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New York's influence on top films cannot be ignored. (Landmark Sunshine Cinema via Rael Architecture) New York's influence on top films cannot be ignored. (Landmark Sunshine Cinema via Rael Architecture)
Los Angeles rightly holds the title of movie capital of the world, but New York's contributions to cinema cannot be ignored. Between prestigious arts schools and a thriving theater scene, the city is an incubator of talent both on screen and behind the scenes. The Manhattan skyline and city streets alike cannot be replicated on even the most sophisticated soundstages, and there is no shortage of them in the area. Kaufman Astoria Studios has been in operation for more than 100 years, and Long Island City’s Silvercup Studios is one of the largest film and television production facilities in the Northeast.

A partnership between Robert de Niro and Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) is bringing Wildflower Studios, a new “vertical village” for film production, to Astoria. This is not BIG’s only foray into production facilities; in February 2023, Samson Stages announced plans to build a new, BIG-designed production facility in Red Hook.

There is much to be excited about in the future, but we still look fondly back at the classics. Ahead of Oscar night on Sunday, March 12, we take a look at the role New York has played as both setting and character in a selection of the American Film Institute’s 100 greatest American movies.

Rear Window (1954)
According to the New York Post, the view of the courtyard at 125 Christopher Street inspired the setting of one of Alfred Hitchcock’s most successful thrillers. Thanks to its location in the Greenwich Village Historic District, this stretch of New York still looks remarkably similar to the time the movie was filmed. And these days, Jimmy Stewart’s wheelchair-bound character would have more urgent concerns than a possible murder across the street—CityRealty listings report that West Village rents come to a median of $4,343/month, and the median price of a condo in the neighborhood is $4,250,000.

The Apartment (1960)
The Apartment Central Park West (CityRealty) and The Apartment (Billy Wilder / United Artists / Mirish Corporation - DVD with the film and the trailer, Public Domain,
In this comedy, Jack Lemmon’s character regularly works late to impress his boss…and because, in exchange for good reviews, higher-ups are borrowing his Central Park West apartment for their extramarital trysts. These days, he might have worked late and possibly used the apartment as an Airbnb simply to pay the rent – CityRealty listings put the median rent for Central Park West at $4,750/month.

Lincoln Center, which would rise on the site of West Side Story's setting
The gang battles of the iconic musical weren’t far off the mark—before the construction of Lincoln Center, feuds between racial groups flared up on a regular basis in the area. President Dwight D. Eisenhower broke ground on the Lincoln Center Urban Renewal Project in 1959, and the opening scenes of the movie were filmed among the ruins of Lincoln Square. The film would soon serve as a time capsule of sorts: A few short months after West Side Story collected ten Academy Awards, including Best Picture, the iconic Lincoln Center performance center opened. Decades later, Ariana Debose won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role in Steven Spielberg's remake of West Side Story, which showed the construction of the performing arts venue amidst the working-class neighborhood. It's not so working-class anymore – area condos come to a median price of $1,893 per square foot.

1-West-72nd-Street-2 The Dakota via Sotheby's
The Dakota’s looming structure and foreboding architectural details make it equal parts character and setting in this Academy Award-winning movie. And just as Rosemary's Baby is ranked among the top horror movies ever made, The Dakota is described by architecture critic Carter Horsley as “the city’s most legendary apartment building.” This co-op has long attracted celebrities of all stripes, and the movie does not seem to have hurt its reputation—John Lennon, Yoko Ono, Gilda Radner, Harlan Coben, and Eric and Stacy Bendet Eisner all bought in the building after the movie's release.

The Godfather (1972)
While some movies are indelibly linked to one building in particular, this Best Picture winner and its critically acclaimed sequel see many of their crucial scenes play out in the downtown Italian enclave. And in a similar path to Vito Corleone’s rise from a struggling immigrant to one of the most powerful men in the city, Little Italy has seen a similar ascent: The average price of a condo in the neighborhood and nearby Nolita is $1,430 per square foot, and its tenements have been transformed into beautiful condos.

Taxi Driver (1976)
Times Square Times Square (Stillman Development International); Taxi Driver (Flickr - bballchico)
Some say that if anyone wants to know what New York was like in “the bad old days,” Taxi Driver will show them. Many scenes take place in a crime-ridden Times Square and seedy Hell’s Kitchen settings that bear little resemblance to today: Times Square has been cleaned up for better or worse, and Hell’s Kitchen has emerged as a residential destination.

Annie Hall (1977)
14-East-69th-Street-1 14 East 69th Street via Compass
It is widely understood that the title character of this Best Picture-winning comedy lived on the Upper East Side, but a dedicated detective at Pop Spots NYC identified her building as 36 East 68th Street. Annie’s apartment may have had "bad plumbing and bugs," but one of its biggest pluses is a location in one of New York’s most prestigious Upper East Side neighborhoods. And with a rent of $400/month, it's no wonder she didn't want to give up her apartment—it was a bargain at the time, and CityRealty listings show that the median rent on the Upper East Side Gold Coast is a whopping $13,650/month.

Tootsie (1982)
Tootsie 15 West 18th Street 15 West 18th Street (Bond NY); Tootsie (Flickr 0 Stephen_Bishop_1977)
In a further demonstration of New York’s importance in the entertainment industry, Tootsie centers on the lengths an actor goes to for a part on a soap opera filming in the city. Key scenes take place at well-known locations like Central Park, the Sherry Netherland, and the Russian Tea Room, and an intrepid blogger identified 15-17 West 18th Street as the building where a struggling actor and his roommate share an apartment. These days, a star might buy in the area after making it big – CityRealty listings put the local median sales prices at $2,995,000 for condos and $1,244,500 for co-ops.

Honorable Mention

Hoboken waterfront via Bozzuto
While some scenes in the Academy Award-winning movie were shot in Red Hook, the title waterfront is across the river in Hoboken. Indeed, many locals served as extras and minor characters in the movie. In the 65 years since its release, Hoboken has gone from a gritty port town to an area so rich in luxury housing and convenient to Midtown Manhattan that it is considered by some to be New York's unofficial sixth borough.
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