Best Family Movies Set in New York


What could be a better setting for family movies than the city that never sleeps? New York, the world’s most populous city, housing all the glamour and romance, has been the most popular director’s choice for family movies of all kinds. Movies shot amidst the high rising buildings and characteristic streets of New York City occupy a special place in the list of movies ever made. 

Some of the most wonderful family movies set in New York are as follows:

Miracle on 34th Street (1947)

This classic Christmas film tells the story of a man named Kris Kringle who fills in for Santa Claus in the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. When Kringle claims to be the real Santa Claus, it leads to a court case to determine his sanity and authenticity, touching upon the spirit of Christmas and the power of belief.

Little Fugitive (1953)

Set in the 1950s, this film follows a young Brooklyn boy who believes he has killed his older brother in a prank gone wrong. He flees to Coney Island, where he embarks on a solo adventure, encapsulating the innocence and complexities of childhood.

West Side Story

West Side Story (1961)

A musical adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,” set in the 1950s New York City. It centers around the rivalry between two teenage street gangs of different ethnic backgrounds and a forbidden love that emerges between members of the opposing gangs.

Superman (1978)

This film is the origin story of Superman, beginning with his departure from the dying planet Krypton and his upbringing in rural America. As an adult, he moves to Metropolis (a fictional stand-in for NYC) and becomes a mild-mannered reporter while secretly fighting crime as Superman.

Annie (1982)

Annie, a classic musical comedy-drama film, is set in 1933 in the city of New York, while it went under the Great Depression. Annie, a young orphan, lives in an orphanage on Hudson Street, New York, which is run by a cruel, alcoholic Ms. Hannigan. The story follows Annie’s hope that her parents will return one day and clings to a half locket as a prized possession that will reunite her with her parents. She is taken in by a billionaire Mr. Warbucks. Throughout this journey from rags to riches, Annie is hopeful that she will find her birth parents. 

Set in Manhattan, New York, Annie makes a light and entertaining family musical to watch on the weekend.

Ghostbusters (1984)

A supernatural comedy where three parapsychology professors start a ghost-catching business in New York City. They battle a variety of spectral threats, culminating in a showdown with a giant marshmallow man in the heart of Manhattan.

The Muppets Take Manhattan (1984)

Like all the New Yorkers, the Muppets also hope that New York City can turn their fortunes around. In pursuit of becoming stars, the Muppets take their show Manhattan Melodies to Broadway, where they meet producer Martin Price (Dabney Coleman). But much to their dismay, he is arrested shattering their hopes.  

In an unfortunate turn of events, the Muppets, lose hope and take up different jobs in New York. Kermit, their head, pacts with Jenny, the daughter of a diner owner, and their adventures follow. However, he could not make a successful career out of his musicals and reunites with his old fellow, Miss Piggy. The other Muppet fellows of Kermit return and they try to fulfill the dreams of Manhattan melodies, becoming a success finally.  

The movie is a light watch and a tale of adventures, set in the city that promises to build stars, followed by special appearances of real celebrities.

An American Tail (1986)

The movie sees New York City from a new perspective, a Russian-Jewish family of mice that immigrates to New York from Ukraine struggle to survive and adjust in the city. The mice family, Mousekewitzes, faces continuous trouble due to the cats in Ukraine and decides to move to New York, USA, a country where there are no cats (as told by Fievel’s papa). 

They board a tanker that is traveling to New York and are very excited at the prospect of entering the USA. However, Fievel gets separated from the family and manages to reach New York on his own. There he befriends many mice and discovers that the promises of a cat-free New York were lies. To combat the cats, he works on a secret project while continuing to search for his family. The movie culminates in his adventures, and things he learns about New York in a political and domestic sphere. And the end reveals the secret project that is the Statue of Liberty.

Oliver & Company (1988)

An animated Disney film that reimagines Charles Dickens’ “Oliver Twist” with animals in New York City. It follows a kitten named Oliver who joins a gang of streetwise dogs and embarks on adventures in the city.

Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (1992)

How can one not remember Home Alone when talking about a family comedy movie? In a sequel to the 1990 Home Alone, this time, ten-year-old Kevin (McCauley Culkin) disagrees with his parents about Florida being the best Christmas holiday spot. Instead, he boards a plane to New York City, where his adventures begin. Directed by Chris Columbus, the filming took place in Chicago and New York. The movie shows the original World Trade Center and Rockefeller building.

In New York, Kevin survives using his father’s credit cards, lodging in the Plaza Hotel in Manhattan. He confronts some bandits and tries to outrun them as his family tries to find him.

Newsies (1992)

Set in the summer of 1899, newspaper hawkers, delivering newspapers on the streets of Manhattan, struggle to make ends meet in their meager salaries. The group of teens, headed by Jack, go on a strike when the newspaper distributors demand a higher price for newspapers. The ‘newsies’ mostly orphans, spread to all boroughs of New York to convince all the newspaper hawkers to go on strike. The movie, partly based on the horrors of child labor, shows the exploitation of 17-year-old Jack, who only tries to get his rights. 

Through an orphanage, newspaper distribution centers, and hawkers on the street, the movie shows the New York of yesteryear in a beautiful musical production.

Although the film was an initial box office bomb, yet it later gained a large cult following on home video and was considered a highly successful stage adaption on Broadway. The movie was nominated for eight Tony Awards and won two of them that include Best Original Score for Menken and Feldman.

A Little Princess (1995)

This film tells the story of a young girl sent to a New York boarding school while her father serves in World War I. She endures harsh treatment by the headmistress but maintains her dignity and imagination through storytelling.

Harriet the Spy (1996)

Based on the 1964 novel, this film follows a precocious young girl who aspires to be a spy. When her friends find her secret notebook, her observations inadvertently hurt those around her, leading to valuable life lessons.

Stuart Little (1999)

Stuart Little is a popular character who became a part of our life at some point or another. In 1999, it was a character brought to life by director Rob Minkoff. He apparently brought to life the possibility of animals mingling with humans and becoming a part of their family. Stuart, the mouse, is adopted by and becomes part of a New York family.

The movie mostly portrays a mouse’s adjustment into a family of humans who happens to have a cat, who is jealous of Stuart Little. The enmity turns into the plot of the movie and sees Snowbell often chasing Stuart. Stuart takes out his car and travels through the city of New York. He drives past Brooklyn Bridge and the most iconic buildings of New York. Also, the movie was nominated for Academy Award for Best Visual Effects.

Spider-Man (2002)

The superhero movie begins when a teenager, Peter Parker, is bitten by a genetically engineered spider, giving him strange abilities and strength. Peter Parker decides to eliminate injustice in New York City, using his unusual powers. He is confronted by Harry and his father, who is jealous of Peter’s powers. Swinging from skyscraper to skyscraper, Peter hides his true identity, wearing a mask and is known as Spider-Man. 

The whole New York City is awe-struck by the unusual hero, who saves lives on different occasions. While Harry consistently tries to overpower Spider-Man, Peter continues to fulfill his vow of saving lives and eliminating injustice.

The New York City’s most famous locations shown in this movie include the New York Street located Near Queens Boulevard & 44th Avenue; Columbia University at Broadway & 116th Street, Manhattan; Peter’s house located at 88-39 69th Road, Queens; Tudor City Place, Manhattan (Osborn’s home); and more. 

School of Rock (2003)

A comedy film featuring a struggling rock guitarist who poses as a substitute teacher at a prestigious prep school. He transforms his class into a rock band and helps them discover their hidden talents.

Elf (2003)

Elf is a Christmas comedy movie centered on a character Buddy, who was raised by Santa’s elves. 

He was mistakenly carried to the North Pole by Santa in his sack. The elves adopt Buddy and decide to raise him. However, raised among the elves, Buddy becomes one of them, but his uncanny size bothers them. Upon learning the truth about his birth parents, he sets out to New York City to find his father.  Buddy’s strange behavior and childish demeanor misfit for a man of his size give the movie a perfect comic touch. 

Unaccepted by real people of the world, and even by his father, Buddy continues to be himself, striving to make his father accept him as his son. 

The movie shows one of the most famous locations in New York City, the Empire State Building.

American Museum of Natural History

Night at the Museum (2006)

This beloved movie is a fantasy-comedy film directed by Shawn Levy. The movie stars Ben Stiller as Larry Daley, a down-on-his-luck, divorced father who takes a job as a night security guard at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. Seeking stability to maintain custody of his son, Larry is unaware that the job is far from ordinary.

On his first night, Larry discovers that due to an ancient Egyptian curse, all the exhibits in the museum come to life after the sun sets. This includes a T-Rex skeleton, a mischievous capuchin monkey named Dexter, miniature figures like Roman General Octavius and cowboy Jedediah, and a wax figure of Theodore Roosevelt (played by Robin Williams), who becomes Larry’s guide and mentor.

The plot thickens as Larry struggles to keep the chaos under control, navigating interactions with historical figures like Attila the Hun, Sacagawea, and a pair of mischievous Neanderthals. The key to the curse lies in an ancient Egyptian artifact known as the Tablet of Ahkmenrah, which brings the museum to life each night.

The movie combines humor, adventure, and heart as Larry learns the importance of history and courage. He forms bonds with the museum characters, uses his ingenuity to solve problems, and ultimately becomes the hero of the story.

“Night at the Museum” is notable for its imaginative premise, special effects, and a heartwarming story about finding one’s place in the world. The film was successful enough to spawn two sequels, “Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian” (2009) and “Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb” (2014), further exploring the magical world of living museum exhibits.

Mr. Popper’s Penguins (2011)

Trouble begins when Mr. Popper inherits penguins from his father, who loved traveling. Initially perturbed at receiving and having to raise penguins, Popper decides to give them away to New York Zoo. But he develops a liking to the birds, as do his children. The penguins bring the disturbed family closer, and they begin to spend more time together. They decide to keep the penguins, and soon adventures follow, with zoo officials after them. The movie continues with funny accidents involving penguins, turning the Popper’s house into a snow arena.

The Greatest Showman (2017)

The Greatest Showman, a biographical musical drama film set in the 19th century, shows a Child, Barnum, and his father who work for a wealthy Hallett family. Barnum (Hugh Jackman) marries the Hallett’s rich daughter Charity. The movie portrays the story of hard work and passion, with beautiful soundtracks that take the audience through the plot. 

It is a story of Barnum as he defeats poverty in a unique idea, also bringing together people who are different and eccentric. He opens a circus bearing the message that eccentricity is not abnormal, and such people should be differentiated. Directed by Micheal Gracey and starring Hugh Jackman, it makes a great family movie based in New York that gives one a taste of passion and hard work.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)

An animated superhero film that explores different Spider-People from various dimensions who come together to save New York City. It’s known for its unique visual style and explores themes of heroism and identity.

Final Verdict

New York is a city of many wonders, and it acts as a magnet for directors and produces. The hub of Hollywood and a city with rich culture, New York is captured in countless movies of all genres, some of them worth watching and remembering.  These movies also not only entertain but also give a glimpse of New York City’s landmarks and culture, making them a great watch for families.

Dive deeper into the iconic backdrops of cinema with our exploration of New York City in 90s movies.

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