New York City is depicted as a dysfunctional, crime-plagued, vermin-infested, smog-choked, polluted, grimy, sleazy, seedy, corrupt, racially-divided, poverty-ridden, morally-and-financially-bankrupt Wretched Hive filled with Apathetic Citizens, hostile jerkasses, violent psychotics, violent psychotics with badges, drug addicts, deviants, a crumbling infrastructure, and not enough parking spots.
And the worst thing is, once you've gotten a taste of it, you can't stand to live anywhere else. It's actually not uncommon for people these days to feel oddly nostalgic for the bad old days when this was true, since, as many commentators note, New York City had a relatively low cost of living at the time compared to nowadays.
The Big Rotten Apple trope can come into play in any story set during any time in the city's existence (you'll sometimes encounter a version in stories set in late-19th-century Gilded Age New York, when high crime, overcrowding, and income inequality led to similar stories and situations), but was mostly Truth in Television from the mid-1960s to the mid-'80s, and has largely become a Dead Horse Trope unless one is doing a period piece set in that era.
New York City (as well as many other cities throughout the United States and Europe) suffered major urban decay during that period, as crime was rising rapidly, racial antagonism was high, and various industries were entering their declines. In America, the completion of the Interstate Highway system and massive advancements in automobiles meant that commuting to the city while living elsewhere was easier than ever. This led to major "white flight" toward and massive growth of suburban areas, entrenching the suburbs' reputation of being safer, cleaner, and... well, more homogeneous than the inner cities.
On the flip side, this massive and relatively sudden outflux of people led to a rapidly deteriorating tax base (New York was barely brought back from the brink of bankruptcy in 1975), which in turn caused government corruption, neglect, and lack of city maintenance. The 1970s and early '80s were without a doubt the nadir of this decay, which is why this trope peaked in that period. By the late 1980s and early '90s the cities had begun to slowly recover, with white flight having slowed and unemployment having fallen, but were still scarred from the remaining problems such as crime, so the trope was still decently prevalent, albeit not anywhere near as much as previously.
However, by the second half of the 1990s, cities in the United States (and European ones) had mostly recovered, with populations stabilizing or increasing again, crime and pollution plummeting, poverty falling, and blight mostly recovering. At the same time, many of the problems that cities had (poverty, crime, corruption, racial division) had slowly started to creep in the suburbs as well. Some cities obviously recovered more than others: many smaller cities in the Midwest only slightly recovered and are nowhere close to their peaks in the early and mid-20th century, while New York City has arguably recovered a bit too well, such that many working-class people have left for cheaper places to live as gentrification drove land values (and with them rents and property taxes) ever higher. At the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st, it was the cities of the West Coast that got the reputation as dysfunctional: Los Angeles with gang violence and the Rodney King riots, San Francisco with its housing crisis,note Portland and Seattle with their violent anarchist vs ultra-nationalist protests, and all of them with a homelessness crisis. Despite this, many people who grew up in the 1960s and 1970s still believe New York City is like this because of what pop culture told them during their formative years.
- Mad Bull 34 portrays the Big Apple as a crime-ridden hellhole, where the only real difference between the criminals and the police are uniforms.
- In Mobile Fighter G Gundam New York City is portrayed this way, but then so is the entire rest of the planet due to the fact that humanity's "betters" abandoned Earth for space colonies some decades ago, leaving the trashed-out planet to the "have-nots". It ends up being a relatively positive portrayal, as Chibodee Crockett (America's entrant in the Gundam Fight and eventually Domon's Lancer) is a Self-Made Man who came from the Bronx and his example serves as inspiration for his fellow New Yorkers.
- The Punisher: The change in the city since the 70s and 80s is acknowledged at one point during The Punisher: Welcome Back, Frank story arc when Frank, during an inner monologue, reflects a bit on how the city's cleaned up quite a bit on the surface, but at the core it's still as rotten as ever.
- In the story arc "Kitchen Irish" Frank mocks the idea of gentrifying Hell's Kitchen. Calling it "Clinton" and making it trendy to well-off young people hasn't done anything to make it safer.
- During Garth Ennis' run, some of the more out-there plots included a homeless guy living in a pile of corpses in the sewers, a midget mafia, and a giant squid hanging out near the docks (though this is supposed to be absurd even in-universe).
- By the end of the MAX run, New York has seen river pirates, Balkan sex traffickers, pedophile and snuff film rings, Irish terrorists, and turf wars between Mafiya, triads and even plain old Mafia (or what's left of them after 40 years of Frank running roughshod over them).
- Gotham City is an expy of the darker side of NYC in the Batman franchise. ("Gotham" has been a well-known nickname for New York City long before Batman even came about, and artist Frank Miller has referred to Gotham City as "New York City after dark.") In one Batman and Superman crossover, Jimmy Olsen actually calls Gotham "the Rotten Apple".
- Batman editor Dennis O'Neil once described Metropolis as "New York above 14th Street on a warm spring day", while Gotham City is "Manhattan below Fourteenth street at eleven minutes past midnight on the coldest night in November.”
- This was curiously played straight without the direct allegory in Steve Englehart's run, during the 1970s - where this trope was in-vogue for the real NY, but the Batman 'verse as a whole was still expontentially Lighter and Softer from Miller's vision. One of Rupert Thorne's cronies, trying to argue why they shouldn't run Batman out of town, points out that Batman's presence makes Gotham look safe enough to attract tourists (and their associated revenue) that "wouldn't be caught dead in New York."
- Watchmen: Rorschach gives his opinion on the city:
"The streets are extended gutters and the gutters are full of blood...Beneath me, this awful city, it screams like an abattoir full of retarded children. And the night reeks of fornication and bad consciences."
- NYX is set in a particularly nasty, crime- and gang violence-riddled part of New York City.
- The New York of the Marvel Universe is an extremely dangerous place, plagued by everything from costumed supervillains to alien invasions to attacks by the odd Eldritch Abomination. While the city's superheroes have managed to keep things from getting completely out of hand, Innocent Bystanders are all too frequently killed by these threats before the superheroes managed to stop them.
- Sam & Max Hit the Road, with recurring plots having just about any of the other animal characters in the city being criminals or simply unfriendly. The Telltale Games play with both its older image and with gentrification, the latter being directly referenced by the reforming of Grandpa Stinky's dive bar into a trendy modern one run by his Granddaughter, which the lead characters lament.
- While these days Metropolis is portrayed as an Expy of all the "good" parts of New York (as opposed to Gotham), in the early days, it was very different. In the The Golden Age of Comic Books, Metropolis as created was still an Expy of New York, but definitely of the Big Rotten Apple type. Superman battled corrupt politicians, gangsters and heartless businessmen that exploited the poor and downtrodden Metropolis citizens. It was the Great Depression, after all. Some versions of the Superman mythos, such as Grant Morrison's 2011 Action Comics run, still have Metropolis be an Expy of the Big Rotten Apple during Superman's early days, with Clark, both as Superman and just as importantly with Lois as intrepid reporters, helping clear up the city and turning it into the more familiar bright, optimistic New York Expy.
- Transmetropolitan: The City is a conglomeration of the East Coast's cities. As Spider demonstrates, living there sucks if you aren't part of the rich people (especially those without makers, devices that convert regular matter to household objects), mentioning that there are some diseases that exist only in the City and Third World countries.
- The fanfic series Ultimate Sleepwalker: The New Dreams and Ultimate Spider-Woman: Change With The Light are both set in the same alternate version of the Marvel Universe. This universe's version of New York has both the highest number of supervillains per capita and the overall highest crime rate in the entire United States. It's specifically noted that Rudy Giuliani's law enforcement initiatives were a dismal failure, and the city remains as much of a crime-ridden hellhole as it's ever been.
- Fritz the Cat, Heavy Traffic and The Last Days of Coney Island. Almost a Bakshi trademark.
- Oliver & Company takes place in then-present day NYC showing a city with a seedy underbelly full of stray cats and dogs (some of whom are quite vicious) and Fagin is shown scraping to get by, having to live on a dingy boat on the docks and being forced to work for an evil loan shark just to survive. The intro song "Once Upon a Time in New York City" even invokes this trope.
- Midnight Cowboy is set in the seedy and sordid New York of the late 1960s.
- Joe (1970) is about a vigilante in a crime-ridden, dirty 1970s New York.
- The Out-of-Towners (1970): An Ohio couple journeys to New York and finds a rundown metropolis beset by crime, ineffectual police, strikes, institutional incompetence, and a callous populace.
- The French Connection follows a couple of 1970s New York police officers investigating and trying to break up a drug-smuggling ring.
- Serpico: Especially as the protagonist of the film and the non-fiction book it's based on keeps getting told that corruption in the NYPD is a matter of a few "rotten apples" rather than "the barrel itself being rotten."
- Death Wish and its New York-set sequels depict a city where violent crime is so out of control that citizens are forced to take vigilante action.
- Wild Boys of the Road: Three homeless teens during The Great Depression wind up living in a New York garbage dump. They hate it, wishing they'd stayed in the country where they could find food more easily.
- Dog Day Afternoon, a film about a bank robbery gone wrong, which has the added plus of being based on real events.
- In The Brave One, protagonist Erica Bain starts out with an idealistic view of the city, but after a vicious attack by a trio of gang members leaves her in a coma, her boyfriend dead, and her dog kidnapped, she begins to seriously question just how safe the city really is, and it only gets worse as she is constantly put into situations where she is forced to use lethal force to defend herself.
- The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (the 1974 version) is set in a New York where a lieutenant of the transit police is a casually racist Noble Bigot with a Badge who falls asleep on the job; the streets are full of garbage; the mayor is an apathetic, venal twit who can only be prodded into ordering the resolution of a hostage situation with the reminder that he needs people to vote for him, and everyone lives in crappy, grungy apartments. But it's okay because it's all set to a kick-ass soundtrack by David Shire!
- Taxi Driver: Travis Bickle, a night taxi driver, sees the mid-1970s city as this.
All the animals come out at night — whores, skunk pussies, buggers, queens, fairies, dopers, junkies, sick, venal. Someday a real rain will come and wash all this scum off the streets.
- Mean Streets: Scorsese's breakthrough movie, sometimes considered a companion piece to Taxi Driver, features bottom-level Mafia hoods in a similarly filthy, corrupt, crime-ridden, hopeless New York.
- The Warriors portrays New York as having an entire alternate society of warring tribes. They even have their own radio station delivering up-to-the-minute coverage on brawls and feuds.
- Fort Apache, The Bronx is based on the real-life nickname of the 41st Precinct (South Bronx) of the NYPD in the 1960s and '70s.
- After Hours takes a more absurdist approach to the trope by following the surreal misadventures of a man who gets hooked up on a blind date one night, only to find himself lost in the weird environment of Greenwich Village late at night.
- Do the Right Thing depicts a late 80s Brooklyn neighborhood as a racially charged tinderbox ready to explode.
- Quick Change: the three main characters get so sick of what a shithole New York is that they rob a bank to try and get away from it. The city returns the favour by forcing them through a nightmarish comedy of errors as they try and accomplish what should be the simple task of driving to the airport to make the getaway.
- This trope is employed in Last Action Hero where, after two people are shot dead in the middle of a street in full view of numerous bystanders, one of the shooters shouts to the rooftops that he did it and wants to confess only to be met with apathy by the crowd and one person yelling at him to shut up.
- In the Cut: The New York City seen here is decidedly not a glamorous one, but a grimy one where danger seems to lurk on every corner.
- Joe's Apartment. The eponymous hero gets mugged three times in a row... before leaving the bus station.
- Super Fly is about a drug dealer looking to pull off One Last Job and get out of the life. It is set in Harlem in the 1970s. Harlem looks really, really rough.
- This trope can also be seen in films that take place during the 19th century that show the gritty side of 'Gilded Age' New York:
- Gangs of New York mostly takes place in the historic Five Points slum, which is filthy, violent and crime-plagued, ruled over by rival gangs and a corrupt police force. And then the Civil War Draft Riots break out and the area gets destroyed by cannon fire (which really happened).
- An American Tail has a New York ruled over by cat gangs (representing racial persecution in historic New York at the time) extorting immigrant mice with a protection racket. The sequel accentuates New York's negative characteristics to force the Mousekewitz family to move out west.
- Movies set in a future New York that take the hellishness depicted in this trope and multiply it exponentially include:
- Escape from New York: where New York ended up getting so bad by the 1990s that the (admittedly rather fascistic) government just gave up on it, turned it into America's only maximum-security prison, and just started dumping all the country's criminals in there.
- Soylent Green: where New York is badly polluted and hugely overcrowded as a result of the global population swelling by 400%. Shortages and civic unrest are endemic.
- The Harry Canyon vignette of Heavy Metal. The city got so bad that the United Nations building was sold and turned into some really shitty housing (by Mr. Canyon's narration - thankfully we are spared from actually seeing it).
- Grim and gritty slasher films such as Maniac! (1980) and The New York Ripper.
- Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990) depicts New York in the middle of a huge crime wave perpetrated by Shredder's Foot Clan, made up of teenage runaways and orphans. The sequels don't have this trope so much though.
- Anton Furst's Gotham City in Batman (1989) is New York "if Hell erupted through the pavements and kept on going." It's also inspired by, in Furst's words, "an immigrant's vision of New York City."
- Ghostbusters (1984), its sequel, and Ghostbusters: The Video Game all lean on this stereotype of the Big Apple. Diners at Tavern on the Green ignore a panicked Louis Tully as a Terror Dog possesses him; the combined negativity of the city's denizens manifests as a river of slime; the city is routinely attacked by ghosts of its own homeless and construction-workers...the list goes on and on. Worst of all is the feeling of a city without spiritual direction, and the city's only contact with the other side is mischievous at best and outright malevolent at worst. Subverted in the sequel's climax, when the Ghostbusters use the Statue of Liberty to awaken the good feelings lurking beneath New York's crusty exterior and combat the slime's negative influence. It's toned down in the 2016 version, reflecting how this became a Discredited Trope in the intervening years; one gag has the new gang trying to buy the iconic firehouse from the original film, only to find that rent is over $20,000 a month, forcing them to establish their headquarters above a Chinese restaurant instead.
- In Coming to America, this is possibly invoked. Prince Akeem and his best friend Semmi stay in New York in order to meet an American woman. Akeem insist on staying in a dirty apartment in a rough neighborhood in Queens so people won't realize that he is royalty.
- Horror Movie a Day's review of Red Hook:
"Not since Jason Takes Manhattan have I seen a film that was seemingly designed to scare people from wanting to go to the Big Apple (oddly, the trailer inexplicably points out that NY has the lowest crime rate of the nation's ten biggest cities). During their first date, our leads go into a convenience store (pretty much the first time we see them leave the school) and instantly the place is held up, with the robber and clerk ultimately shooting each other. Then she is mocked for being upset, as if a NY resident should be used to people being shot to death right in front of them whenever they walk out the door. All clerks that they encounter are jaded assholes, and every place they visit looks like a hellhole. I mean, the scavenger hunt was actually designed as a real one for new students — shouldn't he have chosen landmarks for them to visit in order to find clues instead of closed down dance studios and anonymous seedy bars? And even odder, when one girl is killed, her body is left in plain sight on the sidewalk for a good chunk of time, undisturbed, which just suggests that a corpse is nothing unusual in the city."
- In Saturday Night Fever 1970's New York is full of youth gangs and the subway is covered in graffiti (that is Truth in Television). The only escape from it for Tony is disco.
- Summer of Sam: Although based on a true story, the movie follows a fictional plot too, with almost all the characters (predominantly Italian-Americans) having bad attitudes, direct frankness, sarcasm, accusing each other of being the killer, being rude and insulting to a promiscuous girl (who is more than capable of standing up for herself) and bullying a punk rocker due to him not conforming to their macho behaviour.
- Briefly touched upon in Godzilla: Final Wars. There is one scene where a gaudily-dressed gangster type pulls a gun on a cop for trying to get him to move his car while a drunk guy cheers him on. And this is before the city gets attacked by Rodan.
- The Professional is specifically set in the Mafia stronghold of New York's Little Italy where a corrupt DEA agent can murder an entire family and an an assassin and his young protégé can carry out hits on unsuspecting victims.
- Dead End is set in the filthy, garbage-strewn, vermin-infested tenements of Manhattan's East Side. But gentrification is on the way, as an ultra-fancy apartment building has been built right next to the slums.
- The Musketeers of Pig Alley shows that this trope was around at least as far back as 1912. An opening title card sets the scene as "New York's other side". Pig Alley is in fact an alley, filled with garbage, boasting prostitutes and dive bars, where gangs have shootouts and where muggers lurk to rob you as you're trying to enter your shabby room in a filthy tenement.
- 1912 film The Land Beyond the Sunset is about a ragged boy who lives in a filthy apartment and is trying to eke out a living by selling newspapers on the sidewalk. He winds up getting a ticket from the Fresh Air Fund (a real charity) for a trip to the country, thus briefly escaping his grimy New York slum.
- 1915 film Regeneration also shows New York as crime ridden and dirty, with the whole story taking place in a poverty-stricken Irish neighborhood. Protagonist Owen Conway turns to a life of crime because he doesn't see any other way to improve his condition.
- Big Fun in the Big Town: For this 1986 Cult Classic documentary about Hip-Hop the Dutch documentary crew filmed in the black ghetto neighborhoods and the more crime infested parts of the city. To avoid problems they hired a bunch of bodyguards to protect them.
- In Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan, New York is portrayed as a filthy city, full of Apathetic Citizens who can't care to take the time out of their schedule to help the teens being chased by a creepy guy in a hockey mask. When the survivors arrive in New York, they are almost immediately attacked by a couple of thugs, who would have raped the Final Girl if Jason hadn't shown up to kill them first. Yes, New York is portrayed as bad enough that the presence of Jason Voorhees makes it safer.
- The zombie film Mulberry Street, set in an apartment on the titular street in Manhattan's Little Italy, has a rather unique example of this. It portrays New York at the height of the Bloomberg years as it was coming out of this trope and becoming increasingly gentrified in the process, with the protagonists struggling to hold onto their apartment block in a city where working-class people like themselves are increasingly unwelcome. Their local watering hole is now filled with yuppies, a rich family from Connecticut just moved into one of the units, and the cost of living ain't getting any cheaper. And then the rat-zombies show up...
- Discussed in Crazy People, a late-eighties Dudley Moore film about an advertising executive who gets thrown into an asylum after beginning to come up with blunt, no-nonsense advertising slogans that tell the unvarnished truth about the product, which ends up revolutionising the industry. One of the slogans for a New York tourism campaign is "Come to New York; there were fewer murders last year".
- In the parody J-Men Forever, New York City is about to be inundated by a Stock Footage Giant Wall of Watery Doom, so the Mayor handles the crisis by urging the populace to flee mindlessly and calling on the police and fire brigade to assemble for union negotiations. At the end of the movie, the J-Men celebrate the destruction of the Supervillain Lair and New York City as a double victory!
- Joker (2019) portrays Gotham City (described above under "Comic Books") as New York in the midst of its '70s/'80s decline, in homage to Taxi Driver.
- Hey Good Lookin': Set in 1953, this film, like a lot of Bakhsi's work, shows New York as a dirty cesspool full of crime, violence and sleaze. And, this being the 1950's, it's also segregated.
- Given the fact it's Darker and Edgier than the first film, Home Alone 2: Lost in New York features Kevin walking around at night in a city full of jerkasses, what, cause you know, is this. Bonus points for being a live-action film-sized variant of The Simpsons episode where Homer traveled to that city in the hopes of seeking his avariated car.
- "Crocodile" Dundee (1986) is a two-part Culture Clash/Fish out of Water story. The first half is set in Australia, with Sue Charlton, an Intrepid Reporter from NYC, feeling out of place in Australia with Mick Dundee as her guide. Then, the second half flips the circumstances around, as Mick joins Sue in NYC, where he initially feels out of place, before befriending a cab driver who goes drinking with him in a seedy bar, befriending a pair of hookers, and has two separate encounters against a gang; the first time, he scares off their switchblade-armed leader with his imposing Bowie knife ("That's not a knife... [pulls out his knife] that's a knife."), and the second time, he gets attacked in a dark alley before his chauffeur rescues him, who reveals he used to be with a gang when he was growing up.
- The climax of Fleisch (also known as Spare Parts) takes place in New York City, where Dr. Jackson's vehicle is chased through a particularly dilapidated-looking part of town before finally being run off a bridge.
- Wolfen: The fact that Queens looks like the set of a post-apocalyptic movie full of disposable vagrants is an important plot point, for this is where the titular super-smart, apparently supernatural wolves of the title have made their den.
- The Bonfire of the Vanities: 1980s New York at its most divided and dysfunctional.
- Made fun of in the beginning of Mostly Harmless, which proceeds to outline all the ways in which New York is a terrible place to live if you care about your quality of life.
- In the Animorphs book The Familiar, Jake wakes up in a dystopian, Crapsack World version of New York where all of humanity has been enslaved by the Yeerks and the only free people are an underground group of rebels.
- In Big Trouble by Dave Barry, there's a suitcase-sized nuclear bomb is on the loose that CIA agents explain the True Believer intends to blow it up in the middle of Times Square (the book was written pre-September 11th), which prompts one character to remark it wouldn't be a big loss.
- Lyndsey Faye's novel The Gods of Gotham, is set in mid-nineteenth century Manhattan like Gangs of New York and follows one of New York's first cops whose beat is in the squalor and poverty of Five Points.
- Hubert Selby Jr.'s Last Exit to Brooklyn portrays the titular borough in the late 1950s as a Wretched Hive of prostitutes, drag queens and criminals. It was quite shocking when first published in the early 1960's.
- In Coda (2013), the dystopian city the book takes place in is a future New York.
- In Those That Wake, ever since Big Black, New York has not been a nice place to live at all.
- In The Dark Half, in a scene set in New York, it's mentioned that New Yorkers lock their doors instinctively:
Maybe you only locked up when you were going away on vacation if you lived in the sticks, and maybe you forgot to lock up once in awhile when you went to work if you lived in a small city like Fargo, North Dakota, or Ames, Iowa, but after you'd been in the maggoty old Big Apple for awhile, you locked up even if you were just taking a cup of sugar to a neighbor down the hall. Forgetting to lock up would be like exhaling a breath and just forgetting to take the next one.
- In the present day of the Star Carrier series (the early 25th century), New York is an abandoned, largely lawless slum after it was abandoned due to being inundated by a hurricane and rising sea levels in the late 21st century. It and other flooded areas along the East Coast, the "Periphery", became havens for those who didn't want to be found. Periphery restoration efforts are shown underway at the end of book three.
- In The Memory Wars, New York starts off this way, having been secretly ruled by supernatural predators for years. Of course, that's before Nathan Shepherd gets involved.
- Alluded to in The Man Who Brought the Dodgers Back to Brooklyn, since it is partially set in the New York City of the 1980s, but it's also hinted that the Dodgers' return to Brooklyn helps end this. The narrator mentions that crime rates actually fall in Brooklyn during the book's version of the 1988 World Series.
- American Psycho plays with the trope: '80s New York is full of homeless people, crowded, and pretty scuzzy in places— but the real foulness takes place in the expensive, glossy apartments Patrick Bateman occupies.
- H. P. Lovecraft was a firm believer in this trope, partially caused by his rather extreme racism and his unpleasant experience staying in New York for a few years in the 1920's. Several of his more controversial stories, such as The Horror At Red Hook, He, and the nearly impossible to find The Street were based on this trope. In one scene the protagonist is shown New York in its colonial past, which borders on a utopia that even the Big Bad misses, and then its far future where it's become a terrifying Wretched Hive overrun by "sinister orientals".
- The Midnight Meat Train: New York is a corrupt hellhole where the subway is stalked by a serial killer called The Butcher who kills people and feed their corpses to "The City Fathers", subhuman immortals who live beneath the city and serve an Eldritch Abomination. Oh, and if you kill the Butcher in self-defence, you have to become the new Butcher yourself.
- The unnamed city in Ed McBain's 87th Precinct series is basically an expy version of this trope.
- And Still the Turtle Watched: As the city of New York slowly grows around the turtle things get worse and worse with the turtle ending up blinded by spray paint, though it ends on a more upbeat note with the turtle being relocated to the botanical gardens.
- While New York isn't portrayed as all doom and gloom in While My Pretty One Sleeps, we do see a grimmer side of it in the novel: the mob have been operating in the city for decades, there are issues with homeless people and drug addicts, an innocent woman walking through the park to pick up her child had her throat cut, the man who serves Neeve coffee and sandwiches has accepted money to kill her, and the fashion industry is far from clean, including sweatshops, child exploitation, drug trafficking, tax evasion and maybe even murder.
- The novel version of Winter's Tale tried to tell a fantastical epic across the history of New York, with the main character for the 19th century effectively swept forward to a 1999 that could only be envisioned by someone living in New York in the late Seventies/early Eighties, which is effectively a trash strewn hellhole that is meant to serve as the final stage before apocalyptic revelation, with only a few carrying the light of wisdom and truth. The much-derided movie version just had the main character swept forward to late 2000s New York, which is... a bit of a difference.
- Barney Miller takes place during the 70's and early 80's. The bureaucracy, high crime, and perpetual budget crisis make for great comedy and occasional drama.
- CSI: NY Zig-zags this: overall, New York is presented as a very nice place to visit and live in... just try not to mind the dead bodies.
- The Bronx Is Burning is about the 1977 New York Yankees efforts to win a World Series for the first time in 15 years. Said pennant chase just so happened to take place during the same Summer as Son of Sam, mass blackouts leading to widespread looting, and at one point, a fire so massive, it could be seen from Yankee Stadium during a nationally televised game.
- Late Night with David Letterman and Late Show: Before September 11, 2001, the opening would have the announcer make some disparaging crack at about the city ("From New York, where the subway cars smell like urine, it's The Late Show with David Letterman!"). Post-September 11th though, every episode begins, "From New York, the Greatest City in the World...."
- Saturday Night Live: Since the show airs from New York, it has often invoked this trope during much of its run.
- For a short time during the early 80s, the opening credits announced, "From New York, the most dangerous city in America, it's Saturday Night Live!"
- A sketch from the 1990-91 season featured guest-host Joe Mantegna as an oblivious city official being interviewed on a radio talk show who deflected caller complaints about the city's increasing crime rate (including one from a caller who was mugged and assaulted as he was waiting on the phone) by pointing out where else could they see great Broadway shows like Cats.
- One of Eddie Murphy's iconic sketches in the early 80s was "Mister Robinson's Neighborhood", in which he copied Mr. Rogers' speaking style but discussed antisocial behavior in a gritty urban setting ("You know any other words that start with X, boys and girls? How about... Ex-con?"). When Murphy brought back the character for his 2019 guest host appearance, he acknowledged and mocked the gentrification of NYC that took place between his original tenure and the present day.
- The BBC America series Copper is set in the same time and place as the film Gangs of New York (a few months after the Civil War Draft Riots), so it deals with the same rotten apple.
- Detective show Cagney & Lacey derived much of their drama from being in the Rotten Apple in the late 70s and early 80s and the various conflicts, gang turf wars, and poverty related crimes formed the bulk of the station's workload.
- A background theme of Mad Men is the decline of New York City during the 1960s. In season 2 (set in 1962), 22 year old Peggy's biggest concern about riding the subway alone at night was that the bamboo seats would ruin her stockings. In season 6 (set in 1968), sirens play in the background of almost every scene, the Drapers' Upper East Side penthouse is robbed, and Peggy's boyfriend is stabbed while waiting at a bus station near their home on the Upper West Side.
- Lampshaded in a season 4 (set in 1965) episode by Joan and Roger. They go to a diner that they used to frequent back in the 1950s (also on the Upper West Side) and note how much seedier looking it's become since the last time they went. Of course, that dinner ended with Joan and Roger getting mugged.
- The show also makes a meta-reference to this by featuring an apartment on Second Avenue recommended to a house-hunting character on the strength of the subway line the city said would be built soon (in the sixties). Said line opened in 2017 in real life, and only in one phase consisting of three stations (at 72nd, 86th, and 96th Streets). The future extensions northward to 125th St and southward to Houston St (and eventually Hanover Square) remain planned out but unscheduled, meaning it's entirely likely that they might not be built for several more decades.
- Law & Order. The early seasons of the original series particularly embrace this trope, to the point where it's practically a time capsule of what the city looked like at the early-1990s. There are lots of slums and crack-houses, political and civic corruption, social and racial tensions and overworked and underfunded cops and district attorneys about the place, and everything looks pretty grungy and worn down. Since the series is a Long Runner that lasted for twenty years, it's also a good way of charting New York's gradual transformation from this to the city cleaning up in the 1990s under Giuliani to 21st century gentrification.
- Night Court: Played for Laughs, as the courts have to deal with a non-stop parade of prostitutes, petty thieves, muggers and grifters to the point that criminal courts have to run around the clock just to keep up.
- Brooklyn Nine-Nine:
- In the episode Old School, however, the Nine-Nine is visited by Jimmy Brogan, a retired journalist who wrote a book called "The Squad" about the NYPD in the 1970s, which happens to be Jake's favorite book and what inspired him to become a cop in the first place. But when Jake's gushing about finally getting to meet his idol, Captain Holt tells him that the 70s was really not a good time for the city, and especially not for the NYPD, rife as it was with corruption, racism, sexism and homophobia. He also points out that the "legit" cops in the book were mostly just Brogan's drinking buddies.
- In a later episode, it's revealed that the incompetent Detective Hitchcock somehow holds the precinct's arrest record purely because he happened to be working at the station during the 1980s and so had lots of opportunities to make easy arrests.
Sgt. Jeffords: New York in the '80s was basically The Purge.
- Daredevil (2015) carries over the comics' portrayal of Hell's Kitchen as a seedy neighborhood. The only problem is that Hell's Kitchen has gentrified in real life to the point that it's something of a Gayborhood now. The show had to use the alien invasion from The Avengers (2012) to justify a rise in crime and drop in property values (the neighborhood took heavy damage from The Incident), in order to give Daredevil something to do. Consequently, the show was filmed in neighborhoods of Brooklyn that bear some resemblance to Hell's Kitchen of the 1970's.
- Vinyl: New York, 1973, rife with sex, drugs, Mob violence and abusive record labels $ but also the birthplace of Hip Hop, Disco, and Funk, among other great musical genres.
- The Get Down goes to great lengths to show the crime and corruption that ruled The Bronx in the late 1970s. It even includes news broadcasts from the time discussing it, especially in light of the mayoral race. The major characters are all looking to get out in one way or another.
- The Deuce: the premise of the series is showing the sleaziness of Times Square in the 1970s. The show centers on the prostitutes, whorehouses, corrupt cops, mob-owned businesses, adult bookshops, peep shows, grindhouse porno theaters and burgeoning pornography industry of that time and place.
- The nostalgia variation is used in the Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. Lilian is an old-school New Yorker who takes pride in being tough-as-nails, and despises the gentrification changing her city. She aggressively fights against both outsiders and developers (only to get brushed off as an adorable remnant of the past).
"I was breaking into the Fed naked with “OPEC” written on me in pig’s blood before you were even a twinkle in the eye of the dog that mounted your mom. You should be scared of me! Everything I own, I looted in the ’77 blackout! And when I needed new shoes, I caused the 2003 blackout.”
- The Nanny, which premiered in 1993, at the tail-end of this trope, is about Flushing, Queens native Fran Fine becoming the nanny for the Blue Blood Sheffield family in Manhattan and imbuing her street smarts upon the Sheffield household. So, there are gags about New York City being a crime-infested hellhole.
Maxwell: Repeat after me: "Mark went on a lark after dark in Central Park".Fran: Gee, I hope he has a gun.
- In "My Fair Nanny", as Maxwell and Niles try to give Fran a crash course in upper-class ettiquete:
- In "The Nanny Napper", Fran takes the Sheffield children on a subway, where they're confronted by a mugger who Fran scares away by being even bolder and louder than him. Afterwards, she helps hold a foreign woman's baby, but gets separated from her at a station stop, and is later accused of kidnapping him. Later, at the police station, Niles hires a hooker to pretend to recognize C.C. Babcock.
- In "The Engagement", Maxwell is preparing to propose to Fran, but is attacked by muggers outside of his theater, who steal his engagement ring.
- The Nutt House: The opening narration for the pilot describes its late-'80s New York City setting, playing up the crime and pollution.
- Hawkeye (2021) has a musical number based on the Battle of New York from The Avengers (2012), with two verses highlighting the city's present and past problems:
The rent and garbage are both sky high
But "I love New York! " is a battle cry
We're ready to fight, never had to ask why
Bring it on!
Yes, the city is on the brink
And it may smell, but we like that stink
We lived through the 80's, and this too shall pass
Avengers assemble, and kick some ass!
- How To With John Wilson: New York is shown to be a bizarre and dysfunctional place, although the portrayal is less harsh than other examples of this trope. It is shown more as a Cloudcuckooland than an actually terrible place.
- MAD in the seventies and eighties liked to make use of this.
- Billy Joel's song "Miami 2017 (Seen the Lights Go Out on Broadway)" is a partially-satirical vision of what might happen if America just plain gave up on New York City and ordered it to be completely demolished. The tone shifts throughout, but the second verse mockingly suggests that some places, namely 42nd Street and Harlem, might be none the worse off for it.
- Word of God is that the album cover of Billy's 52nd Street was photographed in a setting (the dingy, weatherbeaten walls of a New York City jazz nightclub) to reflect both the jazzier sound of the music (Billy's holding a trumpet, like a jazz musician), and the time period it was recorded in (late 1970s, around the time of "Son Of Sam").
- "Screams In The Night" by the Blue Öyster Cult was written by keyboards player Allen Lanier, who on only his third night after moving to NY, witnessed a murder in the street just below his bedroom window.
- "Shattered" by The Rolling Stones (quoted at the top).
- Also to some extent "Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker)".
- "Walk on the Wild Side" and "Dirty Blvd." by Lou Reed.
- The whole New York (1989) album, really.
- "New York's Not My Home" and "Box no. 10" by Jim Croce describes New York as a wretched, depressing place.
- The Message by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, which was about the pressures of living in the inner city. It's taken further with "New York, New York", which explicitly names New York and all the crime and poverty: having to eat dog food to stay alive, homelessness, criminal insanity, single motherhood and abandonment, stick-ups, prostitution...
Too much. Too many people...
- Let's Go All The Way by Sly Fox:
Living in New York
Looks like an apple core
- Foreigner: "Long, Long Way From Home" is about leaving a small town for "the apple in decay" and winding up alone in a sea of millions of people and longing for home.
- The video for New Order's "Confusion" shows New York as it existed in 1983, including graffiti-strewn subway cars and a Times Square full of porno theaters.
- The Lonely Island song "I Run NY" mocks this; it is sung from the perspective of New York's mayor and his complaints get progressively more mundane as the song progresses (at one point he nearly cries because the Chief of Police mocked his tie), before taking a turn for the bizarre as he reveals that his job also includes battling mutant rats and hellhounds in the sewers.
- Fear's "New York's Alright if You Like Saxophones" is about this. Each line of the song begins with "New York's alright if..." and then mentions various unpleasant things, such as being pushed in front of the subway, being mugged or murdered, having drunks in your doorway...and liking saxophones.
- Bob Welch of 1973's Fleetwood Mac lineup gave us "The City": a smart blues rocker that included analogies such as the following:
It's A Prison without walls...
It gets so bad that I stop breathin',
and the sun don't wanna shine.
- Fun Lovin' Criminals' Southside begins in describing a murder that takes place on the southside of Delancey Street, then describes the area as:
That part of town, that frightens the massesFilled with mean motherfuckers and noxious gasesThey're all bums girlThey're livin' in their fucked up placesI'm talking murder, I'm talking blackmail and jazzAnd guys with burned up faces
- Despite this, the narrator misses both the girl and the area. The song concludes with the narrator tracking down the murderer and throwing him under a train on the subway. Even by FLC's standards, this song is graphic.
- The avant-garde musician James Ferraro's NYC, Hell, 3:00 AM is an exaggerated version of New York at its worst, sampling flies and rats, police scanners, and (regrettably) 9/11 news footage. The overall effect is that of the world's most miserable R&B record.
- Steely Dan: "The Royal Scam", looking at the city from the perspective of newcomers settling in from Puerto Rico.
- The cover of the album of the same name depicts a vagrant sleeping on a bench, with skyscrapers morphing into fierce animal's heads above him.
- Older Than Radio, the Ur-Example may be the late 19th century hit "The Bowery" from the play "A Trip To Chinatown". Sadly, no recordings from the time, or even the late 19th or early 20th century are online (although a recording from 1892 by Dan W. Quinn is known to exist). This version by Big Little Joe Porrello sounds very close to the authentic styles of the time period, however.
- Ruben Blades's song "Pedro Navaja" (an adaptation of "Mack the Knife") is about the Mutual Kill between a gun-wielding prostitute and her jackknife-wielding assailant in the middle of a New York street where nobody cared to witness it, nobody cares to mourn it, and the only person who profited was a drunken guy who looted both dead bodies.
- Scorpions' song The Zoo is about hanging out in and around Times Square in Manhattan when it was a red light district; it directly references 42nd Street. Listeners who grew up in the '90s and later, even those who grew up in New York, however, will require a history lesson to get why they'd call this area a Zoo, unless they were talking about the award winning plays and tourists.
- The Wallflowers' "6th Avenue Heartache," which makes that part of midtown out to be a gritty and seedy part of town. It may have been when the song was written (when the mess singer was a teenager), but is now a gentrified and largely commercial thoroughfare.
- AC/DC's "Safe In New York City" has hints of this (Angus Young even said he wrote it to mock Rudy Giuliani bragging about cleaning Manhattan, as "to me New York is a city where you can never predict what's coming next."), with lines like "All over the city and down to the dives\Don't mess with this place it'll eat you alive".
- In a column he did in retaliation for a New York Times piece on Miami being a crime-ridden drug lord paradise, Dave Barry tells of researchers from New York asking people why people didn't like New Yorkers and being told everyone was so rude. "Then the researchers spat on them."
When [the aliens] reach Earth, they are in a bad mood, possibly because their luggage has not arrived, so they attack New York City, causing the population to panic and run around screaming. In my opinion, this is the only unrealistic part of the movie. I mean, we're talking about NEW YORKERS, here. These are tough people. These are people who, every day, without even thinking about it, voluntarily go down into dark, steaming, noisy, extremely aromatic holes containing the New York City subway system. People who do that are not going to get bent out of shape just because an alien invasion force is obliterating their city. They are merely going to shrug and continue reading The New York Post (front-page headline: UFO ATTACK DESTROYS BUTTAFUOCO HOME).
- In another column, Dave notes that the single biggest failure of suspension of disbelief in Independence Day was that an alien attack on New York causes New Yorkers to run around in panic. Anyone who voluntarily rides the New York subway system every day is not going to be terrified of a giant alien mothership.
- In her Chicago Tribune column, "Advice, Like Youth, Probably Wasted On the Young"(the basis of Baz Lurhman's dance track "(Everybody's Free To) Wear Sunscreen"), Mary Schmich advises high school seniors, "Live in New York once, but leave before it makes you hard."
- Bill Hicks riffs on this a couple of times.
I'm from Houston, Texas originally, I moved up here a year ago. The first thing I noticed when I came here was the homeless situation. Now I'm no bleeding heart, okay? But when you're walking down the streets of New York and you step over someone who, I dunno... might be dead, do you ever stop to think, 'wow, maybe our system doesn't work'? Does that push a memory bubble up out of you? If there was only a couple of bums I'd think 'well, they're just fuckin' bums,' but there's THOUSANDS of these guys. I'm running a bum hurdle down the street. It's the hundred yard bum hurdle.
- The small press RPG Fates Worse Than Death posits a "street-level cyberpunk" future where Manhattan has gone bankrupt. Anyone who lives in the decayed, dangerous island either commutes in from heavily-secured suburban communities, is a natural thrill-seeker, or is just too damn poor to move out.
- This trope appears in Shadowrun's backstory: As the crime rate continued to rise across the US into the 90s and 00s (unlike in Real Life where they promptly began falling), New York City became crippled by internal strife. In 1999, the teamsters went on strike and the ensuing food riots made sections of the city descended into anarchy, leading to the Seretech Decision when rioters attacked a medical lab and corporate security responded with deadly force. Then, the city was flattened by an earthquake. The rebuilt New York City featuring in the current game-verse averts the trope heavily... on the surface. While Manhattan is a shiny paragon of a city, it's illegal to go anywhere in the city without flagging your legal government ID (so if you don't have one, which many people in the setting do not, you are committing a crime just by existing), and the NYPD basically disbanded and reformed as a corporation when most other US-municipal cities sold out their police forces to a national private force like Lone Star. As such, shadowrunners have to be extremely careful if they want to get anything done in the city.
- Vampire: The Masquerade paints much of New York's urban decay as linked to the time when the Sabbat held the majority of the city. The end of the Nineties heralded a massive offense by the Camarilla that basically cut the Sabbat out from root to stem, and while it had some side effects (what's the best way to dispose of an underground warren of vampires? Have a truck carrying toxic waste turn over and spill into the sewer access during daytime!), it's basically painted as part of why New York stopped being so horrible in the Aughties. Of course, then there's the small problem of the Antediluvian of Clan Tzimisce living under the city and devouring people every so often...
- Both the theatrical and film versions of Jules Feiffer's pitch-black satire, Little Murders, feature an over-the-top depiction of New York as a decaying urban hell-hole beset by unending garbage strikes, electrical outages, and numerous unsolved random murders.
- Grand Theft Auto:
- Although the series as a whole is commonly known for depicting the Fictional Counterpart of New York City, Liberty City, as a Vice City, the Grand Theft Auto III version of the city evokes this trope the strongest by portraying itself as "The Worst City in the World" with heavy pollution, rampant crime fueled by a menacing new drug, widespread corruption, increasingly militant tramps, and no tourist industry to speak of. Grand Theft Auto Advance even portrays the city as having been hit by bubonic plague. In the Turn of the Millennium.
- Grand Theft Auto IV toned it down somewhat, given that it's based more on the "cleaned-up" New York of Rudy Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg rather than the Wretched Hive that it was in The '70s and The '80s. Of course, this means that this trope has been replaced with stereotypes of modern New York, such as the city's gentrification into The Theme Park Version of itself, its "nanny state" attitude to things like guns and junk food, and its post-September 11th police presence.
- Max Payne takes place in an Anachronism Stew of seventies-era Manhattan — when the city was a throne to vice and grunge — and the slick corporatism of modern NYC. The mob is so powerful that it controls the police and the press, and Aesir Pharmaceuticals controls the mob. Even with Max's efforts, it hasn't gotten much better by the time the second game rolls by.
- The Division takes place in New York After the End, following a bioweapon-caused smallpox pandemic that has caused the near total collapse of local authorities, opening up opportunities for various gangs and a PMC to carve out territories for themselves.
- The Godfather: The Game: You can't go far without running into a business controlled by The Mafia, Dirty Cops are a dime a dozen, and even staying away from known Mafia fronts doesn't guarantee your safety from running gunfights in the streets.
- Spider-Man (PS4): Joseph "Hammerhead" Martello, the Big Bad of the City That Never Sleeps DLC is a Disco Dan Maggia* boss who fondly remembers this era of New York's history as a time when mobsters like him were feared, respected and untouchable by the law, and deeply resents the modern day Maggia's slow decline into ignominy. With the main game's threats handled and the Evil Power Vacuum created by Kingpin's arrest still looming, Hammerhead's decided that it's his time to "bring back the good ol' days" and reassert the Maggia's dominance over the city.
- The Nostalgia Chick seems to agree that NYC is rotten but loves the city anyway, as movies that depict it as clean always draw her ire, and the insults in "Fairytale Of New York" make her nostalgic. (She was in Los Angeles at that point.)
- Thanks to the worse economy, New York City in Fear, Loathing and Gumbo on the Campaign Trail '72 goes bankrupt in 1975 and has its finances taken over by the federal government, on top of all the other problems that it faced in The Seventies. Things are no better in The '80s, where it gets taken over by Mayor Spiro Agnew, of all people, who institutes a policy of walling off the worst ghettoes and arming the NYPD with belt-fed machine guns and other high-powered military hardware. The kicker? As of 1990, it's still one of the better parts of the US to be in, especially with most of the South and Midwest taken over by Taliban-grade Christian fundamentalists.
- Vixen: NYC: Mari's idealistic view of New York sours quickly when she realizes it's grosser, louder, more cramped, and more dangerous than she expected. Given her animal-themed powers, much attention is given to the vermin that swarm it.
- The Simpsons: In "The City of New York vs. Homer Simpson", Homer tells them about a previous visit to New York during the 70s when this trope was in full force. A pickpocket stole his wallet, a police officer stole his suitcase, a pigeon stole his hot dog, Woody Allen dumped garbage on his head, and he got chased through the streets by an angry pimp until he fell in a sewer.
Homer: ...and that's when the C.H.U.D.s came at me.
Marge: Oh Homer, of course you'll have a bad impression of New York if you only focus on the pimps and the C.H.U.D.s.
- At the end of the episode, Marge, Lisa and Bart absolutely love New York. After having been issued multiple parking tickets, forced to hold in his urine for several hours, harassed by the "jerks in Tower One", and destroying the car by driving with a wheel clamp, Homer is one tick away from exploding in rage as he gets smacked in the face by garbage from a truck.
Lisa: Can we come back next year Dad?Homer: (darkly) We'll see, honey. We'll see.
- Early on, Homer sums up his feelings on New York,
"But Marge, New York is a hellhole! And you know how I feel about hellholes!"
- At the end of the episode, Marge, Lisa and Bart absolutely love New York. After having been issued multiple parking tickets, forced to hold in his urine for several hours, harassed by the "jerks in Tower One", and destroying the car by driving with a wheel clamp, Homer is one tick away from exploding in rage as he gets smacked in the face by garbage from a truck.
- Manehatten, as seen in the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic episode "Rarity Takes Manehatten", is glorious at first glance but is outright stated to have a cynical, corrupt side and that everypony is out for themselves. This is quickly proven to be quite true.
- Frequently Played for Laughs on The Critic. In fact, in one episode, when his parents were presumed to be dead (their plane actually got lost over South Pacific and they were stranded on a deserted island), Jay decided to use the money from his inheritance to clean up New York City. His efforts ended up being all for naught when the city threw a parade in his honor and they ended up trashing it again.
New York, New York! it's a terrible town!
The sky is brown and the water is brown!
The cabs don't stop, they don't even slow down!
New York, New York! It's a terrible town!
- In Spider-Man Unlimited, the New York City of Counter-Earth is home to the central laboratory/control center of the High Evolutionary, from which he oppress humanity in favor of his Bestials and conducts genetic experiments on random humans. A hyper-advanced city of towers that stretch into the stratosphere, the oppressed humans live in overcrowded, dark, dirty slums on the ground level, all whilst potentially unstable robot guards patrol ceaselessly. Every human is also outfitted with a tracking implant, so they cannot hide if they commit a crime or try to rebel - the Human Revolution has jamming tech but its spotty at best.
- One season 2 episode of Exosquad has JT crash land in a bombed-out New York, now a virtual ghost town after the Neosapiens took over. Fortunately, a helpful ex-cabbie ends up assisting him, though JT ends up blowing up Lady Liberty's torch to get rid of a stubborn Neo Warrior.
- Camp Candy: When John attends a convention in New York City, a thief immediately takes all his money. Things go downhill from there.
- Futurama's New New York City maintained its seedy character into the 31st Century, making it a Zeerust-fueled hybrid of this and Absurdly Cool City. While Blithe Spirit Fish out of Temporal Water Fry mostly sees the cool side, it's otherwise rife with substance abuse (of varying levels of legality), prostitution, mugging, illegal organ-trading and organized crime including a Robot Mafia.
- The Courage the Cowardly Dog episode "Courage in the Big Stinkin' City" has Courage, Muriel and Eustace travelling to New York City, where they stay in a filthy run-down apartment suite owned by Schwick, a shady criminal who's also a 6-foot-tall anthropomorphic cockroach. Schwick forces Courage to deliver a package to another run-down apartment building filled with all kinds of horrors.