“I love New York, even though it isn’t mine, the way something has to be, a tree or a street or a house, something, anyway, that belongs to me because I belong to it.”―Truman Capote
I have never been to New York. I do not regret it, however, as there are certain locations that seem almost magical in your dreams. As soon I hear the words ‘New York’, the first image that comes to my mind is people clad in crisp business suits, talking on their phones, rushing to commute to their workplaces. New York is the city of dreams, a city where commerce and art make love together, and a city that never sleeps.
With a variety of people cohabiting the city together, it is a land of urban surrealism. Amidst the neon signs, the hustle and bustle of city life and the posh, swanky skyscrapers that make your existence seem nearly negligible, the city hides the dark underbelly which reeks of crime, violence and homelessness. Of course, this juxtaposition is arguably a key factor in what makes the city so fascinating; the constant dichotomy and the ever-widening gap between wealth and poverty. New York is full of surprises, turmoils, violence and love, and nobody is complaining.
After the World Trade Center was tragically destroyed on 9/11, Martin Scorsese still included the pre-attack skyline of New York to instil hope among the civilians in a subtle message included as part of his feature film Gangs of New York. The Big Apple is the beacon of hope and freedom as well as the vaulting ambitions of the ‘American Dream’. The city is dirty yet has a certain charm to it which makes it one of the most sought-after tourist destinations. With its picturesque skyline as well as distinguished local attractions, it is also one of the most sought-after filming locations for films, series and photoshoots, harking back to days of Andy Warhol’s Factory.
Despite never having visited the place, I decided to take a virtual walk through the city to discover some of the most iconic filming locations. While at Calvary Cemetery – where the Godfather lies buried – or Cafe Lalo, where Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks met for the first time in You’ve Got Mail, there are some locations that have featured over and over again in films. With the pandemic ravaging the world, a visit to this unique urban village seems highly unlikely but one can always hope and dream.
Here are the 10 best filming locations in New York.
The 10 best New York movie locations:
10. Times Square
New York is synonymous with Times Square. Even Plain White T’s, in their song ‘Hey There Delilah’, complimented their muse by saying: “Times Square can’t shine as bright as you”.
Times Square, referred to as the centre of the Universe or the crossroads of the world, is as beautiful and illuminated as it can get. With giant screens displaying advertisements to neon signs that add a surreal charm, this busy section sees the conglomeration of business and art. One of the most important landmarks of Times Square is the giant Paramount Building which was home to the Paramount Theatre, besides the Coca Cola Sign, the Disney Store, Hard Rock Cafe and other such landmarks.
Times Square has been a very popular filming spot as well. In films like Midnight Cowboy, Taxi Driver or Born to Win, times Square has been a central figure. Recent films like Ghostbusters, Spider-Man, Captain America: The First Avenger and more have shot in this well-recognised spot. After all, if you do not stand amidst the busy intersection and click a picture while staring at the giant billboards, are your pictures even Instagrammable?
9. Empire State Building
Built in the Art-Deco style, this 102-storey skyscraper is legendary. With its observation decks as well as unique architecture, the Empire State Building used to be one of the world’s tallest buildings and a popular tourist attraction. A cultural icon for America, it has featured in more than 250 films since 1931 and is one of Hollywood’s most favoured filming locations. Can you think of a scene any more iconic than the giant gorilla Kong climbing up the Empire State Building in King Kong? Prominent in the famous New York City skyline, this building is indeed one of the best go-to tourist spots as well as filming locations.
Other films that featured this popular monument include Sleepless in Seattle, Independence Day, An Affair to Remember and countless others. in fact, the Empire State building was taken as the icon to celebrate the birth of a new America and was said to instil hope in the minds of the people ravaged by the Great Depression. It was also the symbol of the hard work and subsequent achievements of the immigrants who were working relentlessly to live the American Dream.
8. The Grand Central Terminal
While more recent popular culture references of the Grand Central Terminal are a little less artistically driven, such as the popular South Korean boy band BTS performing their hit single ‘ON’ by taking over the place for an episode on The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon, this location has transcended genre for decades.
Sitcom fans might be familiar with this station as it featured on the pilot episode of Gossip Girl as the legendary Serena van der Woodsen made a comeback. However, the earliest ever film being shot way back in 1909 (Mr. Jones Has a Card Party) as well as some other films such as Revolutionary Road, Men In Black, Men In Black II, it is fairly evident by now that this is a favourite filming spot.
Grand Central Terminal is one of the busiest train stations in the United States and a very popular tourist destination as well. With its distinguished architecture and majestic art installations, it is often the seat of impromptu performances and flash mobs. During the Second World War, this station was rivalling the Eiffel Tower in terms of being the backdrop for romantic reunions between couples that were separated by war.
While the station has also served as an area of darkness and disorientation in certain films, it still remains, according to Kyle McCarthy, “one of the quintessential New York places. Whether filmmakers need an establishing shot of arriving in New York or transportation scenes, the restored landmark building is visually appealing and authentic.”
We’ll turn to Mr Hitchcock and North by Northwest for our reference:
7. American Museum of Natural History
Popularly known for the huge tyrannosaurus installation in the centre which was nicknamed Rexy and came to life with every nightfall, terrorising Larry Dexter in Night at the Museum, the American Museum of Natural history became a land of wonders for people who allegedly went on to believe the film. The film breathed life into the wondrous exhibits and artefacts that lie carefully preserved in the museum. The Museum has also made several appearances in films like the Devil Meets Prada, Malcolm X, The Penguins of Madagascar, How I Met Your Mother and more. Located on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, it is the largest of its kind in the world.
A perfect location for filming and shooting due to its ginormous size, the museum is pretty fascinating due to its varied components. A frequent figure in pop culture, it is a popular backdrop in literary pieces. In fact, the massive structures of the giant squid and the sperm whale inspired the title of the 2005 film The Squid and the Whale. Since the site where Ross Geller used to work during the early seasons (New York Museum of Prehistoric History) does not exist, the American Museum of Natural history shall suffice for hardcore Friends fans to realise their fantasy of living like their favourite sestet.
6. Statue of Liberty
The Statue of Liberty is a cultural icon not lonely for New york but also for the United States. With its underlying significance for freedom as well as being the beacon of hope for immigrants to come and work hard to realise their American Dream, the structure also commemorates the abolition of slavery. Unveiled in 1886, the sculpture, designed by French artist Bartholdi and built by Gustave Eiffel, was a gift to the United States from the people of France. While there are various replicas all over the world, it has been commercialised to a great extent where the Statue of Liberty can be found on t-shirts, mugs, key chains and many more.
The Statue of Liberty has a great deal of literary significance, in 1979, Robert Holdstock attributed the success of science fiction to the sculpture saying that “where would science fiction be without the Statue of Liberty?” It has been a constant motif of “science fiction’s pessimistic view of the future” despite the optimism it upholds. The Statue of Liberty has been a popular figure in films as well, including Saboteur, The Immigrant, Cloverfield, Ghostbusters II, The Day After Tomorrow and others.
5. New York Public Library
Libraries might not be on your itinerary unless you are a self-proclaimed nerd like Ross Geller, but this famous library is one of the most iconic attractions in New York City. While there are numerous branches of this public library, the main branch, which has been a popular filming location as well, lies on Fifth Avenue.
As you walk up the marble staircase, you shall be greeted by two majestic lions on each side; they are the official mascots of the library and have been named after the two gentlemen Leo Astor and Leo Lenox who helped establish this library way back in 1911. These lions were, however, renamed Patience and Fortitude to instil hope in the citizens during the horrifying Great Depression. New York Public Library, who has been the muse to poets like E.B. White and Lawrence Ferlinghetti, has also been a popular filming location and a recurring cast member on films and shows, namely Glee, Seinfeld, Person of Interest, Ghostbusters, The Day After Tomorrow, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, On the Town, 13 Going On 30 and more.
4. Brooklyn Bridge
In Sex and the City, this iconic bridge served as the meeting point for Steve and Miranda to rekindle their love and start afresh with their marital life. A popular and recurring backdrop in films like Spiderman, I Am Legend, Cloverfield, The French Connection, Fantastic Four, Godzilla and more, it is inarguably one of New York’s most popular filming destinations. With its unique structure, it was the longest suspension bridge in the world when it was built. While the bridge has undergone several renovations and prevailed as one of the biggest defining features of New York, it is a seat of performances, stunt shows as well as unwarranted criminal activities and accidents.
The bridge was an overt motif for the optimism that emerged out of the technology developed in its era of conception. Couples inscribe their initials as well as the desired date on locks and attach them onto the bridge while throwing away the keys in the water to signify the strength of their love (although it is now subject to an official fine). A popular figure in the beautiful NYC skyline, the Brooklyn Bridge is not only a cultural phenomenon but also an otherworldly experience that has been magnified by films and shows.
3. Radio City Music Hall
A plot of land that had been assigned for building the Metropolitan Opera House later became the foundation of Radio City Music Hall after the initial plans were cancelled in 1929. Known as the Showplace of the World, the Music Hall boasted of the world’s largest auditorium on inception. Previously, the Music Hall was the centre of hosting film premieres as well as stage shows. Nowadays, concerts, as well as televised events, take place, namely Emmys, MTV Awards and more.
Located on the east side of Sixth Avenue, the Hall is distinguishable by the giant neon letters that display its name, the very popular bronze plaques at the entrance signify the theatre’s thematic engagements with drama, music and dance. Ornate decorations and the overall grandiose of the Hall, decorated in Art-Deco manner by the legendary Edward Durell Stone and Donald Deskey, is one of the reasons why it was the seat of filming for various shows like Wheel of Fortune, Saturday Night Live, Jeopardy! etc. Other films such as Home Alone 2 and The Godfather have featured the same.
2. Rockefeller Center
Although the Rockefeller Center was considered a “weakly conceived, reckless, romantic chaos” on its commencement, it has prevailed as one of New York’s most popular and visited locations. Architectural critic Paul Goldberger opined that “what makes Rockefeller Center work is that it is at once a formal Beaux‐Arts‐influenced complex of dignified towers and a lively, utterly contemporary amalgam of shops, plazas and street life. It is as natural a home for a 1970’s street festival as for a 1930’s movie about cafe society: few designs can join such disparate worlds so comfortably.” It was a building that had been conceived during the Great Depression and withstood various financial and cultural upheavals to become one of the longstanding cultural icons of the city.
With its wonderful view of the city including a lush landscape of Central Park, Rockefeller Center has featured in various films including Autumn in New York, Home Alone 2: Lost in New York etc. It has also been the hosting site for shows like Saturday Night Live and 30 Rock. with distinct statues and artworks inside the building, this commercial venue is one of the most popular tourist destinations in New York as well as one of the most sought-after filming locations as well.
1. Central Park
One of the most popular locations for filming in New York, Central Park has featured in more than a few hundred films since 1908. This urban park is well-recognised and functions as a heterotopic space amidst the bustling city. With an abundance of rocks, wooded areas of oak, beech and cypress trees, lawns and greenery, the park is also home to various water bodies, namely Harlem Meer, The Loch, The Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir, The Turtle Pond etc. Central Park also boats of various art installations and sculptures which adds a cultural significance to the place.
Films like Home Alone 2: Lost in New York, 13 Going On 30, Enchanted, The Age of Innocence, Maid in Manhattan and more have featured Central Park in all its glory the Sheep Meadow which is a common place for people to hang out and have a picnic the sun was an antithesis to the busy and stressful lives led by the people in the city. It provided a great place to unwind and rejuvenate oneself as well as instil in one the sense of community and belonging.