Oscar night is upon us on March 4 -- and that's the closest thing we have to a national holiday for film. So it’s a perfect time to look at all the attractions and locations there are for movie lovers to visit all across New York State.
It’s only fitting that New York City, a movie mecca if ever there was one, is home to the Museum of the Moving Image. Housed in the historic Astoria Studio complex in Queens, the museum exhibits everything from antique cameras to costumes, licensed merchandise and 47 of Jim Henson’s puppets, including Miss Piggy from the Muppet movies and a Skeksis from The Dark Crystal.
In founding the Eastman Kodak Company, George Eastman was a pioneer of motion picture film technology, and his home and museum in Rochester are an internationally renowned center for photography and film, with three million cinematic objects, 28,000 films and the archives of Spike Lee and Technicolor, among others.
The Finger Lakes town of Seneca Falls is believed to be the inspiration for the Bedford Falls setting of the Frank Capra classic, It’s A Wonderful Life. The town features a museum with artifacts and an annual festival held – when else? – every December, often featuring cast members from the film. Hot dog!
Lucille Ball is probably more known for TV, but she started as a screen siren. Her hometown of Jamestown in the Chautauqua-Allegheny region is home to the Lucy Desi Museum with costumes, awards and more, and will soon welcome the National Comedy Center.
The National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown connects the dots between America’s pastime and cinema with an exhibit on Baseball at the Movies. It also hosts a film festival in September of recent films with baseball as a main theme, just in time to get warmed up for the World Series.
Sites connected to filmmakers and film characters
Chittenango in Central New York was home to Wizard of Oz author L. Frank Baum, and now is home to both the All Things Oz Museum and annual Oz-Stravaganza festival in June with stage shows, a parade and more.
Rod Serling will forever be synonymous with television’s Twilight Zone, but many don’t realize he was one of the screenwriters for the sci-fi classic Planet of the Apes. A visit to his hometown of Binghamton shows many of the inspirations for Serling’s work, as well as his archives at the Bundy Museum of History and Art with rare memorabilia, props and personal items.
Auburn’s Seward House in the Finger Lakes shows the history of William Seward, played by David Strathairn and featured prominently in Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln. Meanwhile, the Trolley Into Twain Country in the Finger Lakes town of Elmira shows where Mark Twain wrote the books that spurred the many films inspired by his Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn.
Many New York destinations served as the settings of films throughout the years: The headless horseman was born in Sleepy Hollow before Walt Disney and Tim Burton made him a film star, and the town brings the ghoul back to life every October.
Saratoga Race Course actually hosted Seabiscuit long before he was made the title character of the movie that was also filmed there. Likewise, 1937’s Saratoga with Clark Gable and Jean Harlow not only took place but was as least partially shot in the Spa City.
Miracle with Kurt Russell told the Olympic story of the Miracle on Ice at Lake Placid. You can skate on the ice where it all happened and learn more at the Olympics Museum in the Adirondacks town.
Photograph: Marley White
Don Vito Corleone came through Ellis Island in The Godfather II, and the film was shot in what is now the Ellis Island National Museum of Immigration.
Long Island’s opulent Gold Coast Mansions were where The Great Gatsby book and movies took place. Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart starred in Adventureland, based on a summer spent working in the Long Island amusement park of the same name.
Jim Carey plays a reporter for Buffalo’s WKBW in Bruce Almighty, which is the setting for the film. Buffalo is also the first stop for a cross-country honeymoon by Goldie Hawn and Burt Reynolds in Best Friends.
Nobody’s Fool with Paul Newman, Bruce Willis, Melanie Griffith, and Jessica Tandy took place in the fictional New York town of North Bath, based on the real New York town of Ballston Spa, and shot in the real Hudson Valley Town of Beacon.
The movie Woodstock documents the famed music festival of the 1960s held on what is now the Bethel Woods Museum and Center for the Arts in the Catskills. Taking Woodstock directed by Oscar winner Ang Lee gives a look at what Bethel Woods was like then, even if the movie was shot further north in New York’s Rensselaer County.
There have been a number of film versions of The Last of the Mohicans, most recently the 1992 version with Daniel Day Lewis. The story features the real-life Fort William Henry, which has been recreated as a living history museum on the shore of Lake George, on the site of the original.
There are too many movies that have been shot in New York to list in one place. New York City alone has featured in hundreds, maybe thousands of films. You can get a sampling with walking and bus tours, like On Location.
Niagara was not only the name of the film noir with Marilyn Monroe, it was also a star of the film, with attractions including Maid of the Mist figuring prominently throughout. The falls made another appearance in Superman II when Christopher Reeve saves a boy who falls into the water.
Some New York film locations weren’t stationary: the Schooner True Love, now sailing on Seneca Lake from the town of Watkins Glen, was featured in The Philadelphia Story with Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn, as well as High Society with Grace Kelly, Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra.
Robert Redford and Glenn Close came to Buffalo for scenes in The Natural, including at Parkside Candy, which is still selling the regional delicacy sponge candy.
Lyndhurst Mansion, the gothic castle estate of Jay Gould in Tarrytown in the Hudson Valley, made the perfect location for the two feature films based on the cult vampire TV soap opera Dark Shadows.
Movie themed fun
As far as watching films, New York offers opportunities as varied as vintage movie palaces like the Palace Theater in Albany to film festivals in charming settings from Chatham in Columbia County, to Woodstock in the Catskills, to the swanky Hamptons on Long Island.
And if that’s not enough, in New York, film lovers can sleep in their favorite movies. From Breakfast at Tiffany’s to Saturday Night Fever to The Addams Family, cinema served as the inspiration for the artsy décor in some of the themed rooms of the boutique Roxbury Motel in the Catskills.
Hooray for Hollywood? Hooray for New York! Come see all that awaits cinephiles in the Empire State.