Kapow! Thwip! Snikt! Superheroes are, no doubt about it, an inescapable part of American pop culture. Spandex outfits, youngster sidekicks, and radioactive origin stories have been around since those pulp vigilantes from the ’40s evolved into what would become a multimillionaire entertainment industry. There’s something irresistible about these archetypical titans that still resonate stronger than ever in any conceivable medium. After its triumphant conquest of the global box office (Avengers: Endgame recently became the highest-grossing movie of all time), it’s clear that the genre is more than an overexploited fad or a temporary trend and is an unbeatable powerhouse on its own.
Superheroes are here to stay, and they definitely have a place to call home. New York City stands out as “superhero central”, a familiar setting full of possibilities to root these modern myths into our world. Although it might be difficult to actually spot real superheroes in New York, it’s more than possible to visit the locations where they fight dastardly supervillains in comic books, movies, and TV shows. This is our top 10 places that any fan of caped crusaders, super-soldiers, and metahumans can’t miss while in the Big Apple.
The News Building
And what better way to kick off our tour than flying up, up, and away with the most powerful and beloved superhero of all time: Superman! Although The Last Son of Krypton has always been one of DC Comics’ main emblems, it wasn’t until 1978 when he became a world-famous star with the release of his own full-length movie. Now, you might remember the luxurious lobby of The Daily Planet, the fictitious newspaper where Superman (disguised as the socially inept journalist Clark Kent) and his crush Lois Lane work at Metropolis. A vintage, now-iconic globe (once considered the biggest of its kind) that perfectly suits the name of the outlet is clearly visible as a prominent part of the scenery.
Well, turns out that director Richard Donner decided to keep the journalistic vibe flowing and shot those scenes at the former headquarters of one the most notorious tabloids in the Big Apple: the New York Daily News. Although this newspaper moved elsewhere in 1995, the fact that it holds the newsroom of another beloved NYC media outlet (TV station WPIX-TV) grants the historic building its life-long status as a journalistic mecca. If you are on your way to Manhattan’s Turtle Bay neighborhood, don’t miss the opportunity to come by 220 E 42nd St to marvel at this stunning art deco landmark and be part for a few minutes of this classic, trailblazing movie.
Park Avenue Viaduct
The Avengers have been wildly popular since comic book gurus Stan “The Man” Lee and Jack “The King” Kirby joined their talents to assemble Marvel Comics’ most powerful team in 1963. As it happens, it wasn’t until their first live-action movie was released in 2012 when Captain America, Iron Man, The Hulk, Black Widow, and Hawkeye made the giant leap from comic book fandom to mainstream stardom. The first Avengers film was an absolute game-changer in the industry and a mindblowing preview of what was about to come.
The movie’s glorious final battle takes place around Grand Central Station. The Avengers HQ, Stark Tower, is located right behind this transportation hub mimicking the real-life MetLife building, and some bystanders flee the adjacent Pershing Square café the moment the alien invasion starts. The memorable scene where the Avengers brace themselves for the imminent clash over the Park Avenue Viaduct is a cinematic lesson of epic superhero cinematography, and a modern classic on its own. No, unfortunately, it’s not possible to just stand in the viaduct and strike a pose to recreate it since pedestrian access is forbidden. Of course, you can always drive this elevated roadway the same way hundreds of New Yorkers do every day without realizing that the Earth’s Mightiest Heroes fought there.
“With great power comes great responsibility”. Even if you’re not a comic book fan, we’re sure you already heard these wise words before. Rest assured, this motto is as iconic as the wisecracking young superhero who lives by its code: the Amazing Spider-Man! Created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko in 1962, the wallcrawler is an all-time fan favorite and an enduring symbol of the great city of New York. Peter Parker is so relatable that he doesn’t just live in a real NYC borough (Queens) but also in a perfectly traceable address: 20 Ingram St., in Forest Hills. And get this: the last name of the family that actually lives there is … Parker! Yes, as you can imagine, they’re pretty used to fan-mail by now.
If, on the other hand, your first contact with this timeless character didn’t come from the comic book but from director Sam Raimi’s cult movie trilogy, Forest Hills won’t disappoint you either. You just have to walk to Metropolitan Avenue at Sybilla St. to roam the same street where Peter Parker lived with his Uncle Ben and Aunt May. Of course, no geek trip to Forest Hills would be complete without the purchase of a Spidey comic book while you’re there. Royal Collectibles is the place to go, a traditional comic book shop filled with hidden treasures that will surely fulfill your nerdy needs for the day.
“Gotham” was, is, and always will be a synonym of New York. The first person who used this medieval term (which literally means “goat’s town“, by the way) to nickname the city was the master of gothic terror Washington Irving in the literary magazine Salmagundi. But that’s not why the word is famous; “Gotham” will always evoke the gritty, crime-ridden city where Batman lives and fights some of the worst crooks in comic book history. Bill Finger, co-author of the character, created the megalopolis in 1940 as a twisted and insanely corrupt reflection of New York after the sun goes down.
Although most of the acclaimed Dark Knight Trilogy was shot in Chicago, New York is also featured in Christopher Nolan’s masterpiece. A good example is Federal Hall, “the birthplace of American democracy” where George Washington became the first President of the United States. It’s here, right at the building’s front steps, where Batman and the villainous Bane engage in violent close-quarters combat at the end of the third installment of the franchise, The Dark Knight Returns.
177A Bleecker St.
Dr. Stephen Strange, the arrogant surgeon destined to protect our reality from cosmic threats as the Sorcerer Supreme, was created in 1963 by the same dynamic duo that gave us Spider-Man: Stan Lee and Steve Ditko. Maybe that’s why, like they previously did with the wallcrawler from Queens, this mystic superhero lives in a real New York address that can be easily found: 177A Bleecker Street, at the very heart of bohemian Greenwich Village.
Lee and Ditko conceived this location in a very interesting way. It’s, for starters, a clever homage to another well-known real address prominently featured in fictional stories: 221B Baker Street, home of the ineffable master detective Sherlock Holmes. The fun part, however, is hinted when you get there only to find nothing but a plain, unappealing apartment building. Disappointed? Don’t be! Surely Dr. Strange has conjured an ongoing masking spell to trick you, disguising the whole facade into that fake, boring appearance to hide his sacred Sanctum Sanctorum from privy eyes…
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Brooklyn Bridge/Queensboro Bridge
One of the most recognizable silhouettes in the world, the Brooklyn Bridge is an unparalleled engineering masterpiece. Of course, it had played a key role in dozens of movies, TV shows … and comic books. More specifically, the Brooklyn Bridge was the setting to one of the most tragic and decisive moments in the history of this medium: the death of Gwen Stacy, Spider-Man’s first true love. The Amazing Spider-Man #121-122 (1973) story arch shocked readers throughout the world when our hero (spoiler alert!) accidentally broke his girlfriend’s neck trying to save her from a deadly fall while fighting the Green Goblin. The unexpected, gut-wrenching twist still resonates today as a literary milestone that completely changed the tone of a medium traditionally targeted to younger audiences.
If, again, your knowledge of the character comes from the movies, you should know that this scene was recreated in the first Spider-Man movie directed by Sam Raimi in 2002. Well, kind of. The damsel in distress is Mary Jane Watson, she actually survives the fall, and the ensuing action takes place in the Queensboro Bridge right next to Roosevelt Island’s tram.
And speaking of life-changing events, the death of Batman’s parents is probably second to none. The atrocious murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne in front of their young heir completely defined the complex psyche and tormented behavior of the most fascinating and respected vigilante ever created. This pivotal moment has been recreated many times, always in a sordid “crime alley” from where you should steer clear of. And New York, of course, had the perfect location: Cortlandt Alley — a gritty Chinatown street that has become a true institution for filmmakers due to its raw, dangerous vibe. It just makes sense that the creators of the TV show Gotham — which explores Bruce Wayne’s life before becoming The Dark Knight — came to here to shoot (pun intended!) this tragic scene.
Lower East Side/Delancey St.
Manhattan’s Lower East Side might be an up-and-coming hood now, but this wasn’t always the case. During the first decades of the 20th century, thousands of immigrants lived in inhuman conditions, packed in unsanitary tenement buildings, avoiding conflict with street gangs, and earning barely enough to make ends meet. A hideous and dangerous melting pot, the LES was one of the worst neighborhoods in the world. And it was right there, at 147 Essex St., where comic book prodigy Jack “Kirby” Kurtzberg was born and raised. Kirby used his revolutionary drawing skills to escape a depressing reality, being eventually hired by both Marvel and DC Comics and going on to co-create iconic characters heroes Captain America, Iron Man, the X-Men, and The Incredible Hulk among many others.
Such a rough neighborhood obviously influenced his early works, especially developing the universe and adventures of the supergroup that redefined pop culture: The Fantastic 4. Although Mr. Fantastic, Invisible Woman, The Human Torch, and The Thing live near Times Square, the LES rawness was portrayed by Kirby in Yancy St., the fictional turf of an annoying street gang whose favorite pastime is to bully the monstrous Thing. It’s believed that Yancy was directly inspired by Delancey, a real street that still captures the ungentrified atmosphere of yesteryear.
The Frick Collection
Located in the Upper East Side’s reputed Museum Mile, The Frick Collection holds one of the most interesting art exhibits in Manhattan. Specializing in European Old Masters such as Rembrandt, Jacques-Louis David, and Diego Velázquez, Frick’s paintings are hidden treasures that usually get overlooked by tourists more interested in bigger museums. That’s not the case with the facade though, clearly visible from Central Park as one of the finest examples of Gilded Age architecture. Legend has it that it was precisely this classic appearance which inspired Stan Lee, Marvel Comics former Editor-In-Chief, to establish the final look for the Avengers Mansion (Earth’s Mightiest Heroes’ first headquarters in the comic books) while he was walking by the park.
Commonly dubbed “the crossroads of the world”, Times Square is both an undeniable tourist-magnet and a hellish nightmare to the locals that struggle to get through the hordes of visitors that flock the area surrounding its world-famous billboards. Hectic, overwhelming, and spectacular, Times Square is New York at its essence. It shouldn’t be a surprise then that its visual appeal had been used in many superheroes flicks like Captain America: The First Avenger, when Steve Rogers realizes at the end of the movie that he’s living in the 21st century after being released from the ice prison where he had been trapped for decades. Times Square’s sparkling glory was also featured during a night battle between Spider-Man and Elektro in the 2014 movie The Amazing Spider-Man 2.
Bonus: TV and beyond
Are you more into Marvel/Netflix TV shows? No problem. You can take a stroll around Central Park’s Bethesda Terrace to revisit the battle between Iron Fist and his frenemy Davos, walk up and down Malcolm X Boulevard/Lenox Avenue to explore Luke Cage’s territory at Harlem, or get some drinks at Turkey’s Nest, the Williamsburg dive bar chosen by Daredevil‘s showrunners to create the fictional watering hole Josie’s. And if all of that wasn’t enough, plan a trip upstate to try to find the X-Men Mansion somewhere at Westchester County or cross the Hudson River to visit the neighborhood of Kamala Khan — the first Muslim superheroine — in Jersey City.