My New York on Film: From “The Taking of Pelham 123” to “I Like It Like That”

Ken Foster
7 min readFeb 24, 2020

Growing up far outside the city in the 1970s, I felt strangely inspired by films that reflected the danger, isolation and diversity of what now seems a forgotten place.

In a recent podcast with Film Comment, the Safdie brothers discuss their recent film Uncut Gems through their own influences of New York on film. It’s a great discussion, and I found them immensely, surprisingly likable. But I also found myself wondering at the sameness of the films they mention, which seem to portray a very narrow swath of both the real New York and New York city on film. Of course, this is the whole point of podcast discussions and lists — even if you are the one making the list, you end up at some point making another list of everything the first one missed.

What am I leaving out? So many things! (King Kong! Big! Woody Allen!) Feel free to add your own choices for films that helped you define New York.

The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974)

Growing up in rural Pennsylvania, we had a choice of two movie theaters the next town over from ours. The lobby was always decorated with posters and “lobby cards” promoting upcoming films, most of which would never actually arrive to our screens. But I studied them, particularly if they were likely in the categories I wasn’t allowed to attend. The Taking of Pelham One Two Three was one of those. Eventually it arrived on prime time television, where I watched it every chance I could. This is old school New York City, with most of the action taking place on the abducted title subway car, populated by New Yorkers who had no choice about how to get to and from work. It’s actually a great thriller, and with an electrifying ending, if you know what I mean.

Saturday Night Fever (1977)

Ken Foster

Author of fiction and non-fiction; dog guy; bad boxer. New book, City of Dogs, is just out now from Avery/Penguin.