With a history spanning almost 100 years, The Kaufman Astoria Studios has been part of some of the most brilliant and famous projects in the film industry. It rose to prominence while it was home to Paramount Pictures during the silent era of filmmaking in the twenties, and it still represents an important establishment for production of major motion pictures, independent movies, and television shows.
Here are some of the most famous Kaufman Astoria studios movies of all time, in chronological order.
Starring Gloria Swanson – probably the most recognized silent film actress – Manhandled is a comedy-drama about a young sales clerk trying to climb the social ladder and find her way into high society but ending up in all sorts of predicaments. The movie is somewhat of a morality tale and ends with love conquering all. Often depicted as a glamorous diva, we see Gloria Swanson delivering a stellar performance in an unfamiliar role of a curious working-class girl. The movie also shows that New York was a busy and frenetic city even in the twenties.
The Cocoanuts (1929)
Sound motion pictures – also known as “talkies” – finally entering commercial production and the Marx Brothers transferring their talents from the stages of Broadway to the big screen gave birth to several classics, including “The Cocoanuts”. The movie is a direct adaptation of George Kaufman‘s Broadway musical play and is the first time Groucho, Chico, Harpo, and Zeppo made the audience laugh, but definitely not the last time.
The Wiz (1977)
Produced by Universal Pictures and filmed in a newly reopened Astoria Studios, “The Wiz” is loosely based on the children’s novel and movie “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz”. Reimagined in a modern urban environment and featuring an entirely African American cast, this movie is a musical adventure that, despite receiving negative reviews, became a cult classic. It stars Diana Ross in the leading role and is Michael Jackson’s first appearance on the big screen.
Many critics agree that “Hair” is a perfect portrayal of the hippie movement and the rebellious spirit that came with it. Set in the midst of the Vietnam war, this anti-war musical tells the story of a young man – played by John Savage – from a small town who, on his way to join the army, makes a stop in the Big Apple and becomes completely seduced by it. Joining a group of hippies he met in Central Park, our main character gets into all kinds of misadventures and even ends up falling in love. This movie features some of the most memorable musical numbers which were magnificently choreographed by Twyla Tharp.
Besides “The Godfather” trilogy, “Goodfellas” is probably one of the most notable gangster movies ever made. Widely recognized as Martin Scorsese’s best work, this crime drama portrays the life of a small-time gangster and his climb in the hierarchy of the New York mob. The cast is made up of legendary actors including Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci and Ray Liotta who all deliver a five-star performance.
Carlito’s Way (1993)
Brian De Palma brings us a tragical redemption story of a former Puerto Rican drug dealer trying to stay away from trouble, but every decision he makes brings him closer to his haunting past and pulls him back in. We get to see Al Pacino in all his greatness, but Sean Penn as Davey Kleinfeld – the hysteric sleazeball lawyer – steals the show.
This movie is a fresh take on black comedy and is a modern masterpiece. Birdman tells the tale of Riggan Thomson – a depressed actor way past his prime – who is looking to turn things around for himself and write, direct and star in his Broadway play. Director Alejandro G. Iñárritu is famous for his unique directing style and camera manipulation, while the phenomenal Michael Keaton shines in every shot. Amazing supporting performances from Zach Galifianakis, Emma Stone and Edward Norton perfectly round up this gem of cinematography.
If we would try and name all the famous movies that were filmed at Kaufman Astoria Studios the list would go on for pages and pages. Honorable mentions would include Monsieur Beaucaire (1924), Animal Crackers (1930), The Verdict (1982), The Money Pit (1986), Moonstruck (1987), Shadows and Fog (1991), Glengarry Glen Ross (1992), Scent of a Woman (1992), The Manchurian Candidate (2004), The Bourne Ultimatum (2007), and more recently The Bourne Legacy (2011) and Men In Black 3 (2011). With two new sound stages and a backlot stage, a renovated restaurant, and a number of projects in production right now, we can safely say that the Kaufman Astoria is set to stay on the forefront of the entertainment industry in New York.