New Jersey has been the butt of many jokes since time immemorial it seems, and Hollywood certainly isn’t guiltless. However, the Garden State’s contribution to popular culture goes beyond merely being the country’s punching bag. Because sure, we all know that New York City often stars on the big screen, but you may be surprised by how many winners are on our list of movies set in New Jersey. Movie night, anyone?
48 Movies Set in New Jersey, From ‘Clerks’ to ‘The Wedding Singer’
1. “garden State” (2004)
This romantic gem kicks off when a struggling actor, played by Zach Braff, heads home to Jersey for his mother’s funeral, despite having been estranged from his family for nearly a decade. Once he’s back in the Garden State, he falls for the dysfunctional girl-next-door type, an oh-so-pretty pathological liar (played by Natalie Portman). The narrative here is lacking in nuance and the relationship rife with romantic cliches, but you’ll probably need some Kleenex, nonetheless. Plus, the soundtrack is great.
2. “atlantic City” (1980)
Louis Malle, a director famed for his innovative French New Wave style, is the man behind Atlantic City—a film that uses drugs, crime, death and a depressed New Jersey boardwalk as a mere backdrop for a far more charming story. Among the many mob movies set in New Jersey, few boast the old-school chivalry and sensuality of this one. (Hint: Susan Sarandon’s lemon squeezing ritual will make you weak in the knees.)
3. “rocket Science” (2007)
Reece Thompson and Anna Kendrick are the lead actors in this tender coming-of-age flick about a stuttering high school kid from Plainsboro, New Jersey who comes into his own when, upon developing a crush on the star member, he decides to join the debate team.
4. “the Iceman” (2012)
Michael Shannon and Winona Ryder star in this biopic about the infamous hitman, Richard Kuklinski, who committed numerous murders while living a seemingly normal life with his wife and kids in the ‘burbs. The acting is stellar in this one, and the plot is plenty thrilling, too.
5. “the Wedding Singer” (1998)
Everyone knows what to expect from an Adam Sandler movie and there are no surprises in The Wedding Singer. There’s a heartbroken ‘nice guy’ (Sandler), a quirky, charming woman (Drew Barrymore), and a wedding that must be stopped in the name of true love. Still, if you’re in the mood for something easy to watch, this rom-com is a solid choice.
6. “the Many Saints Of Newark” (2021)
Fans of the Sopranos can get one last fix from this HBO exclusive film—a prequel to the acclaimed television series that shows just how Tony Soprano’s upbringing on the streets of Newark molded him into the complicated man that everyone hates to love. (Admit it, he’s the most likable mob boss you ever did see.)
7. “cinderella Man” (2005)
Russell Crowe, Renee Zellweger and Paul Giamatti give excellent performances in Ron Howard’s film, which tells the Depression era, rags-to-riches story of North Bergen’s James J. Braddock, or Cinderella man, and his unexpected rise to glory in the boxing world. If you’re the type to root for the underdog, this one will be right up your alley.
8. “on The Waterfront” (1954)
To call On the Waterfront an oldie-but-goodie would be a massive understatement. The film is an American crime drama starring Marlon Brando as a Hoboken longshoreman entangled (and implicated) in the corruption and violence of the union leadership—and it took the Academy Awards by storm for good reason.
9. “city Of Hope” (1991)
City of Hope is the story of a mid-sized (fictional) city in New Jersey, the complicated connections between the people who live there and the corruption that reigns supreme. Full of characters whose lives are woven together with vignettes, the storytelling here is complex and none too uplifting. That said, if you’re down for a thought-provoking and emotional viewing experience, this one won’t disappoint.
10. “welcome To The Dollhouse” (1995)
Childhood isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. Certainly not for Dawn, an awkward middle-schooler growing up in suburban New Jersey who is bullied by her family members and peers alike. This critically-acclaimed dark comedy from Todd Solondz is an excellent watch...but it's far less funny than it is dark.
11. “friday The 13th” (1980)
Friday the 13th is the infamous 80s slasher film starring Betsy Palmer, Kevin Bacon and Adrienne King and takes place (and was actually filmed) in New Jersey. It’s also so terrifying that it’ll make you think twice about sending your kid to summer camp in the Garden State. That said, if you’re into gruesome and scary, there’s a whole franchise you can binge on.
12. “the Station Agent” (2003)
Peter Dinklage and Michelle Williams star in this touching film about a dwarf who seeks to live a reclusive life in an abandoned New Jersey train depot, only to find himself becoming close to his neighbors—a complicated cast of characters who show him the value of human connection.
13. “american Hustle” (2013)
This fast-paced film—loosely based on the FBI’s Abscam sting operation that rocked New Jersey in the early 80s—features corrupt politicians, mafiosos, con-men, and feds (i.e., all the makings of a gripping crime movie). Tune in and you’ll be treated to top-notch performances from an all-star cast (Christian Bale, Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper and Amy Adams, to name a few) and oodles of entertainment to boot.
14. “not Fade Away” (2012)
Directed by David Chase, the creator of The Sopranos, this gripping film tells the story of a group of New Jersey teenagers who form a band in the hopes of becoming the next big thing on the rock n’ roll scene of the 60s. An entertaining watch with a killer soundtrack.
15. “coneheads” (1993)
Take a trip down memory lane with this early 90s science-fiction comedy, starring Dan Aykroyd and Jane Curtin, about a quirky alien family adjusting to life in the suburbs of New Jersey. It’s debatable whether or not the SNL skit upon which Coneheads is based was worthy of a feature-length film, but this campy throwback certainly has its charm.
16. “lean On Me” (1989)
This is an autobiographical drama about an unconventional, hard-nosed principal (Morgan Freeman) who works at an inner-city high school in Paterson, New Jersey and ultimately wins the respect of his unruly students and transforms the school in the process. Ultimately, the film is uplifting—just be warned that the good feeling fades pretty fast if you think too hard about the pedagogy represented.
17. “cop Land” (1997)
Cop Land is a crime drama with a star-studded cast (Robert DeNiro, Ray Liotta, Harvey Keitel and Sylvester Stalone) and a gripping plot that revolves around the corruption and transgressions of a group of NYPD officers living in Garrison, New Jersey. The themes of racial injustice and police misconduct here are timely, to say the least.
18. “eddie And The Cruisers” (1983)
Tom Berenger, Michael Pare and Ellen Barkin star in this early 80s flick about a lead singer from a major 1960s rock band that disappeared, and one journalist’s determination to solve the mystery. The plot here is thrilling—for the same reason conspiracy theories about Elvis’s death still persist—and Eddie and the Cruiser’s hit song, actually sung by John Cafferty and Beaver Brown Band, is just darn good.
20. “admission” (2012)
Life gets complicated for a Princeton admissions officer (Tina Fey) when the principal of a local high school (Paul Rudd) suggests a gifted student in his school might be her biological child. The plot of this one has enough twists and turns to keep things interesting, and plenty of on-screen chemistry between the two stars as well.
21. “jersey Boys” (2014)
Clint Eastwood is the director behind this film based on the Tony-award winning musical by the same name about Franki Valli, the lead singer of the Four Seasons, and the close contact he had with mobsters while growing up in Newark, New Jersey. Both the biographical story and the soundtrack that accompanies it are compelling reasons to give this one a try.
22. “jersey Girl” (2004)
Celebrate the second coming of Bennifer with this rom-com in which a widowed father (Ben Affleck) moves back to his hometown in Highlands, New Jersey with his young daughter to get back on his feet when his career goes south, and ends up getting a little unexpected help from a new love interest. (We bet you can guess who that is.)
23. “i.q.” (1994)
Catherine (Meg Ryan) is a super smart doctoral candidate at Princeton University, Ed (Tim Robbins) is a regular Joe working at a garage and Catherine’s uncle, Albert Einstein (Walter Mathau) is cupid in this quirky romantic comedy. It may not be crazy smart, but it sure is cute.
24. “mallrats” (1995)
We already told you Kevin Smith devoted three films to the good ol’ Garden State, and it just so happens we’re working backwards. Here, the second movie from the trilogy—a silly 90s must-see about two dudes who go to a Jersey mall with some offbeat buddies (think: Jay and Silent Bob) to console themselves after being dumped by their girlfriends.
25. “clerks” (1994)
Clerks, the first (and arguably the best) film in Kevin Smith’s three-part ode to Jersey is a black-and-white number that hilariously chronicles the antics and bad attitudes of a group of convenience store clerks at a Quick Stop in Leonardo as they while away the hours, shooting the breeze and harassing customers.
26. “clerks Ii” (2006)
That’s right, the cult classic Clerks has a sequel—and it’s every bit as funny. Some key developments: The famous slackers are forced to move onto jobs at a fast food joint, Rosario Dawson joins the cast, and the uproarious interactions go down in full-color. The irreverent humor, however, is a constant.
27. “a Beautiful Mind” (2001)
Ron Howard’s Academy Award-winning biographical drama about John Nash—Princeton University’s mathematician extraordinaire—and his battle with schizophrenia handles mental health issues with nuance and culminates in a love story that is almost guaranteed to make you ugly cry.
28. “sherrybaby” (2006)
Maggie Gyllenhaal plays the part of Sherry Swanson—a drug-addict who, after a three-year prison term, returns to her home in New Jersey clean and determined to win back her 8-year-old daughter from the care of family members—and her performance is gut-wrenchingly on point. Brace yourself for a profoundly depressing story with acting that will knock your socks off.
29. “war Of The Worlds” (2005)
This action-packed science-fiction blockbuster about an extraterrestrial invasion in New Jersey boasts a seriously impressive cast—including Tom Cruise, Dakota Fanning, Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman—and won multiple awards for its stellar visual and sound effects.
30. “the Day The Earth Stood Still” (1951)
Here’s another sci-fi flick about alien invasion and the doom of Earthlings. This remake of the 1951 classic, starring Keanu Reeves and Jennifer Connelly, features an unforgettable scene in which man-eating metal bugs descend upon the New Jersey turnpike.
31. “paterson” (2016)
This Jim Jarmusch film features indie darling Adam Driver as a bus driver and poet named Paterson who lives a mostly mechanical life in (you guessed it) Paterson, New Jersey. This one isn’t exactly action-packed, but if you don’t mind the artsy, minimalist style, this quirky film just might float your boat.
32. “big Night” (1996)
Minnie Driver, Isabella Rossellini and Stanley Tucci (also one of the film’s directors) are among the stars in this dramedy about two brothers from Italy who try to open up a restaurant in New Jersey, only to find their authentic cooking is pooh-poohed by the locals who prefer the Americanized stuff. Both critics and regular viewers agree that this one will make your mouth water.
33. “being John Malkovich” (1999)
Being John Malkovich is a surrealist and super weird cult-comedy about a bizarre love triangle that begins with a magical portal that delivers one into the mind of, er, John Malkovich. (Yep, he’s in the movie.) This NYC-centric film probably wouldn’t make our Jersey movie list if it weren’t for the fact that anyone who uses the portal to enter Malkovich’s mind enjoys only a 15-minute head trip before being ejected into a ditch on the side of the NJ turnpike.
34. “dark Ride” (2006)
Here, another New Jersey slasher film to scare you silly. This one stars Jamie-Lynn Sigler and Jennifer Tisdale as spring breakers who embark on a road trip with a few friends and take a very unfortunate detour to an amusement park where an escaped killer awaits.
35. “desperately Seeking Susan” (1985)
Roberta, a bored housewife from Fort Lee, New Jersey played by Rosanna Arquette, gets more than she bargained for when she starts stalking a couple she found communicating in the personals section of the paper. Criminal activity and a case of mistaken identity factor into the plot of this entertaining 80s comedy, which also happens to be Madonna’s first major film debut.
37. “lianna” (1983)
Lianna, a bored housewife who lives with her husband and two children in a medium-sized New Jersey town, finds her world turned upside down when she has an affair with a woman and discovers she’s a lesbian. Lianna provides a nuanced and poignant look at the implications of coming out.
39. “the Godfather” (1972)
OK, so most of this iconic Francis Ford Coppola film doesn’t take place in New Jersey. One of the most memorable scenes does, though. Fast forward to “leave the gun, take the cannoli,” and you might recognize the location—the scene was filmed in Jersey City, in an area that’s now Liberty State Park.
41. “the King Of Marvin Gardens” (1972)
Two brothers (Jack Nicholson and Bruce Dern) hook up in Atlantic City to make big things happen. Basically, director Bob Rafelson uses the Jersey locale to turn Monopoly into a movie and—thanks to excellent acting and a very original screenplay—it’s not nearly as boring as you’d think.
43. “don Jon” (2013)
Don Jon, Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s directorial debut, tells the story of a (mostly) wholesome New Jersey bartender who has a considerable problem with porn, the severity of which he only discovers when the addiction starts to sabotage his relationship with the girl of his dreams, played by Scarlett Johansson. Breezy, provocative and fun to watch, this rom-com also has slightly more substance than most.
44. “the Wrestler” (2008)
Mickey Rourke's performance as Randy the Ram, a has-been wrestler with the far-fetched dream of making a comeback, is as close to flawless as they come. Marisa Tomei does a darn good job as a stripper and love interest, too. You really can’t go wrong with this one.
45. “big” (1988)
This whimsical comedy is all about Hank (played by Tom Hanks), a boy from Cliffside Park, New Jersey whose wish to be big comes true overnight. This is a nostalgic favorite, but parents should know it’s not as family-friendly as it seems.
46. “return Of The Secaucus 7” (1979)
A group of baby boomers—some of whom were arrested in the 60s in Secaucus, New Jersey while en route to an antiwar protest—decides to have a reunion, and let’s just say it isn’t so hunky-dory. Return of the Secaucus 7 is John Sayles’ directorial debut and it’s well worth a watch.
48. “blinded By The Light” (2019)
Equal parts comedy and drama, this critically-acclaimed British indie film is loosely based on the life of Safraz Manzoor—a journalist with a professed love of New Jersey’s pride and joy, Bruce Springsteen—and culminates in a poignant trip to Monmouth College in the Garden State.
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