Los Angeles is synonymous with film and A-list movie stars. After all, it is home to Hollywood, even reminding us of its status in the film industry with its infamous sign of the same namesake. Although L.A. is home to the stars, New York City boasts more iconic film scenes than any other city in the world. Most movies are shot on set in Hollywood studios with green screens, but some are filmed on location. When directors choose to shoot scenes this way, N.Y.C. has become the go-to city with its many world-famous and camera-friendly landmarks.
With thousands of movies and scenes filmed in the Big Apple, it's nearly impossible to narrow down the best ones. From independent small budget films, to timeless classics, and big budget summer tent poles, every type of movie has been set in New York. Focusing on some of the more memorable films and iconic scenes, this is a list of 20 movies actually filmed in the city that aren't just a green screen set.
20 The Godfather Trilogy
Often considered the best trilogy of all time with the first two movies considered among the all-time great films, The Godfather is filmed almost entirely on location in New York City. With so many of film's most iconic scenes tied to this trilogy, it's hard to highlight any one moment. The movies all took place all over the city and were shot there, making this a quintessential New York movie.
With countless scenes to choose from, there are a number of famous New York landmarks that pop up throughout the trilogy, from Manhattan to the Bronx and even Staten Island.
Iconic New York Moments: One of the biggest moments in the first movie is filmed in the Bronx at Louis' Restaurant when Al Pacino's character Michael Corleone takes his first step toward living the life of a mobster. Going from the family "good boy" outsider to becoming the head of the family, he shoots rival mobster Sollozzo and the high powered police chief McCluskey while at dinner in the Italian restaurant in an act of vengeance against his father being gunned down. Speaking of the vengeance carried out, his father, Vito Corleone, was shot while picking fruit from the local market in Manhattan's Little Italy filmed on its most famous road, Mulberry Street.
19 The Avengers
The Marvel comic book universe is set in real world cities throughout the country, but no other city is highlighted more than New York. Home to much of Marvel’s superheroes and villains, it’s no wonder that you get some truly great cinematic shots of the city throughout the Avengers movie.
With the Big Apple being home to billionaire Tony Stark’s headquarters, the city is the backdrop. Iron Man’s headquarters is a giant skyscraper in the middle of Manhattan. During the film's climactic closing fight between Marvel’s most beloved heroes and main villain Loki, the heart of Manhattan takes a serious beating with some of its most famous landmarks destroyed in the process.
Iconic New York Moment: As the city is getting pummeled, the Avengers assemble in front of New York City’s famed Grand Central Station for battle.
18 The Dark Knight Rises
The third entry in Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy has New York City filling in for Gotham City. Previous films used Chicago, but with the last installment going for a bigger scope and more epic feel, the Big Apple seemed like the only choice.
Most of the movie's iconic scenes are filmed in Manhattan and viewers are even treated to some great aerial shots showcasing the city’s iconic skyline. One of the more memorable scenes includes the New York Stock Exchange being robbed by Bane and his goons while leading the Gotham Police Department on a chase through Midtown - before Batman shows up to save the day on his Batpod, of course.
Another includes an aerial shot of Batman standing atop the Queensboro Bridge overlooking all of NYC, ready to take on Gotham’s villains.
Iconic New York Moment: The Brooklyn Bridge is lit up in the Batman logo, announcing Batman’s triumphant return to Gotham.
In this highly suspenseful sci-fi thriller, New York City is one of the stars of the show, playing only second fiddle to the film’s main attraction, its giant out-of-this world monster. With the alien monster as big as the city’s giant skyscrapers and on a mission to destroy everything in its path, New York gets hammered.
The first time viewers are introduced to the giant reptilian alien is by seeing the Statue of Liberty’s head fly thousands of feet in the air and land in the middle of Manhattan’s streets.
Shortly after, the Brooklyn Bridge, the city’s subway system and Central Park are all at the mercy of this angry giant. By film’s end, Manhattan is left in ruins and viewers are taken on a tour of the city as it gets rampaged.
Iconic New York Moment: As the film’s protagonists make their attempt to escape Manhattan via helicopter, the movie monster can be seen from the sky rampaging through Midtown, destroying all of its skyscrapers.
16 Home Alone 2: Lost in New York
Taking a break from destroying the city, we get some laughs from Home Alone’s endearing classic sequel - set and filmed in New York. With Kevin McCallister back to his mischievous ways and on his own once more, but this time lost in the Big Apple instead of at home, he treats us to some memorable scenes.
When he first gets off his plane and explores the city, we are treated to a montage of New York’s famous landmarks. He looks out over the bay to the Statue of Liberty, takes a taxi cab ride over the Queensboro Bridge, buys some fireworks in Chinatown, visits Radio City Music Hall and finally takes in a view of the skyline from atop the original World Trade Center Twin Towers. New York’s epic presence is felt throughout with the city’s streets and bustling life seen in many scenes. Central Park even gets some pretty lengthy screen time with the movie’s villains chasing Kevin through the park right past the Bethesda Fountain.
Iconic New York Moment: Kevin is reunited with his mother in front of the city’s famous Rockefeller Christmas Tree at 30 Rockefeller Plaza.
15 The Devil Wears Prada
With its focus on the fashion industry, it’s no surprise that the movie’s producers decided New York City would be the primary filming location with its standing as one of the fashion capitals of the world alongside Paris.
Miranda Priestly, played by Meryl Streep, is the head of a fashion magazine in the heart of Midtown Manhattan. The city’s fast pace and high end lifestyle stand out in this movie, focused on the lives of magazine editors and fashion models. While the audience follows the city’s rich, they are introduced to New York’s high-end restaurants and incredible museums.
Iconic New York Moment: Anne Hathaway’s character, Andy, is running through Manhattan to pick up a steak ordered by Miranda Priestly at Smith and Wollensky on 49th Street. This is one of the city’s most visited and coveted steakhouses for half a century now.
In one of cinema’s most memorable love stories, Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore star as a couple in love. Early in the film, Patrick’s character is dealt with in cold blood while out on a date, showing the darker sides of New York’s mean streets in the 1990’s. With a gritty look and feel, it’s no wonder the city got its dangerous reputation, which is showcased in Ghost.
Great shots of the projects of the Bronx are seen when Whoopi Goldberg’s character, Oda Mae Brown is introduced. With excellent contrasts between the high end apartments of Manhattan and the rougher neighborhoods of New York’s other boroughs, Ghosts depicts the city’s varying classes.
Iconic New York Moment: Oda Mae Brown has to sign over a $4 million dollar check to a group of nuns in front of Wall Street’s Federal Building, while the ghost of Sam, played by Swayze, urges her.
In another timeless love story, albeit with a much less serious tone, this romantic comedy uses the city of New York as a backdrop to Kate Beckinsale and John Cusak’s journey. Based on the idea that all occurrences happen for a reason and aren’t simply a chain of coincidences, the two main characters happen to run in to each other at many of New York’s iconic landmarks.
The movie does a great job of highlighting some of the city’s staples such as the infamous Bloomingdale’s department store, the now-famous Serendipity III restaurant and in its most famous scene, the Waldorf Astoria Hotel, where the couple test the fates of love in the building’s elevators, hoping to run into one another.
Iconic New York Moment: Kate and John’s characters have a romantic date at the Wollman Rink in Central Park under the snow.
12 West Side Story
New York continues to make its mark on love as another romantic story enters the list, but with a hint of violence in this musical. In this story about rivaling gangs in Manhattan’s famous Upper West Side, 1950’s New York is showcased. The tensions between the two neighborhoods are at an all time high, and are on full display.
The city’s gritty and dangerous look of Manhattan before its major clean up before the turn of the century can still be felt, even in a movie with song and dance.
Iconic New York Moment: rival gangs, the Jets and Sharks, walk toward one another ready for a showdown along 110 St. in the Upper West Side.
Hollywood loves New York City. But it also loves to destroy it. Continuing the trend of putting the city through the ringer, Ghostbusters is another movie on the list that wreaks havoc throughout the streets of Manhattan.
With an all-star comedy cast, the Ghostbusters gang takes on monstrous villains set on tearing apart the Big Apple. With the focus entirely on ghosts and demons in Manhattan, the movie offers a great deal of New York landmarks including the Upper West Side, Columbia University, the New York Public Library, Chinatown, Little Italy and Rockefeller Center. With so many locations filmed in NYC, this is movie belongs on any New York list.
Iconic New York Moment: when the Ghostbusters gang race out of NYFD’s 8 Hook & Ladder, which fills in for their headquarters.
Woody Allen’s obsession for the city of New York is on full display in his timeless classic that is more an ode to the city than a film about relationships. In fact, it can even be argued that the city is one of the characters in Allen’s now-controversial movie focused on the ups and downs of complex relationships of love and lust.
Aptly titled after New York’s most visited and beloved borough, there are too many film locations that show up in the movie to list. From the film's outset, a montage of so many of the city’s landmark locations make a statement that this is a very New York film.
Iconic New York Moment: not so much a moment in the movie, but rather the film’s iconic cover art for the promotional poster which features Woody Allen and Diane Keaton seated on a bench overlooking the East River and the magnificent Queensboro Bridge.
With one of the most impressive collections of film any director can boast, Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas is his magnum opus, atop the rest of his already spectacular filmography. The movie is set primarily in Queens where the real life mob family resided.
As the mobsters find ways to make money via any fashion, their exploits took them all over New York, including Queens, Brooklyn and Manhattan. The city takes a backseat to the complex characters and their stories, but its presence is still very much engrained in the serious, tense tone of the movie.
Iconic New York Moment: arguably the most memorable and quoted scene of the movie, Joe Pesci’s character terrifyingly taunts Ray Liotta’s character, repeatedly asking him what was so funny in one of cinema’s most tense interactions at the Hawaii Kai Restaurant, located in Times Square, Manhattan.
8 Sleepless in Seattle
Ironic that one of New York’s most iconic moments in all of film history takes place in a movie with an entirely different city in its title. Either way, in one of romantic comedy's most beloved stories, Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan team up for a love story that spans the country from Seattle all the way to New York City. The Big Apple is not very prominent throughout the entire movie. In fact, it truly only stars in the climactic ending of the film.
Iconic New York Moment: Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan’s characters meet for the first time in a romantic encounter atop the observation deck of the Empire State Building, with all of Manhattan as a stunning backdrop.
7 Before We Go
Filmed almost entirely in Manhattan and taking place mostly in Lower Manhattan’s less chaotic night life compared to Midtown, Before We Go captures the essence of New York’s quiet, yet lively beauty at a time when the rest of the world is asleep.
With plenty of pedestrians still out and about by most cities' standards, the film captures how New York does in fact slow down to a tolerable, peaceful hum of lights and more relaxed pace.
Starring and directed by Chris Evans, the movie follows his character’s remarkably interesting night as he journeys throughout the city with his new friend who’s lost, penniless and in need of a savior, played by Alice Eve. Not necessarily on the list because of its popularity, but rather because of its ability to capture the Big Apple's essence so well.
Iconic New York Moment: Chris Evans’ character is alone, playing the trumpet at Grand Central Terminal, right before it closes for the night, when he first meets Alice Eve’s character.
6 Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist
Also on the list because of its focus on the city itself rather than its standing among cinema’s best, this movie is centered on a group of teenagers finding their way throughout the city looking for a band in the wee hours of the night.
New York plays a major role here. With many of its scenes showing the group of friends moving around the city, viewers get an excellent glimpse of the concrete jungle and its surrounding areas, including Hoboken, New Jersey on the other side of the Hudson River. With their hunt for a band taking them throughout all the boroughs, the city’s young, vibrant nightlife takes on a new facade.
Iconic New York Moment: Michael Cera’s character drives right by the infamous Katz’s Delicatessen in Lower Manhattan, a staple of the city’s food culture.
5 Carlito’s Way
Another mobster movie makes its way onto this list, again proving New York’s standing as the unofficial home to all things ganster.
Carlito’s Way, starring Al Pacino, focuses on a former mobster who is trying to turn his life around after being released from prison. Carlito makes his way around the city, meeting up with old friends. The director, Brian De Palma (also known for Scarface) gives us great shots of Manhattan and Brooklyn as the protagonist visits his old haunts, including one of the most famous clubs of its time, the Copacabana Nightclub on Madison Avenue.
Iconic New York Moment: during the scenes climactic ending, Al Pacino’s character is embroiled in an intense arms fight in the middle of Grand Central Terminal, a location that makes the list yet again.
4 S*x and the City
Carrie Bradshaw and her friends have become synonymous with New York City during the show’s incredibly successful run. Its movie, after the show’s end, was just as big, and it continues the show’s tradition of portraying the city of New York in all of its grandeur.
With a focus on the city’s glamour, the film presents the the vibrant, high-end lifestyle of the wealthy with so much of Manhattan’s expensive real estate and shops on display.
Iconic New York Moment: in one of its most famous movie scenes, because of her love for books, the New York Public Library stands in for Carrie’s wedding location, where she is famously stood up by Mr. Big in jaw-dropping and heart-wrenching fashion.
3 A Bronx Tale
The final entry in the mob category, Robert DeNiro stars in this coming of age story about a boy who is split between wanting the fast life of the mob while heeding his dad’s words about working hard.
The title of the movie tells you everything you need to know about the city’s importance in the film. The Bronx is just as important to the story as the characters, making it the backbone of this moral tale on love, race and choosing right from wrong. With incredible shots of 1960’s New York, the audience sees the poverty and close knit communities of each race living in the city at the time. Although the movie is centered on the borough of the Bronx, it is almost entirely shot on location in a different borough, Queens.
Iconic New York Moment: Robert DeNiro’s character carries his young, crying son in his arms after a confrontation with the film’s main mobster along 30th Avenue in Astoria, Queens.
2 Breakfast at Tiffany’s
In Audrey Hepburn’s iconic role, Breakfast at Tiffany’s is considered a classic New York story. Focusing on the high-end life of socialites and the rich, the film treats viewers to parts of the city that are coveted by the wealthy. New York’s famous brownstones are seen throughout as well as the high-end luxury residential towers found in the affluent Upper East Side.
Iconic New York Moment: Audrey Hepburn’s character, dressed in her famous black dress and pearls, in front of the Tiffany & Co. flagship store on 5th Avenue.
1 Saturday Night Fever
In the list’s last entry, John Travolta dances his way on to the scene in one of New York’s most iconic movies. With a soundtrack fit for the 70’s and a city that ushered in the disco era, Brooklyn is king in this Big Apple classic.
Set mostly in the streets and clubs of Brooklyn, the movie’s famous montage at the outset showcases everything about the borough that has made it famous. As Travolta walks down 86th St. right below the subway line to the Bee Gee’s soundtrack, pizza shops, bodegas, corner stores, clothes retailers and more are seen in a busy neighborhood that is quintessentially New York.
Iconic New York Moment: Travolta’s character sits on a bench accompanied his love interest, with the towering Verrazano Narrows Bridge in sight.