The Titular 21 Manhattan Bridges In '21 Bridges', Explained

Matt Kennedy/STXfilms

In the new infrastructure-driven drama, 21 Bridges, detective Chadwick Boseman shuts down every single port in and out of Manhattan in an attempt to stop criminals from escaping. From the surface, it sounds like a simple game of cat and mouse, where the city becomes a playpen for the seedy characters of the most densely populated borough. But as you can tell from the title of the film, it's not just the fact that no one can leave or enter Manhattan for an entire night that's meant to be thrilling; it's the sheer number of bridges that the movie presents as impressive. Turns out, there actually are 21 bridges connecting Manhattan to its surrounding boroughs — some of them just make things a little convoluted, and mean the film's manhunt could have still left Manhattan Island.

"We've got 21 bridges in and out of Manhattan," Detective Andre Davis (Chadwick Boseman) says in the film. "Shut 'em down. Three rivers, close 'em. Four tunnels, block 'em. Stop every train and loot the subways." Never mind the fact that this would be a massive undertaking to do in one night (and in a city that, frankly, DGAF about government-ordered traffic patterns), but the movie doesn't give mind to that small detail. In fact, the bridges actually aren't that big of a thing at all. The film's focus is on Andre chasing two drug traffickers (Stephan James and Taylor Kitsch) around Manhattan after they kill eight police officers during a situation that seems peculiar to both the detective and the criminals.

That's all fine, but we were promised bridges! Even though we may want information on the logistics of how the bridges were shut down, the movie doesn't really care. The point is, there are 21 bridges and they get shut down. Now, even if you live in New York City, 21 bridges might seem like an exaggeration. You may even find yourself wondering in the theater: Is he including footbridges? He's definitely talking about trains separately even though some of this bridges are for the trains, right? Aren't tunnels really bridges, too, if you think about it?

To answers those questions: Yes, yes, and no. There are, technically, 21 bridges in and out of Manhattan, but not all of them are for cars. Some of the 21 bridges are for foot traffic and some of them are specifically for train lines. On top of that, there are also a couple that are connected to islands — Randalls and Wards Islands and Roosevelt Island — that are part of the borough of Manhattan, but not part of the island of Manhattan. This means that if the criminals Andre was after wanted to, they could cross water to these small islands via bridge, but wouldn't be able to leave them and continue on further to Queens.

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It's easy enough to spot most of the 21 bridges just by viewing Manhattan on a map, but the kayaking blog Wind Against Current is very helpful in listing almost all of the bridges, including train bridges, along with photos of all of them taken from a kayak, which is a nice touch.

Here are the 21 bridges of Manhattan:

  • Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge (Manhattan and Queens)
  • Robert F. Kennedy Bridge (Manhattan and Queens)
  • Willis Avenue Bridge (Manhattan and the Bronx)
  • Third Avenue Bridge (Manhattan and the Bronx)
  • Harlem River Lift Bridge (Manhattan and Bronx, trains)
  • Madison Avenue Bridge (Manhattan and Bronx)
  • 145th Street Bridge (Manhattan and Bronx)
  • Macombs Dam Bridge (Manhattan and Bronx)
  • The High Bridge (Manhattan and Bronx)
  • Alexander Hamilton Bridge (Manhattan and Bronx)
  • Washington Heights Bridge (Manhattan and Bronx)
  • University Heights Bridge (Manhattan and Bronx)
  • Broadway Bridge (Manhattan and Bronx)
  • Henry Hudson Bridge (Manhattan and Bronx)
  • Spuyten Duyvil Bridge (Manhattan and Bronx)
  • George Washington Bridge (Manhattan and New Jersey)
  • Brooklyn Bridge (Manhattan and Brooklyn)
  • Manhattan Bridge (Manhattan and Brooklyn)
  • Williamsburg Bridge (Manhattan and Brooklyn)
  • Roosevelt Island Bridge (Roosevelt Island and Queens)
  • Hell Gate Bridge (Randalls Island and Queens)

As you can see, the last two bridges count towards the 21 bridges of the film, whereas the Wards Island Bridge, which connects Manhattan Island and Randalls and Wards Islands, does not count, as all those locations are part of the borough of Manhattan. If we're thinking like a detective, Andre probably didn't want to chase the criminals onto a tiny island known for hosting music festivals. He probably should have made the call to shut that one down, too.