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Essential NJ Movies to Watch While Social Distancing

The latest update to Essential NJ Movies to Watch is written by Lindsay Podolak.

Stuck at home as you try to socially distance yourself from others? Don’t despair! It’s the perfect time to curl up on the couch and catch up on all those shows and films. But what if you’ve already watched everything on your DVR? Go beyond your go-to fare and check out these movies about living in the Garden State. This is our list of essential NJ movies to watch.

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Best of NJ’s List of Essential NJ Movies to Watch

12 Days of Terror

12 Days of Terror centers around actual events along the coast of New Jersey in 1916. The shark attack film first premiered on Animal Planet in 2004. It depicts a town led by those who seem to value business over human lives. The film stars Colin Egglesfield (All My Children) and John Rhys-Davies (of the Indiana Jones and Lord of the Rings franchises).

The Addams Family

The 2019 animated version of the classic finds the spooky family moving to the burbs…specifically, the New Jersey burbs. That’s right, The Addams Family is an NJ movie! While in NJ, the characters have difficulty fitting in as they take on a greedy reality TV show host. (The film features the voices of Charlize Theron, Nick Kroll, Snoop Dogg, and more.) Of course, Charles Addams — the cartoonist and creator of The Addams Family — grew up in Westfield; in fact, the iconic Gothic mansion takes inspiration from an Elm Street home from his childhood.

American Hustle

A star-studded romp through New Jersey corruption starring Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, and Jennifer Lawrence. Although it is based on the events revolving around Abscam, the film is not particularly concerned with staying historically accurate. The acclaimed production landed big with moviegoers and critics, earning seven Golden Globe nominations and ten Academy Award nominations.

Atlantic City

This movie is a sobering tale of love, greed, and survival in the bygone days of Atlantic City; with convincing performances from the iconic Burt Lancaster and Susan Sarandon. Although the film failed to take home any of the “Big Five” Academy Awards that it was nominated for, due to its cultural significance, Atlantic City was selected for preservation by the Library of Congress in the United States National Film Registry.

The Barrens

This horror film is about a father (Stephen Moyer) who takes his family deep into New Jersey’s Pine Barrens; only to become convinced they are being stalked by the Jersey Devil. It is the disturbing mind-spawn of writer/director/producer Darren Lynn Bousman. (Who you may know from Saw II through Saw IV, along with many other scare flicks.)


Clerks is the low-budget flick that launched the career of Red Bank’s own Kevin Smith. (Filming took place at the mini-mart where he was actually employed.) The dialogue-heavy script stars Brian O’Halloran as Quick Stop clerk Dante Hicks, who is called in to work on his day off. Although the movie has little mainstream recognition or awards, it is on several best films of all-time lists; many also consider it a cult classic, and it did launch the comic duo, Jay and Silent Bob.

Cop Land

This drama from ’97 is set in the fictional town of Garrison, New Jersey; where two unarmed African-American teens are mistakenly gunned down in a confrontation. Written and directed by James Mangold, the film stars Sylvester Stallone, Harvey Keitel, Ray Liotta, and Robert De Niro. After screening at the Stockholm International Film Festival, Stallone received the “Best Actor” award for his role as Sheriff Freddy Heflin.

Eddie and the Cruisers

This drama tells the curious story of a fictional New Jersey band from the ’60s; it begins when the band’s frontman, the ubiquitous Eddie, disappears after a creative rift with his bandmates. The film stars Michael Paré, who was working as a chef in New York City when he was discovered. In truth, the film was a box office bomb. However, the Springsteen-esque soundtrack, featuring John Cafferty & The Beaver Brown Band, produced a number of hits; including Billboard chart-topper, “On the Dark Side” and “Tender Years,” which propeled the film to cult status.

Friday the 13th

Twenty-one years after a tragedy, Camp Crystal Lake reopens. One by one, the new counselors meet their grisly demise at the hands of a mysterious killer. Inspired by Halloween, the movie was filmed in and around Hardwick, Blairstown, and Hope, New Jersey. Apart from launching one of the most successful horror franchises ever, the film is also responsible for making hockey masks scary.

Garden State

Scrubs star Zach Braff wrote, directed, and starred in this film; which centers around a disaffected, depressed actor who returns home to New Jersey following the death of his mother. A critical darling, Garden State was an official Sundance Film Festival selection; and the indie rock-heavy soundtrack, for which Braff himself chose the music, won a Grammy.

Greetings from the Shore

Set in and shot along the New Jersey Shore, mostly in Lavallette, this quiet charmer is about a young girl learning to let go of her plans and be comfortable with the natural flow of life. After losing her father, Jenny Chambers (Kim Shaw), decides to spend one last summer at the Jersey Shore before college. Leading up to its theatrical release in 2008, Greetings from the Shore played at more than 60 festivals; along the way, it brought home nearly two dozen awards.

Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle

It’s the ultimate stoner movie, as well as the ultimate product placement ad for America’s first fast-food chain. This outrageous comedy stars John Cho as Harold Lee and Kal Penn as Kumar Patel, two guys craving something specific. The film also features Neil Patrick Harris as Neil Patrick Harris on ecstasy; a role that catapulted the actor into even larger popularity than he enjoyed during his Doogie days. (The film pre-dates How I Met Your Mother.) Fun fact: There’s actually a White Castle right near where they were filming, so they could have just gone there.

Jersey Boys

Directed by the legendary Clint Eastwood, this adaptation of the Tony Award-winning musical tells the story behind New Jersey’s own Rock and Roll Hall of Famers, The Four Seasons. Christopher Walken’s portrayal of Gyp DeCarlo is enough to declare this piece of New Jersey’s musical legacy a must-see movie.

Jersey Girl

Many infamously (and unfairly) dismiss this “Bennifer movie” because stars Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez split before the release. This 2004 Kevin Smith movie movie was filmed primarily in New Jersey; but the particular town where single dad, Ollie Trinké (Affleck), is a sanitation worker is never actually named. The soundtrack features Bruce Springsteen singing his hit, “Jersey Girl,” a song written by Tom Waits.

New Jersey Drive

Since the script hit too close to home, this gritty, eye-opening story that follows a group of Newark teens who steal cars for joy rides was not allowed to be filmed within the city’s limits. Instead, because of the restrictions imposed by ex-city mayor Sharpe James, the movie was shot in surrounding locations. Stars Shar-Ron Corley, Gabriel Casseus, and Saul Stein all turn in powerful performances. Nick Gomez is credited as writer and director while Spike Lee served as the executive producer of the film.

The Oranges

Need some scandal in your life? This romantic comedy-drama (for adults only!) tells the tale of two New Jersey families torn apart by an affair. When David Walling (Hugh Laurie) and his best friend’s twenty-something daughter, Nina (Leighton Meester) get together, the fallout is devastating. As a result, the two families must navigate the challenges of their complex situation while living in the Oranges

Paul Blart: Mall Cop

Paul Blart (Kevin James) lives at home with his mom and daughter in West Orange; but he dreams of becoming a member of the New Jersey State Police. When a medical condition prevents him from passing his exam, he takes a job as a mall security guard. On Black Friday, it’s Blart vs the bad guys as a group of criminals hatch an evil plan. Not on Blart’s watch!

The Station Agent

This 2003 Sundance Film follows loner Finbar McBride (Peter Dinklage), who inherits an actual train depot when his only friend and employer suddenly dies. He moves from living a quiet life working in a train store to what should be an even quieter life; but his inherited domain brings him a wealth of new experiences and unexpected friendships.

The Toxic Avenger

Arguably the most famous B-movie, Lloyd Kaufman’s infamous Troma Entertainment masterpiece tells the story of janitor Melvin Ferd; who suffers relentlessly bullying by a gang of obnoxious health enthusiasts and winds up in a drum of toxic waste. Transformed by the chemicals, Ferd becomes New Jersey’s most hideous superhero. The cult classic lives on thanks to three sequels, a musical, a comic book series, a novel, and animated cartoon.

War of the Worlds

In 1938, Orson Wells convinced the world that aliens had invaded. In 2005, Steven Spielberg’s film version amped up the terror by adding some advanced technology. For this version of the sci-fi classic, single father, Ray Ferrier (Tom Cruise), who resides at 11 Kennedy Boulevard in Bayonne, New Jersey, struggles to protect his children (Dakota Fanning, Justin Chatwin) from an alien invasion — and the ensuing madness among the frenzied citizens of the Garden State.

The Wedding Singer

The ’80s are alive in this 1998 rom-com, starring Adam Sandler as Jersey’s favorite wedding singer; the mullet-wearing romantic Robbie Hart. After being stood up at the altar, Hart takes refuge in his sister’s basement in Ridgefield, New Jersey. When brokenhearted Hart befriends the recently engaged Julia (Drew Barrymore), he unexpectedly falls for her while helping plan her wedding. Kevin Nealon and Jon Lovitz make cameo appearances, as do Steve Buscemi and Billy Idol.

Welcome to the Dollhouse

This insightful film takes a hard look at what life as an outcast is really like. Dawn Wiener (Heather Matarazzo) is a seventh grader struggling with every pre-teen problem you could imagine; from inattentive parents to vicious bullying at school. The coming-of-age black comedy won the favor of Roger Ebert; giving the film four out of four stars and placing it on his “Best of 1996” movies list. Welcome to the Dollhouse also won the Grand Jury Prize for “Best Dramatic Feature” at the 1996 Sundance Film Festival.

The Wrestler

Written by Robert Seigel and directed by Darren Aronofsky, this sports drama stars former boxer Mickey Rourke. Rourke plays aging professional Randy “The Ram” Robinson, who wrestles on the weekends for independent promotions throughout New Jersey. Viewers ache as they watch “The Ram,” a victim of bad luck, poor decisions, and failing health, finish each match. The film is full of pro wrestlers playing themselves and also features an award-winning cast; including Marisa Tomei and Evan Rachel Wood. In addition, the music playing during the closing credits is by Jersey’s own Bruce Springsteen; he wrote the song, “The Wrestler,” exclusively for the film.