New York is one of the biggest, most populated, and important cities in the United States, so it comes as no surprise that it makes an irresistible target for in-movie destruction. Films don’t always erase the City that Never Sleeps from the map, but it’s definitely received some interesting attention.
And with Independence Day: Resurgence currently bringing global destruction back to the big screen (the aliens pick up Asia and drop it on Europe! It’s completely ridiculous!), we thought it would be fun to look back at some of the other times that various fictionalized forces, both natural and artificial, took a bite out of the Big Apple.
Here are 18 Times Movies Destroyed New York, and how they did it.
18. Sharknado 2 – Tornadoes full of sharks
This one falls more under an attack than all-out destruction, but it’s basically impossible not to include a movie that’s about a bunch of tornadoes picking up a whole lot of sharks and flinging them at New York.
The Sharknado series is full of mysteries. Where did these storms come from? And while we’re at it, how are they strong enough to pick up sharks? And why are there so many sharks?
None of that matters, and thinking about it will only give you a headache. The main things are that both the tornados and sharks are there, and they’ve achieved perfect symbiosis. The storms flood subway tunnels so that sharks can get in there and eat people, and they fling the big fish up into airplanes so that they can get their nom on in the sky.
Eventually, it looks like three sharknados are going to merge to form one megasharknado because that’s probably a thing in this universe, so the heroes blow up a tank of coolant on top of the Empire State Building to freeze the storm before things can get any more ridiculous than that plan.
17. Earthquake in New York – An Earthquake in New York
Earthquake in New York is one of two late 90s TV miniseries called Earthquake in New York that suppose what would happen if a massive seismic event hit the city (the other one is called Aftershock, with the rest as a subtitle) We’re not sure how or why the similarities happened, but sometimes studios independently have the same terrible idea simultaneously, like when lava-driven disaster films Volcano and Dante’s Peak also came out in the same year.
But despite the redundancy, we’re giving the slot to the movie with the slightly shorter title because of the seemingly disparate plot elements it crams in. Not only is it about a police detective trying to find his family in the aftermath of an 8.2 earthquake, but it also has a subplot about a serial killer. We would have totally understood if the cop put that second problem on hold while he deals with the more immediate problems of New York collapsing into the earth, but we give him credit for his dedication.
16. Category 7: The End of the World – The biggest storm ever
Modern meteorology doesn’t even have a seventh category of tropical storms or hurricanes, but this 2005 miniseries is the sequel to Category 6: Day of Destruction, so what can you do?
Category 7 has the system that took out Chicago in the first movie joining up with another hurricane to form the biggest weather event in the history of everything. And now it makes sense: a category 6 plus one more obviously makes a category 7. That’s just math.
Most of the concern in this movie is about Washington, D.C., which has a “massive thermal plume” (probably from all the politicians and their hot air, right?) that will fuel both the system and the destruction of the human race. But it’s only about 260 miles from there to New York, which is nothing when you’re dealing with a thing that’s way too big to actually exist. And sure enough, a flooded New York gets the cover of the DVD release (but not the Blu-ray version, above).
Despite having one of the worst trailers we’ve seen lately, a subplot involving scheming ministers and poisonous frogs, and dodgy science that includes “falling chunks of mesosphere,” 14 million people tuned in to watch Category 7. So maybe we’re the jerks here.
15. Disaster Movie – Every disaster possible (and bad jokes)
Here’s a good rule to keep in mind before you head out to the theaters or press play on your remote: if the thing you’re about to watch is a comedy that ends in the word “Movie,” you’re probably about to have a bad time.
But if you insist, Disaster Movie offers about an hour and a half of unfunny, overlong scenes featuring jokes that were dated the moment the movie came out. It also unloads on New York with pretty much everything that can go wrong, including meteors, quick freezing, tornadoes, superhero battles, museum exhibits coming to life, and rabid animals. It’s a mess.
We don’t remember if the location is actually New York because our whole lives since we saw Disaster Movie have been dedicated to forgetting it exists, but it contains enough references to other films that clobbered the city that we feel pretty safe assuming.
This is one of the worst movies you’ll ever see, and it may actually be the biggest disaster on this list. We’d think that was a brilliant accomplishment in metajokes if its idea of humor wasn’t a scene in which pregnant indie-hipster Juno MacGuff fights Carrie Bradshaw from Sex and the City, who is played by a man.
14. Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow – Robot parade
The building-sized, Nazi war machines in Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow are worth a mention not for the destruction they create but the relative politeness with which they carry it out.
These robots are in town to blast open the street and steal a generator, and they walk pretty neatly and cleanly down the road instead of just taking the straight-line approach and taking out buildings. And sure, they tear up the pavement something fierce with their big, metal feet and laser eyes, but nobody has to find a new place to live once city officials let everyone come back home.
In fact, we’d argue that Sky Captain (Jude Law) creates a way bigger mess from fighting the automatons than they would have caused if he’d just left them alone to go about their business. His interference prompts a much larger attack from giant, metal birds that causes way more damage and gets a bunch of people killed.
13. Deluge – Flooding and romantic entanglements
This 1933 disaster film starts with a series of earthquakes along the Pacific coast, and the danger only escalates from there. The tremors create a series of tsunamis that (somehow) make it all the way around the world to flood New York.
The city has its own quakes, which is a pretty neat trick considering the closest area capable of creating a major event is over a thousand miles away, in Missouri.
But people in Deluge don’t just have natural disasters to contend with; they also have the small matter of rebuilding society after global catastrophes. And mostly what this means is a series of creepy love triangles. Two men rescue a woman and fight over who will get to take care of her, and one of them ends up killing the other. The woman swims away and falls in love with another guy who is looking for his lost wife and children, who have themselves fallen in with a man who ends up catching feelings for the wife.
12. Meteor – Somehow, not a meteor
A cosmic, Rube Goldberg-style chain reaction has a comet striking an asteroid and sending fragments of it hurtling toward Earth in 1979’s Meteor, which stars Sean Connery and a bunch of other great actors who look like they’d rather be doing anything else.
We’re nerds, so we can’t help but point out that the title isn’t really accurate; the rocks aren’t meteors until they enter Earth’s atmosphere, and the ones that actually hit the surface would technically be meteorites. That’s not the biggest problem with Meteor, but it’s one place to start. And honestly, “Meteor” just sounds cooler.
The Americans and Soviets devise a plan to coordinate their orbiting nuclear arsenals to destroy the deadly space debris. But meanwhile, smaller pieces of it rain down on the planet. One of these takes out most of New York in a slightly laughable special effects sequence that renders the destroyer of Manhattan as a big red ball instead of, say, a huge rock. It also uses the same shot of the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center exploding twice but just zooms in the second time to try to keep us from noticing, and that’s just cheating.
11. Deep Impact – Huge wave from a comet hitting the ocean
Any underwater earthquake can cause a giant wave to take out New York, but Deep Impact takes it one notch further by having its metropolis-leveling waterwall spawning from the ocean impact of a mile-and-a-half wide comet fragment. The resulting superwave kills millions of people on four continents, and it’s utterly inescapable – unless you steal a motorcycle from your girlfriend’s garage like Elijah Wood does in the film.
The monstrous slice of ocean that hits New York is taller than the Statue of Liberty and plows past the Twin Towers like they aren’t even there. After that, it’s all flipping buses down the street, washing people away, and knocking down the Washington Square Arch like it’s made of Lego bricks.
10. Tycus – Pieces of the shattered moon
2000’s direct-to-video release Tycus is an objectively bad movie, but at least it gets creative with the source of New York’s destruction.
It has the usual plot beats of an apocalypse-from-space story: An astronomer discovers something headed for Earth that will destroy everything, someone has a secret project that will preserve a handful of people, and everyone left outside of that place dies terribly. But the “fun” part – if you can call it that – is that it adds an extra step to the chaos. The comet (the eponymous Tycus) isn’t going to hit the planet directly; instead, it’s going to smash into the moon, causing pieces of the satellite to spew out onto our major cities.
Once the rain of meteorites begins, you notice a few things about the projectiles, not the least of which is their uncanny ability to strike famous landmarks with laser accuracy. It’s actually pretty impressive; the Chrysler Building takes a direct hit, and so do the Eiffel Tower, the Hoover Dam, and the Seattle Space Needle. One rock hits Big Ben dead center in its face, which is the sort of shot that meteorites would probably high-five each other for.
9. The 5th Wave – Alien-created tsunami
Sorry, New York. Here’s another bunch of water.
In The 5th Wave, alien invaders have a multi-part plan for destroying human civilization, and the second of the five “waves” gets pretty literal. That’s the part of the plan that involves the xenojerks causing earthquakes all over the planet that cause tsunamis that wipe out the world’s coastal cities and kill about 3 billion people. The source novel specifies that the “Others” accomplish this by dropping enormous, super-dense rods onto the world’s fault lines, but the movie just cuts to all the destruction.
The 5th Wave shows the chaos happening around the world, including Hallendale Beach in Florida, London’s Tower Bridge falling down, and some really scary stuff in Thailand. But it ends with a lingering, nightmarish wide shot of a washed-out New York with a scary alien ship floating over it.
8. Independence Day – Alien death lasers
20 years ago, the unnamed aliens in Independence Day came to Earth with designs on its natural resources and a fleet of city-sized ships to help them collect. One of these behemoths parked itself directly over the Empire State Building because, as David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum) remarks in Resurgence, “They like to get the landmarks.”
Despite efforts to evacuate the city, the ships simultaneously blast their death beams into their targets, killing millions. In New York, that means a massive wall of fire that moves down the streets and avenues, destroying everything in its path and robbing the world of Harvey Fierstein and his gravel-voiced fabulousness.
We don’t see how New York fares in the sequel, but we can safely assume it takes another hit since the new mothership is 3,000 miles wide and fits right over the Atlantic Ocean. With its luck, we figure the entire city ends up crushed underneath one of the massive spacecraft’s landing struts.
7. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs – Food
2009’s mock disaster movie Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs has the entire planet subjected to a “perfect foodstorm” that rains down regionally appropriate foodstuffs. And in New York’s case, that means huge bagels, torrents of mustard, and 10-foot-long hot dogs.
We don’t see the full extent of the damage since Cloudy moves on to show the storm hitting the planet’s other major landmarks, like a gigantic BLT sandwich with the Eiffel Tower as a toothpick and an ear of corn rolling along the Great Wall of China.
This is one of the more zany ways that New York has taken a hit in a movie. But crushed is crushed, and at that scale, having a four-story bagel land on you is going to kill you just as quickly as having a building fall on your head.
6. The Day After Tomorrow – Instantaneous climate change
This is the second film on the list from director Roland Emmerich. He also lays some waste to New York in Godzilla and, presumably, 2012, and we’re starting to wonder what the city ever did to him.
In 2004’s The Day After Tomorrow, global warming ushers in a new Ice Age over a period of two days, as changes in the North Atlantic current creates three superstorms that end up freezing the entire Northern Hemisphere. And everyone involved in making the movie knew that this timeline was an exaggeration as big as those ice hurricanes, but nobody’s ever sold a summer blockbuster that takes place across decades of incremental change.
New York takes a double hit after a storm surge floods the city and then freezes in the severely low temperatures, which hit an improbable 150 degrees below zero. And if this isn’t bad enough, the survivors also have to deal with some escaped wolves, blood poisoning, and endless debates over which books from the New York Public Library it’s alright to burn for warmth.
5. When Worlds Collide – gravitational havoc
1951’s When Worlds Collide is a prototype for later films like 2012, complete with humanity-saving arks and controversial lotteries to decide who gets to be on them. But it has a way better premise than “The Mayans were right.”
The danger here is that a star called Bellus is going to smash into Earth and kill everything, and the emergency spaceship’s goal is to transport a smattering of mankind and its works to the body’s sole orbiting planet in hopes that it can sustain life. It’s a desperate move from the start, and the possibility that the plan might not even work adds some real tension to the fighting and drama that break out over who gets a seat on the rocket.
About halfway through the film, Bellus gets close enough that its gravity starts to cause huge tidal waves and volcanic eruptions all over the planet. People have plenty of warning and time to evacuate coastal cities, but that doesn’t stop New York from taking yet another bath.
4. Watchmen – Dr. Manhattan bombs
Director Zack Snyder wasn’t always happy to just take out fictional places like Smallville and Metropolis in Man of Steel and Batman v. Superman. In 2009, his adaptation of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ classic graphic novel Watchmen includes a scene in which villain Adrian Veidt (Matthew Goode) takes out both New York and Moscow for incredibly complicated reasons.
His goal is to achieve world peace by framing the world’s only superhuman, Dr. Manhattan, with the destruction, since the weapons that destroy the cities match the big blue guy’s energy signature. In doing this, Veidt hopes to unify the two major players in the Cold War against a common enemy and stop them from nuking each other into oblivion.
It’s a bold plan, to be sure, and it marks one of the film’s major departures from its source material. In the book, Manhattan isn’t the scapegoat, and Veidt’s secret plan involved a concentrated psychic attack from a giant, genetically engineered squid monster that he drops onto the city. We miss the squid, but we understand that it might have looked a little wonky in live-action, even for a Zack Snyder movie.
3. Fail Safe – U.S. nuclear attack
It’s always sad when New York blows up, but director Sidney Lumet’s 1964 drama Fail Safe really heaps on the tragedy.
The film follows a series of accidents and coincidences that lead a squadron of American bombers to make a nuclear run against Moscow. While the President (Henry Fonda) and his advisors try futilely to stop the planes from reaching their target, including attempts to shoot them down themselves, they have to come up with a plan that will prevent the Soviets from launching a full counterattack that will cause a nuclear holocaust.
Ultimately, officials prove unable to stop the initial bombing, so they make a deal with the Russians: If they agree not to mount a full retaliation, the President will order one of his own planes to destroy a comparable American target. They decide on New York, even though the First Lady and the family of the pilot ordered to drop the bombs are in the city at the time.
We don’t actually see the attack; we just get some quick, dramatic shots of the people who are about to die before the movie cuts to black the title comes up. But the lack of spectacle doesn’t make this ending any less terrifying or depressing.
2. Planet of the Apes – Nuclear holocaust
Twilight Zone creator Rod Serling wrote one of the most famous twist endings in film history, which has astronaut George Taylor (Charlton Heston) escaping from an oppressive simian society to discover that he was on Earth the entire time. He learns this when he comes across the ruins of the Statue of Liberty, which is obviously the last thing he expected to find on a beach on a supposed alien world.
We don’t see the city’s actual destruction at any point in the series, but we know it happened in a cataclysmic nuclear war that eradicated human society and allowed gorillas and orangutans to become the dominant species on the planet.
Later installments show how the animals evolved and rose to power, but we aren’t clear on where the nuclear war came in. It seems like an especially drastic step to prevent a worldwide coup by ape, but then again, film versions of humanity aren’t usually the most sensical beings ever because otherwise drama wouldn’t happen.
1. Knowing – Solar flare
Knowing ends with the complete destruction of the planet via a huge solar flare. Everyone dies, except for a bunch of children that alien visitors hand-select to continue the human race. But the more immediate and relevant part is that the world in general, and New York in particular, are no more.
It’s an oddly moving sequence, if only for its simplicity and attention to detail. As the wall of superheated plasma slowly encompasses the earth, it rolls across the city. It erases Times Square, and the Empire State Building explodes in one quick whoosh from the ground up. The Hudson River evaporates ahead of the blast, which is a nice, if horrifying touch, and then we’re in space, moving away from the now-quiet Earth to join the rescued kids in their new, slightly trippy home.
Usually, watching destruction on this scale for entertainment makes us a bit uncomfortable, but Knowing director Alex Proyas manages to show the deaths of undeserving billions with a quiet dignity and surprising beauty.