20 Movies That Destroy New York
Nicolas Cage’s new movie Knowing is once again putting a fictional New York in the path of destruction. Check out our review here. Being one of the most iconic cities in the world means that Manhattan is ripe for filmmakers looking to make a visceral impact. After all, what could be more gasp-inducing than torching the Empire State Building? Or flooding Grand Central Station? Or stomping all over the Brooklyn Bridge? New York has always been a prime target for disaster, and even after real disasters have toppled some of its towers, filmmakers still can’t stay away.
20. Independence Day (1996)
Despite some geographical inaccuracy (the Empire State Building does not straddle an North-South street), serial New York–abuser Roland Emmerich certainly makes his point anyway. When the hovering alien spacecraft get the “go” sign, Gregory Johnson’s iconic design gets lit up like a Roman candle, and Manhattan learns the hard way that not all tourists want to pose for pictures in Times Square and catch a matinee of Legally Blonde.
19. The Day After Tomorrow (2004)
Emmerich again. This time, severe changes in the Earth’s climate cause New York to get flooded like a cheap Chevy, and then frozen solid. Why this also causes giant werewolves to appear is cause for debate (we choose the “bad CGI” argument), but this was one circumstance where New Yorkers actually would have preferred the snow turn to a slushy gray muck like it usually does ten seconds after a blizzard.
18. Godzilla (1998)
OK, Emmerich, we get it. You like to see New York decimated. Fine. This time, the German director unleashes a giant lizard in the city so nice they named it twice, and a great many recognizable landmarks suffer as a result. We’re not sure if that ending. Godzilla is finally stopped by the criss-crossing cables of the Brooklyn Bridge was meant to be a subtle joke for Manhattanites who equate moving to Brooklyn with death, but we like to think it is, anyway.
17. Men in Black II (2002)
To think, the MIBs spend so much time covering their tracks and erasing memories and yet, if you told the average N.Y. commuter that giant, subway-car-sized space slugs lived in the tunnels, they probably wouldn’t bat an eye. They have seen far more disturbing things inside a subway car. MIB2 is relatively gentle on the big city, though, and even its predecessor saved most of its destructiveness for Queens where, let’s be honest, no one’s really going to notice.
16. Superman II (1980)
When Tim Burton made Batman’s Gotham City, he made it so that it didn’t resemble any other city the audience knew of (well, maybe some areas of Berlin). Richard Donner, however, wanted people to buy his location as “Metropolis” even though THE EMPIRE STATE BUILDING is sticking up right in the middle of midtown. That’s like painting wings on an elephant and calling it an eagle. When Supes throws down with General Zod and his flunkies, there’s no mistaking that it’s Times Square feeling the brunt of the super-fisticuffs.
15. Q (1982)
It’s an old New York joke that you can tell who the tourists are because they are the only ones looking up. New Yorkers don’t need to gawk at their skyscrapers, making Q’s conceit that a giant winged serpent could nest atop the Empire State Building without anyone noticing until it starts eating people utterly believable. Hindered by 1982 special effects, the movie opts for “mystery” over large-scale carnage, but thinking of monumental buildings as home to man-eating monstrosities is disturbing enough.
14. When Worlds Collide (1951)
Before Roland Emmerich got the notion to turn Manhattan’s cavernous streets into a log flume, legendary sci-fi producer George Pal busted out the miniatures and the garden hose in When Worlds Collide. The tale of a rogue planet on a collision course with Earth (see? The title isn’t a metaphor), the end is not a pleasant one for New York. It gets flooded with enough seawater to drown everything save the cockroaches.
13. Deep Impact (1998)
Before Roland Emmerich got the notion to turn Manhattan’s cavernous streets into a log flume, but after George Pal did the exact same thing, director Mimi Leder…aw, forget it. Meteor. Hits earth. New York floods. Let’s move on.
12. The Warriors (1979)
Not all destruction has to be an extinction-level event. In The Warriors, the Big Apple is rotting from the inside — the generally good, hard-working, no-nonsense New Yorkers who are the city’s heart and soul have been chased to the periphery and replaced by elaborately-dressed and ultra-violent gangs. These clown-faced crooks have the run of the entire island (and the surrounding boroughs), and civilians are hardly seen at all, which leads to the chilling conclusion that unless you pick a clan, you’re pretty much a walking ghost.
11. Planet of the Apes (1968)
After all the hunting, capturing, escaping, and laying on of stinking paws, Charlton Heston wanders down a desolate stretch of beach to discover…the Statue of Liberty! All this time, he’s been among ape-men who have built a civilization on the ruins of what was once New York. Well, OK, it could have been New Jersey. But still — we blew it up! Damn us all to hell!
10. Escape from New York (1981)
In dystopian thriller, New York’s crime rate gets so uncontrollably bad the U.S. government decides to simply wall it up and let it exist as a giant prison. While this scenario doesn’t look too kindly on New York, the film’s production doesn’t look too kindly on another city: East St. Louis. Unable to find a N.Y. location suitably burned-out, run-down, and pathetic enough to convince as a city-prison, Carpenter had to film nearly all of Escape’s exteriors in the sad sack Illinois city.
9. The Siege (1998)
Taking a much more grounded tact that some of the other films listed here, The Siege preyed on our worst real life fears — rampant terror attacks in major cities — several years before 9/11, and showed us a devastated Manhattan under martial law. It kind of makes giant lizards and supervillains seem kind of cozy and safe, doesn’t it?
8. 2019: After the Fall of New York (1983)
An Italian cheapie knock-off of Escape from New York, 2019 envisions a nuclear-decimated New York inhabited by radioactive freaks and monsters. Luckily for the filmmakers, the “post-apocalypse” setting allowed for much of the action to take place in nondescript parking lots and empty patched of desert, rather than, say, having to hire the manpower to shut down large portions of Fifth Avenue. All the saved money is on the screen, folks.
7. Ghostbusters (1984)/Ghostbusters 2 (1989)
Look, having the world’s only paranormal janitors based in Tribeca is bound to bring some undesirables into your neighborhood. First, large sections of the Upper West Side get stomped on (and ultimately covered in charred marshmallow), then a river of slime underneath the city streets conjure up a vengeful spirit from the past. The Ghostbusters‘ means of disposal may not be tidy — they wreck as much of Manhattan as the ghoulies — but at least they do something. Nobody steps on a church in their town.
6. Armageddon (1998)
might have gone the hackneyed “New York landmark destruction” route, but give him some credit for at least picking two slightly lesser-used landmarks. In illustrating a meteor showers’ path of destruction, Bay shows the Chrysler Building and Grand Central Station getting torn apart by hunks of space rock in addition to several taxi cabs near a “53rd Street Station,” which is in that trendy N.Y. neighborhood known as “Obvious Studio Backlot.”
5. King Kong (2005)
Forget Mel Brooks, a thousand chorus dancers, or a Stephen Sondheim song — remember the simple days when all you needed to open on Broadway was a big ape in chains? Once Kong got out, however, things go very bad for 1930s Times Square. Cars are thrown, buildings crushed, and Central Park’s frozen ponds subject to inhuman levels of sentimentality. The Empire State Building, despite being the location for the final showdown, gets by with a few dings and scratches. The streets below, however…
4. A.I.: Artificial Intelligence (2001)
Like Emmerich’s The Day After Tomorrow, the Earth’s fragile ecosystem is to blame for New York’s eventual flooding and destruction — but unlike Emmerich, Steven Spielberg only shows us the aftermath, not the disaster. And like Planet of the Apes, the Statue of Liberty is used as the chilling reminder of what once was (her torch barely peaking out above sea level is eerie in much the same way her beach-logged torso was in Apes).
3. War of the Worlds (2005)
Perhaps realizing he missed an opportunity with A.I., Spielberg made up for it by piling on the N.Y. decimation in his remake of War of the Worlds. From the vantage point of Bayonne, New Jersey, we see bridges twisting like licorice and entire swaths of the city getting ripped apart. The entire Eastern seaboard feels the brunt of the alien attack, so for once New York isn’t unfairly singled out for termination.
2. I Am Legend (2007)
There is nothing more chilling than the sight of a New York City completely devoid of people. It’s somehow more unnatural and more disturbing than an alien invasion, giant meteor, or epic tsunami. People surrender their desire for piece and quiet the minute they sign the rental agreement on a N.Y. apartment, so the idea that there could be more vegetation than people on Fifth Avenue is tough to swallow. New Yorkers being wholesale turned into vampires isn’t any easier.
1. Sex and the City: The Movie (2008)
Without a doubt, the combined forces of Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte, and Miranda have been more devastating to life in New York than anything dreamed up by Roland Emmerich or Michael Bay. As a cable series, Sex turned New York’s way of life upside down — convincing millions of Midwest dreamers that they could afford a one-bedroom Manhattan apartment by writing a single newspaper column every four months, that they could subsist entirely on Cosmos and pastries, and that they would magically have enough free time and disposable income to lunch with the girls in between Manolo Blahnik shopping sprees. Utterly devastating.