Coney Island has been the setting and backdrop of more then one hundred movies from 1897 to 2003. Even more movies have used other amusement parks and Hollywood sets to emulate the famous rides and attractions located in this fraction of Brooklyn.
With the passage of time, the depiction of life in Coney Island and attractiveness of the park has changed.
From 1897 to the 1930’s:
In the late 19th and early to middle of the 20th century, the amusement park is used as the milieu for romantic rendezvous between couples. The picturesque background of the park and the adjacent beach is perfect to depict the romantic interludes of young men and women.
Also during this period of time, there were many movies made portraying rags to riches stories. In movies such as Symphony of Six Million and A Coney Island Princess, the main character of the two movies are down on their luck. The characters move to Coney Island and become larger than life. These films showcased the economic opportunities that Coney island had to offer. Coney Island was not just a place for fun and games but a site where people could go to fulfill their dreams and achieve economic success.
From the 1940’s to the 1960’s
Although Coney Island is only one small part of Brooklyn, it is not immune to the events of the nation and world. In the 1940’s, the United States was fighting in World War II and from the 1950’s onward it was engaged in the Cold War. Also in the 1950’s the nation was inflicted with the Red Scare. All of this may seem irrelevant to Coney Island but this period of time in the world is reflected in the movies produced at the time. The movies, even the ones about Coney Island, center around suspicion, espionage and murder. During the Red Scare, people were worried about communism and suspected communists were blacklisted. The United States was on guard for spies who were trying to find government or military secrets and give them to the USSR. This may seem incredulous and the plot of a James Bond movie, but the United States did go through these periods in history, which is demonstrated by the films produced during that time.
From the 1970’s to 2003
In the past couple of decades, Coney Island has been hit with a drug epidemic. With drugs came a lot of mob activity and crime. Movies, like Requiem for a Dream (2001) portray the park as a desolate landscape, remarking on its years as a playground for drug users. The amusement park is a fitting background for a film about narcotics, as an amusement park can represent escape and thrill, which drugs symbolize for many people. There is also the obvious reference of being high (on a roller coaster). On a slightly more positive note, movies during the 1980’s and 1990’s shows the police trying to get rid of narcotics and the mob that rules the street in Coney Island.
There have been several documentaries made about Coney Island. PBS and the Discovery Channel produced a couple in the 1990’s and 2000’s
See the link below for a list of movies that used Coney Island as a backdrop.