A little while back, we compiled a long list of books that take place in Queens. And even though Manhattan gets most of the glory for its impressive amounts of on-screen time, there are plenty of movies and TV series that are set in Queens, too. Here’s our guide to the best films and TV shows that weren’t just shot in our borough, but actually give Queens a significant part in the story.
Chop Shop (2007)
This indie film made the rounds in the Cannes Film Festival, Toronto Film Festival, and other prominent international film events. The director, Ramin Bahrani – who was also behind Man Push Cart, the 2005 film about a struggling street vendor from Brooklyn – won a “Someone to Watch” Independent Spirit Award in 2007. The film centers around the story of 12-year-old Alejandro, an orphan living in the Willets Points section of Corona, where he works at an auto body repair shop, sells candy on the subway, and dreams up other schemes to get by. The movie is full of scenes depicting Flushing Meadows Park, the auto body shops of Willets Point, and the 7 train.
A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints (2006)
Starring Robert Downey Jr., Shia LaBeouf, Rosario Dawson, and Channing Tatum, this movie won two Sundance awards and one acting award at the Gijón International Film Festival in Spain. It’s the story of Dito, a successful L.A. writer who comes back to Astoria, where he grew up. Most of the plot consists of flashbacks of his violent past and the people he ran with in the 1980s, when the neighborhood was much rougher. The film offers a glimpse into the way things were, with plenty of Astoria scenery along the way, including rooftops and houses, the elevated train, Hell Gate Bridge, and the Astoria Park Pool.
Saving Face (2004)
This romantic comedy takes place partially in Flushing, where the main character Wilhelmina (Wil) reluctantly goes to spend time with her mother at Chinese banquet halls. Wil, a lesbian, and her unwed pregnant mother (played by Joan Chen) both become alienated from the Flushing community; they eventually bond as they deal with their own shameful situations. The lighthearted but touching movie, which is in a mixture of Mandarin and English, won the 2005 Viewer’s Choice Award at the Golden Horse Film Festival in Taiwan.
This Sundance-award-winning film is a dark comedy that focuses on an unemployed middle-aged man (played by David Suchet) living in a Queens homeless shelter. A woman on the street recognizes him as a famous film director, and we’re left wondering about his true identity. The movie was shot in Queens and in a real homeless shelter, with a blend of actors and non-actors; visuals of the borough include the elevated train lines, storefronts, and industrial scenes.
Queens Logic (1991)
Starring big names like Kevin Bacon, Jamie Lee Curtis, and John Malkovich, Queens Logic is a quirky dramedy about a group of childhood friends who come together for a wedding in their old neighborhood. Over the course of the weekend, they deal with a wide range of issues in their relationships, friendships, and living situations. Shot in Astoria, the film includes fabulous Queens accents as well as local scenes of the Triborough Bridge, Astoria Park, and more.
Coming to America (1988)
This campy classic is a comedy about a prince of a fictitious African country (Eddie Murphy) who comes to Queens to find a woman to marry. His logic is, “What better place to find a queen than the city of Queens?” What ensues is a silly series of mishaps as royalty tries to blend into mainstream black American culture. The cast also includes Arsenio Hall and James Earl Jones. It takes place partially at a fast food restaurant on Queens Boulevard in Elmhurst.
Ugly Betty (2006–2010)
Betty Suarez (America Ferrera) is a geeky girl from Queens who goes to work for a fashion magazine in Manhattan. The treat for Queens viewers – besides the diverse cast and fun, campy drama – is that a good portion of the scenes take place at Betty’s family’s home in Jackson Heights. The actual house used for the interior and exterior scenes was a mint-green house on 92nd Street near Elmhurst Avenue. The show takes on the exclusive culture of Manhattan’s high fashion world from an outsider’s perspective, and illustrates how wide the social gulf can be between different pockets of NYC.
The King of Queens (1998–2007)
This sitcom, featuring the working-class couple Doug and Carrie, is probably the most well-known pop culture reference to Queens in existence. Most of the plot consists of disagreements between Doug and Carrie, and Carrie’s annoying father (played by Jerry Stiller), who has moved in with them. The show is set in Rego Park, although it is filmed in California, and exterior footage of the family’s house is from New Jersey. You can catch some Queens shots in the opening sequence, though – like the Unisphere and the Lemon Ice King of Corona.
Dear John (1988–1992)
This sitcom was the story of a teacher named John who was dumped by his wife and went to live by himself in an apartment in Queens. The show centers around the fictional Rego Park Community Center, where John attends support group meetings with other divorced and widowed people.
All in the Family (1971–1979) and Archie Bunker’s Place (1979–1983)
This pair of classic American sitcoms revolves around Archie Bunker, a bigoted working-class man who is struggling to adapt in a world that is changing around him. The show took place in Astoria, although it was shot in California. The exterior of the house shown in the opening credits is actually on Cooper Avenue in Glendale.