Washington Down!

‘White House Down,’ ‘Olympus Has Fallen’: Washington Destroyed in Film

From ‘White House Down’ to ‘Independence Day,’ Kevin Fallon looks back at D.C. being blown up in movies.

Reiner Bajo/Columbia Pictures

New Yorkers, breathe easy. It’s D.C.’s turn to be destroyed.

New York residents—and moviegoers in general—are conditioned to seeing the Big Apple blown to smithereens. Its landmarks toppling over, exploding, or otherwise being desecrated is a summer blockbuster’s go-to method for telegraphing to audiences that the aliens are more powerful than they seem, or the terrorists more clever, or that it’s time for Will Smith, Tom Cruise, the Avengers, or some other celluloid superhero to come to the rescue and save the country.

But after the 1-2-3 release of G.I. Joe: Retaliation, Olympus Has Fallen, and now White House Down, it’s clear that Hollywood has a new favorite damsel in distress: Washington, D.C. As White House Down closes out its opening weekend, here’s a flashback to all the ways the nation’s capital has been obliterated in film.

‘White House Down’

Renovators have barely had time to rebuild the Oval Office after its destruction in Olympus Has Fallen, but nonetheless director Roland Emmerich, who has a penchant for destroying D.C., targets the nation’s capital again in White House Down, starring Channing Tatum. The money shot in this film is an alarmingly realistic scene in which the Capitol’s rotunda crumbles as news anchors watch with mouths agape.

‘Olympus Has Fallen’

This summer raises one crucial question: would you feel safer if Channing Tatum were in charge of saving the world, or Gerard Butler? Butler plays essentially the same role as Tatum in Olympus Has Fallen, in which he’s charged with fighting off the bad guys when the White House comes under attack. Gauging by the explosions-per-minute ratio the film employs, he’s not very good at his job.

‘G.I. Joe: Retaliation’

Does Channing Tatum’s publicist have a grudge against D.C.? The latest installment of the G.I. Joe franchise, which Tatum is the chiseled face of—even if his role is, um, smaller in this sequel—finds the Oval Office compromised after a terrorist impersonates the POTUS. Badass action sequences galore follow.

‘Transformers: Dark of the Moon’

The sightseeing landscape gets a bit of a change in Transformers: Dark of the Moon, when Megatron forces Honest Abe to abdicate his throne at the Lincoln Memorial and sits in the marble chair himself.

‘The Day After Tomorrow’

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Another film by Roland Emmerich (hmmm...), The Day After Tomorrow spared us of shots of D.C.’s landmarks being blown to pieces, but it was nonetheless disconcerting to see the nation’s capital frozen and blanketed with apocalyptic snow in the 2004 blockbuster.

‘X2: X-Men United’

Politicos have weathered all kinds of insults over the years, but their most skeptical critics probably had a field day when mutants infiltrated the White House in this X-Men sequel.

‘Independence Day’

Of all the times D.C. has come under attack on film, perhaps none is as iconic as in Independence Day. According to reports, test audiences were so unsettled by early footage of the White House being turned to dust by an alien laser that director Roland Emmerich (again!) added a scene in which a helicopter carrying the first lady and a handful of other dignitaries narrowly escapes.

‘Mars Attacks!’

The 1996 Tim Burton film played much of the action for laughs. Still, it’s hard not to be shaken by eerie sequences in which alien lasers eviscerate the Washington Monument, with one pointed laser fired off point blank.

‘Superman II’

The president surrenders the White House to General Zod during a national broadcast in this first Superman sequel while the Man of Steel stands idly by. Rude.

‘Logan’s Run’

The dystopian flick won a special Academy Award for its impressive (if depressing) visual effects depicting a dystopian future. Among the most startling scenes included glimpses of the nation’s capital overrun by weeds and vines, monuments without a hint of their current grandeur.

‘Earth vs. Flying Saucers’

Three guesses for what destroyed the Capitol in this 1956 film.