1. Taxi Driver
In certain respects, Taxi Driver is where it all began. The film is where it began for Jodie Foster, DeNiro, and solidified Scorsese’s collaborative partnership with the actors. It couldn’t have happened with any other group of people. The film discusses heavy topics as mental illness, PTSD, the Vietnam war, and how New York City can reveal old scars. Every viewer remembers their first time watching Taxi Driver and the film is pivotal in creating an image of New York through cinema.
We will always misguidedly romanticize the New York of the 90s that is depicted in Larry Clark’s Kids. At its heart, the film is a cautionary tale, telling the story of how HIV spreads within a skate crew during a sticky summer in NYC. It delivers unapologetic drug use and wince-worthy underage sex while creating the archetype of a city kid that would endure for decades to come. Kids has cultivated a collective memory whose wake is felt in film, fashion, and music. The film leaves a nostalgic grittiness- similar to the feeling of bumming your first cigarette or drinking warm vodka out of a plastic water bottle before a party.
3. A Bronx Tale
Robert DeNiro’s directorial debut, A Bronx Tale, is a story of what happens up the block. An entire universe, an entire life cycle, and an entire narrative takes place in this one neighborhood in The Bronx. With Chazz Palminteri leading the charge, viewers take an inside look at Italian-American omertà, mob culture, racial tension, and the family dynamics that are all entangled in this pocket of New York.
4. The Devil Wears Prada
We know we’re not exactly breaking news with this one, but it’d feel like quite the injustice to leave The Devil Wears Prada out of the rankings. The fashion, the fashion, the fashion. With big names like Stanley Tucci, Emily Blunt, and none other than the legend herself, Meryl Streep, this iconic New York movie did everything to create a distinct and tangible feeling of the city. From the montage of Andie, played by Anne Hathaway, on her commute to work post-makeover, to “florals for spring…groundbreaking,” everything about this film is iconic.
5. American Psycho
The opening monologue of American Psycho is ominous, provocative, and perhaps what the film is most known for. The film is filled with crisply tailored suits, the uniform of New York finance titans, and a soundtrack that perfectly places you in the chaos of the 80s/90s. The fandom and culture that took off following the film’s release is a true testament to how large its impact was.
From the scene at FAO Schwartz to the bunk beds in the Soho loft, this film is classic New York. Big discusses the idea of growing into adulthood in New York and urges viewers to remain childlike at heart. New York is young Tom Hanks’ playground and it is pure joy to watch him discover and adventure through the big city. While the city can become so jaded and serious for its inhabitants, Big captures the romance, promise, and playfulness that drew us to the city at the start.
Cher is the queen of 80s New York. And if you watch Moonstruck, you will undoubtedly agree. Steeped in deep Italian-American Culture, the film is charismatic and has a unique identity. A young and almost unrecognizable Nicholas Cage puts forth an unhinged performance and echos the erraticism of New York. The streets of the city are lined with Jewish and Italian bakeries and big ol’ Cadillacs that evoke a distinct era of the city. A moment, iconic to New York film history, is when Cher steps out of the yellow checkered taxi and approaches The Met. Equally as formidable is the line, “she’s as fresh and bright and full of promise as moonlight in a martini.” The film so appropriately enacts the magic and intangible witchcraft that is New York City. And if not for that, you have to give it a watch for Cher’s hair.