It was the moment the #MeToo movement had been waiting for: Harvey Weinstein in handcuffs.

His smile strained and his hands locked behind his back, the once-powerful Hollywood figure emerged from a police station yesterday facing rape and criminal sex act charges, a searing reckoning for the man who became a symbol of a worldwide outcry over sexual misconduct.

"This defendant used his position, money and power to lure young women into situations where he was able to violate them sexually," Manhattan Assistant Attorney Joan Illuzzi-Orbon said later, bringing raised eyebrows from the otherwise stony-faced Weinstein.

The charges stem from encounters with two of the dozens of women - some famous, some not - who have accused him of sexual misdeeds.

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The rape charge involves a woman who has not come forward publicly; the other is a onetime aspiring actress who was among his first accusers.

Weinstein has consistently denied any allegations of non-consensual sex.

His lawyer, Benjamin Brafman, said he would fight to get the charges dismissed.

And he began to take aim at the accusations and accusers, noting that the alleged attacks weren't reported to police when they happened and suggesting potential jurors wouldn't believe the women.

Asked about the raft of other allegations against Weinstein, Brafman said the case was a question of crime, not bad behaviour.

"Mr Weinstein did not invent the casting couch in Hollywood," the attorney said.

Weinstein was released on US$1 million ($1.45m) bail, with constant electronic monitoring and a ban on travelling beyond New York and Connecticut.

As he surrendered, the 66-year-old Weinstein found himself surrounded by lights and cameras in a spectacle he couldn't control.

"You sorry, Harvey?" came a shout from a throng of media as the once-powerful movie mogul was led into a lower Manhattan courthouse.

During half hour in a cell, officials said, he sat on the floor and flipped through a biography on famed film director Elia Kazan. Later, in a courthouse booking area, he complained he felt faint and his handcuffs were too tight. Officers used three, linked sets to put his hands behind his back - a common procedure for heavyset prisoners.

Other suspects who recognised him yelled out, "Yo, Harvey!"

The top charges against him carry the potential for up to 25 years in prison.

He's accused of confining a woman in a Manhattan hotel room and raping her in 2013, according to a court complaint.

The criminal sex act charge stems from a 2004 encounter between Weinstein and Lucia Evans, a then-aspiring actress who told the New Yorker magazine he forced her to perform oral sex during a daytime meeting in his office.

"We are relieved and grateful that justice is coming, but we also mourn the cases where it didn't," her lawyer, Carrie Goldberg, said.

More than 75 women have accused Weinstein of wrongdoing, and authorities in California and London are also investigating assault allegations. Brafman has said that Weinstein was a "principal target" of an investigation being conducted by the US attorney's office in Manhattan.

New York City police have also been investigating allegations by Boardwalk Empire actress Paz de la Huerta, who told police that Weinstein raped her twice in 2010.

Until the scandal, Weinstein was among the most influential forces in US film. But there were rumours in Hollywood for years about Weinstein's pursuit of actresses.

- AP