The Eddie Murphy comedy “Coming to America” (right)
and Martin Scorsese’s crime drama “Goodfellas” are
two of the most successful features filmed in Queens.
BY LUIS GRONDA
Although Manhattan gets much of the love in terms of the big screen, there have been plenty of well-known movies that were shot and take place in our beloved Borough.
One movie that prominently displays Queens is the 1988 comedy classic, “Coming to America.”
The romantic comedy, which stars Eddie Murphy, Arsenio Hall and James Earl Jones, tells the story of an African crown prince, played by Murphy, who travels to the United States in hopes of finding a woman to be his queen.
The royal family chooses to move to Queens, renting out an old and worn out apartment in Long Island City. At one point during the movie, Murphy’s character, Prince Akeem Joffer, said the Borough’s namesake is the reason they decided to live in Queens.
“What better place to find a queen than the City of Queens?” Akeem asked in the movie.
The prince and the rest of the royal family pass themselves off as poor residents, taking a job at a McDowell’s fast food restaurant, an obvious spoof of McDonalds.
The location where the McDowell’s scenes were filmed was a Wendy’s restaurant on Queens Boulevard in Elmhurst. The building was mostly unchanged in the years after the flick was released, but was torn down in 2013 to make way for a six-story apartment building.
Murphy’s character eventually falls in love with Cleo McDowell’s daughter, Lisa. The couple travel to her house in St. Albans to meet other members of Lisa’s family. In the movie, the location of the McDowell home is 24-32 Derby Ave., although that is a fake address on a street that does not actually exist.
The movie grossed about $288 million worldwide, including more than $128 million in the United States. It is still one of the most famous movies of Murphy’s career.
Another classic film, “Goodfellas,” also featured several scenes that were filmed in Queens.
Among the neighborhoods the mobster flick was filmed in were Astoria, Maspeth, Richmond Hill and Woodhaven.
One scene in the movie was portrayed as “Idlewild Airport” in Queens, but used a few cargo buildings at John F. Kennedy Airport to show its location in the movie. The real-life location of those scenes is the Jackson Hole Diner on Astoria Boulevard. In the scene, Tommy Devito, played by Joe Pesci, and Henry Hill, played by Ray Liotta, steal a truck for their gang.
Scenes from the same movie were also filmed at Neir’s Tavern in Woodhaven.
According to the watering hole’s website, most of the movie’s famous stars, including Liotta, Pesci, and Robert DeNiro, filmed scenes that made it into the film and regulars usually point out scenes that were at Neir’s while watching the movie itself.
In the Neir’s scene, the three men are discussing business while throwing down some alcohol. Later on, Jimmy Two-Times is demanding that Liotta’s character gives him some money that is owed to him. Liotta calms him down and reassures him that he will get the money in due time.
Immediately after that scene, they decide that Jimmy is likely to get “whacked” before he can ever collect his cash.
One film that came out in the early 1990s, called “Queens Logic,” was exclusively filmed in Astoria and part of its plot involves the northern Queens neighborhood.
The movie, which stars Kevin Bacon, Jamie Lee Curtis, John Malkovich, Tom Waits and others, is about an old group of friends getting together for their mutual friend’s wedding. During the comedy, they face the challenges of adulthood and how their lives have changed compared to when they were growing up in Astoria. They also deal with their living situations and what that has been like since they lived in Astoria.
Several well-known scenes of Astoria are shown in the movie, including the Triborough Bridge.
The iconic Unisphere was prominently displayed in the 1997 film “Men In Black,” when it was destroyed by a flying UFO ship that Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones battled in the movie’s climax.
Queens is also home to one of most famous film studios on the East Coast, which hosts both movies and television shows.
Kaufman-Astoria Studios is the only backlot studio in New York City. A backlot is an area adjacent to a movie studio that has permanent buildings for outdoor scenes.
Some recent films that have used Kaufman-Astoria to film movies include “Men In Black 3,” “The Bourne Legacy” and “The Smurfs Movie.”
According to its website, the studio first opened in the 1920s and eventually became the headquarters of Paramount Studios. In the 20 years that followed Paramount’s establishment, more than 120 silent and sound movies were filmed there.
The studio evidently fell into disrepair until a production company filmed “The Wiz” at Kaufman-Astoria in 1977.
Last year, Kaufman-Astoria unveiled the 34,800-square-foot backlot located on 35th Avenue.
Officials from the studio and elected officials celebrated the new backlot, saying it will boost its film production.
“The backlot at Kaufman Astoria Studios is going to add to the life of the campus and will help us attract more productions to New York,” Kaufman said at the unveiling last year.
Reach Luis Gronda at (718) 357-7400, ext. 127, firstname.lastname@example.org or @luisgronda.