At this point in your lives, youʼve all seen a New York City–based TV show or movie. Since youʼre reading this article, youʼre probably considering studying in the Big Apple! Although the list of movies and TV shows based in New York City is extensive, our staff provides insight on the accuracies and fallacies of the mediaʼs representation of this grand city. Scroll down to see what my top pick is for the most accurate portrayal of New York City life.
I remember watching Gossip Girl with my family back when I was in high school. I enjoyed all the drama of it. The show follows a number of wealthy high school students on the Upper East Side (UES) of Manhattan. As a high schooler in the UES at the time, I found their picture of UES high school life quite far from my experience. Suffice it to say, my school didnʼt have much of a party scene. But there were some wealthy students who did occasionally have house parties and channeled some of the energy of the Gossip Girl characters. I canʼt say the show was completely divorced from reality!
However, especially in places like New York City, you can find a diverse community of people with various passions and perspectives. At NYU, we like to say that we are a community of microcommunities. There really is something for everyone here. Itʼs one of the many reasons why Iʼm proud to represent this university.
The best New York City movies are the old classics. And when I say “old,” I mean from the 40s, 50s, and 60s. Think Miracle on 34th Street. The Apartment, a 1960 film starring Jack Lemmon, is my favorite. Itʼs a romantic comedy drama about a young, working man who tries to get promoted at a very large accounting firm by lending his apartment to his bosses for their personal use.
Chaos, drama, an impossible love story, and lots of laughs along the way make this old movie a light, pleasant watch for anyone who loves old Hollywood favorites. Set during the Christmas holiday season (the best time in New York City!), this black-and-white film beautifully depicts the charm, grit, and possibilities that New York City offers.
Scenes in large corporate buildings downtown, a Broadway theatre, and a lively neighborhood dive bar on New Yearʼs Eve portray the cityʼs warm vibrancy. For the record, the rent of this manʼs well-sized apartment was $90 per month in 1960. Thatʼs $800 today. What a STEAL!
When Harry Met Sally
When Harry Met Sally is one of my all-time favorite comfort movies. Beyond reflecting the beauty of really getting to know someone, it gets a lot about life in the city right. You will bump into people you know but haven’t seen in years all over the city. A couple weeks ago, I ran into someone in the middle of 86th Street who I last saw in 2013! Hauling your Christmas tree back to your apartment is a (worthwhile) pain. And Katz’s Deli really is that good. Just don’t expect to live in an apartment like Harry’s anytime soon.
When Harry Met Sally traces the evolution of a friendship against the backdrop of some of New York City’s most iconic landmarks. First released in 1989, this romantic comedy holds up surprisingly well three decades later. You’re no longer able to drop your loved ones off at the airport gate, and many of the conversations would occur over text today. However, you can still make memories at The Met’s Temple of Dendur or enjoy a satisfying meal at Katz’s Deli. From walks and talks among autumn leaves in Central Park to a snow-filled montage set to Ray Charles singing “Winter Wonderland,” no movie makes a stronger case for living somewhere you can experience all four seasons. The Washington Square Arch, where Harry and Sally first embark on their New York journey, is at the heart of NYUʼs campus. Where will your New York journey take you?
Despite much of this movie being filmed in Los Angeles, Ghostbusters features New York City popular icons like the New York Public Library, Lincoln Center, Tavern On the Green, and Columbia University. While the movie doesn’t necessarily capture the experience of living here (there are no ghosts…I think), there are several subtle, relatable things.
First, in the beginning of the movie, Dana (Sigourney Weaver) jaywalks across the street. To New Yorkers, crosswalks and signals are a suggestion, not a rule. Despite there being an elevator in her (luxury) building, the Ghostbusters breathlessly walk up the stairs at the end of the movie, portraying the daily frustrations with walk-ups. While there are many accuracies, the sheer square footage of Dana’s Central Park apartment is misleading. Living in a firehouse, however, is possible. Fun fact, Anderson Cooper actually lives in a decommissioned firehouse near campus. Also, you can visit the Ghostbusters firehouse in Tribeca!
The Real Housewives of New York City
The women of the Real Housewives of New York City live in a glamorous Upper East Side bubble. They eat at the best restaurants, shop at the fanciest stores, and vacation in the Hamptons every summer. Needless to say, these experiences don’t represent what New York City is like for most of us. However, it gets right the ambition all New Yorkers have, whether it’s for their careers, family, or friends.
Seeing Bethenny Frankel expand her brand and Carole Radziwill reflect on her career as a journalist for ABC reminds us of the go-getter attitude that makes New Yorkers so passionate and endearing. The Housewives also shows the Off-Broadway arts scene. Who could forget Luann de Lesseps’ and Sonja Morgan’s cabaret performances at the Gramercy Theatre and Feinstein’s? While you may not be able to live their lavish lifestyles, you can at least watch along as the housewives run around the city and take advantage of all that it has to offer.
Do the Right Thing
Do the Right Thing by Spike Lee is one of my favorite New York City–based movies. In particular, I love how it captures Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, which I now call home! It captures Brooklyn and New York City in the summer perfectly. They have this magical haze over them during the summer. In Brooklyn you see folks sitting on the stoops of brownstones just chatting with each other. Kids run around the neighborhood or play games in parks. The local vendors push carts of ice cream or Italian ice that you can’t buy anywhere else.
It’s really hard to say what the film doesn’t capture correctly since it is such a great slice of Brooklyn history and culture. It also tackles race relations in the city. However, there aren’t many delivery folks walking between deliveries. The main character spends a good chunk of time delivering pizza, walking from apartment to apartment to show us different pieces of the neighborhood. That’s not the case anymore. But you can still get a good slice of pizza delivered to you. During the summer, you won’t want to stay inside to eat it because the city is so alive! Spike Lee does a great job of capturing the colors and vibrancy of the city.
To All the Boys: Always and Forever
To All the Boys: Always and Forever is far from my favorite movie, but there are a few important things we need to discuss here. For those of you who haven’t seen it, young couple Lara Jean and Peter are seniors in high school. While Peter has already confirmed his spot at a school in California, Lara Jean anxiously awaits hers, hoping to be near him. Their class takes a trip to New York City, which makes Lara Jean reconsider her top school.
There is so much truth to the city views from various rooftops, whether it’s from a restaurant, bar, or friend’s apartment. Also accurate: using the subway to move furniture! That scene where they take a couch on the train happens more often than you’d think. New Yorkers are thick-skinned and will use the city to their advantage whenever possible. But the empty subway in that scene is not accurate. Even at 3 a.m., there will be riders giving you side-eye for bringing a sofa on the subway and taking up their space.
What I love about this movie is the moment Lara Jean first arrives in New York City. I think it captures that feeling perfectly. One of my favorite books, Let the Great World Spin, takes place in New York City too. The authorʼs words precisely capture this exact emotion: “She’s always thought that one of the beauties of New York is that you can be from anywhere and within moments of landing it’s yours.” There are no words to describe the first few months I spent in this city. It felt so challenging yet welcoming.
Top Pick for Most Accurate Portrayal Goes To...
While I haven’t seen every TV show and movie that takes place in New York City, there is one show I think does it right. Brilliantly written and unapologetically funny, Broad City is the most relatable show I’ve ever seen for young women bumbling their way through adulthood in modern day New York. Abbi and Ilana meander around the city trying to make a bit of money in a place that only ever seems to drain it from them.
The sheer randomness of this show is probably my favorite thing ever. From getting kicked in the face from a “showtime” subway dancer to having to venture to a random part of New York City to collect a missed package, this show manifests the city to its core. Fun fact: I used to go to the gym in Williamsburg where they filmed Abbi’s workplace in the first few seasons!