“A building is a symbol, as is the act of destroying it. Symbols are given power by people. Alone, a symbol is meaningless, but with enough people, blowing up a building can change the world.” - V For Vendetta
Monuments and famous or iconic buildings often come under attack in movies. We can expect to see a pretty spectacular example of this with White House Down, which released today. Often those buildings are American – Hollywood can’t quite recognize that there might be other iconic structures in the world. Every once in awhile a non-American landmark might creep in there, but for the most part, the end of civilization as we know it tends to take place on US soil. I wonder why that is?
Following the events of 9/11, we are unlikely to ever look at cinematic destruction the same way again. As V tells us in V For Vendetta, buildings are more than buildings: they are symbols, and the act of destroying them in films is symbolic too. Films sometimes remind us of how ridiculous we are for putting such faith in what’s basically a gigantic monument to our own arrogance. The destruction of a building in a film can be a rallying cry, an act that symbolizes the fall of a country, or the death of a single person. Only rarely in films does the destruction of a building or monument mean the destruction of life ; death is implied, but not shown. It’s what these buildings stand for that matter – but it’s also about what we put into them.
Here are 10 of the best, strangest, or funniest films in which famous monuments come under attack.Next
Independence Day (The White House)
Washington and New York tend to bear the brunt of cinematic destruction – and no wonder, given that the most recognizable American monuments are located there. Still, it’s pretty remarkable that the alien overlords seem to know, without even speaking a earthling language, just where to hit us.
Independence Day is guilty of attacking just about every major American landmark – and one or two foreign ones – and here it’s a toss up between that initial blast to the Empire State Building and the White House. As we’ve saved the Empire State Building for a different type of movie monster, we’re going with the White House.
As White House Down will presumably show us, the building acts as symbolic not just of the government, but of a single, important person. The fact that the White House is not inviolable is incredibly disturbing in any film – and how many movies trade on the idea of kidnapping or controlling the President as a way of controlling the nation? What’s more disturbing about the destruction of the White House in Independence Day is that we already feel all warm and fuzzy about Bill Pullman’s family man/war hero/generally good guy President. It isn’t just watching the seat of our government fall apart; it’s seeing the home of one our beloved characters destroyed.Previous Next
King Kong (Empire State Building)
The Empire State Building is one of those recognizable landmarks that doesn’t so much stand for something as it stands for being really really tall. For a while, it was the tallest buildings in the world, and it’s still the place to go if you’re a tourist and want to see all of Manhattan in one go. So where would a gigantic gorilla tourist go if he was chilling in New York? Empire State Building, of course.
King Kong decided he needed to make a foray to the top of the Empire State Building in 1933. He even brought his girlfriend along with him. Being an ape, one would have thought that he’d have more fun swinging on the girders of the Brooklyn Bridge. But the Empire State Building remains forever ingrained in our cinematic consciousness as the site of that beloved monkey’s demise.
Still, in King Kong it isn’t really the big monkey that launches an attack on the Empire State Building – it’s the United States airforce. Poor Kong thrashes around as the planes divebomb him, probably doing more damage to the building itself than to the big ape. Then he falls and the film director Carl Denham gets to utter his seminal line: “It was beauty that killed the beast.” I think the planes had something to do with it.Previous Next
Mars Attacks! (Mount Rushmore)
Like Independence Day, Tim Burton’s Mars Attacks! mounts a pretty cohesive assault on many major iconic buildings and monuments. The Taj Mahal, the Washington Monument, the White House, the Pentagon and numerous other landmarks suffer the consequences of those crazed little dudes and their throbbing brains. We’re not quite certain what the Martians want, except to cause as much destruction as possible. But the Martians are as much tricksters as they are evil overlords – they make certain to take selfies before bombing famous monuments.
My personal favorite is the redesigning of Mount Rushmore according to the whims of the little alien bastards. They replace the faces of Roosevelt, Lincoln, Washington and Jefferson with their own. I like to think that whoever those Martian leaders are, they deserve to be carved into the side of a mountain.
There’s a touch of satire (no, not just a touch) in the redesigning of Mount Rushmore too. How incredibly egotistical is it to carve the faces of our leaders into the natural landcape? Why do we put so much stock in famous buildings and monuments? And why is Theodore Roosevelt in the same place as Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln? These are questions that need answering.Previous Next
Cloverfield (Statue of Liberty)
What monument better represents the US of A better than Lady Liberty herself? Her green opulence watches over New York like a giant guardian, defeating evil in the form of communism, injustice and mistreatment. Too bad she can’t stand up to a giant monster straight out Godzilla’s wettest of dreams.
Despite being filmed by an epileptic during a game of laser tag, Cloverfield was an impressive creature feature, mostly due to Clover’s reign of terror as it stalks through the streets of New York. Although it’s hardly seen throughout the film, the monster makes its entrance by ripping the head off of the most symbolic image of American patriotism and chucking it at some douchebags having the lamest of parties. It causes at least twice the carnage King Kong could, and it doesn’t even fling its poo once.
What’s most impressive about this destruction is the fact that it comes from raw strength. No bombs or controlled explosions, just a pissed off Clover who felt that Lady Liberty could use a little off the top. The actual reveal may have been disappointing, but the killer suspense leading to that moment all starts with this disembodied head, expertly aimed by the next Yankees pitcher.Previous Next
2012 (The White House … Again!)
I really think that Roland Emmerich has something against the White House.
To be fair, 2012 was a mess of a movie. It was about an hour too long, wasted John Cusack’s talent, and was purely masturbatory for Roland Emmerich. But how can you watch the destruction at hand and not be awed by it all? It’s a prototypical Hollywood blockbuster, flawed to no end, but watching California sink into the ocean with surround sound on never gets old.
But perhaps the wildest bit of natural destruction comes from watching the demise of the White House, complete with the President inside. A tidal wave unmatched in size picks up the nearest aircraft carrier and tosses that sucker right into the nation’s capital. I’ve never been near a boat of that size, but I can imagine it would wipe out the White House and still be able to float to the Pentagon.
Sure, aliens can blow up the White House with a fancy beam and whatnot, but watching Mother Nature flood the crap out of a highly populated city blows them out of the water (pun intended). I’d like to see Windows 98 solve this problem.Previous Next
Team America (Louvre/Eiffel Tower)
Team America: World Police is a perfect movie. It’s ok if you disagree, but any film that can blow up the most notable monuments in France within ten minutes of the opening credits earns a special place in my heart. The fact that it’s done by marionettes is just icing on the already demented cake.
While chasing a terrorist through Paris, Team America proceeds to fire a rocket at one lone man, missing by a wide margin and instead knocking the Eiffel Tower onto the Arc de Triomphe. How do they react? “Damn, I missed him!” Outdoing themselves, they send a missile into the Louvre, killing the terrorist and disintegrating art beyond value.
Political undertones and pure satire run through the veins of Team America, but you can’t deny that the gleeful destruction of a stereotypical Paris (those three monuments are nowhere near each other) is hilarious at any time. It doesn’t take Michael Bay to create the best explosions, because the best ones are those perpetrated by puppets that sound like Randy Marsh.Previous Next
The MI6 headquarters rests on the bank of the Thames river, smack in the middle of a land full of culture, martinis and spies who drink said martinis. Skyfall was another foray into the darker side of James Bond, eschewing moon sex and cunnilingus jokes for a villain who tore apart all of London for the sake of revenge against the agency.
When your opening move against a secret society of well-trained spies is to blow up their headquarters single-handedly, you’ve officially become somebody not to mess with. This scene isn’t memorable because of spectacular effects and explosions. It sticks with you because for a second, both M and Bond look bothered. The usually stoic duo break face for just a moment, and that’s enough to prove that this is a threat nobody is ready for. Skyfall masterfully blended cinematic action with a powerful story, but the destruction of Bond’s headquarters for the better part of 50 years is too significant to ignore.
V For Vendetta (Houses of Parliament)
Most of the time, attacks on monuments or iconic buildings in movies are perpetrated by the bad guys: the terrorists, the aliens, the monsters, the corrupt government officials, etc. Only rarely is the destruction of a building a source of catharsis for the viewer – an act not of aggression, but of liberation.
There are few more cathartic experiences than the end of V For Vendetta. The entire film works us up to that single moment, as the Houses of Parliament erupt in fireworks, celebrating the 5th of November and the liberation of an oppressed nation. The surrounding faces, revealed from beneath Guy Fawkes masks as each of our characters, living and dead, show a nation escaping together from fear and totalitarianism. A new world is beginning.
Released fairly close following both the 9/11 attack and the bus bombings in London, V For Vendetta was accused of valorizing terrorism. And it is indeed centered around the act of blowing up the Houses of Parliament, as Guy Fawkes failed to do back in the 18th Century. The film does take pains to show that no one is injured in the explosion – it’s an act of defiance, not violence. Parliament has become not a symbol of freedom, but a symbol of the terrible control of a fascist government. V For Vendetta proposes that a building is indeed a symbol, and that the destruction of it need not be an act of violence or hate, but of freedom. The country needs to be liberated from the ties to the past, from the web of hate and deceit that has imprisoned them. The building is destroyed so that people can be free.Previous Next
South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut (Baldwin Mansion)
Speaking of freeing the people…
In case you’ve somehow managed to avoid pop culture for the last decade or so, South Park is utterly ridiculous. Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s full-length movie, South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut, details a war between America and its friendly neighbors in the north: the Canadians. Of course, the first target the Canucks go for is the esteemed Baldwin Mansion.
What greater landmark stands as a testament to the American spirit and raw determination than the Baldwin Mansion, in which all of the Baldwin brothers reside together. Alec, Billy, Stephen and Daniel are all lounging by the pool, unaware that the sinister Canadians are soon to attack, bombing the house into smithereens. Mr. Garrison sums up everybody’s sorrow in one tragic statement: “All the Baldwins are dead!”
When people think of our country, the first image that comes to mind is that of these four brothers bringing joy to the world with their talents. Forget bald eagles and flags, the Baldwin Mansion will forever stand as a testament to the indomitable spirit of the American citizen. Long live the Baldwins!Previous Next
Dr. Strangelove (The World)
Oh, I know what you’ll say. The World isn’t a monument! But consider this – every single monument, iconic building and human achievement past and present – not to mention the achievements of nature – is wiped out of existence in this film. That’s pretty remarkable destruction.
In Dr. Strangelove, Stanley Kubrick brings the world to a shattering conclusion, to the tune of ‘What A Wonderful World’. The mushroom cloud represents total destruction, annihilation, and there are going to be very few monuments left standing after all of this. And even if there are, who would really care? No one even makes it into the mine shafts – despite George C. Scott’s concern about a mine-shaft gap. It all just ends. Can’t get much more destructive than that.
Please note that this article was a collaborative effort between Christian Law and Lauren Humphries-Brooks.Previous