A history of blowing up national landmarks in the movies.

Previously published Slate articles made new.
Oct. 6 2009 3:03 PM

What Does Roland Emmerich Have Against the White House?

A history of destroying national landmarks on film.

Click here for a video slide show on the history of destroying landmarks in movies.

Director Roland Emmerich has blown up the White House with a laser beam ( Independence Day), drowned the entire island of Manhattan with a tidal wave ( The Day After Tomorrow), and leveled half of New York with a giant lizard ( Godzilla). But that's almost romantic-comedy fare compared with his upcoming disaster-porn flick, 2012, in which the entire world is destroyed (judging by the newly released trailer) on Dec. 21, 2012, as foretold by an ancient Mayan prophecy. ("Mankind's earliest civilization," the intro to the trailer reads, "warned us this day would come.")

Mass suicides, falling meteors, earthquakes, crumbling highways and buildings, and whole cities sinking. The money shot shows a massive tidal wave carrying an aircraft carrier—the USS John F. Kennedy—straight into ... the White House. (What does Emmerich have against 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.?) Though Emmerich might be our generation's greatest proponent of blowing up monuments, he's only the latest in a venerated cinematic tradition. Last summer, Keith Phipps put together a video slide show, accessible below, tracing the history of the destruction of national landmarks, beginning with Deluge, released in 1933, all the way to G.I. Joe and most of Roland Emmerich's oeuvre. "Movies," Keith writes, "have depicted mass destruction almost from the beginning."

Click here to watch a slide-show essay about the destruction of landmarks in movies.

Keith Phipps is a Chicago-based freelance writer and editor specializing in film and other aspects of pop culture.

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