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The Best Movies Based in New York City

Movies are set in many different locations; some are cast indoors with created sets, others against a green screen, and quite a few are filmed in New Zealand. But no location is more recognizable than New York City.

In addition to being a mecca for historic landmarks, incredible buildings and businesses, and some of the best food in the world, New York City has been the setting for a number of really good movies. Some of them are pretty easy to identify, while others are more implied than anything else. I’d like to take a moment to thank thatmomentin.com for featuring this article on their site; if you haven’t already read it, they’ve got a great list of films you only need to see once.

New York City

What movies constitute the best is certainly subjective; everyone has different taste in films (demonstrated most heavily by reviews on “Batman vs. Superman” compared to fan reception). But there are those—not necessarily newer films—that stand the test of time as great movies.

As a note before we get started, should you wish to stream these movies, it’s recommended you do so while connected with a Virtual Private Network (VPN) service. Even on trusted services such as Netflix, there are always security risks involved, not to mention geographic content locks. Secure Thoughts has a guide on the best VPNs if you find yourself needing one. With that in mind, we’ve selected some great movies. Be sure to take a look!

Ghostbusters (1984)

New York City
Ghostbusters, 1984 ©Columbia Pictures
DIRECTOR: Ivan Reitman
STARS: Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Sigourney Weaver, Harold Ramis, Rick Moranis

Given the fairly recent addition of a new film to the Ghostbusters franchise, I thought it only appropriate to start with the original. Before I go too much further, I’ll start by saying that just because we’re talking about the first film doesn’t mean the new one isn’t good. If you haven’t seen it, you really ought to give it a chance.

The entirety of the original film and its subsequent sequel and remake are all based in the Big Apple. There our team of heroes creates a business out of handling the city’s progressively escalating ghost problem until their final confrontation with Zuul and the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man.

Despite some technological limitations in 1984, “Ghostbusters” remains a cult favorite and will continue to be loved on its own merits regardless of anything else that happens to the franchise. It’s available on Netflix in select countries (Canada and Japan), but if you’re using a VPN, that’s not a problem (you can designate your location on most services).

The Avengers (2012)

New York City
The Avengers, 2012 ©Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
DIRECTOR: Joss Whedon
STARS: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Tom Hiddleston, Clark Gregg, Cobie Smulders, Stellan Skarsgård, Samuel L. Jackson

Years later, with CGI drastically improved, we were finally given a masterpiece of action, comedy and visual effects in the form of the first Avengers film. New York is more than just a setting in this movie: it is a colossal battlefield and nearly the sight of the world’s end. With its great cast of high-paid actors, The Avengers does a fantastic job of portraying several of Marvel’s biggest heroes working sort of together to avert disaster. Their personality conflicts are the subject of a great deal of witty dialogue and conflict outside of just the bad guys and really give another angle to superhero movies. It also contains one of my favorite scenes (Hulk and Loki).
The Avengers is also available on Netflix in select countries, just not the U.S. Again, this problem can be circumvented with the right software.

Kick-Ass (2010)

New York City
Kick-Ass, 2010 ©Lionsgate
DIRECTOR: Matthew Vaughn
STARS: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Mark Strong, Chloe Grace Moretz, Nicolas Cage

As superhero movies go, Kick-Ass is kind of an anti-superhero film in the sense that none of the characters really have any special abilities, though that’s not to say they don’t dabble in Bruce Wayne’s toolkit (money apparently buys pseudo-superpowers). Despite that, the film does a great job of spinning a good story and is well staffed with good actors.

Much of the plot actually takes place on the streets of New York, where Dave Lizewski has decided to become a superhero (Kick-Ass) following a serious beating that dulled his pain reception (which gives him a slightly better tolerance to a beating but not by a lot). He’s joined by Hit Girl and Big Daddy, two masked heroes with their own agendas. There’s plenty of excitement in the film, but it’s not available on any streaming service for free. The cheapest online rentals appear to be on the PlayStation service and Amazon Video.

Anger Management (2003)

New York City
Anger Management, 2003 ©Columbia Pictures
DIRECTOR: Peter Segal
STARS: Adam Sandler, Jack Nicholson, Marisa Tomei, Luis Guzmán, Woody Harrelson, John Turturro

If you need a good laugh, cool your head off and seek “Anger Management.” With Adam Sandler and Jack Nicholson (how could you really go wrong?), we’re taken through the therapy of Dave Buznik as he goes head to head with Dr. Buddy Rydell all across New York to take control of his anger and avoid jail. The film harkens back to slapstick comedy that was so popular early in Adam Sandler’s career but mixes clever dialogue and excellent acting. There’s not a lot to the movie, but what it does, it does extraordinarily well. It’s a comedy you’ll never forget.

Thankfully, it’s also available on Netflix, this time with no U.S. restrictions. For viewers outside the U.S., a VPN might be required.

The Matrix (1999)

New York City
The Matrix, 1999 ©Warner Bros.
DIRECTOR: The Wachowski Brothers
STARS: Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss, Huge Weaving, Joe Pantoliano

With all its far-reaching effects on modern films, who could forget that the first Matrix film actually took place almost exclusively inside “New York City.” The quotations are because technically the film is supposed to be inside a digital simulation of New York, but the actual settings are from the real city. In The Matrix, we’re exposed to that aforementioned reality; the whole world is just a simulated dream to keep humanity in check as they’re harvested by the machines. Neo, a computer hacker and the series protagonist, is drawn into the conflict when he meets with Trinity and Morpheus, two individuals seeking minds ready to be freed from the Matrix.
As with most of the other films, The Matrix is overflowing with awesome action sequences, well written dialogue, and a surprisingly good performance by Keanu Reeves and supporting cast. Later films are arguably inferior to the first but are definitely worth seeing if you watch this one.

Perhaps due to its age, The Matrix appears to only be available for rent or purchase. Several options exist to watch the film on demand, including Amazon Video and Apple iTunes. The film is available from select cable providers on demand as well (sometimes for free).

Goodfellas (1990)

New York City
Goodfellas, 1990 ©Warner Bros.
DIRECTOR: Martin Scorsese
STARS: Robert De Niro, Ray Liotta, Joe Pesci, Lorraine Bracco, Paul Sarvino

The last film on our list is a true classic for a variety of reasons. Not only is it based on a true story about the Mafia, but it includes a host of very talented actors during the highlights of their respective careers. Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci and Ray Liotta all play central roles as a trio of “goodfellas.”
The gist of the film is the evolution of Henry Hill from a youngster in Brooklyn with dreams of being a gangster to growing up and making it a reality. But while there are many good times to be had, he faces a slew of real problems, from drug addiction to imprisonment. As Mafia movies go, Goodfellas is my personal favorite and one of the highest rated according to critics.

Yet despite all the good it has going for it, Goodfellas isn’t available for free streaming on any of the normal services. It can be rented for as little as $2.99 from the same services as The Matrix, but it also seems to receive regular yearly broadcasts on cable.

Do you have a favorite New York City film? Share with us in the comments below.

About the Author: Caroline is a film enthusiast and internet securities specialist. She routinely writes about different strategies to remain safe online but also enjoys commenting on some of her favorite movies. More of her work can be found on CultureCoverage.com.

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4 Comments

  1. lebeau August 3, 2016
    • David Duprey August 4, 2016
      • CarolineB (@CultureCovC) August 10, 2016
  2. Anonymous August 4, 2016