New York City, the Big Apple – no matter what name it goes by, it’s an iconic city on the global stage with landmark buildings and structures that are recognized around the world. Maybe that’s what makes so many movie directors long to blow it to smithereens.
Just how many times has the Chrysler Building or the Brooklyn Bridge taken a huge hit on the silver screen? It’s almost too many to keep track. With its skyline of super skyscrapers, New York City is a magnet for movie aliens and mutant monsters. The Big Apple, with its high society and big money, is a lightning rod for the evil forces of world class supervillainry – and with a few homegrown villains of its own to add to the mix. As a coastal metropolis, New York is vulnerable to natural disasters both on screen and off, as New Yorkers found out in real life when Superstorm Sandy hit the ground back in 2012.
In some flicks, the city is wiped out altogether while in others, New York emerges bruised but unbeaten from whatever violent encounters movie makers can throw at it. Of course, in the movies – unlike in the real world – a city can be rebuilt in a matter of months and even at that, cameras don’t stick around for the long and tedious work of putting everything back together.
With its glitz and glamour, maybe New York City is just too tempting a target to knock down. Let’s face it, blowing up Peoria, Illinois or Topeka, Kansas just doesn’t make the same kind of statement.
15. Independence Day (1996) & Independence Day: Resurgence (2016)
Aliens – and Roland Emmerich – just can’t get enough of New York City, apparently. Hostile alien forces seem to have a unique affinity for July 4 in this double film franchise. In the original 1996 version, David Levinson, a satellite engineer played by Jeff Goldblum, makes his dad proud and Captain Steve Hiller, a Marine played by Will Smith, wins the heart of his stripper girlfriend (Vivica A. Fox) by saving the world after an alien attack. In the sequel, set a real time 20 years later, the aliens are back – but this time Levinson is using their own technology against them. In both movies, though, the aliens obliterate New York City and other large global centers to make a point before the push back by mankind can even begin.
14. Avengers (2012)
The world is in peril from the moment the movie opens and Loki (Tom Hiddleston) arrives from another realm to steal back the Tesseract. Still, it’s New York City that becomes the battleground in the film’s thrilling finale. After he steals the Tesseract from S.H.I.E.L.D’s Project PEGASUS compound and takes mind control of Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner) and Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgård,) Loki easily escapes. The PEGASUS compound implodes and the incident leads Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) to bring the superheroes together as the Avengers. After assembling the Avengers, Loki shows up on the radar and is easily captured. There are twists and turns in the plot; let’s just say that Loki is driven to make his grand invasion of the earth in New York City, drawn by Stark Tower. From downtown to midtown, alien battle creatures from another dimension destroy buildings at random in a wild rampage as the Avengers try to regain control at any cost and protect New Yorkers caught in the fray. Fallout from the Battle of New York forms continues in Captain America: Civil War. NYC’s destruction sparks the discussion among world leaders to limit the scope of the superhuman Avengers team.
13. The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
Never mind Batman, it’s Gotham City that almost doesn’t make it through the storyline of revenge and destruction that is The Dark Knight Rises, the third and last of British director Christopher Nolan‘s Batman trilogy. Christian Bale plays Bruce Wayne/Batman, with Michael Caine in the role of Alfred and Gary Oldman as Commissioner Gordon. Tom Hardy plays Bane, the supervillain who wants to destroy Gotham to eradicate its wicked ways – and we all know Gotham is really The Big Apple, with New York’s unique geography. Between explosions on a football field, the collapse of the Brooklyn, Manhattan and Williamsburg Bridges and the threat of nuclear bomb – not to say the threat of being overrun by vicious criminal thugs and the children, for God’s sake, the children! – the city is beaten, battered, yet endures as all great cities do.
12. Knowing (2009)
A New York train – and then the whole world – get destroyed in this sci-fi thriller. Nicolas Cage stars as John Koestler, an astrophysics prof at MIT. One day, his son Caleb (Chandler Canterbury) comes home from school with a mysterious piece of paper from a time capsule prepared 50 years earlier. On it are scribbled numbers written by an equally mysterious student in 1959. The professor is intrigued, and analyzes the figures. He finds that they follow a specific sequence and refer directly to disasters that have occurred during the half century since it was written. Ominously, the last three set of digits seem to refer to dates in the near future. One of the sets of numbers ends up coinciding with a huge derailment on the New York subway system that John tries but fails to prevent. Eventually he puts two and two together to discover a massive solar flare that will wipe out all life on earth. It does, with a spectacular sequence of NYC lighting up in flames, but not before aliens seem to save at least some of the children.
11. Cloverfield (2008)
Starring a cast of un- or little-knowns (Michael Stahl-David, Mike Vogel, Odette Yustman,) and using the “found footage” technique, clever Cloverfield managed to turn a $25 million USD investment into a $170+ million USD success. The premise is simple: friends gather in a New York City apartment for a party to send one of the group off to Japan. Enter a monstrous alien intent on decimating the city and our group of heroes flee for their lives, a handheld video camera recording the events as New York City falls, becoming “incident site U.S. 447” where the video is later found. Bits of the city crash, burn, and fly about them, and the army tries to respond, with special props for that seminal scene where the head of Lady liberty come stumbling down into the street. The jittery camera work adds to the atmosphere and created one of the most talked about movies of the year.
10. The Hulk (2008)
It’s hard to make an adult movie out of a character whose iconic line is, “Hulk smash!” This is the largely failed reboot of The Hulk as part of the Marvel universe, starring Edward Norton as Bruce Banner/Hulk, Liv Tyler as a completely unconvincing scientist and love interest Betty, and William Hurt in the role of General Thunderbolt Ross, a role he’s set to reprise in future Marvel movies – but he’s the only cast member who survived this unsatisfactory outing. Harlem isn’t so lucky. General Ross tries to use the same gamma radiation techniques that created The Hulk to enhance a soldier named Emil Blonsky, played by Tim Roth (and an obvious set up for a once-planned sequel involving The Abomination). Banner is lured to NYC to meet a scientist who he knows as Mr. Blue (Tim Blake Nelson, who becomes The Leader in the final moments for that sequel that will never be). Blonsky arrives to scuttle plans to cure Banner, demanding more of the good gamma stuff for himself. Fully mutated into The Abomination, he goes on a rampage in Harlem, where Banner, who can now control his Hulk-ness, jumps out of a helicopter to save the hood, or what’s left of it, Betty and General Ross, and escape off to await that sequel on his own.
9. King Kong (1933 & 2005)
Sadly, the ending is always the same for ill-fated King Kong, whether it’s the original movie version of 1933 starring Fay Wray or the 2005 Peter Jackson remake with Jack Black, Adrian Brody and Naomi Watts. But, the great ape doesn’t go down without taking some of New York City down with him. The 1933 original sees him tussling with a subway track and reaching into apartment bedrooms looking for his blond honey Fay Wray. Audiences of the 1930s apparently didn’t mind a little extra violence; the original version includes more explicit deaths than the remake as the big ape crunches on a man after taking him from his car and hurls hapless women from skyscraper heights down to the street. In the 2005 version, Kong’s rampage begins with the fictional Alhambra theater, where he was put on display. Randomly careening through the streets, he trashes traffic and storefronts in Times Square before heading up the Empire State Building for his final showdown with army fighter jets.
8. The Day After Tomorrow (2004)
Roland Emmerich surely loves to dream up new and exciting ways to destroy iconic NYC landmarks, even though New York City isn’t the only place to get the deep freeze treatment in this apocalyptic global warming disaster story. In The Day After Tomorrow, Dennis Quaid plays Jack Hall, a paleoclimatologist and expert on climate change. He tries to warn leaders about the coming global crisis but of course they don’t listen, and it’s too late anyhow. As the mega snowmageddon storm hits land, Jack races to New York to rescue his son Sam, played by Jake Gyllenhaal. The movie got mixed reviews from audiences and reviewers alike but did great box office, and it does include a very cool scene where the elegant New York Public Library main branch succumbs to the killer frost inch by inch while the group of plucky survivors races towards a fireplace. As the storm passes, the remaining few survivors gather on the rooftops of the very highest skyscrapers – the only buildings to poke above the snow cover.
7. Gangs of New York (2002)
You don’t need supernatural beings, mutants or natural disasters to destroy New York City – sometimes all it takes is New Yorkers themselves. In Gangs of New York, the Big Apple of the mid-19th century is a chaotic place ruled by vicious gangs who have taken over lower Manhattan. Various factions and forces, including the Natives gang of indigenous Americans who hate the wave of Irish immigrants, the forced conscription of the Civil War, and the usual suspects of poverty and lack of opportunity create a powder keg waiting to go off. Leonardo DiCaprio stars as Amsterdam Vallon, a young man who returns to Five Points in Manhattan looking to avenge his father who was murdered 16 years earlier. The movie begins with a gang fight scene and ends with a spectacular riot that involves rival gangs, massive crowds, burning buildings, circus animals, Union Army soldiers, and cannon fire from Union ships in the harbor to the city streets.
6. Godzilla (1998)
This fairly bland take on the classic Japanese monster movie franchise by blockbuster director Roland Emmerich gives Godzilla an American twist. Matthew Broderick stars as Dr. Niko Tatopoulos, a biologist referred to as “the worm guy” in a heavy-handed running joke, with Maria Pitillo as his faithless on/off/on girlfriend and Jean Reno, the movie’s bright spot, as the head of a group of French secret agents. This version of Godzilla is a kind of hermaphroditic nuclear mutant who is both male and pregnant, and finds Manhattan Island the ideal nesting zone. Many blocks of midtown Manhattan are laid to waste, including the Chrysler Building and Madison Square Gardens, the sewer system is destroyed by its burrowing, and Central Park is filled with a mound of fish to lure the mutant lizard, then shot to bits as it escapes. The Big Apple and big lizards do not mix.
5. Armageddon (1998)
New York City is one of the first things to go in this disaster flick by director Michael Bay. With a ridiculous plot and a huge budget, Armageddon is one of those movies that made tons of money and no one was quite sure why – unless it was the thrill of seeing NYC get demolished. That happens in the first part of the story to spur our heroes on to greatness. Bruce Willis stars as Harry Stamper, the head of a team of crack deep sea oil drillers who, for some reason, NASA believes will be the world’s best hope of survival against a rogue asteroid on a collision course with earth. His team includes hot headed A.J. Frost (Ben Affleck), who is dating Harry’s daughter Grace (Liv Tyler) and Steve Buscemi as someone called “Rockhound.” Needless to say, Willis and his team pull through, the two fresh faced kids get married and everyone lives happily ever after. Except New York.
4. Deep Impact (1998)
Apparently, 1998 was the year for movies featuring asteroids and the apocalypse. Deep Impact was actually released before Armageddon, but didn’t do as well at the box office. The story features Téa Leoni as persistent reporter Jenny Lerner, who has discovered that a huge asteroid is on its way to earth. Morgan Freeman plays U.S. President Beck, who is forced to reveal the truth to the public by her story. An effort to send a spaceship up to blow up the asteroid fails, instead creating two asteroids, both still heading for earth. When nukes also fail to stop them, authorities prepare to use underground havens – but they can only hold a fraction of humanity. The first asteroid hits the Atlantic Ocean, creating a giant tsunami that engulfs and destroys the Atlantic coast of everywhere, including New York City. Earth itself is saved when a suicide mission crashes into the second asteroid with nuclear bombs, breaking it into bits that burn up as they hit the earth’s atmosphere.
3. Die Hard With A Vengeance (1995)
It’s not outright destruction, but NYC takes a series of bomb hits in Die Hard With a Vengeance. Bruce Willis’ beleaguered Lt. John McClane and Samuel L. Jackson as Harlem store owner Zeus Carver become an odd couple battling terrorist Simon Gruber, played by Jeremy Irons in this third installment of the Die Hard franchise. Lieutenant McClane is finally on his home turf of New York City when Gruber, brother of the bad guy McClane wasted in the original Die Hard movie, comes looking for revenge. And gold. The evil Gruber’s twisted plot involves setting off a bomb that destroys the Bonwit Teller department store. He then blackmails John and Zeus into performing a series of inexplicable, time wasting feats to find other bombs he’s planted around town. Our heroes are quick, but Gruber still manages to derail a train and the Wall Street subway station with bomb blasts, stealing gold bullion from the Federal Reserve Bank in the process. Racing after Gruber, Willis and Carver destroy a cofferdam in the city’s sewer system, flooding a tunnel. Towards the end, the two manage to escape Gruber’s trap just before yet another bomb sinks a tanker into the Long Island Sound. In an apparent breach of international law, the pair, along with NYPD, catch up with the thieves across the border in Quebec.
2. Ghostbusters (1984)
The original Ghostbusters movie starred Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis (the latter two also writing the script) as New Yorkers who set up shop as paranormal investigators just in time for a ghostly infestation of the city. After several investigations, an EPA agent orders the team to deactivate their ghost containment system, releasing hundreds of specters who wreak havoc in the city. They include a giant Stay Puft Marshmallow man who is possessed by a destructive demon and proceeds to lay waste to Columbus Circle and a church in the Upper West Side. Luckily the Ghostbusters are released from custody to fight the supernatural criminal wave and end up blowing the Marshmallow Man into bits as they restore order to the city.
1. Escape from New York (1981)
Sometimes, destruction comes in the form of neglect and decay. John Carpenter of Halloween fame directed this dark and stylish movie where New York City is in a permanent state of perpetual destruction. Kurt Russell took on the iconic role of a lifetime as Snake Plissken in this classic sci fi action movie. The story takes place in a dystopian future where New York City, Manhattan Island specifically, has been turned into a giant maximum security prison and is completely cut off from the outside world. Former soldier Snake finds himself in trouble with the law for an attempted robbery of the Federal Reserve and is coerced into sneaking into the now walled city to rescue the President, whose plane has crash landed. He does, natch, saving the day but refusing the President’s offer of a job as his reward, because he’s just that cool.