The 12 best Empire State Building moments in movies and TV
Sleepless in Seattle, 1993
Since it opened in 1931, the Empire State Building has remained a beloved New York City landmark and a favorite setting for storytellers. The 102-story Art Deco skyscraper has appeared in countless films and television shows, a symbol of romance, danger, and the city that never sleeps. One of the most memorable uses of the building was in Sleepless in Seattle, which celebrates its 25th anniversary today. Inspired by An Affair to Remember, Annie (Meg Ryan) writes widower Sam (Tom Hanks) a letter suggesting they meet atop the Empire State Building on Valentine’s Day. When Sam’s son, Jonah, takes matters into his own hands, the harebrained scheme results in a chance meeting between the two at the film’s romantic conclusion. The building’s role in the movie capitalized on its history as a pop-culture icon, and here are some more of our favorite Empire State Building moments in film and television.
King Kong, 1933
Only two years after first opening its doors, the Empire State Building served as the setting for one of its most iconic moments in ceulluloid history. At the conclusion of the monster flick King Kong, the oversized ape rampages through NYC and climbs to the top of the skyscraper, Fay Wray in hand. He battles off several airplanes from atop the building’s spire before succumbing to his injuries and plummeting to his death — a moment when “beauty killed the beast.” The scene represented a groundbreaking use of models and stop-motion animation in cinema.
On the Town, 1949
On the Town was the first major studio film to shoot on location in the Big Apple, memorably setting the film’s opening number, “New York, New York” on the city”s bustling streets. The majority of the film was shot in studio, including a memorable moment atop the Empire State Building where the film’s three couples meet after a busy day before heading out for a night on the town. The musical number atop the building provides lots of hilarity, playing off Ozzie’s (Jules Munshin) fear of heights and situating the building as the best meeting place in the city.
An Affair to Remember, 1957
Though the plot first existed in 1939’s Love Affair, An Affair to Remember is responsible for some of the most sweepingly romantic Empire State Building moments. After falling in love aboard a cruise, Nickie (Cary Grant) and Terry (Deborah Kerr) agree to meet atop the Empire State Building (“the closest thing to heaven in this city”) in six months’ time, once they end their current relationships. Plans go awry when Terry is hit by a cab on her way to the meeting (“I was looking up… it was the nearest thing to heaven”) and Nickie assumes she chose not to meet him after spending hours waiting on the observation deck. All is resolved in a tearful conclusion, but the plot hinges on this fateful ESB meeting, which went on to inspire Sleepless in Seattle and more.
In perhaps its most avant-garde pop culture moment, the Empire State Building is at the heart of Andy Warhol’s experimental silent film “Empire.” The film consists of 8 hours and 5 minutes of slow-motion black-and-white footage of an unchanging view of the building, a tactic meant to allow the viewer to watch time go by. It is considered Warhol’s most famous and influential cinematic work.
The Producers, 1968
This hilarious Mel Brooks comedy about two producers determined to stage a surefire flop on Broadway and keep the investment money for themselves famously shot on location all over New York City, including at the Empire State Building’s observation deck. Bialystock (Zero Mostel) and Bloom (Gene Wilder) cavort around the city throughout, visiting a range of landmarks, from the lake in Central Park to Lincoln Center to the ESB. Bialystock takes Bloom to the skyscraper as part of his attempt to convince Bloom to partner with him on his scheme.
Superman II, 1980
The Empire State Building plays a crucial role in this superhero film’s climax. As Superman (Christopher Reeve) battles Kryptonian villains, he slams one of them into the building, causing its distinctive attena to plunge toward the street below. Superman catches it in the nick of time and restores it to its iconic perch atop the building.
Independence Day, 1994
The Empire State Building provided the setting for one of the most memorable scenes in the 1994 disaster flick Independence Day. As aliens seek to invade and destroy Earth, they wipe out major cities, including New York. A gigantic spacecraft parks itself directly above the Empire State Building (as the city watches from the street below) and proceeds to obliterate the landmark. Some of the survivors of this incident head to Area 51 to devise a plan to fight back on July 4 (hence the title).
While most pop-culture Empire State Building moments involve the skyscraper’s observation deck, Elf is one of the few titles to devote its attention to the building’s art deco interior. Buddy the Elf’s father (James Caan) works in the Empire State Building, and Buddy (Will Ferrell) has several humorous run-ins with security in the building’s lobby, under its towering mosaic.
How I Met Your Mother, 2007
In season 2’s “First Time in New York,” the entire HIMYM gang accompanies Robin (Cobie Smulders) and her visiting sister, Katie (Lucy Hale), to the Empire State Building. The group uses the long wait time in the lobby as a veiled metaphor for waiting for sex, trying to persuade Katie not to sleep with her boyfriend. They don’t make it to the top of the building since Katie storms out, but later in the episode, they eventually return to visit the observation deck for real. The episode was notable for sharing the stories of the main characters’ first times and marking the first time Robin tells Ted (Josh Radnor) she loves him.
Gossip Girl, 2010
In season 3’s finale, “Last Tango, Then Paris,” the Empire State Building offers up a romantic missed connection for Blair (Leighton Meester) and Chuck (Ed Westwick). Chuck issues an ultimatum to Blair, asking her to meet him atop the building. Initially, she is reluctant to go, but once she realizes they belong together, she is delayed by the birth of Dorota’s (Zuzanna Szadkowski) baby. She gets to the ESB too late to meet him but rushes to his hotel to tell him she loves him. All is seemingly well, until Blair discovers Chuck slept with Jenny (Taylor Momsen) after thinking Blair had ditched him.
The Mindy Project, 2014
In its glorious season 2 two finale, an ode to rom-coms, The Mindy Project went to the top of the Empire State Building. Taking a page from An Affair to Remember and Sleepless in Seattle, Danny (Chris Messina) arranges to meet Mindy (Mindy Kaling) at the apex. After standing her up once, they try again, both sprinting to the skyscraper’s observation deck in a Bruce Springsteen-fueled dash. The two finally meet and seal their romantic connection on the deck, providing their own spin on the Empire State Building’s romantic screen history.