The film was met with widespread critical acclaim and was nominated for two Academy Awards: Best Supporting Actress for Hemingway and Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen for Allen and Brickman. Its North American box office receipts of $39.9 million made it Allen's second biggest box office hit (after adjusting for inflation). Often considered one of Allen's best films, it ranks 46th on AFI's 100 Years...100 Laughs list and number 63 on Bravo's "100 Funniest Movies". In 2001, the United States Library of Congress deemed the film "culturally significant" and selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry.
The film opens with a montage of images of Manhattan and other parts of New York City accompanied by George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue, with Isaac Mortimer Davis (Woody Allen) narrating drafts of an introduction to a book about a man who loves the city. Isaac is a twice-divorced, 42-year-old television comedy writer dealing with the women in his life who quits his unfulfilling job. He is dating Tracy (Mariel Hemingway), a 17-year-old girl attending the Dalton School. His best friend, college professor Yale Pollack (Michael Murphy), married to Emily (Anne Byrne), is having an affair with Mary Wilkie (Diane Keaton). Mary's ex-husband and former teacher, Jeremiah (Wallace Shawn), also appears. Isaac's ex-wife Jill Davis (Meryl Streep) is writing a confessional book about their marriage. Jill has also since come out of the closet as a lesbian and lives with her partner, Connie (Karen Ludwig).
When Isaac meets Mary, her cultural snobbery rubs him the wrong way. Isaac runs into her again at an Equal Rights Amendment fund-raising event at the Museum of Modern Art hosted by Bella Abzug (who is played by herself) and accompanies her on a cab ride home. They chat until sunrise in a sequence that culminates in the iconic shot of the Queensboro Bridge. In spite of a growing attraction to Mary, Isaac continues his relationship with Tracy but emphasizes that theirs cannot be a serious relationship and encourages her to go to London to study acting. In another iconic scene, at Tracy's request, they go on a carriage ride through Central Park.
After Yale breaks up with Mary, he suggests that Isaac ask her out. Isaac does, always having felt that Tracy was too young for him. Isaac breaks up with Tracy, much to her dismay, and before long, Mary has virtually moved into his apartment. Emily is curious about Isaac's new girlfriend. The two couples enjoy a day out and upon walking down a street Isaac spots Jill's new book Marriage, Divorce, and Selfhood. Emily proceeds to read passages of the book, an even discusses an incident covered in the book of a ménage à trois Isaac had with Jill and another woman, and an incident where Isaac attempted to run Connie over, much to Mary and Yale's amusement. Thoroughly humiliated, Isaac confronts Jill, who stoically responds about the book, and the film rights deal she has acquired. Upon returning home, Isaac learns from Mary that she is returning to Yale and wants to break up. A betrayed Isaac confronts Yale at the college where he teaches, and Yale argues that he found Mary first. Isaac responds by discussing Yale's extramarital affairs with Emily, but Yale told her that Isaac introduced Mary to him.
In the denouement, Isaac lies on his sofa, musing into a tape recorder about the things that make "life worth living". When he finds himself saying "Tracy's face", he sets down the microphone. He leaves his apartment and sets out on foot for Tracy's. He arrives at the lobby of her family's apartment just as she is leaving for London. He says that she does not have to go and that he does not want "that thing about [her] that [he] like[s]" to change. She replies that the plans have already been made and reassures him that "not everybody gets corrupted" before saying "you have to have a little faith in people." He gives her a slight smile with a final coy look to the camera then segueing into final shots of the skyline with some bars of Rhapsody in Blue playing again. An instrumental version of "Embraceable You" plays over the credits.Woody Allen as Isaac Mortimer Davis
Diane Keaton as Mary Wilkie
Michael Murphy as Yale Pollack
Mariel Hemingway as Tracy
Meryl Streep as Jill Davis
Anne Byrne as Emily Pollack
Michael O'Donoghue as Dennis
Wallace Shawn as Jeremiah
Karen Ludwig as Connie
Charles Levin, Karen Allen, and David Rasche as Television actors
Mark Linn-Baker and Frances Conroy as Shakespearean actors
According to Allen, the idea for Manhattan originated from his love of George Gershwin's music. He was listening to one of the composer's albums of overtures and thought, "this would be a beautiful thing to make ... a movie in black and white ... a romantic movie". Allen has said that Manhattan was "like a mixture of what I was trying to do with Annie Hall and Interiors." He also said that his film deals with the problem of people trying to live a decent existence in an essentially junk-obsessed contemporary culture without selling out, admitting that he himself could conceive of giving away all of his "possessions to charity and living in much more modest circumstances," and adding that he has "rationalized [his] way out of it so far, but [he] could conceive of doing it."
According to actress Stacey Nelkin, Manhattan was based on her romantic relationship with Woody Allen. Her bit part in Annie Hall ended up on the cutting room floor, and their relationship started when she was 17 years old and a student at New York’s Stuyvesant High School. Allen did not publicly acknowledge the relationship until 2014.
Allen talked to cinematographer Gordon Willis about how fun it would be to shoot the film in black and white, Panavision aspect ratio (2.35:1) because it would give "a great look at New York City, which is sort of one of the characters in the film". Allen decided to shoot his film in black and white because that was how he remembered it from when he was small. "Maybe it's a reminiscence from old photographs, films, books and all that. But that's how I remember New York." He always heard Gershwin music with it, too. In Manhattan he really thinks that he and Willis succeeded in showing the city. "When seeing it there on that big screen, it's really decadent". The picture was shot on location with the exception of some of the scenes in the planetarium which were filmed on a set.
The famous bridge shot was done at five in the morning. The production had to bring their own bench as there were no park benches at the location. The bridge had two sets of necklace lights on a timer controlled by the city. When the sun came up, the bridge lights went off. Willis made arrangements with the city to leave the lights on and that he would let them know when they got the shot. Afterwards, they could be turned off. As they started to shoot the scene, one string of bridge lights went out, and Allen was forced to use that take.
After finishing the film, Allen was very unhappy with it and asked United Artists not to release it. He offered to make a film for free instead. He later said, "I just thought to myself, 'At this point in my life, if this is the best I can do, they shouldn't give me money to make movies.'"
All titles of the soundtrack were compositions by George Gershwin. They were performed by the New York Philharmonic under Zubin Mehta and the Buffalo Philharmonic under Michael Tilson Thomas.New York Philharmonic
Rhapsody in Blue
"Love is Sweeping the Country"
"Land of the Gay Caballero"
"Sweet and Low Down"
"I've Got a Crush on You"
"Oh, Lady Be Good!"
"Strike Up the Band"
"Someone to Watch Over Me"
"He Loves and She Loves"
"But Not for Me"
A part of the first movement of Mozart's Symphony No. 40 is heard in a concert scene.
Manhattan opened in 29 North American theaters on April 25, 1979. It grossed $485,734 ($16,749 per screen) in its opening weekend and earned $39.9 million in its entire run, making the film the 17th highest-grossing picture of the year. The film was shown out of competition at the 1979 Cannes Film Festival in May. Adjusted for inflation, it grossed $127,638,700, making it Allen's second biggest box office hit, following Annie Hall.
The film received largely positive reviews and currently holds a rating of 98% "Certified Fresh" on Rotten Tomatoes. Gary Arnold, in The Washington Post, wrote, "Manhattan has comic integrity in part because Allen is now making jokes at the expense of his own parochialism. There's no opportunity to heap condescending abuse on the phonies and sellouts decorating the Hollywood landscape. The result appears to be a more authentic and magnanimous comic perception of human vanity and foolhardiness". In his review for Newsweek magazine, Jack Kroll wrote, "Allen's growth in every department is lovely to behold. He gets excellent performances from his cast. The increasing visual beauty of his films is part of their grace and sweetness, their balance between Allen's yearning romanticism and his tough eye for the fatuous and sentimental – a balance also expressed in his best screen play [sic] yet". In his review for the Chicago Sun-Times, Roger Ebert, who gave the film three-and-a-half stars out of four, wrote, "Diane Keaton gives us a fresh and nicely edged New York intellectual. And Mariel Hemingway deserves some kind of special award for what's in some ways the most difficult role in the film." Ebert includes the film in his list of The Great Movies.
Alexander Walker of the London Evening Standard wrote, "So precisely nuanced is the speech, so subtle the behaviour of a group of friends, lovers, mistresses and cuckolds who keep splitting up and pairing off like unstable molecules". Recently, J. Hoberman wrote in The Village Voice, "The New York City that Woody so tediously defended in Annie Hall was in crisis. And so he imagined an improved version. More than that, he cast this shining city in the form of those movies that he might have seen as a child in Coney Island—freeing the visions that he sensed to be locked up in the silver screen."
In October 2013, readers of The Guardian newspaper voted it the best film directed by Woody Allen.
New York Film Critics Circle named Allen best director for Manhattan. The National Society of Film Critics also named Allen best director along with Robert Benton, who directed Kramer vs. Kramer. The film was nominated for Academy Awards for Best Supporting Actress (Mariel Hemingway) and Best Original Screenplay (Allen and Marshall Brickman). It also won the BAFTA Award for Best Film. In Empire magazine's poll of the 500 greatest movies ever made, Manhattan was ranked number 76.
The film was number 63 on Bravo's "100 Funniest Movies". In 2001, the United States Library of Congress deemed it "culturally significant" and selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry. It is also ranked #4 on Rotten Tomatoes' 25 Best Romantic Comedies.
The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:1998: AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies – Nominated
2000: AFI's 100 Years...100 Laughs – #46
2002: AFI's 100 Years...100 Passions – #66
2005: AFI's 100 Years...100 Movie Quotes:
Isaac Davis: "I think people should mate for life, like pigeons or Catholics." – Nominated
2007: AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition) – Nominated
Allen wanted to preserve Willis's compositions and insisted that the aspect ratio be preserved when the film was released on video (an unusual request in a time when widescreen films were normally panned and scanned for TV and video release). As a result, all copies of the film on video (and most television broadcasts) were letterboxed, originally with a gray border.
Manhattan was first released on Blu-ray on January 24, 2012 alongside Allen's 1977 film Annie Hall. Both releases included the films' original theatrical trailer.
Manhattan's screenplay was performed in front of a live audience at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art on November 15, 2012, as part of Jason Reitman's Live Read series. Actors read the script, narrowed to six speaking parts, and still photographs from the movie were projected behind them. The cast included Stephen Merchant as Isaac Davis, Olivia Munn as Mary Wilkie, Shailene Woodley as Tracy, Michael Murphy as Yale Pollack, Mae Whitman as Emily Pollack, Erika Christensen as Jill Davis and Jason Mantzoukas as Dennis. In keeping with the project's focus on impermanence and spontaneity, there were no rehearsals, shows were announced only days prior, and the names of some cast members were withheld entirely; performances were not recorded.
Manhattan inspired the song "Remember Manhattan" written by Richard Marx and Fee Waybill from Marx's debut album.