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King of New York

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King of New York
Theatrical release poster
Directed byAbel Ferrara
Written byNicholas St. John
Produced byAugusto Caminito
Mary Kane
CinematographyBojan Bazelli
Edited byAnthony Redman
Music byJoe Delia
  • Reteitalia
  • Scena International
  • Penta Film[1]
Distributed byCarolco Pictures (through New Line Cinema)
Release date
  • September 28, 1990 (1990-09-28)
Running time
103 minutes
Budget$5 million[1]
Box office$2.5 million[3]

King of New York is a 1990 neo-noir[4] crime film[1] directed by Abel Ferrara and written by Nicholas St. John. It stars Christopher Walken, Laurence Fishburne, David Caruso, Victor Argo and Wesley Snipes, with supporting roles played by Giancarlo Esposito, Steve Buscemi, Paul Calderón, Janet Julian and Theresa Randle. Walken portrays Frank White, a New York City drug kingpin rebuilding his criminal empire after his release from prison, while also attempting to go legitimate.

The film was released by Carolco Pictures (through New Line Cinema) on September 28, 1990. It received mixed reviews from critics, with several criticizing the film's violence and dark tone.[5] Retrospective reviews have been much more positive, and the film has been described as one of Ferrara's best.[6]


Frank White, a drug lord, strives to control New York City's criminal underground. Shortly after his release from behind bars of the Sing Sing Penitentiary, White and his crew, led by his trigger-happy right-hand man Jimmy Jump, consolidate power by eliminating their rivals in the Colombian drug cartel and Triad. White personally executes a Mafia boss who refuses to cooperate with him.

White's exploits catch the attention of the NYPD's narcotics squad. Detectives Bishop, Gilley and Flanigan confront White but lack any tangible evidence to arrest him. They instead turn their attention to White's henchmen, whom they arrest after a surviving member of the Colombian drug cartel agrees to cooperate with the police.

White's lawyers intervene and free the men from jail. Gilley and Flanigan are frustrated and lead a clandestine operation to take down White and his crew. They storm a night club where White is partying and kill many of his men. White and Jump survive the raid but are chased by Gilley and Flanigan. Jump ambushes and mortally wounds Flanigan. Gilley is unable to resuscitate his partner, and shoots Jump in a fit of rage.

A grief-stricken Gilley attends Flanigan's funeral, where he is abruptly murdered by White in a drive-by shooting. White then confronts detective Bishop in his own apartment. He holds him at gunpoint while explaining he eliminated the Colombian drug cartel and Triad in New York City because he disapproved of their involvement in human trafficking and child prostitution. White restrains Bishop to a chair and leaves.

Bishop escapes his restraints and chases White into the subway. Both men draw guns on each other, but White uses an innocent bystander as a human shield. The two exchange gunfire and Bishop is killed. White exits the subway and makes his way to a taxi in Times Square. He clutches a gunshot wound to his torso and watches as police surround his taxi. White goes limp and presumably dies as the police close in on him.




Abel Ferrara and Nicholas St. John had wanted to make King of New York since the early 1980's. Ferrara had shot test footage and begun casting calls as early as 1981, but shelved the project. Over the intervening nine years, the script was heavily rewritten.[1]

Due to the film's controversial subject matter, Ferrara had difficulty finding an American studio willing to back the picture.[1] The film was ultimately financed entirely by Italian companies Reteitalia and Scena International.[1] Producer Augusto Caminito described the project as a bridge between Italian and American film industries, and likened the story to a modern-day Robin Hood.[1] One of the film's financiers was allegedly Silvio Berlusconi.[citation needed]


Principal photography began on April 19 and June 14, 1989. King of New York was shot entirely in and around New York City.[1] According to Ferrara, then-owner Donald Trump gave him permission to film at the Plaza Hotel at no charge, on the condition that Walken would pose for a photograph with Ivana Trump, who was a fan of the actor.[7]

Filming locations included Sing Sing, the Plaza Hotel, Times Square, Times Square–42nd Street station, Williamsburg, Queensboro Bridge, Fifth Avenue, Ossining, and Saranac Lake.[1] Silvercup Studios served as the main studio.[1]

The film initially received an X rating from the MPAA, but was reduced to an R after an appeal.[1]

Home media[edit]

King of New York was released on a 2-Disc Special Edition DVD on April 20, 2004.[8] The film was released on Blu-ray on October 23, 2007.[9]

Critical response[edit]

On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has a 70% approval rating based on 30 reviews. The website's consensus reads, "King of New York covers familiar narrative ground with impressive style -- and leaves plenty of room for its talented cast to deliver gripping performances."[10] On Metacritic the film has a score of 66% based on reviews from 20 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[11]

Total Film rated King of New York four stars out of five.[12] Roger Ebert awarded two stars out of four, citing Walken's "usual polished and somehow sinister ease" and the director's strong command of mood and style, marred by a sketchy screenplay and a fragmented plot.[13] Mark Caro, writing for the Chicago Tribune, gave the movie only 1/2 star, adding that star Christopher Walken and the movie remain "just out of grasp".[14] The film was also featured in Steven Jay Schneider's 7th Edition of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die.[citation needed][ISBN missing]

Bojan Bazelli was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award for Best Cinematography.[15]

In popular culture[edit]

Rapper The Notorious B.I.G. sometimes referred to himself by the moniker 'Frank White', after the main character of this film.[16]


  1. ^ Credited as Larry Fishburne.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l King of New York at the AFI Catalog of Feature Films
  2. ^ "King of New York". British Film Institute. London. Archived from the original on August 2, 2012. Retrieved December 19, 2012.
  3. ^ "King of New York (1990)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved July 27, 2018.
  4. ^ "KING OF NEW YORK". American Cinematheque. Retrieved February 29, 2024.
  5. ^ "Abel Ferrara's King of New York Continues to Reign". Arrow Films. February 14, 2022. Retrieved February 29, 2024.
  6. ^ "Iain Sinclair on Abel Ferrara's King of New York". BFI. Retrieved February 29, 2024.
  7. ^ Goldstein, Patrick (October 28, 1990). "MOVIES : The Prince of Darkness : Director Abel Ferrara practices a kind of gonzo filmmaking, and his violent vision isn't a particularly popular one in Hollywood". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved June 8, 2016.
  8. ^ King of New York DVD Release Date April 20, 2004, retrieved October 27, 2020
  9. ^ King of New York Blu-ray Release Date October 23, 2007, retrieved October 27, 2020
  10. ^ "King of New York". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved December 2, 2022.
  11. ^ "King of New York". Metacritic. Retrieved September 11, 2021.
  12. ^ "King of New York". Total Film. September 30, 2008. Archived from the original on January 8, 2014. Retrieved August 30, 2013.
  13. ^ Ebert, Roger (December 7, 1990). "King Of New York". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved September 11, 2021.
  14. ^ Caro, Mark (December 11, 1990). "Making Impressions". Chicago Tribune. Archived from the original on December 27, 2010. Retrieved June 5, 2015.
  15. ^ "36 Years of Winners and Nominees" (PDF). Film Independent. Retrieved December 31, 2022.
  16. ^ "All of Biggie Smalls' nicknames explained from Frank White to Big Poppa". Capital XTRA. Retrieved February 29, 2024.

External links[edit]