The movies that perfectly capture the world’s most cinematic cities

Local color.
Local color.
Image: AP/Jason DeCrow/Invision for Bulleit Bourbon
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A filmmaker has just as much power to define a city as its urban planners and architects. From the noir labyrinth of Los Angeles in Blade Runner, the gritty Rio de Janeiro in City of God, to the romance of Parisian avenues in Midnight in Paris, audiences form a picture about a city’s character even before going there.

Among the marquee films in the New York edition of the Architecture & Design Film Festival (ADFF) is an example of the medium’s ability to introduce a place: Columbus, a hypnotic film starring John Cho and Haley Lu Richardson, artfully recasts US vice president Mike Pence’s hometown as a must-see mecca of modern architecture. As architect and ADFF director Kyle Bergman explains, “[The film’s director] Koganada uses the city of Columbus, Indiana and its architecture to ask the question, ‘Does architecture matter?” Drawing from his years of reviewing films for the festival, here’s Bergman’s shortlist of more than 20 other movies that have defined the world’s cities in popular imagination.

New York

Manhattan, 1979, Directed by Woody Allen

Do the Right Thing, 1989, Directed by Spike Lee

Shadows, 1959, Directed by John Cassavetes

West Side Story, 1961, Directed by Jerome Robbins and Robert Wise

Los Angeles

L.A. Confidential, 1997, Directed by Curtis Hanson

Shampoo, 1975, Directed by Hal Ashby

Los Angeles Plays Itself, 2003, Directed by Thom Andersen

A Single Man, 2009, Directed by Tom Ford

The Big Lebowski, 1998, Joel Coen and Ethan Coen

Speed, 1994, Directed by Jan de Bont


Roman Holiday, 1953, Directed by William Wyler

To Rome with Love, 2012, Directed by Woody Allen

Only You, 1994, Directed by Norman Jewison


The Danish Girl, 2015, Directed by Tom Hooper

The Infinite Happiness, 2015, Directed by Ila Bêka and Louise Lemoine

The Human Scale, 2013, Directed by Andreas Møl Dalsgaard

Rio De Janiero

City of God, 2002, Directed by Fernando Meirelles and Kátia Lund

Central Station, 1998, Directed by Walter Salles

Elite Squad, 2007, Directed by José Padilha

Rio, I Love You, 2014, Directed by Vicente Amorim, Guillermo Arriaga, (segment “Texas”) Stephan Elliott, (segment “Acho que Estou Apaixonado”) Sang-soo Im, (segment “O Vampiro do Rio”) Nadine Labaki, (segment “O Milagre”) Fernando Meirelles, (segment “A Musa”) José Padilha, (segment “Inútil Paisagem”) Carlos Saldanha, (segment “Pas de Deux”) Paolo Sorrentino, (segment “La Fortuna”) John Turturro, (segment “Quando não há Mais Amor”) Andrucha Waddington, (segment “Dona Fulana”) César Charlone (segment “A Musa”)


Lost in Translation, 2003, Directed by Sofia Coppola

Konchuu, 1968, Kazui Nihonmatsu

Adrift in Tokyo, 2007, Directed by Satoshi Miki

The ADFF is held in several cities in the US and in Seoul. New York edition of ADFF is running from November 1-5.