10 Films & Series in Which New York Was the Real Star

City Tales

10 Films & Series in Which New York Was the Real Star

City Tales

15 January, 2018

New York is one of the most popular settings for books, tv series, and films. This is partly due to the city’s huge population, which is even larger than London’s. But it’s also due to New York’s unique appearance and atmosphere. Rather than simply providing a backdrop for a story, New York City is often presented as the star of the show and it’s impossible to imagine certain books, TV series, and films if they took place anywhere other than New York. We love New York here at City Tales Sightseeing, and we provide a range of NYC sightseeing tours, so we thought we’d stop and take stock of 10 films & series where New York was the real star!

1) The Great Gatsby

Great Gatsby Movie Posted 2013

 F. Scott Fitzgerald's 1925 Novel was adapted for the big screen in 2013. (Image credit: Warner Bros. Pictures)

Based on the classic F. Scott Fitzgerald novel of the same name, this film is set in New York in the 1920s. The main characters actually live just outside of New York, in a fictional town called West Egg, but most of the action happens in New York. Baz Luhrmann expertly adapted the novel’s themes of decadence, idealism, and The American Dream, and set the whole movie in Jazz Age New York City. New York is the backdrop for all of the action and its Art Deco architecture and fashion scene make it the real star of the show!

2) Home Alone 2

New York City is amazing during the Christmas Holidays; from the Rockefeller tree and ice rinks to the incredible shopping and Saks Fifth Avenue’s stunning window displays. This is probably why New York is such a prominent feature in several different Christmas films. Home Alone 2 had a tough act to follow, so it had to go bigger and better — and it’s hard to get bigger or better than New York during the holidays! The city’s Christmas decorations are on full display in this film: Kevin (the young protagonist) explores Central Park, stays in the Plaza Hotel, and he is reunited with his mom at the Rockefeller tree on Christmas day!

3) Elf

Another more recent Christmas classic is Elf. Buddy the Elf (played by Will Ferrell) is a human who was raised by Santa’s elves. Buddy discovers that his real father (James Cann) lives and works in New York City and he travels to meet him.  Buddy’s elvish optimism and cheery demeanour is hilarious in contrast to the feisty, no-nonsense New Yorkers. Buddy travels around the city and is more than impressed with New York’s Christmas decorations. The film finishes in Central Park with a huge crowd singing Christmas songs to help boost Santa’s sleigh into the air. New Yorkers, as well as New York itself, were the real stars of this movie! 

4) The Avengers: Avengers Assemble

Avengers Ironman Hulkbuster

Ironmans Hulkbuster from Avengers Age of Ultron

There are so many Marvel movies it’s getting hard to keep track. But the original Avengers movie stands out from rest — and a big reason for this is setting. The film’s final battle is in New York and is referred to in later films as ‘The Battle of New York’. With stunning visuals of the city, the mismatched assortment of superheroes battle alien forces in New York’s streets. It’s especially thrilling to watch Ironman dip and dive through the air, weaving through some of New York’s most famous streets! 

5) Sex and the City

It’s impossible to imagine Sex and the City set in any other city than New York. The series follows four very different women struggling professionally and romantically in the Big Apple. There are so many outdoor scenes throughout the show’s 94 episodes and two films, as the characters walk around New York City. The city’s streets, its buildings, its iconic yellow cabs, all feature in pretty much every episode and they are an integral part of the story — it’s even mentioned in the show’s title!

6) Mad Men

Mad Men is a story about an advertising firm set in New York’s Madison Avenue during the 1960s. Madison Avenue is one of the most famous streets in the city, and its well worth exploring on your next visit. This part of New York is famous for its big advertising agencies, so the term ‘Madison Avenue’ is regularly used to describe the advertising business — much in the same way that Broadway is used to describe the theater industry. It’s impossible to imagine Mad Men set anywhere other than New York City!

7) Ghostbusters (and Ghostbusters 2)

Ghostbusters Logo

Ghostbusters took over $295 million at the box office

It’s impossible to conceive of a Ghostbusters movie in any other city than New York. The team of Ghostbusters has to contend with ghosts, demons, and a demigod who takes the form of Mr. Stay Puft! But these various supernatural beings also have to contend with New Yorkers! The city and its inhabitants in Ghostbusters are represented as tough and fearless, and the city’s beautiful Art Deco buildings are a huge focus in both films. Also, in the sequel, the Ghostbusters bring the Statue of Liberty to life and use her to inspire the New Yorkers, generating as much positive energy as possible! Sadly, we’re not sure this is quite possible in real life, so you’ll just have to settle for our Statue of Liberty tour!

8) Midnight Cowboy

Winning three Oscars — Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay — Midnight Cowboy stars Dustin Hoffman and Jon Voight and tells the story of a young man called Joe (Voight) from Texas packing up his things and moving to New York City. Joe struggles to find his feet in New York and soon finds an unlikely friend in Ratso (Hoffman). The two men then struggle to get by in the city and get into various hijinks along the way. As so much of the film takes place on the streets, New York plays a huge role in the film, and the famous scene with Voight walking through New York City to Harry Nilsson’s Everybody’s Talking remains one of the most iconic scenes in cinema.

9) Big

This much-loved classic came out in 1988. It’s the story of a young boy (Josh) from New Jersey who magically grows from 12 to 30 years’ old after he makes a wish to grow up at a magical fortune-teller machine. Grown-up Josh (played by Tom Hanks) then moves to New York and manages to get a job in a toy company after impressing the company’s CEO with his childish enthusiasm for toys. The rest of the film looks at Josh’s awkward (and charming) attempt to live as an adult in 1980s New York. The city plays a big role as it’s the setting for Josh’s new adult life and there are lots of beautiful shots of the city throughout the film. 

10) Gangs of New York

This Martin Scorsese masterpiece takes place in New York in 1863. The film looks at warring gangs in Five Points, Manhattan, and in true Scorsese style, there is a lot of violence, conflict, and drama. It’s fascinating to see a film based in New York at this time, as it is just before the city really blossomed at the start of the 20th century, and it’s a part of the city’s history that we don’t often see in films or television. Although mid-19th century New York is a little rough around the edges, it’s still beautifully shot and well worth watching for anyone interested in New York City. 

That’s it for our list of 10 films and series where New York was the real star. New York is one of the greatest cities in the World, so it’s no surprise that it’s the backdrop for many best movies and TV shows. If you’re interested in seeing any of the locations in these films for yourself, check out our New York tour page and get in touch if you have any questions. Make New York the setting your next big adventure!

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