10 Modern New York City Movies That Shine
I Like It Like That
A vibrant portrayal of the lives of South Bronx Latinos, including a transgender character, that doesn’t revolve around crime or violence.
Do the Right Thing
The most vivid film exploration of race dynamics in Brooklyn also foreshadows the gentrification to come.
Curtis Mayfield’s all-time classic soundtrack infuses the 1970s’ most complex blacksploitation film.
A Staten Island striver ascends the corporate ladder at a Wall Street firm inhospitable to women — though she has to first vanquish the company’s only other female executive.
Slightly madcap newspaper movie with a subplot of racial injustice captures the frenzy of New York without ignoring its humanity.
The French Connection
Beautifully filmed and unsparingly honest depiction of a real-life investigation.
Al Pacino is terrific in this stark tale of police corruption.
Prisoner of Second Avenue
The pressures and perils of the city seen through the eyes of a discarded white-collar worker—proved New York could still laugh at itself.
Brilliant post-9/11 story of a life gone awry in the big city.
Man Push Cart
Unflinching depiction of one lonely immigrant’s hope, and defeat.
… 5 That Stink ….
Fort Apache, the Bronx
One-dimensional portrayal of the mainland borough as a moral netherworld.
A celluloid embodiment of white-male vigilante fantasies.
New Jack City
Once considered groundbreaking for highlighting hip-hop, the clunky anti-drug movie now seems corny, shallow and cliched.
Bonfire of the Vanities
Stereotypes on parade.
Escape from New York
Depicts a not-too-distant future where New York City is a prison colony.
… and 5 That Have Their Issues but are still worth a watch
Taxi DriverA nightmarish vision of the city is the backdrop to this tale of one man’s race toward cataclysm, but the film-making is too good to dismiss.
ShaftFull-bore Blacksploitation with all its baggage, but Shaft actually is, as the song says, “a complicated man,” in a city where race is depicted with surprising nuance.
City HallSimplistic morality tale about urban politics, but … Al Pacino is the mayor. Can you imagine?
ManhattanLike many films on this list, New York is depicted as whiter than it could possibly have been, and the main character’s relationship with a very young woman is creepy, but the city looks absolutely majestic.
Saturday Night FeverThe music is, yes, horrible but it captures an outer-borough slice of life with some nuance.
-by David Brand and Jarrett Murphy. Return to the main article, “‘Fear City’ on the Big Screen: The Classic Films that Miscast New York City,” by David Brand.
City Limits’ reporting on the intersection of art and policy is supported by the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund. City Limits is solely responsible for all content.