While it might not receive the same amount of recognition from an entertainment standpoint as neighboring New York City, New Jersey has produced some of Hollywood’s most acclaimed actors. Notable stars from the Garden State include Meryl Streep, John Travolta, Bruce Willis, Zoe Saldana, and Tom Cruise. New Jersey is also a popular destination for filmmakers. Dozens of films not only have been shot in New Jersey, they feature the state prominently as part of their story. Below are seven of the most iconic films set in New Jersey.
Chasing Amy and Clerks
A New Jersey native, filmmaker Kevin Smith has directed more than two dozen films, TV specials, and documentaries since 1992. His first three feature films – Clerks (1994), Mallrats (1995), and Chasing Amy (1997) – were filmed in New Jersey and make up his “Jersey Trilogy,” which has been shown multiple times at Vulgarthon, an all-day film festival in Red Bank. All three films are considered cult classics. Mallrats wasn’t received well among critics, but Chasing Amy and Clerks have Certified Fresh scores on Rotten Tomatoes of 87 and 89 percent, respectively.
Clerks, Smith’s debut film, features a relatively unknown cast and follows convenience store clerks Dante (Brian O’Halloran) and Randal (Jeff Anderson) during a regular work shift. The black-and-white indie film also sees Smith portraying Silent Bob, a character who has become part of his own film universe. Chasing Amy, meanwhile, tackles the theme of sexuality with Smith’s signature crude humor. It stars Ben Affleck and Joey Lauren Adams.
With a 93 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes, David O. Russell’s American Hustle (2013) is among the most critically acclaimed films set in New Jersey. Based on a real-life, multi-state FBI investigation that exposed a US senator and New Jersey legislator, among other government officials, the film features a star-studded cast including Jennifer Lawrence, Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams, and Jeremy Renner. Bale portrays con man Irving Rosenfeld, who is coerced into working as an informant for FBI agent Richie DiMaso, played by Cooper. Renner plays New Jersey Mayor Carmine Polito, who finds himself caught between the FBI and con artists. The film received 10 Academy Award nominations.
Filmed at various sites in central and northern New Jersey, The Wrestler (2008) stars Mickey Rourke as Randy “The Ram” Robinson, an aging professional wrestler forced into retirement due to health concerns. He briefly works at a deli counter before quitting and pursuing a return to the ring. Marisa Tomei plays opposite Rourke as his love interest, a stripper named Cassidy. Rourke and Tomei were nominated for the Academy Award for Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role and Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role, respectively. Darren Aronofsky directed the film.
The Station Agent
Directed by New Jersey native Tom McCarthy, The Station Agent (2003) stars fellow New Jerseyites Peter Dinklage and Bobby Cannavale as Finbar McBride and Joe Oramas, respectively. Dinklage’s McBride relocates to an abandoned train station in rural New Jersey to lead a life of solitude following the death of his boss and only friend. Instead, he meets Cannavale’s character, a chatty hot dog vendor, and a female artist also struggling with grief, played by Patricia Clarkson. The film is Certified Fresh with a critics’ score of 95 percent on Rotten Tomatoes.
New Jersey is more than just the backdrop for Big Night (1996). Directed by Campbell Scott and Stanley Tucci, the film is set in 1950s New Jersey and involves brothers Primo (Tony Shalhoub) and Secondo (Tucci) launching an authentic Italian restaurant at the Jersey Shore. Born in Italy, the brothers’ business venture struggles early on as patrons are more accustomed to Americanized Italian food. With support from another restaurant owner, they strive to boost business by inviting “The King of Swing” Louis Prima to dine. The cast also includes Minnie Driver, Liev Schreiber, and Allison Janney.
No film set in New Jersey has been better received among critics than Atlantic City (1980). Directed by Louis Malle, the film has a 100 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes. It stars Susan Sarandon as Sally, a Canadian expatriate who arrives in Atlantic City with lavish career dreams and expectations, but instead works as a low-level casino croupier. She meets low-ranking mobster Lou Pascal, played by Burt Lancaster, who protects her from other mobsters seeking retribution for drugs her late husband stole. The film was nominated for five Academy Awards, including Best Director and Best Picture.
Despite the film being shot in Atlantic City and starring a pair of well-known Hollywood actors, it is actually considered a Canadian film and is the only Canadian production to earn a Best Picture nod from the Academy. Outside of Sarandon and Lancaster, almost every actor was Canadian, as were the majority of workers behind the camera.