In 1897, the first major American film studio was not based in Hollywood, as one would expect: it was in Midwood, Brooklyn. Vitagraph Studios, which was purchased by Warner Bros. in the 1920s, was one of the country’s most prolific studios, churning out silent films with the biggest stars of the day. Since those early days of filmmaking, Brooklyn continues to play an important role in the motion picture industry. Pulling from Filmed in Brooklyn, a new book by Margo Donohue that explores the history of film in the borough and the iconic movies shot there, we take a look at the most used Brooklyn film locations that have appeared in the most important films of the last century.
On February 14 at 12 p.m., join us for a virtual talk led by Margo Donohue, author of Filmed in Brooklyn from History Press. Donohue spent two years writing, researching, photographing, and watching over 250 movies filmed in Brooklyn, her favorite place in the world. A few of the movies covered include hits like Saturday Night Fever, Goodfellas, and The Warriors, along with other works by famous directors such as Spike Lee, Darren Aronofsky, and Noah Baumbach. This live-streamed virtual event is free for Untapped New York Insiders. Not an Insider yet? Become a member today and gain access to a full calendar of in-person and virtual experiences!
Filmed in Brooklyn: Virtual Talk
1. Brooklyn Bridge
Since its opening in 1883, the Brooklyn Bridge has been a symbol of the borough. As Donohue writes in the book, “There is nothing quite like the original Brooklyn Bridge to symbolize the manufactured structures that fulfill a basic need and are also so achingly beautiful. It is very New York, very American, and a crowning jewel of the borough for its residents.” The bridge and the Promenade, which opened in 1950, have appeared in dozens of films, including a handful by Marvel. Some date back to the 1940s, such as On the Town and It Happened in Brooklyn, others like C”mon C’mon were released in 2021.
Donahue continues, “The bridge can be a place of excitement and uncertainty, with chase scenes like in Godzilla, The French Connection, and Fantastic Four. Watching a site where millions travel back and forth, the action is interrupted by (fictional) mass destruction, as we see in The Day After Tomorrow, Deep Impact, and Cloverfield. The symbol of the bridge being destroyed means a part of America is harmed as well.”
Destruction came the bridge in 2007’s I Am Legend, as Will Smith and his dog fight mutants across the city. In Spider-Man 2, Peter tries to save Mary Jane while fighting an enemy on the bridge, a fairly common plot point in Marvel films. The bridge has also served as a setting for many romantic scenes in films such as Enchanted, with Amy Adams and Patrick Dempsey, Ang Lee’s The Wedding Banquet, and Sex and the City: The Movie.
2. Prospect Park
Prospect Park and its surrounding neighborhoods are among the most filmed in Brooklyn. As Brooklyn’s second-largest park (behind Marine Park), Prospect Park has many of the same features as the oft-filmed Central Park, as it was also designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux. Many directors have looked toward the park’s zoo, Boathouse, Long Meadow, Litchfield Villa, and Concert Grove for filming scenes. The park’s nearby neighborhoods of Prospect Heights, Prospect Lefferts Gardens, and Windsor Terrace have also been prime locations for some of the highest-grossing films in history.
Some directors used special effects to make Prospect Park look like other parks and destinations, such as in The Wolf of Wall Street, which made the park look like London’s Hyde Park. In Goodfellas, the Prospect Park Zoo stands in for the Tampa Zoo, which is where a debtor is threatened. In other films, the park is the soul of Brooklyn, such as in The Angriest Man in Brooklyn which includes an enchanting park scene that contrasts the not-so-lovely protagonist. The Prospect Park Zoo features in Radio Days, in which a stand-in for Woody Allen meets a “Whiz Kid,” as well as in Highlander in which Christopher Lambert and Roxanne Hart look at lions. Additionally, Sophie’s Choice, The Smurfs 2, Bullets Over Broadway, and Netflix’s Passing all have scenes at the Prospect Park Boathouse.
3. Coney Island
Other than the Brooklyn Bridge, Coney Island is likely the most recognizable Brooklyn destination, and it thus appears in many of the most successful films of all time. Some of the earliest films back in the Vitagraph era of the early 1900s were set in Coney Island. As Donohue writes, “From the rough-and-tumble early twentieth century to the more family-friendly 1930s–1950s to the racial issues of post–World War II America (mostly ‘white flight,’ where millions of white New Yorkers started to leave Brooklyn for the suburbs) into the 1970s, Coney Island speaks to the state of the United States and its people.”
One of the most iconic Coney Island movies was The Warriors, the 1979 Walter Hill cult classic. The Warriors in the film are a Coney Island gang who are chased by groups including the Riffs and the Baseball Furies. The group has been framed for the murder of a New York gang leader, and the film features many shots of the Coney Island boardwalk and the local dilapidated streets. In a notable scene from the film, actor David Patrick Kelly shouts “Warriors! Come out and play” by the beach, a line that was supposedly improvised.
In addition to the iconic beach and boardwalk, the Coney Island Cyclone has made quite a few film appearances. In The Wiz, Dorothy (Diana Ross) meets the Scarecrow (Michael Jackson) at the Cyclone while heading toward Oz. Woody Allen, whose family lived near the Cyclone, used it as a setting for his film Annie Hall; in the film, Alvy Singer lived in the former hotel beneath the roller coaster.
The Wonder Wheel features prominently in Woody Allen’s 2017 hit Wonder Wheel in which the main characters live right across the street. Michael Stahl-David and Odette Annable have a date at the Wonder Wheel in Cloverfield, and it also serves as the backdrop for the Peter Parker-Vulture duel in Spider-Man: Homecoming. Nathan’s Hot Dogs also gets its spotlight in films like Spike Lee’s He Got Game and Adam McKay’s The Other Guys.
4. Brooklyn Heights
The brownstone-rich Brooklyn Heights, as described by Donohue as “the jewel by the Brooklyn Bridge,” has historically included such famous residents as Marilyn Monroe, Arthur Miller, and Truman Capote, among dozens of other writers and artists. The neighborhood, with notably romantic street names including Love Lane, Cranberry Street, and Orange Street, has attracted dozens of film sets to its cobbled streets and historic brownstones. The brownstone at 32 Remsen Street features in The Age of Innocence, the 1993 Martin Scorcese film based on Edith Wharton’s novel of the same name. In the film, Newland Archer (Daniel Day-Lewis) falls for his cousin Ellen Olenska (Michelle Pfeiffer), though he instead marries May Weiland (Winona Ryder). Prospect Park is the real setting for the Boston park in the film, and Day-Lewis is seen in one scene on horseback on 8th Avenue in Park Slope.
Brooklyn Heights was used again in place of Boston for The Verdict, the Sidney Lumet film starring Paul Newman as an alcoholic lawyer who hopes to get himself out of the weeds by accepting a complicated medical malpractice case. The “Boston” home of Judge Hoyle was at 20 Willow Street, while the home of Dr. Gruber was down the street at 151 Willow Street, also the former home of Arthur Miller. Dr. Gruber worked nearby at 18 Cranberry Street.
1987’s Moonstruck, starring Cher as the widowed Loretta Castorini who falls in love with her fiancé’s younger brother, has a few scenes in Brooklyn Heights. Movie fans globally visit Cranberry Street where Cher walked home in one of the film’s most famous scenes, and Amy Schumer purchased the 1829 townhouse at 19 Cranberry Street for $12.25 million last year. Cammameri Bakery at 502 Henry Street was also used for the film, which also selected Clinton Hill and Carroll Gardens for some shots.
Perhaps one of the most famous movies to film in Brooklyn Heights was The Godfather, if only for a scene. In the film, Luca Brasi (Lenny Montana) “slept with the fishes” at 100 Henry Street, or the Hotel St. George. The film also includes the famous “Don’t forget the cannoli!” scene that was filmed in Gravesend. Another hit film briefly depicting the neighborhood is Taxi Driver, in which Robert DeNiro’s Travis Bickle buys his guns at 87 Columbia Heights. The film’s last scene was filmed nearby at Cadman Plaza West.
Perhaps expectedly, DUMBO (which stands for Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass), with maybe the most photographed street in New York City is also one of the most popular filming destinations. With amazing views of Manhattan and a mix of historic and modern architecture, the neighborhood appears in dozens of highly successful films. Donohue lists 27 films between 1955 to 2017 that have featured the historic neighborhood.
Broken City, a neo-noir crime thriller starring Mark Wahlberg as a private investigator who is hired by the Mayor of New York City to investigate his wife, has a scene shot at 135 Plymouth Street and Anchorage Street. These streets also appear in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 and in Bridge of Spies, the latter of which made Anchorage Street look as it did in the 1960s. 135 Plymouth Street, just a block from the bridge, was also used in at least two other films. The Dark Tower, based on the Stephen King novels that begins where book six left off, uses the address as the location of Dixie’s Pig. The address also appears in John Wick 2, starring Keanu Reeves.
6. Park Slope
The iconic Park Slope neighborhood may top the list for the neighborhood with the most amount of films shot in the borough. As Donohue writes, “Park Slope was considered fancy and chic in the mid-twentieth century and later started falling into decay with the ‘white flight’ of the 1960s and the politics of urban planning in New York City until the 1980s.” Now home to quite a few famous actors including Patrick Stewart and Steve Buscemi, the neighborhood’s scenic streets, historic homes and buildings, and proximity to Prospect Park have all been showcased dozens of times in films old and new. Donohue’s guide lists 28 famous films with scenes taking place in Park Slope at sites like the Park Slope Armory, Community Bookstores, Prospect Park West, and brownstones off 7th and 8th Avenues.
Almost a dozen films have included the Montauk Club, the only social club still standing in Brooklyn. The 1899 building appears in The Chaperone (2018), The Associate, Rounders, City Hall and Definitely, Maybe. A number of other historic buildings were selected as lavish and ornate properties for films, such as the Brooklyn Society for Ethical Culture building at 53 Prospect Park West. In The Royal Tenenbaums, Henry Sherman, played by Danny Glover, lives in the building, and it is also where Royal (Gene Hackman) asks to divorce his wife Ethel (Anjelica Huston). The Grand Prospect Hall, which dates back to 1892, features in the 1984 film The Cotton Club, a Francis Ford Coppola film about the title Harlem jazz club. Both John Wick and The Departed feature the nearby St. Francis Rectory, which was built in 1904.
7. Bay Ridge
Bay Ridge, a neighborhood in southwest Brooklyn near the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge, may not be the location film enthusiasts’ minds go to when envisioning Brooklyn’s top film destinations. However, a handful of the most famous movies ever created have scenes that occur in the neighborhood, known for its “old-school Italian” feel even as it has diversified over the last few decades. According to Donohue, The French Connection, which features a car crash in Bay Ridge, embodies an “urban life is becoming a nightmare” feel. The semi-true film from 1971 tells of the New York narcotics officers who busted a drug-smuggling ring. Gene Hackman stars as officer Jimmy “Popeye” Doyle who obsesses over French heroin smuggling. Director William Friedkin supposedly had no permits for his stunt drivers, though some chase scenes looked highly choreographed due to camerawork and Friedkin’s persuasive abilities to get off-duty policemen to stop people from entering the scene. The iconic chase occurs beneath the train platform from Stillwell Avenue/86th Street to the 62nd Street Station, which is also where Popeye shoots an assassin while fleeing. The French Connection was also filmed in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Bushwick, Cobble Hill, and Williamsburg.
Goodfellas is another film shot partly in Bay Ridge, as well as in Coney Island, Park Slope, and Bensonhurst. In the 1990 film, Tommy (Joe Pesci) is destined to be killed by the mob in Bay Ridge at Five 80th Street near Shore Road. Gangster Henry Hill, played in the film by Ray Liotta, was born in Brownsville and worked with the Lucchese mob for 25 years. Henry marries Karen in the film in Bath Beach at the Oriental Manor. The spot where Tommy is set to be killed is just a block away from the home of Tony Manero in Saturday Night Fever, located at 221 79th Street. In the film, John Travolta plays a tough Bay Ridge man who spends his days at a disco called 2001 Odyssey, located at 802 64th Street. The Manero family home still stands 45 years later, as does nearby John J. Carty Park and Lenny’s Pizza in nearby Bensonhurst. Tony’s paint shop also still exists as Pearson Paint & Hardware, located at 7305 5th Avenue.
8. Brighton Beach
Brighton Beach is another filming destination that often gets overshadowed by nearby Coney Island, though the neighborhood and its boardwalk have appeared in quite a few successful movies, some with Russian or Jewish characters. Brighton Beach, now one of the city’s Russian and Central Asian enclaves, has a rich Jewish history and architecture from the World War II era that has made it appealing for films such as Moscow on the Hudson. The 1984 romantic comedy stars Robin Williams as a Soviet circus musician who defects to the U.S. Williams learned Russian to play Vladimir Ivanov, and the film features a few scenes in Brighton Beach, as well as Gerritsen Beach.
Brighton Beach Memoirs, a film adaptation of Neil Simon’s, is set in the neighborhood circa 1937. Jonathan Silverman stars as Eugene Jerome, who is raised in a Jewish American household during the Great Depression, often breaking the fourth wall to speak with viewers directly. Another film shot in Brighton Beach is Little Odessa, a 1994 James Gray crime drama whose title references a nickname for the Brooklyn neighborhood. The film follows Arkady Shapira, his terminally ill wife Irina, and their sons Joshua and Reuben; Joshua is a hitman for the Russian-Jewish mafia who is ordered to kill an Iranian jeweler in Brighton Beach. Other films that take place in Brighton Beach include Lord of War starring Nicolas Cage and Two Lovers featuring Gwyneth Paltrow and Joaquin Phoenix.
9. Downtown Brooklyn
Downtown Brooklyn, the center of commerce and justice in the borough, has long been a go-to filming location for all genres. The 2015 historical drama Bridge of Spies, which centers on lawyer James Donovan tasked with negotiating the release of Air Force pilot Francis Gary Powers during the Cold War, features the neighborhood prominently. Tom Hanks meets the Russian spy in the film at Chambers Paper Fibers on Plymouth Street, which is quite accurate considering Colonel Rudolph Ivanovich Abel worked at Ovington Studios at 252 Fulton Street.
Brooklyn Borough Hall and the Brooklyn Supreme Court Building have been used for a handful of films including 2002’s Catch Me If You Can. In the film, Frank Abagnale scams a Chase Bank at Borough Hall. A handful of other courthouse and bank shots from the film, which took just 52 days at 147 locations, were done in the neighborhood. The Hoyt-Schermerhorn subway station, perhaps surprisingly, has been one of the neighborhood’s (and Brooklyn’s) most filmed sites. Martin Scorcese even directed the music video for Michael Jackson’s “Bad” at an unused track in the station. Donohue notes how six classic films have had scenes shot here, including The Warriors, The Wiz, and Nighthawks.
The Vitagraph Company was the most prolific American film company around the turn of the 20th century. It was opened in 1897 by J. Stuart Blackton and Albert E. Smith at 1277 East 14th Street, moving to Midwood from Manhattan’s Nassau Street. The company was the first to use the stop-motion technique in its film The Humpty Dumpty Circus, and it agreed to sell Thomas Edison its most popular films for distribution. In 1909, Vitagraph distributed the first film adaptation of Les Miserables, and during the 1910s, it released perhaps the first feature film, the first aviation film, and World War I propaganda films. Many film stars lived in Midwood, including “Vitagraph Girl” Florence Turner, vaudeville actor Maurice Costello, Norma Talmadge, and comedian Larry Semon (who directed the silent film The Wizard of Oz). In 1925, Warner Bros. purchased Vitagraph, and studio operations were moved to Hollywood in 1939. Part of Vitagraph’s Midwood studios was purchased by NBC Television in 1952, and shows and programs that originated at Studios 1 and 2 included Peter Pan, Kraft Music Hall, Hullabaloo, The Sammy Davis Jr. Show, The Cosby Show, and a few episodes of Saturday Night Live.
After the success of the Vitagraph Company, however, Midwood remained a popular setting for Brooklm film locations, which is perhaps unsurprising given that Woody Allen, Noah Baumbach, Didi Cohn, and Wentworth Miller all attended Midwood High School. The school was where the talent show took place in the 2005 film The Squid and the Whale. The 1996 film The First Wives Club, starring figures like Diane Keaton and Sarah Jessica Parker, takes place at Brooklyn College, or Middleburg College in the film. In Malcolm X, Denzel Washington plays the title character and appears at East 19th Street in one scene. Woody Allen’s film The Purple Heart of Cairo, which follows Tom Baxter who leaves a fictional film and enters the real world, has its interior film scenes shot at Kent Theater at 1170 Coney Island Avenue. Additionally, the retail shop The Leading Male on East 12th Street and Kings Highway provided the disco uniforms for Saturday Night Fever. A handful of films including Sophie’s Choice and The Pallbearer were shot just north of Midwood in the Victorian enclave of Ditmas Park.
Filmed in Brooklyn: Virtual Talk
Keep exploring the film history of Brooklyn and discover more iconic Brooklyn film locations on February 14 at 12 p.m. as Margo Donohue discusses her new book, Filmed in Brooklyn. This live-streamed virtual event is free for Untapped New York Insiders. Not an Insider yet? Become a member today and gain access to a full calendar of in-person and virtual experiences!
Next, check out Filming Locations for The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel on Amazon!