Summer blockbuster season is fast approaching, and with it we have to expect to see the complete and total destruction of the fictional versions of the American cities depicted therein. While Metropolis and Gotham have seen their fair share of damage in the past, and are likely to see more in this week’s Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice, we wanted to take a look at the real USA and see what havoc our filmmakers have wrought over the years.
From small towns to giant megalopolises, from sea to shining sea, virtually nowhere is safe in the world of cinema. While New York and Los Angeles have borne the brunt of our destructive energies, alien attacks, nuclear disasters, zombie plagues, and cruel twists from mother nature, plenty of other cities have been decimated as well. Did your hometown make the list? Find out if you should have your car loaded with supplies and your evacuation route planned in our list of 15 American Cities That Have Been Destroyed In Movies.
15. Keene, NH – Jumanji
Quaint Keene, New Hampshire is a small college town in the southwest corner of the Granite State. Home of Keene State College, with its brick-faced downtown mill buildings, tree-lined town square, and colonial houses, it is the quintessential New England small town. Keene made national news in 2014 when it faced real-life riots at its annual Pumpkin Festival, harkening back to the imagined mayhem filmed in the town in 1995.
Jumanji, starring the late Robin Williams (What Dreams May Come), showcased an onslaught of imaginary creatures streaming out of a children’s-game-turned-nightmare-jungle. Featuring CG beats smashing the cars on Keene’s main thoroughfare, police-motorcycle-stealing monkeys, and a mansion-destroying earthquake, Jumanji gave Granite-Staters a small taste of the destruction that New Yorkers and Los Angelenos suffer year in and year out — on film, anyway.
14. San Diego, CA – Jurassic Park: The Lost World
What’s worse than a cloned T-Rex running wild in a theme park on a remote South American island? A cloned T-Rex running loose in San Diego, California, that’s what. In Steven Spielberg’s somewhat lackluster follow-up to the groundbreaking first film in the Jurassic Park franchise, we get just that.
San Diego itself is fairly tranquil for a large city. Situated on the Pacific Ocean and the Mexico-US border, it serves as the principal home port to the United States Pacific Fleet and (at least temporarily) the San Diego Chargers NFL franchise. It also served as a convenient port for evil genetic industrialists to build a more accessible Jurassic Park. Unfortunately, Tyrannosaur’s gonna Tyrannate, and it did so with aplomb in the city streets. Luckily for the denizens of San Diego, Jeff Goldblum was a member of the cast. He eventually convinced the T-Rex to stay classy — but not before it destroyed a Blockbuster Video, a city bus, and stomped and chomped its way through traffic and citizens galore.
13. New York, NY – Cloverfield
Everyone wants to take a bite out of the Big Apple. As the song goes, if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere. Sadly, giant monsters are apparently fans of Frank Sinatra (and dense concentrations of delicious people), and New York City is smashed on the regular on the big screen.
In the J.J. Abrams-produced kaiju flick Cloverfield, the city that never sleeps takes it on the chin once again when a giant monster hankers for a hunk of peeps — and not the marshmallow kind. This found footage classic displays a mastery of the slow reveal, with only glimpses of the monster through most of the film. The destruction, however, is not so slowly revealed, as whole city blocks were pulverized and lady liberty herself was decapitated by the ill-tempered creature.
12. San Francisco, CA – Pacific Rim
Not to be outdone by their Atlantic compatriot in Cloverfield, the very first kaiju of Guillermo Del Toro’s surprisingly entertaining giant monster flick Pacific Rim made sure to get its fill of a San Francisco treat.
Originating in another dimension, and attacking Earth from a portal deep in the Pacific Ocean, these kaiju destroyed cities across the world, but San Francisco took it first, and especially hard. Not content with destroying the oft-destroyed Golden Gate bridge, the Kaiju which attacked San Fran went downtown, smashing, stomping, and generally making a mess of things for days before the military finally killed it with multiple nukes. On the plus side, the Kaiju took out Oakland too, spurring calls for the Jaeger program, whose giant robots and heroic pilots were eventually able to close the portal. Just in time for San Francisco to rebuild, however, comes the news that former Daredevil showrunner Brian DeKnight will take the director’s chair for a forthcoming sequel. Perhaps denizens of the City by the Bay might find it safer in the rolling cornfields of Iowa?
11. Washington, DC – Independence Day
“Take me to your leader” got a whole lot nastier in 1996’s blockbuster alien-invasion movie Independence Day. With its iconic image of the White House being destroyed by a giant space-laser, it’s most likely that the current slate of presidential candidates has never seen the film (although, could even a giant space-laser destroy Donald Trump’s hair? Questions for the ages…).
Luckily, the producers of this film had cast Jeff Goldblum. With Goldblum teamed up with Bill Pullman and Will Smith, the world was never truly in peril. With some grit, determination, nuclear weapons, good old American know-how, and Randy Quaid, we were able to send those evil-doers packing. Well, packing for about twenty years or so, because they’re back in the forthcoming Independence Day: Resurgence. While Will Smith will not reprise his role in the sequel, Jeff Goldblum and Bill Pullman will — so it’s a safe bet that even if Washington is again blown up, the Earth will be saved.
10. Chicago, IL – Transformers: Dark of the Moon
You might think that, given the levels of destruction in the major coastal cities, you’d be safer inland — say, Chicago. Well, we hope you like alien cars that can change into warring robots destroying your city then, because that’s what you’re going to get. That and Chicago Bears fans. Sorry.
In Transformers: Dark of the Moon, Decepticons very much want to transport their homeworld of Cybertron to Earth…or something. In their fervor to accomplish their bizarre goal, they destroy much of the Windy City, with train cars, buildings, and a whole slew of people meeting their demise. In true Michael Bay fashion, virtually no stone was left unexploded, and much of Chi-town’s iconic architecture met its fiery end in a two-minute sequence. The franchise has inexplicably raged on ever since, and surely more cities will bite the big one before the robots in disguise are done.
9. Philadelphia, PA – World War Z
Despite the prevalence of aliens and giant monsters in our era of national destruction, we’ve become pretty adept at destroying ourselves. Historic Philadelphia learned this the hard way in the fast-paced zombie movie, World War Z.
While Damon Lindelof’s script — based on Max Brooks’ novel of the same name — doesn’t examine the origins of the zombie plague, it does showcase just how fragile our safety net against a rapidly spreading pandemic could be. Shortly after the City of Brotherly Love sees its first cases of the zombie-plague, there is gridlock on the streets. Danger leads to anarchy, and anarchy to destruction as the police and military are shown to be inadequate to the task of protecting a populace trapped in an infrastructure which can not accommodate a mass exodus. While the zombie plague is thus far not real, the very real depiction of what could happen in a rapidly spreading urban emergency is where the real terror lies in this Brad Pitt vehicle.
8. Los Angeles, CA – Battle: Los Angeles
As you might suspect from the title, Battle: Los Angeles largely concerns a battle in Los Angeles. Aaron Eckhart (The Dark Knight), the workingest actor in Hollywood, plays an aging Marine with a difficult past unexpectedly tasked with taking command of a group of young marines and a wayward airman, earning their trust, and kicking the butts of the attacking aliens back to space.
In many ways, Battle: Los Angeles departs from the prototypical alien invasion flick. Rather than focus at a macro level, with leaders trying to stop the national or global catastrophe, it drills down to a very small group of people simply trying to survive. And boy, does L.A. ever get smashed along the way. Virtually the entire city is flattened, and every conceivable way out of the city is also destroyed. The film did reasonably well, grossing over $200 Million on a $70 Million budget despite negative reviews, and director Jonathan Liebesman stated in 2012 that a script for a sequel was in the works. Who knows, maybe your city is next!
7. Baltimore, MD – The Sum of All Fears
Despite the obvious target of Washington, DC less than an hour to its south, Baltimore, MD has had its own mess or two to clean up. In The Sum of All Fears, Ben Affleck (Batman V Superman) became the third actor to don the mantle of Tom Clancy’s superspy Jack Ryan — and the Charm City fared the worse for it.
Fitting the typical Tom Clancy plot, bad guys (in this case, Australian Nazis and general white supremacists) plot to pit the Russians (Clancy knew when he had a bad guy) and the Americans against each other in order to kick off World War III. While they did successfully detonate a small nuclear device in Baltimore, Jack Ryan saves the President and, ultimately, the day, but not before Baltimore gets blown to smithereens. Chris Pine has since assumed the role of Jack Ryan, but with eight novels starring the mega spy, we can be sure more cities will be destroyed in his wake in future films.
6. Los Angeles, CA – San Andreas
Fans of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson (Shazam) were chuffed to see the buff he-man play the same role he always plays: a strong but sensitive guy who saves the day when nobody else can. The bad guy this time: Terrorists? The Russians? Stone Cold Steve Austin? The Tooth Fairy? Nope: Mother Nature.
In San Andreas, The Rock plays a rescue chopper pilot with a flare for flashy moves and a big crush on his ex-wife. Sadly, she’s just shacked up with another fella and is asking for his Dwyane T.R. Johnson on some divorce papers. Also, the couple’s daughter is heading back to school, and though The Rock is excited to drive her back, camping along the way, a major earthquake in a nearby community gets in the way of his plans. He gasses up the chopper, gets up in the air, and Los Angeles immediately disintegrates in the CGI-est earthquake ever. While the film received lukewarm reviews at best, it delivered on the LA destruction in a major way – packing in two earthquakes and a tsunami.
With a sequel in development, it remains to be seen which metropolis is set to bite the big one next, but you can be sure that Johnson’s character will save the ones he cares about from certain death — and pretty much no one else.
5. Las Vegas, NV – Mars Attacks!
Not all alien attack movies are horror flicks or sci-fi spectacles. Some of them require nothing than a little bit of yodeling to save humanity. Tim Burton’s Mars Attacks!, a star-studded farce based on a trading card game, is just such a picture.
Featuring appearances from Jack Nicholson (The Shining) in a dual role, Glenn Close (Air Force One), Michael J. Fox (Back to the Future), Pierce Brosnan (Mama Mia), and dozens more A, B, and C-listers, this break-even comedy never quite resonated with the public, but it made a bigger mess of Las Vegas than even Paul Verhoeven’s Showgirls. With brain-headed aliens blasting hotel showrooms, flying saucers blasting casinos, and Slim Whitman blasting from loudspeakers, this oddball space comedy blew Sin City off the face of the map.
4. New York, NY – Deep Impact
We’ve seen Aliens attack from space. We’ve seen Mother Nature attack from Earth. What we’ve not yet seen is Mother Nature attack from space. Enter 1998’s Deep Impact. Far from a perfect film, it’s gained some slight longevity because of just how bad 1998’s other space-rock-threatens-Earth film Armageddon was.
Deep Impact delivers serviceable performances from LeeLee Sobieski, Robert Duvall, and Morgan Freeman in what is otherwise a pedestrian movie. As a comet discovered by Elijah Wood hurtles toward Earth, a journalist learns what’s happening while the government makes secret plans to both destroy the comet and to save some of humanity under the surface of the Earth if plan A fails – which it does. A nuclear device, deployed by a team of astronauts led by Duvall, fails to destroy the comet, instead breaking it into two pieces set to destroy Earth. Through heroic sacrifice, they divert one piece, but the other still strikes in the Atlantic, destroying the Eastern seaboard of the United States. We are treated to a scene of Manhattan being struck by a tsunami which dwarves skyscrapers as the ocean races inland, laying waste to the city.
3. New York, NY – Armageddon
And here’s that other 1998 space-rock disaster movie-although this was as much a disaster for the A-list cast as it was for the Earth. Featuring Bruce Willis, Ben Affleck, Steve Buscemi, Liv Tyler, and Billy Bob Thornton, Armageddon should have been a blockbuster. While it was financially successful, it was destroyed by critics, landing on Roger Ebert’s most hated movies list. Peter Travers of Rolling Stone quipped, “I hate Armageddon for what it is: the unholy spawn of The Dirty Dozen and Con Air.”
Early in this travesty, the giant asteroid heading toward Earth releases a sneak preview, in the form of devastating meteor showers. In typical Michael Bay fashion, these meteorites explode through the Big Apple, destroying buildings, people, busses, cars, and the goodwill of man.
2. New York, NY – Marvel’s The Avengers
New York City is feeling pretty beat up by now, and it’s come time for the knock-out punch. Joss Whedon’s 2012 mega-hit Marvel’s The Avengers delivered just such a blow — combining the awesome power of superheroes unleashed on a city where interdimensional aliens and an evil supervillain were going to town.
When doling out instructions to the super squad, Captain America finishes by looking at Hulk and saying “Hulk? Smash.” For the next thirty minutes, that is exactly what happened. Giant flying armored millipedes crushed buildings and tore up blocks of street when they crashed. Superheroes crashed through office buildings, and threw bad guys through others. The combination of lasers, crashes, explosives, and superpowers turned the Big Apple into a big apple crumble. Luckily for the hungry heroes, however, a shawarma restaurant escaped the mayhem — but not much else was so lucky.
1. Bonus: Metropolis – Man of Steel
Ok, ok. While Metropolis is technically not an American city, it’s New York. Really. And if you thought Marvel’s The Avengers made a mess of NYC, you should see what two angry Kryptonians can do.
With the film’s final act filled with Kal-El and General Zod flying, throwing, laser-eyeing, punching, kicking, freeze-breathing, and general moodiness, there was not a structure taller than Ben Affleck which survived. You can catch the aftermath of that fight in Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice. Is it Gotham’s turn? Maybe they’ll just shake hands and agree to disagree — which, judging from the advance reviews, may have been a better movie.
What’s your favorite smashed city? Let us know in the comments!
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