Film is known for its transportive powers, which might be why so many of us have turned to movies during our time at home. For most of the pandemic, the city itself felt as silent as a film set, but on screen you can see New York as you know it – brash and bustling; shining and shouting. While this city has always been a silver screen siren, no neighborhood captures the quintessential glamour of the form quite as well as the Upper East Side, which may be why so many films are shot in our neighborhood. So, if you’d like to turn your Netflix queue into a walk around the block, check out these films, featuring the Upper East Side.
We’ll begin at the southern border of our neighborhood, on 59th street. In his iconic novel, Fitzgerald gives us an ebullient experience of the 59th Street Bridge, and a perfect introduction to New York:
He writes in The Great Gatsby, “The city seen from the Queensboro Bridge is always the city seen for the first time, in its first wild promise of all the mystery and the beauty in the world.”
Accordingly, we see the bridge in all film adaptations of Gatsby, and most sumptuously in Baz Lurhmann’s 2013 effort.
While the Queensboro Bridge is actually featured in several films (even serving as a stand-in for the George Washington Bridge in the Godfather), perhaps nowhere is it used to such stunning effect as in Woody Allen’s Manhattan. The bridge is so integral to the film, it was used for the movie’s theatrical poster. That iconic shot was filmed at Sutton Place’s Riverview Terrace.
Beyond the bridge, Manhattan offers a veritable tour of the island, and of the Upper East Side in particular. The film features Bloomingdale's, Dalton and Elaine’s, the institution at 88th Street and Second Avenue that closed in 2011.
Also in 1979, Meryl Streep also stared in Kramer Vs. Kramer, opposite Dustin Hoffman. The film makes deft work of the neighborhood, filming in iconic locales such as the Central Park Mall, and JG Melon, with its signature green and white checkered tablecloths.
Moving into the 1980s, Christian Bale plays serial killer Patrick Bateman in 2000’s American Psycho. The film, set in the rarefied precincts of ‘80s power brokers, offers – beyond the gore – a look at that decade’s most sought-after restaurants.
If you are missing a good meal out, you may want to join Patrick Bateman at Le Cirque, which was then at 58 East 65th Street, the location of Daniel Boulud's famed Daniel today.
When it comes to 1980s “Masters of the Universe,” Tom Wolfe quite literally wrote the book on the subject. His 1987 best seller, The Bonfire of the Vanities is a portrait of ‘80s New York, and the 1990 film of the same name is set on the Upper East Side.
Sherman McCoy, played by Tom Hanks, lives at “816 Park Avenue,” but the building used in the film is actually 800 Park Avenue.
A few blocks north on the Avenue, at 995 Park, you’ll find Sally Fowler’s apartment in Whit Stillman’s 1990 debutante-coming-of-age tale, Metropolitan.
The apartment anchors Stillman’s chronicle of the “urban haute bourgeoisie.” Stillman himself was a member of the “UHB” – he liked to dance in white tie on the fountain outside the Plaza Hotel at 4:30 in the morning. Writing what he knew earned him an Oscar for Best Screenplay, and makes this film a uniquely deft portrait.
Metropolitan is not the only film set in the neighborhood that is based on a true story. The House on 92nd Street is a 1945 spy thriller made in conjunction with the FBI. It is based on the story of the William Sebold, the Bureau’s first double agent, whose work brought down the Nazi’s Duquense Spy Ring. J Edgar Hoover even appears in the opening credits, befitting the film’s semi-documentary style.
When it comes to spies on the Upper East Side, none is as iconic as James Bond. In 1973’s Live and Let Die, Roger Moore’s Bond heads to the Oh Cult Voodoo Shop at 35 East 65th street.
Fellow Bond Pierce Brosnan appears as an art thief in 1999’s Thomas Crown Affair. Here we see Brosnan stealing Monets from the Met while living at 18 East 68th street.