew where we were going vaguely, but that’s all."
No filming took place inside 21, but the interior was meticulously recreated on a Hollywood soundstage, with the sets raised up off the floor to "make room for spewing smoke pots that gave the clubs their cigarette-heavy feel." The layout of the restaurant's Bar Room is identical to real life (although the ceiling is now covered with toys), and if you show up at the right time, you can sit exactly where Lancaster holds court in the two scenes set there. Here's the first scene, in which Tony Curtis—portraying Sidney Falco, a "hungry press agent fully up to all the tricks of his very slimy trade"—comes bearing bad news for Lancaster, who is entertaining a senator, his mistress, and her "manager." The dialogue is priceless:
You can read more about the production here—be sure to rent (or better yet, purchase) the digitally remastered Criterion Collection DVD, because the previous DVD transfer is dreadful. And if you decide to visit 21, remember that jackets are required for gentlemen. (John Del Signore)