NYC for the Film Nerd

Jonathan Zeller

For the true film buff, we say there’s no better city than New York (and, yes, that includes Hollywood).

As early as the 1890s—long before film hit America’s west coast—Thomas Edison and his competitors (does the name Charles E. Chinnock ring a bell?) shot and exhibited movies in Manhattan and Brooklyn. One of Edison’s films, in a remarkably prescient nod to 21st-century sensibilities, featured boxing cats. OK, that one was shot across the Hudson River in New Jersey; but, man, we’re not going to just ignore boxing cats.

In the years since, New York City has remained at the forefront of American cinema. We’re the place that gave the world Spike Lee, Martin Scorsese and Nora Ephron; The Producers and The Godfather; 12 Angry Men and Andy Warhol’s five-plus-hour movie of John Giorno sleeping. And with productions still shooting on location around the five boroughs and at Silvercup Studios and Kaufman Astoria Studios, our film industry is as lively as ever.

With those previews out of the way, here are the best places to direct yourself in the pursuit of film-related action in New York City.

Courtesy, Alamo Drafthouse

Eat-In Theaters

There’s a nationwide trend of fancy theaters where you can watch movies from comfortable seats and eat something more substantial than popcorn and a suspicious-looking hot dog. New York City has a bunch of ’em.

Alamo Drafthouse: This nationwide chain has proven popular in Brooklyn with reserved seats; a well-known policy of “no talking, texting or arriving late”; and, yes, a long draft beer menu. The City has two more Alamos on the way, with Lower Manhattan and Staten Island theaters scheduled to open in 2019.

iPic: You’ll find comfortable seats and pricey tickets at the South Street Seaport location of this chain.

Nitehawk Cinema: Brooklyn’s first eat-in theater is still going strong in Williamsburg, and there are plans to open a second one in Park Slope by the end of 2018.

Syndicated: This Bushwick theater specifically serves only “quiet foods” in its screening room. Movies tend to be second-run or repertory, and ticket prices are often less than half those at other theaters.

Courtesy, Film Society of Lincoln Center

Indie Theaters

One of the best things about being a movie fan in New York City is that you get an early look at great indie films the rest of the country has to wait for. These theaters are fun places to catch the next award winner or experimental project.

Angelika Film Center: This indie multiplex is a longtime favorite of the downtown crowd. The film selection is good, and there’s a lobby café.

Anthology Film Archives: Repertory, experimental and super-indie fare have made an East Village home here since 1970.

Brooklyn Academy of Music: See highbrow films (and sometimes big mainstream stuff) in a majestic venue. Check out its themed film series too.

Film Forum: This recently renovated nonprofit cinema has some very comfy seats and a long history of influencing the City’s artistic filmmakers.

Film Society of Lincoln Center: The film arm of the massive Lincoln Center complex screens movies in multiple venues. The Film Society also hosts the annual New York Film Festival.

IFC Center: Popular events here include the Doc NYC documentary festival in November and “Waverly Midnights,” late-night screenings of cult classics that are a carryover from the space’s days as the Waverly Theater.

Metrograph: The on-site restaurant and shop are nice touches, as are fancy popcorn flavors like turmeric and cayenne or olive oil and sea salt.

Quad Cinema: New York City’s first multiplex, named for its four screens, looks extra spiffy after its 2017 makeover.

Village East: This NYC landmark started life as a Yiddish theater back in the 1920s. It’s gone through many lives since; these days it shares a parent company with the Angelika, and shows similar fare.

Rent Videos!

You may have heard that there’s only one Blockbuster Video left in all of the United States—a lonely holdout in Bend, Oregon. But you can still rent movies in New York City.

Video Vortex: Alamo Drafthouse’s Brooklyn outpost features a branch of video store and bar Video Vortex, which includes the library from the dearly departed Video Free Brooklyn; the new Manhattan Alamo will have a Video Vortex as well.

Videology: This Williamsburg, Brooklyn, establishment has a 17,000-plus DVD collection and offers the fun of browsing for the perfect video in an algorithm-free experience. The space doubles as a bar, hosting festive events like TV bingo and trivia nights.

Kings Theater. Photo: Julienne Schaer

Tours and Landmarks

New York’s exciting street scenes and recognizable architecture make it a popular filming location, and it’s home to tours that can lead you to exactly where your favorite movies were shot. You can also visit some of the sites on your own.

40 Acres and a Mule: Spike Lee’s film production company has its offices in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, where you can buy merch.

Loews Wonder Theatres: Back in the day, New Yorkers saw movies in palatial surroundings at the places now known as the Kings Theatre, Loews Paradise Theater, Tabernacle of Prayer and the United Palace Theater. The last of these shows movies once a month and holds the occasional tour; you can also catch concerts at Kings.

On Location Tours: This company offers guided outings to the places where famous NYC movies and TV shows have filmed. Fans of When Harry Met Sally, Oceans 8 and Ghostbusters, among others, should be pleased.


New York Film Festival. Photo: SeanDiserio

Film Festivals

You know what a film festival is. New York City has some good ones. This list is far from comprehensive, but it’s a start.

Coney Island Film Festival: This small-scale festival gravitates toward the local (Brooklyn and Coney Island are recurring themes), the nostalgic (don’t be surprised to see a movie about egg creams) and, sometimes, the bizarre or raunchy (there’s at least one music-video title we can’t print on a family website).

New York Film Festival: Lincoln Center’s film fest, which dates back to the 1960s, has spotlighted works by Luis Buñuel, Martin Scorsese and Alain Resnais. There are frequent Q&A sessions with artists.

Tribeca Film Festival: The City’s big, glitzy downtown film festival—founded by a group that included Robert De Niro—includes a mix of blockbusters and indie films, narrative and documentary fare, and even a sprinkling of television.

Museum of the Moving Image. Photo: Marley White

Movie Museums

The City’s institutions offer a chance to study the art and history of film and television.

MoMA: The museum has a film library that holds more than 30,000 titles and hosts frequent screenings of interest to the highbrow crowd.

Museum of the Moving Image: This is the only institution of its kind in the US, dedicated to the history of movies and television and their continuing societal impact. Film programming includes family-friendly work and more esoteric fare.

The Paley Center for Media: The center features a massive library of 160,000 TV and radio shows and commercials that anyone can watch, and hosts themed screenings every day.