Is that Really JFK? Fact or Fiction about Port Authority Airports in the Movies and TV

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By Michael Fier, Intern Port Commerce

You must have seen our airports on the big screen. How could you miss some of your favorite stars going through (or living in) JFK, LaGuardia, or Newark Liberty airports? Well, some of these “airports” are actually sets, sound stages, or other locations designed to resemble Port Authority facilities, while others were filmed on location. So you think you know the difference? Test your knowledge here:

In 2002, Steven Spielberg brought together Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks, two of Hollywood’s biggest names, for the 1960s-themed crime drama Catch Me If You Can. DiCaprio’s character, a con man, played various roles including a lawyer, doctor, teacher, and even an airline pilot for the now defunct Pan Am.

If you watch the film closely enough as DiCaprio goes through JFK airport, you can catch a glimpse of the Eero Saarinen designed TWA Terminal. The check- in area where DiCaprio gets his boarding pass and the tunnel in which Hanks confronts DiCaprio? Both places are still there! This film did not skimp on location for budgetary reasons; Catch Me If You Can was actually filmed at JFK. The terminal is still there practically unchanged from when the movie was filmed. Take a peek the next time you are departing from T5, because it’s right in front.

This was not the case for Spielberg’s 2004 film, The Terminal. This film, which ostensibly takes place at JFK as well, is about a wayward traveler stuck in immigration limbo. The character (also ironically portrayed by Tom Hanks) cannot return to his home country due to a political uprising, or enter the United States since his country technically no longer “exists.” Hank’s character is forced to live within the confines of JFK.

Yet, the terminal Hanks is stuck in does not exist! It is a patchwork of locations including the now defunct Montreal-Mirabel airport in Canada and an empty hangar at Palmdale Airport just outside of Los Angeles. The scene where Hanks steps out to the curb for the first time, the one with New York reflected against the terminal building? That’s an impossible shot – because the only view of the Manhattan skyline from JFK is when you are on the runway taking off. But thanks to the magic of Computer Generated Imagery, or CGI, Spielberg makes the impossible possible. Although Hanks is in an imaginary terminal, our marketing department agrees that the way finding signs are spot on.

We will give credit to The Sopranos, which was filmed curbside at Newark Liberty.  But neither Planes, Trains, and Automobiles or Home Alone 2? was filmed at LaGuardia as portrayed in the films.  How about The Peacemaker starring George Clooney and Nicole Kidman? Their scene running through JFK was actually shot at the Jacob Javits Center, which is easily identifiable from the window-lined roof. The same goes for Mad Men, which is a set with a backdrop meant to  be Idlewild Airport.

These are just a few of the  many, MANY movies and TV shows where Port Authority airports are used as backdrops.  Can you name some more for us? Leave your comment below. We’ll be more than glad to debunk more myths.

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5 Responses to Is that Really JFK? Fact or Fiction about Port Authority Airports in the Movies and TV

  1. Anonymous says:

    Lady Liberty – 1974 – starring Sophia Loren. Was this filmed at JFK?

  2. Jonathan Collins says:

    In “Harry & Tonto” with Art Carney, Newark airport is filmed both inside and out, though I believe it doubles for JFK.

  3. Dennis Cannon says:

    How about another Pacino film? The closing scene the 1975 picture Dog Day Afternoon was shot at the rear of Bldg. 269 at JFK.

  4. JC says:

    In Scent of a Woman Pacino and Chris o’donnell supposedly take the shutte from Boston to NYC – the airport they leave from seems to be Newark

  5. Pingback: Is that Really JFK? Fact or Fiction about Port Authority Airports in the Movies and TV | PANYNJ_Portfolio

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