NYC real estate happenings can sometimes be so bizarre or over-the-top that they seem more like scenes out of a movie than real life. Is it any wonder then that, over the years, the industry has inspired so much cinematic art?
We’ve compiled a list of our favorite New York City real estate scenes (and sometimes entire plots about the topic) depicted in film. Whether it’s highbrow (literature-based “The Fountainhead”) or lowbrow (the singing cockroaches of “Joe’s Apartment”), we’re guessing you’ll see some old favorites here — and get to view some relatively obscure movies for the first time.
1. Building Stories: Fountainhead (1949)
Based on the book by Ayn Rand of the same name, the whole film centers around an architect named Howard Roark, played by Gary Cooper, who is ambitious but wants to be sure he isn’t forced to sell out on his design aesthetic.
2. Starter Apartment: Hi, Mom (1970)
A very young Robert De Niro stars in this Brian De Palma flick as Joe Rubin, an aspiring filmmaker looking for a place in gritty downtown New York City. He goes to 148 Suffolk Street and encounters the super from hell (Charles Durning), who is only slightly more appealing than the crappy furnished fifth floor walkup rental he ends up taking. The winning features? A bathtub/dishwasher combo and “only one flight up and you have the sky” — all for only $66.75 per month.
3. Property as status symbol: Wall Street (1987)
While remembered as a movie about the world of finance and the big business boom of the ‘80s, real estate definitely played a role. Of course, up-and-comer Bud Fox (played by Charlie Sheen) goes to invest in real estate, seeking out a 30th floor penthouse, four-room apartment on the Upper East Side overlooking Central Park.
Sylvie the realtor tells him, “Everybody tells you they hate the Upper East Side. They wanna live on the West Side. But believe me, when it’s resale time, the East Side moves all the time. I mean, what do you got on the West Side? Sean and Madonna? Between Sly and Billy and Christie, I’ve shown every apartment on the Upper East Side. Everybody lives here… Mick, Gloria and Barbara Wa-Wa. Even Klaus von Bülow buys his fresh fruit from the Korean on Madison. It’s so expensive and it’s Just Like The Ones On Eighth Avenue, but it’s an attitude is all you pay for.” Bud offers $950K after he hears another buyer with an all-cash offer is on the way, but when he is in need of cash and wants to sell, the same realtor tells him the market is dead: “…Nothing is moving except the termites and the cockroaches, and with my commission what it is…”
4. Starter apartment 2: Joe’s Apartment (1996)
This musical comedy starring Jerry O’Donnell chronicles a Midwestern boy straight from graduating college who moves to NYC with no apartment or job. Luckily, or so he thinks, he gets his hands on the rent-controlled unit of a newly-deceased tenant in a building that is set for destruction. A local politician is eager to empty the apartment of its (human) inhabitants so he can sell the land to construct a prison, so he hires thugs to intimidate renters, encouraging them to move. Oh, and he happens to have a talking cockroach problem, but spoiler: Have no fear, they end up saving the day!
5. Unwieldy Tenants/Evil RE Agents: Duplex (2003)
This comedy by Danny DeVito and starring Ben Stiller and Drew Barrymore centers around NYC real estate. Alex Rose and Nancy Kendricks, played by Stiller and Barrymore, are a NYC couple who buy the perfect Brooklyn brownstone duplex apartment. It’s perfect, except that it happens to come with an elderly and very noisy rent-controlled tenant, Mrs. Connelly. The couple try to hire a hitman to do the old woman in, and have to sell much of their property to pay for the transaction, only to have it fail. Ultimately the couple leaves NYC because they are penniless. Spoiler: There is a real estate twist in the move. We come to find out the realtor (Harvey Fierstein) who sold them the duplex is actually Mrs. Connelly’s son, and this was actually a tried and true, elaborate scam used to collect repeat commissions.
6. RE-lationships: Purple Violets (2007)
An Ed Burns joint, this New York-centric romantic comedy stars Selma Blair as Patti, a wannabe novelist-cum-NYC real estate broker. She is depressed. Unhappily married and in a career she doesn’t deem perfect, Patti encounters all sorts of complications when she has a run-in with an ex, Brian Callahan (Patrick Wilson), who is a successful novelist. All the while she is trying to find an apartment for an old friend, a lawyer named Michael Murphy (Burns). When she finally sells Michael an apartment, he reconnects with Patti’s best friend Kate (Debra Messing) who he had cheated on years before. The four’s renewed interactions lead to relationship chaos.
7. RE-lationships 2: Sex in the City (2008)
Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) and Big (Chris Noth) are looking to buy an apartment to live in together, and she falls in love with an uber expensive penthouse far more costly than their allotted budget. She thinks about selling her own small apartment but expresses to Big that if they should consciously uncouple at any point, she would have no legal rights to their new home. This discussion leads Big to propose and instead of a diamond ring, Carrie prefers a custom-built closet. Later when their relationship fails, Carrie ends up re-buying her unit from her buyer and moving back into her old apartment. (This is why it’s the movies!)
8. Bubble Bursting: Wanderlust (2012)
At the height of the market, George and Linda Gergenblatt (Paul Rudd and Jennifer Aniston) meet with a real estate agent (Linda Lavin) and invest their life savings in a studio “micro-loft” West Village apartment, but a week after they move in, he loses his job. The bubble bursts and they can’t afford their mortgage. This is the catalyst for the rest of the movie to take place; they pack up and take it on the road.