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Top 12 Unforgettable Movie Moments at NYC Museums

Category Attractions

|by Jessica Colley |


From a thrilling art heist at the Metropolitan Museum of Art to historical characters coming creekily to life at the American Museum of Natural History, here's a roundup of NYC museums that star in the movies

If you didn’t grow up in New York, you at the very least grew up with New York, thanks to the movies. Films old and new, dark or funny, independent or blockbuster — they’ve all utilized the New York City backdrop to tell their stories. In addition to the city’s streets and parks, museums have played a leading role in many films, from When Harry Met Sally, where Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan meander through the Metropolitan Museum of Art, to Coogan’s Bluff,which follows Clint Eastwood as he chases a fugitive amid the ancient CloistersFor the full experience, check out one of these classic films — and then visit the museum that starred in them. Here’s our roundup of top cameos by New York City’s cultural institutions.

A Night at the Museum,’ filmed at the American Museum of Natural History (Photo: Twentieth Century Fox)

A Night at the Museum,’ filmed at the American Museum of Natural History (Photo: Twentieth Century Fox)

Spooky Fantasy at the American Museum of Natural History
Night at the Museum had a stellar cast — Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Ricky Gervais, Robin Williams — but even so, the greatest star of the film was the American Museum of Natural History. Based on a children’s book from 1993, this 2006 fantasy adventure was a roaring success among kids and adults alike. Following a night watchman on his rounds, the film depicts the famous museum coming alive after hours, including a T-Rex skeleton (named Rexy) in the Hall of Dinosaurs who lopes around the exhibit halls; and, in the Margaret Mead Hall of Pacific Peoples, an Easter Island Moai who has a fondness for chewing gum.

Woody Allen at the Whitney
The 1979 classic Manhattan is a romantic comedy/drama co-written, directed by and starring that most New York of New Yorkers — Woody Allen. Shot in black and white, this film — as the title suggests — includes Manhattan as a central character, integral to the interactions between Woody Allen and Diane Keaton’s characters. New York landmarks fill this film, including a memorable scene at the Whitney, where Isaac (Woody Allen) saunters through the modern art galleries with Mary (Diane Keaton), forming the foundation of a romance.

A Robbery at the Metropolitan Museum of Art
The 1999 film The Thomas Crown Affair starring Pierce Brosnan and Rene Russo kicks off at the Metropolitan Museum of Art with the theft of a Monet painting. A remake of a movie from 1968, this heist film follows an investigator (Rene Russo) and an NYPD detective (Denis Leary) in pursuit of Monet’s San Giorgio Maggiore at Dusk, valued at over $100 million. Many areas of the museum are featured in the film, from the high-ceilinged art galleries to the museum’s stately façade and famous front steps. Thomas Crown, played by debonair Pierce Brosnan, is the main suspect. Will he forever elude capture? Watch the film and find out!

Ladies Lunching at the Museum of Modern Art
Most key moments in the narrative of Carrie Bradshaw’s life occurred in iconic Manhattan locations, from Greenwich Village to Rockefeller Plaza. But, when it came time for her to share the news with her girlfriends that she and Mr. Big were finally engaged — in the Sex and the City movie — Carrie made the announcement in the Modern restaurant of the Museum of Modern Art. The civilized lunch quickly turns into a squealing celebration, with the airy restaurant serving as the backdrop.

Paranormal Activity at the National Museum of the American Indian
Starring Bill Murray and Dan Akroyd, the 1989 comedy Ghostbusters II used a real New York museum to stand in for a faux museum. The façade of the National Museum of the American Indian was used as the fictional Manhattan Art Museum. In the film, paranormal activity is suspected beneath the museum — and the Ghostbusters are called in to investigate. And what they find is icky to say the least (two words: pink slime).

Practicing a Golf Swing at the Intrepid
Will Smith uses the flight deck of the Intrepid as a driving range in the 2007 post-apocalyptic science fiction film, I Am Legend. The third film adaptation of the 1954 novel of the same name, this blockbuster follows Will Smith’s character, believed to be the last healthy human being on the planet. He hunts for food and supplies, tries to communicate with any other survivors via radio and gets playful on New York’s famous aircraft carrier, the Intrepid, which now is home to a museum.

Wandering through Egyptian Temples in the Metropolitan Museum of Art
The 1989 romantic comedy When Harry Met Sally showcases several New York City locations, from Central Park to Katz’s deli. There is one particularly memorable scene where Harry and Sally — Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan — wander through the Egyptian temple area of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, with views overlooking the vibrant fall colors of Central Park through soaring windows. In this scene, they are testing the parameters of their friendship by discussing Sally’s upcoming evening date.

Taking Cover in the Guggenheim
A life-size replica of the Guggenheim was built for the 2009 film The International, starring Clive Owen and Naomi Watts. The spiraling architecture of the museum functions as an additional character during a climactic fight scene that breaks out unexpectedly in the Guggenheim. The poster for the film also featured the interior spiral ramps of the museum. The lobby entrance scene was filmed in the actual Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, while the fight scene was shot in the life-size replica.

Romancing a Date at the Ellis Island Immigration Museum
In an attempt to create a perfect, meaningful date in the 2005 romantic comedy Hitch, Will Smith’s character takes Eva Mendes’ character on an exciting jet ski trip in the New York Harbor. The destination is the Ellis Island Immigration Museum, where Alex Hitchens (Smith playing a so-called date doctor) seeks to impress his date with a piece of her family history — a plan that backfires when the ancestor is one that Eva Mendes’ character doesn’t want to remember.

Inspired by the American Museum of Natural History
Named after the giant squid and sperm whale exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History, The Squid and the Whale is a 2005 comedy/drama produced by Wes Anderson. The story follows two boys growing up in Brooklyn, dealing with their parents’ divorce. An excellent cast, including Jeff Daniels and Laura Linney, earned this film accolades at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival. A favorite childhood memory of one of the boys, Walt, is going to see this exhibit at the Natural History museum, which is prominently depicted in the film.

Chase Scene at the Cloisters
A sheriff from Arizona, played by Clint Eastwood, is sent to New York City in search of a fugitive in the 1968 action film Coogan’s Bluff. Controversial upon release for its vivid displays of violence, the film features Clint Eastwood chasing a character named Jimmy Ringerman, who is wanted for murder, through the priory of the Cloisters. The film itself is named after a natural landmark in New York City — Coogan’s Bluff does exist; it is a promontory in Upper Manhattan.

Holiday Merriment at the Brooklyn Museum
The star-studded New Year’s Eve is a 2011 Garry Marshall romantic comedy that utilizes both the striking façade of the Brooklyn Museum and its Beaux Arts Court as the setting for a holiday gala. The ensemble cast includes famous faces such as Sarah Jessica Parker, Robert De Niro, Hilary Swank, Michelle Pfeiffer, Jon Bon Jovi, Jessica Biel and many more. A variety of vignettes, from break-ups to make-ups, play out against the backdrop of the holidays in New York City.

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