The New York City Subway is often seen as an integral part of the city and has had a place in popular culture for at least three quarters of a century. Many living in the area through the 1970s and 1980s remember it for crime and graffiti, but these have since subsided.
- The Arthur Gilespie 1912 song "The Subway Glide" was a popular dance piece.
- In the 1940s, Billy Strayhorn composed the jazz piece "Take the A Train", which soon became the signature tune of Washingtonian Duke Ellington and his band. The composition was inspired by the train.
- Series of baseball games between New York City teams are referred to as Subway Series. It is said that early 20th century teams took the subway to their opponents' parks. The Brooklyn Dodgers played at Ebbets Field, located near the Prospect Park station on the BMT Brighton Line; the New York Giants played at the Polo Grounds, located near the 155th Street station of the IRT Ninth Avenue Line and the 155th Street station of the IND Concourse Line; and the New York Yankees played at Yankee Stadium, near 161st Street station on the IRT Jerome Avenue Line. Today, many fans rely on the subway system to travel to their teams' games; the , and trains serve Yankee Stadium, while the and (IRT Flushing Line) provide access to Shea Stadium at Willets Point station, home of the New York Mets.
- In addition to baseball, the subway system is heavily used by fans bound for New York Knicks and New York Liberty basketball games and New York Rangers ice hockey games. These are all played in Midtown Manhattan at Madison Square Garden, which is served by the IND Eighth Avenue Line (at 34th Street–Penn Station) and the IRT Broadway–Seventh Avenue Line (at 34th Street–Penn Station).
- In 1967 The Velvet Underground and Nico, the debut album of the American rock band The Velvet Underground, included the track "I'm Waiting for the Man," a song about buying heroin in Harlem. The line "up to Lexington 125 / feel sick and dirty more dead than alive" references 125th Street on the IRT Lexington Avenue Line.
- The Velvet Underground also used a painting of an old TA Subway Entrance with pink smoke coming out of it for the cover of their 1970 release, Loaded.
- The entire All in the Family episode "Mike The Pacifist" (which aired in 1977) takes place on a subway train. A set was constructed at Television City in Hollywood, which resembled the interior of a subway train traveling towards Queens, New York.
- The second half of the 1974 The Odd Couple episode "The Subway Story", takes place on a NYC Subway train interior, which was a constructed set as the show was filmed in Hollywood, California.
- An episode of the television situation comedy I Love Lucy from 1956, entitled "Lucy And The Loving Cup", has a scene in which Lucy Ricardo (played by Lucille Ball) is on a Lexington Avenue Line NYC Subway train, with a loving cup stuck on her head, needing to go to Bleecker Street.
- In the 1987–1989 American television series Beauty and the Beast, Vincent (the "Beast"), who lived in tunnels beneath the city (see "Mole People"), would ride on top of a subway car to travel surreptitiously around the city.
- In the 1992 Seinfeld episode "The Subway", a subway ride leads to four unique experiences. Jerry Seinfeld befriends an overweight nudist; George Costanza meets an attractive woman who invites him to her hotel room; Elaine Benes misses a lesbian wedding; and Cosmo Kramer wins a horse bet.
- In 1993, a 16-year-old boy named Keron Thomas, who was obsessed with the New York subway system, put on a uniform and successfully impersonated a subway motorman. For three hours, he chauffered an train along its route, passengers none the wiser, until his brakes locked up rounding a curve too fast, and he was unable to unjam them. He received a suspended sentence and a lot of publicity. (see article).
- The music video for Hacken Lee's 1995 single 為妳流淚 - Crying for You briefly shows Hacken at Fort Hamilton Parkway.
- The 1999 debut album from Jennifer Lopez was called On the 6, named after the line that she regularly rode while growing up in The Bronx on her way to dance practices in Manhattan, prior to her stardom.
- The 1999 video for Macy Gray's video I Try shows Gray entering the 53rd Street Lexington Avenue subway entrance, which at the time served the , , and lines. The platform her train is depicted arriving on, however, is actually ten blocks north at 63rd Street. This station would indeed become Lexington Avenue's line stop two years later.
- In the Futurama episode "The Luck of the Fryrish" (first aired March 11, 2001), Bender uses the rundown subway system, apparently still electrified, to get to Fry's old neighborhood. He hooks his feet up to the tracks and, just before leaving the station, says, "This is the Brooklyn-bound B train, making local stops at wherever the hell I feel like it, watch for the closing doors!" and imitates the sound trains make just before the doors close. In reality, the train does indeed run to Brooklyn: It originates at Bedford Park Boulevard in The Bronx, then proceeds downtown through Manhattan and into Brooklyn, eventually terminating at Brighton Beach. The station they debarked at, Newkirk Avenue, however did not see B service until 2004.
- In the Without a Trace episode "Birthday Boy", Gabe Freedman disappears on his birthday while with his father at the Yankee Stadium subway station.
- Some episodes of Disney's American Dragon: Jake Long shows Jake fighting bad guys in the subway. Sometimes Jake and his friends just take the subway to get around.
- The first two levels of Rockstar Games's 2001 video game Max Payne take place in the fictitious Roscoe Street Station of the subway.
- Flight of the Conchords' "Inner City Pressure" video was shot at street level along the Marcy Avenue subway stop, served by the Jamaica Center/Queens train.
The New York City subway has been featured prominently in many films. One of its first color appearances is in the 1949 musical On the Town
, shot on location. One of the characters takes a fancy to "Miss Turnstiles
," a "typical rider" whose picture appears in many different poses on advertising placards.
- The 1966 counterculture film You're a Big Boy Now contains a scene where Peter Kastner reads some racist graffiti in a subway station.
- The 1967 film The Incident (which starred Beau Bridges) takes place on an IRT subway train along the Jerome Avenue line in the Bronx.
- In the 1971 film The French Connection. The subway and car chase on and underneath the elevated BMT West End Line is often considered the greatest chase scene in film history. It was shot without permits. The platform of the Grand Central-42nd Street platform of the 42nd Street Shuttle was also extensively used for a scene.
- The 1974 movie The Taking of Pelham One Two Three focuses on the hijacking of a subway car in Manhattan on the route. (Pelham 1-2-3 refers to the originating station [Pelham Bay in the Bronx] and the time of departure [1:23pm])
- The 1974 film Death Wish has a few scenes on various lines of the NYC subway in which the character of Paul Kersey (played by Charles Bronson) gets to practice vigilantism.
- The 1977 movie Saturday Night Fever features a scene near the end showing Tony Manero, played by John Travolta, taking an all-night ride on the Subway, during which he realizes his need to rise above and go beyond his childhood roots and seek a more meaningful life for himself.
- The 1978 movie Superman has its villain of the film, Lex Luthor (played by Gene Hackman), living beneath Grand Central Station in Metropolis (New York City). There is also a scene in the film where Luthor's bumbling henchman, Otis, (played by Ned Beatty) has a run in with the law in the station itself.
- The 1979 cult film The Warriors focuses on a street gang taking the subway from upper Bronx to Coney Island. The movie's heavily graffitied cars contrast starkly with today's relatively clean subway system.
- The 1979 film Hero At Large has a scene on an elevated subway train with John Ritter (playing "Captain Avenger").
- In Brian DePalma's 1980 thriller Dressed To Kill, Nancy Allen is pursued by a street gang, first on a subway platform, then on a train itself (before running into both the killer and the hero).
- The 1981 film Nighthawks (starring Sylvester Stallone) has a chase sequence with Rutger Hauer on a subway train.
- The 1982 film A Stranger is Watching shows Julie hiding at a subway yard after escaping from the hands of Arty.
- In the 1989 film Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan, Jason Voorhees is electrocuted on subway tracks after attempting to attack two teenagers on a train.
- The IND Culver Line, particularly the Bergen Street station, features prominently in the opening of the 1990 film Jacob's Ladder.
- In the 1990 drama Ghost, Patrick Swayze encounters Vincent Schiavelli, a "subway ghost" who has haunted several trains in the system since being pushed onto the tracks while alive. All the scenes were filmed on an unused platform under 42nd Street–Port Authority Bus Terminal. This platform is often used for filming- in fact, the station name on the walls differ as you walk down the platform, so that the same platform can stand in for multiple locations.
- Abel Ferrera's 1990 thriller King of New York has Frank White (Christopher Walken) riding the 42 Street shuttle.
- The 1990 movie Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles featured Judith Hoag's "April O'Neil" character being attacked in the subway by Shredder's "Foot soldiers" before being rescued by one of the eponymous turtles and taken through the tunnels to the turtles' subterranean lair.
- The 1991 sequel to the first "Turtles" movie, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze, found the turtles residing in an old subway tunnel far beneath the current system. In one scene, Ernie Reyes, Jr.'s character remarks that he "never got a seat on the subway system so fast" in his life after carrying odorous chemicals from the streets to the lair.
- Glengarry Glen Ross (1992) is set in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn and has the D train as a prominent supporting background character.
- The 1995 film Die Hard: With a Vengeance features Simon Gruber (Jeremy Irons) planting a bomb on a train in order to blow up the Wall Street Station.
- The 1995 film Hackers has a key scene which takes place on a New York City subway, in which the hacker protagonists convene to plan their electronic strike against villain.
- The 1995 film Money Train takes place in the subway system, with Wesley Snipes, Woody Harrelson, and Jennifer Lopez playing New York City Transit Police officers. The main plot of the film dealt with a plan to hijack the NYCT revenue collection train. The train scenes were actually filmed in Los Angeles on a specially constructed replica of the New York City Subway system on an old railroad yard adjacent to Chinatown known as "The Cornfield."
- The 1997 movie "Mimic" has great part of it happening inside an abandoned "Armony Station".
- In 1997, HBO held a contest wherein New Yorkers were encouraged to send in stories about their experiences on the system to be part of a documentary. The documentary, Subway Stories: Tales from the Underground|, included over ten stories featuring performances by actors such as Denis Leary, Steve Zahn, Jerry Stiller, the late Gregory Hines, and Rosie Perez (who also helped to produce).
- In the American version of Godzilla (1998 film), "Godzilla" tunnels through the subway system to traverse the city and also uses it to enter Madison Square Garden.
- In the 1999 Adam Sandler comedy Big Daddy, Sandler's character, Cole and Dylan Sprouse's character, and Sandler's friends are shown buying food from a hot dog stand in front of the Christopher Street Station which then served and trains running on the IRT Broadway–Seventh Avenue Line.
- In the 1999 film The Bone Collector; a clue to the next murder victim is located in an abandoned Subway station at the southern tip of Manhattan. The station is referred to as "Navy Street;" in reality there is not, nor has there been, a subway station of such a name or at such a location.
- In the 2000 Adam Sandler comedy Little Nicky, the subway below Grand Central Terminal possesses a portal to hell. At one point, Sandler's character saves girlfriend Patricia Arquette from an oncoming train by throwing himself onto the tracks in her place; upon dying, he finds himself in heaven.
- The Yards (2000) revolves around private subway and commuter railroad contractors and corruption. Several scenes in rail yards are present and Mark Wahlberg rides the .
- In 2001, the producers of the drama Don't Say a Word, starring Michael Douglas and Brittany Murphy, converted the abandoned Lower Bay subway station platform in Toronto to a station similar to Canal Street.
- The 2002 film Men in Black II featured an alien entering an underground tunnel. Once there, it attacks and devours most of a subway train (which is a combination of R32 and R30) until Agent J destroys it. He is then seen walking out of the station, 81st Street. However, the entrance showed the and trains serving the station, when it supposed to say and .
- The 2003 TV film Homeless to Harvard: The Liz Murray Story showed Liz riding and living in the subway. She boards a train that is parady of an R46. It is not known what train it was, although one time she said she was on the . However, at the time of filming, the was using R68s and during Liz's youth age, it was using R40s and later R68As.
- In 2004, Spider-Man 2 featured a fight and crash scene on an out-of-control elevated train in Manhattan. In reality, the R is not elevated at all; the scene was actually filmed on the Chicago 'L'.
- In the 2004 film Immortel (Ad Vitam), the Egyptian god Horus crafts a new leg for Nikopol out of a piece of abandoned subway trackage in a dystopian late 21st century New York City. Flying cars attached to overhead electric rails are portrayed as commonplace by 2095.
- In 2004's Saving Face, the main character, Vivian, boards the 42nd Street Shuttle. Another scene shows an train running between Queensboro Plaza and the 60th Street Tunnel.
- In the 2004 film Taxi, Belle is seen biking through New York City in the beginning of the film, including entering 14th Street-Union Square, the 42nd Street Shuttle, and Brooklyn Bridge-City Hall, where an R142 train can be seen.
- The 2005 film Madagascar features some computer-generated scenes on the 42nd Street Shuttle.
- The 2005 film Rent featured several cast members dancing and singing while riding the train; this scene was actually shot on a set.
- The 2005 film Little Manhattan shows Gabe and Rosemary riding from 72nd to Christopher Streets along the IRT Broadway–Seventh Avenue Line. Also, Gabe wears a train T-shirt during parts of the movie, available at the Transit Museum Store
- In the beginning of World Trade Center (film), there was a scene showing a train of R46s approaching an elevated station. Not only were the cars wrong, but the division as the R46s are for the "B" Division or BMT/IND (the lettered lines) while the 2 train is part of the "A" Division or IRT (the numbered lines). In September 2001, the 2 consisted of R142s and Redbirds. A later scene shows the interior of an empty R46 train and through the windows, one can see the train rising for underground to elevated tracks. This was more accurate as it appears the train is where the Culver Line rises from underground to elevated between Carroll Street and Smith-Ninth Streets or between Church Avenue and Ditmas Avenue. The Culver Line is served by the train, which uses the R46s.
- The 2007 film The Brave One features a scene where Erica shoots and kills two men on the subway after they attacked the other passengers in the car and took a teenager's iPod. They were on an R42 at Church Street. However, there is no such station as Church Street in the subway. The scene was filmed on the unused express tracks at Church Avenue (IND Culver Line). Another scene shows Erica riding a train that was running along the express track on the BMT Culver Line.
- In 2008's Cloverfield, Rob, Hud, Marlena, and Lily run into the Spring Street station to get away from the monster. However, that was not the real station and just a mock-up. However, after traveling through the tunnel, the group ends up at 59th Street-Lexington Avenue. As the group goes through the 60th Street and Lexington Avenue entrance and to Bloomingdale's, the service notices on the walls prove this was filmed at the real station.