So, you're dying to move to New York City and figure you'll study up on the Big Apple by binging on your favorite NYC-set films. The problem is, most of those films are completely misleading. The movie version of New York City and the real New York City are vastly different. For one thing, New York changes faster than movies can capture it. But more importantly, the New York of the movies is a romanticized New York, one that leaves no doubt that the city is the greatest city. The Big Apple on the big screen has to make you fall in love, otherwise, why would filmmakers set their movie there? Be honest: Wouldn't you rather believe that four recent college graduates can live in a sprawling loft with ample closet space than know the reality is that they share a converted one bedroom in Ridgewood with mice?
If thought you understood New York City after watching movies there are a few things you should know. First, this isn't Taxi Driver's New York anymore nor is it the Andy Sachs candyland of The Devil Wears Prada. The real New York is somewhere in between. Let's take a few minutes to educate ourselves on the biggest New York movie misconceptions.
There was a time when filmmakers were interested in the working-class side of the five boroughs — as seen in films like Saturday Night Fever or Do the Right Thing. But these days, New York movies would have you believe there's only one borough: Manhattan (and occasionally hipster Brooklyn). This myth is so prevalent that even some New Yorkers believe it. But don't get the wrong information: New York City is not just Manhattan. Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx and Staten Island are just as much a part of the city.
Inevitably any movie filmed in New York City will cut a few corners, literally. In movie New York, parks in Brooklyn are next to streets in Harlem; the Empire State Building is down the block from a cafe in Nolita. While it's nice to imagine a city where everything is so close together, it's important to understand that's just a bit of clever movie magic. Remember in Cloverfield when they walked from Spring Street to Columbus Circle in like 15 minutes? Yeah, New Yorkers are still pretty upset about that.
The Upper East Side (UES) may be home to many of the city's rich, famous and conservative, but these days the ladies who lunch are more likely to step out in Lululemon than in Tiffany. And that's if they even still want to live in the neighborhood: The UES is far from the most expensive place to live in Manhattan these days.
The idea of young singles living in beautiful loft apartments has been a movie cliche since the 1970s, when actual artists started occupying former industrial spaces in gentrifying neighborhoods like SoHo, Tribeca, the Meatpacking District and Bushwick. But the less-than-wealthy loft lifestyles of the characters in films like Single White Female and Ghost are long gone. Today these spaces sell for almost $10 million — not quite the destination for the young, creative and financially struggling.
Movies tell us it doesn't matter how poor you are in New York, you'll never be forced to live in a studio apartment. One bedrooms are for everyone, they tell us. While it might be easier to film in a set that's bigger than 400 square feet, the reality is you'd be lucky to share a studio. Some of the city's smallest spaces go for as much as a house in other parts of the country!
Apparently all you gotta do is move to The City and you'll land a big gig. You don't even have to like it! Tom Hanks played the floor piano in Big and then could afford trampolines! The truth is, the Big Apple has one of the worst job markets in the country. Only the hungriest, most aggressive people rise to the top of the food chain.
Forget an office: You're lucky if you even get a cubicle near a window in New York these days. And it's a lot harder to keep your desk clean of computers, wires, books and to-go containers when you share it with 10 other people at your budget-conscious startup.
It's hard to remember all the films about high school kids in New York City. That's because you rarely ever see them in school. The characters in Cruel Intentions have so much to do, sitting in class falls low on the priority list. Unfortunately, in real life, without a good attendance record you can't even get into these top high schools.
Once upon a time, in the New York of yesteryear, the Anthora paper cup and its "We Are Happy to Serve You" slogan was a common sight. This was a time when coffee was purchased from a rolling sidewalk cart for a dollar and not from the corner Starbucks. Today, you'd be hard pressed to find an Anthora cup anywhere but in a movie.
Rush hour on the New York City subway of the movies seems pleasant: No pushing or shoving, no running to catch the train at the last minute and no parade of beggars/mariachi bands/urban gymnastics. And, most frustratingly, this fantasy subway always has an empty seat for you. The reality? If a 10-car train has 440 seats and the trains make 7,817 trips a week on average, 3,439,480 people get a seat. That sucks for the remaining 1,960,520 people who ride the train every week, according to the MTA.
Museums, restaurants, stores, parks: Movies tell us that there will always be room for you in New York. Movie New York perpetuates the myth that Central Park will never be overcrowded, as well as the myth that New York restaurants never have an hour-plus wait. And the emergency room? In reality, it'll take you five hours to see a doctor.
No New York City-based movie is complete without your star(s) purposefully striding down a sidewalk filled wall to wall with people. On this movie sidewalk everyone is orderly, just happy to be a part of the crowds. Well, you know what? Real New Yorkers hate crowded sidewalks almost as much as they hate people in their way. They'll push past the slow ones or duck down a side street to avoid the masses. No purposeful striding here.
Movies love to portray New York at its lowest moments — one such moment was the 1968 trash strike that left mounds of garbage piled up on the crime-infested sidewalk for weeks. A lot has changed since then. In fact, these days New York is looking pretty pristine thanks to efforts that have reduced carbon emissions, created pedestrian-friendly streets and cleaned up rivers and parks. It's not even considered one of the country's top 10 dirtiest cities anymore.
Have you ever noticed how characters in movies can always see the Empire State Building from their office? Or how they eat lunch in front of the Washington Square Park arch? Or that they go for walks on the Brooklyn Bridge and fight evil villains on top of the Statue of Liberty?That's because if you're going to film a movie in expensive NYC, you want to make sure people know you actually filmed in NYC and not on one of those fake-looking back lots. In reality, you can go your whole day without seeing one landmark. In fact, New Yorkers rarely look up.
While we'd love to say that New Yorkers are so romantic that they can come up with clever, elaborate date ideas — say a secret rooftop party, or carriage ride in Central Park, or spontaneous flash mobs or all of the above! — the truth is most dates are just like all places: dinner, drinks and, if you're lucky, a movie.
It doesn't matter that there are 50 apartments in your building or that you live on the second floor. That tar beach on your roof? Movies tell us it's all yours to transform into the most New York-y dinner date of all time. Movie characters: You'll have to let us know how you carried all that crap up the rickety roof ladder and circumvented those confusing rooftop legal issues.
This is a common cinematic device in films set in New York. Remember when Tom Hanks crossed the country and just sat on top of the Empire State Building? And do you know how long it would take Miranda to get from Park Slope, Brooklyn, to the Manhattan side of the Brooklyn Bridge? (30 minutes, minimum.) And why would she even be coming from the Manhattan side, anyway? They would just meet at a Starbucks. And not before texting each other like 100 times beforehand. "I'm leaving." "OK, just out of subway." "Sitting in back!"
Maybe it's because showing a guy on a treadmill just isn't that exciting, but NYC movies love to have their white male protagonists get their sweat on at the local basketball court. In fact, many movies would have you believe these courts are the sole domain of pathetic-in-love white dudes. This is a bit disrespectful, considering the important role public courts like Rucker Park have played in the lives of some of the NBA's greatest African-American players.
Sometimes New Yorkers can forget that what sets their great city apart is its diversity. New York is one of the true melting pots of the world, and it is nearly impossible to go anywhere in the city and not see faces of every color. So why is it that some of the biggest films set in New York get away with just one person of color — or less? Annie Hall, Superman, Tiny Furniture. How does The Royal Tenenbaums, a film set primarily in the traditionally black community of Harlem, have a cast this white?
According to movies like Home Alone 2, Bride Wars and American Hustle, the Plaza is the only hotel in town. But should the Plaza, for some absurd reason, be booked, you'll have to slum it over at the Waldorf Astoria, New York City's only other hotel. Which is odd, given neither of these icons even appear on this list of Travel + Leisure's best hotels in NYC.
Blame New Yorkers’ reputation for being rude, but it seems people think we are always trying to start a fight in movies. But that's simply not true. In fact, New Yorkers are usually very apologetic, love giving directions and don't mind holdings doors — so long as you stay out of their way.
You know the place, right? The place where the bad guys in movies go to dump the body or shady informants reveal government secrets? It always has a spectacular view of the New York City skyline? Well, that place doesn't exist. There are very few places where a park, building, highway or a fence doesn't separate your car from the water's edge. Ever since New York started reclaiming the city's waterfront areas, there is a lot less On The Waterfront shadiness and lot more private condo security.
Though we haven't been hit by a giant tidal wave — yet — New York has been through its share of disasters over the last 15 years, including 9/11 and Hurricane Sandy. In all cases Manhattanites needed to get off the island as quickly as possible. And no, they didn't all jump into a car. They did what New Yorkers do when they have to get away: They walked.