New York City skyline aerial

In 2019, New York City opened its arms to about 67 million visitors. Needless to say, this year cannot begin to hold a candle to that number. Due to a second wave of coronavirus infections that’s currently making its way across the country—not to mention the new travel bans invoked to stop said wave—the perimeters of the Big Apple (sadly but necessarily) remain off limits for most tourists. For New Yorkers, Untapped New York’s tours have resumed with awesome new health and safety measures, and many of our tours are selling out fast!

Fortunately for the tourists, they don’t have to actually go to New York in order to experience it. The city has, after all, served as the setting of thousands upon thousands of movies. Of course, only a fraction of those films actually bother to portray what living there is like and, more importantly, only a fraction of that fraction do the city’s vibrant culture any justice. Frank Sinatra’s famous line, “If I can make it there, I can make it anywhere,” very much dominates the popular imagination of New York as it exists inside the minds of passing tourists, incoming settlers, and born-and-bred natives alike. But while the city is certainly a site of limitless potential, it’s also a harbinger of untapped potential and systematic shortcoming. Despite their social significance, these troubling aspects are rarely touched upon by most Hollywood films. Luckily, there are those who dare to explore such things, and they are stronger for it. Here are nine films that do.

1. Do the Right Thing

Spike Lee’s most famous beloved motion picture to date, Do the Right Thing, takes place entirely in Brooklyn’s racially diverse Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood. Here, over the course of a single day, under the sweltering summer sun, tensions between the various occupants of this community heat up until they reach their boiling point. The result is not pretty, but that’s the point. In the span of a few hours, Lee sketches an entire ecosystem, one whose people and problems feel as real as anything you might find in the real world.