Top 10 Films that share an Apocalyptic View of New York City

When trouble hits the Big Apple, sometimes the results can be quite devastating. Mark Fraser looks at a number of films where NYC doesn’t come out in the best of shape.

10. Fail-Safe (Sidney Lumet, 1964)

fail-safe_lumet_top10filmsThe city is put up as a trade-off by the US to avoid a full blown nuclear war with the Soviets after Moscow is accidently targeted by the Americans thanks to a military computer glitch. No big scenes of mass devastation – just some great performances, particularly by Henry Fonda as the US president, Larry Hagman as his interpreter and Dan O’Herlihy as the pilot who drops the bomb, obliterating his family in the process. There are some similarities here to Stanley Kubrick’s classic Dr Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (also 1964) except it’s very, very sombre. Remade as a live black and white teleplay with George Clooney, Richard Dreyfuss and Noah Wylie back in 2000.

9. Armageddon (Michael Bay, 1998)

Armageddon_top10filmsManhattan gets it at the start of the film after a meteor shower made up of space rocks the size of Volkswagens and basketballs smashes up some of the city’s most iconic structures – including the Chrysler Building and Grand Central Station. While the World Trade Centre is also hit by a few of the projectiles, the twin towers remain standing. Bay pretty much sets the tone for this action romp when the first of the missiles hit a street vendor who is selling toy dinosaurs.

8. Meteor (Ronald Neame, 1979)

meteor_sean_connery_ronald_neameThe extinction-level rock of the title is hurtling towards Earth, and the only way to stop it is to hit it with a combined US-USSR nuclear arsenal (a theory which was dismissed by Jason Isaacs’ character in Armageddon). Although it does eventually get blown to smithereens, a few chunks of debris make their way through, with one piece ploughing into Manhattan. Cheesiness all round in this star studded turkey, with Henry Fonda again playing the US president.

7. Deep Impact (Mimi Leder, 1998)

deep-impact_new-york_filmA giant meteor lands in the Atlantic, causing a huge tsunami that engulfs New York and (presumably) the rest of America’s eastern seaboard. Even the people taking refuge on the top of Manhattan’s skyscrapers are unable to escape the tidal wave.

6. (TIE) Independence Day (Roland Emmerich, 1996)

Independence Day, Film, Jeff Goldblum, Will SmithNYC is just one of a number of major cities around the globe which gets decimated when some aliens launch their invasion of Earth. Coincidentally, the brainiac behind mankind’s eventual rescue (Jeff Goldblum) is from the Big Apple.

6. (TIE) The Day After Tomorrow (Roland Emmerich, 2004)

dayaftertomorrow_top10filmsGlobal warming causes the oceans to rise before a giant freeze sets in. This all happens as a group of school friends are visiting Manhattan. In the end, they survive the brief ice age by burning books in the city’s public library. Emmerich also gave NYC a battering (albeit less of a one) in his 1998 version of Godzilla.

5. I Am Legend (Francis Lawrence, 2007)

i-am-legend_will-smith_filmIn this adaptation of Richard Matheson’s 1954 novel, NYC has been taken over by an army of rabid nocturnal zombies after a cure for cancer mutates. Last man standing is Will Smith (who, along with Goldblum, was also instrumental in saving the world in Independence Day), a scientist who spends his days racing his vehicle around the deserted city, hunting deer, walking the dog, perfecting his golf drive and trying to develop an antidote. The Big Apple is arguably a much more interesting backdrop than Los Angeles, which is where Matheson’s original story was set and where The Omega Man – Boris Sagal’s 1971 adaptation of the book starring Charlton Heston – also takes place.

4. Escape From New York (John Carpenter, 1981)

escape from new york john carpenter film top10filmsBy 1997 the “future” Manhattan has become a king size version of Alcatraz. When Air Force One is hijacked and the president (Donald Pleasence) lands (via an escape pod) within the walled compound, a former decorated war hero on death row (Kurt Russell) is sent in to rescue him – and retrieve a cassette that is somehow vital to world peace. Once again the World Trade Centre is intact (Russell lands his glider on one of the twin towers).

3. AI – Artificial Intelligence (Steven Spielberg, 2001)

A.I. Artificial Intelligence, Steven Spielberg, Haley Joel Osment, Film Robots, Human,In this science fiction yarn, two escaped human replicas go looking for their maker at the end of the world where the lions weep – Manhattan – which has fallen into a state of decay and is mostly submerged by the ocean. Their arrival provides the film with some of its best moments. One can only wonder if the director will ever re-issue it for future audiences with the World Trade Centre digitally removed, given the twin towers play such a prominent part of the skyline/set design (they were brought down only three months after the movie’s release).

2. Cloverfield (Matt Reeves, 2008)

Cloverfield, filmWhat starts off as a dull and not particularly well made home movie about a couple breaking up morphs into a piece of cinema verite (read queasicam) showing how a giant creature rips the city apart (the cameraman even just manages to capture the image of the Statue of Liberty’s head bouncing along a Manhattan street). In the end the place is nuked. This is what might have happened on 911 had a large monster attacked the city rather than Al-Qaeda.

1. Beneath the Planet of the Apes (Ted Post, 1970)

beneath_Planet_of_the_Apes_filmA bizarre and somewhat ambitious sequel to the 1968 classic Planet of the Apes, in which time travelling astronauts Charlton Heston and James Franciscus come across a group of subterranean mutants holed up in a now-buried Manhattan that worships the bomb. Heston, again playing mankind’s last chance, ends up detonating the thing. Pretty silly to be sure, but things really get no bleaker than this.

Written and compiled by Mark Fraser.

About the Author
Mark is a film journalist, screenwriter and former production assistant from Western Australia.

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    Pete Turner (@ilovethatfilm) Reply

    Great to see Cloverfield so high on the list! I’ve only seen the original POTA but would really like to check out the others in the series.

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    Evan Crean Reply

    There’s a lot of cheese on this list, especially Emmerich’s films. I think my number one would be Carpenter’s Escape from New York. For me Carpenter was at the top of his game during the 80s. So many great movies in there.

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    Neal Damiano Reply

    Fantastic list, however I would have Escape From New York at number 1. What an amazing and twisted view of NY post war.

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    Jack Deth Reply

    Hi, Mark:

    Intriguing list and breakdowns!

    I always get a kick out of John Carpenter wisely and cleverly using parts of storm savaged St. Louis for many interior and exterior shots of New York in ‘Escape from New York’.

    While ‘Meteor’ boasted a great cast for its day. All were sadly looking and acting their age.

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    Alex Withrow Reply

    Great list, Mark. That scene from Deep Impact is still utterly horrifying. Really effective stuff.

  6. Avatar
    Mark Reply

    Thank you gentlemen – much appreciated. And yes – looking back Escape …. probably should have been higher up.

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    Rodney Reply

    While most of the films listed are typical “destruction porn”, I think AI and I Am Legend go a long way to showing what might really happen where those film scenarios to actually occur. Your #1 pick is a bit of a surprise, honestly, as I expected Emmerich or Bay’s work to be a lot higher. Guess I’ll have to finally get around to watching those POTA sequels, eh?

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