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The best NYC documentaries to stream right now

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Brush up on your New York City history with these essential documentaries

Bill Cunningham, the subject of one of the best documentaries about New York City.
Photo by Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images

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New York is a constant source of material for filmmakers, and there are hundreds of movies about the five boroughs, both fiction and non, that are worth your time. Now that many New Yorkers are spending more time at home, it’s a great time to dive into some of those films, which cover topics as varied as neighborhood histories, iconic residents, and how the most powerful have shaped the city, for better or worse.

These are just some of the best documentaries about New York that are available on the various streaming services out there; if we missed your favorite, let us know in the comments.

New York: A Documentary Film

Got 17.5 hours to kill? Ric Burns’s eight-part documentary spans the entire history of New York City, from when Henry Hudson landed on its shores to the aftermath of the September 11 attacks. Burns is working on a new episode, to debut sometime next year, so now’s the perfect time to catch up.

Where to watch: Amazon

Citizen Jane: The Battle for the City

What The Power Broker left out, Matt Tyranuer’s documentary brings to life: This 2017 film dives into the war Jane Jacobs waged against Robert Moses in the 1960s over the latter’s proposed Lower Manhattan Expressway, which would have cut through the heart of Greenwich Village and Soho. (She won, obviously.)

Where to watch: Hulu

Bill Cunningham New York

The prolific, legendary New York Times photographer died in 2016; to learn more about his life, and why he was beloved by so many—from fashion doyennes like Anna Wintour to street-style stars—give this 2010 documentary a whirl.

Where to watch: Amazon, Kanopy, SundanceNow

Park Avenue: Money, Power, and the American Dream

The title of Alex Gibney’s 2012 documentary pretty much says it all. Only watch if you’re prepared to feel really, really frustrated at economic inequality in the U.S., and New York’s place in that.

Where to watch: Amazon

10 Parks That Changed America

The antidote to feelings of rage over the wealth gap: a gentle series about the history of parks in the United States. Two of New York’s most famous green spaces—Central Park and the High Line—are highlighted as examples of the past and future of parks in this country.

Where to watch: Amazon

Man On Wire

Philippe Petit’s tightrope walk between the old Twin Towers was a feat of architectural derring-do, and the 2008 documentary chronicling his caper is not only a fascinating retelling of the event, but a lovely elegy to those lost skyscrapers.

Where to watch: Amazon, YouTube

Treasures of New York

Want to binge something New York-y? Thirteen’s expansive series looks at the institutions, places, and people that make New York City tick, covering topics as varied as settlement houses, architect Stanford White, and the New York Botanical Garden’s holiday train show.

Where to watch: PBS

In Jackson Heights

You can’t go wrong with any of Frederick Wiseman’s documentaries about New York City, but if you’re unfamiliar with his body of work, start with the 2015 film In Jackson Heights, a portrait of one of the city’s most diverse, vital communities. (Others to watch: Central Park and Ex Libris.)

Where to watch: Kanopy

Dark Days

Marc Singer’s award-winning documentary chronicles the lives of homeless New Yorkers who call the tunnels beneath the city streets home.

Where to watch: Amazon, YouTube

The Cruise

Tour guide and New York hypeman Timothy “Speed” Levitch is the subject of this 1998 documentary. It’s utterly fascinating, both as a portrait of a quintessential New Yorker and of the city itself, just before the sea changes of the past decade started happening.

Where to watch: Amazon, YouTube

On the Bowery

To truly experience “old” New York (well, from the mid-20th-century, anyway), check out Lionel Rogosin’s 1956 film, which isn’t quite a documentary but it’s not quite fiction, either. The film’s depiction of life on what was then one of New York’s roughest streets earned it an Oscar nomination.

Where to watch: Amazon

Class Divide

This HBO documentary chronicles the “hypergentrification” of Chelsea, as seen through the eyes of residents of the area surrounding West 26th Street and Tenth Avenue. There, high-end condos and new, wealthy residents sit across the street from several public housing projects.

Where to watch: Amazon