They say if you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere. And since the early days of cinema, The Big Apple has seen all sorts of dreamers and schemers depicted on the big screen. Before you catch Ghostbusters and Ghostbusters II this month on IFC, here are ten of the best comedy films that show what it’s like to live in the city so nice, you don’t even mind being mugged leaving the packed subway train each morning.
10. The Prisoner of Second Avenue (1975)
Melvin Frank’s adaptation of Neil Simon’s play captures the “screw this city” feeling that every New Yorker eventually experiences at some point. Jack Lemmon is the perfect harried Simon protagonist, a middle-aged everyman who feels like the city has conspired against him. A fed-up Lemmon chasing a mugger (a pre-Rocky Sylvester Stallone) through the streets of Manhattan is just one in a series of classic New York moments depicted in this roller coaster ride of urban agita.
9. Desperately Seeking Susan (1985)
Madonna’s first major film role captures the grit and coolness of New York City’s East Village in the ‘80s. Through the wonders of amnesia, Rosanna Arquette’s Roberta Glass ditches her dull New Jersey life to dance in cool bars with club kids with poofy ’80s hair, wear an awesome pyramid jacket (at the now defunct East Village thrift shop Love Saves the Day ) and, of course, live The Material Girl’s life. We imagine the plot point about the classified section will be updated to Craigslist Missed Connections for the inevitable remake starring Lady Gaga.
8. Night Shift (1982)
A comedy classic for anyone who watched too much HBO back in the ’80s, Night Shift launched the feature film directing career of Ron Howard and unleashed the frantic comic energy of Michael Keaton into the world. Henry Winkler ditches The Fonz to play a bookish nighttime morgue attendant who starts an escort, er, “love broker” service with Keaton’s hyper-energetic “idea man.” With Cheers‘ resident nice gal Shelley Long playing a hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold, this is a film that could only exist during the good old seedy days of the city that never sleeps.
7. After Hours (1985)
New York City is filled with characters, many of which Martin Scorsese sheds a light on in this cult favorite dark comedy. A bored office drone (Griffin Dunne) heads to the (at the time) bohemian and sketchy neighborhood of Soho to see a girl he met at a coffee shop and encounters a series of oddballs during his late night quest to get back to his apartment. Dunne is kind of like the “Dorothy” of After Hours as he tries all night to make it back home from the whacked out “Oz” known as pre-gentrification downtown Manhattan. Sculpters, bouncers and punk rockers, Oh My!
6. Arthur (1981)
To crib a line from the film’s theme song (performed by falsetto-voiced crooner Christopher Cross): “If you get caught between the moon and New York City, the best that you can do is fall in love.” Although, it has to be easier to meet someone if you have a few hundred million or so in the bank, even if you are a drunken layabout. In this classic comedy, Dudley Moore’s spoiled man child falls in love with Linda (Liza Minnelli), a girl from Queens who he helps get away from a life of shoplifting at high-end department stores. Between the drunken laughs, there are some poignant moments between Arthur and his butler/father figure Hobson (Sir John Gielgud, in an Oscar-winning role). Arthur’s New York doesn’t include taking cabs or the subway, but he does love a nice drive through Central Park.
5. Coming To America (1988)
Where does the prince of Zamunda go when he wants to find a wife? To Queens, of course and that’s where the hilarity begins for Eddie Murphy’s Prince Akeem and his trusted servant Semmi (Arsenio Hall). Akeem falls in love with Lisa (Shari Headley) after taking a job at her father’s local fast food restaurant, McDowell’s, home of the “Big Mic.” The barbershop scenes showcase Murphy’s skills for playing multiple characters and add to the film’s vibrant NYC flavor. (Look for Samuel L. Jackson in an early role as the would-be robber who Akeem takes down with his trusty mop.)
4. Quick Change (1990)
Before Bill Murray was crashing random house parties in Williamsburg, he co-directed and starred in this underrated comedy. Donning clown make-up, Bill plays a bank robber trying to escape the city along with Geena Davis and Randy Quaid (hilarious as the dim-witted Loomis). Of course, their only real obstacle to paradise is getting stuck in the everyday quagmire and craziness of New York City and pre-gentrified Brooklyn as they attempt to make it to JFK. Along the way, they encounter a gangster (Stanley Tucci), a confused cab driver (Tony Shalhoub) and a by-the-rules bus driver played by Philip Bosco. Quick Change is a hidden gem in Murray’s filmography, and the perfect film for anyone who has had it with the big city grind.
3. When Harry Met Sally (1989)
The movie that asks and answers the question “Can men and women just be friends?,” When Harry Met Sally is also one of the great New York City romantic comedies. Making use of iconic locations like Washington Square Park and Katz’s Deli (yes, you can actually sit and eat where Meg Ryan had her “I’ll have what she’s having” moment), Rob Reiner’s comedy captures the romance of the Big Apple with its tale of two friends dancing around the inevitable over a series of encounters.
2. Annie Hall (1977)
While Manhattan has the gorgeous shots of New York City landmarks set to Gershwin music, Annie Hall is the Woody Allen classic that captures the city in all its neurotic glory. It’s fitting that the seeds for the film were planted while Allen and co-writer Marshall Brickman were walking around Manhattan — the city is as much a character as Allen’s kvetching and Diane Keaton’s trend-setting neckties. The scenes with Alvy being miserable among the shiny happy West Coast people started the LA vs. NYC debate that still rages on today. Like a lot of New Yorkers, Alvy is bound to the city that he doesn’t just love, he lurves.
1. Ghostbusters (1984)
Ghostbusters isn’t just one of the best comedies ever made. It’s also, hands down, one of the best New York City films of all time. From Venkman, Egon and Ray hunting a poltergeist in the New York Public Library, to Rick Moranis’ Louis getting cornered by a hellhound outside of Tavern on the Green, the city comes to life (literally in the sequel) whenever the Ghostbusters are on the job. You don’t get more New York than Annie Potts as Janine answering the phone with, “Ghostbusters. Whaddya want?!” Click here to see all airings of Ghostbusters on IFC.