DC's Biggest Landmarks, Ranked by How Frequently They're Destroyed in Hollywood Movies
DC gets devastated in Hollywood films more frequently than our city's football team does on the field (here's hoping for the fall season). But it makes sense that our city, despite its smallish stature, gets toppled more frequently than a behemoth like New York -- the Leader of the Free World resides here, after all, which is kind of a big deal. Plus, we've got the most recognizable memorials in the country, and more decision-making bigwigs than you can shake a Die Hard box set at. So we're saying farewell to summer (and summer blockbusters) by celebrating that sensation of scary excitement that comes with watching your own city (and if you're lucky, your own office building) get decimated on screen. Naturally, this story is packed with spoilers, so read at your own risk...
11. Arlington Memorial Bridge, Arlington National Cemetery, Theodore Roosevelt Island, Crystal City, PentagonTimes destroyed: 1
Movies: Captain America: The Winter Soldier
This is a cheat, considering Marvel retconned the real world, but in one fell swoop, S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters take out half of Northern Virginia. At the launch of the helicarriers, Captain America and his team have to fight Hydra to regain control and prevent massive assassinations. The fallout is that they bring down the helicarriers in the Potomac, destroying S.H.I.E.L.D. HQ, the bridge, and most of the adjacent shoreline. It’s one of the best scenes in a Marvel movie... and the DC-adjacent damage is colossal.
10. Dulles International AirportTimes destroyed: 1
Movies: Die Hard 2: Die Harder
Yeah, Dulles is out in Reston, but if you're flying anywhere overseas, this is the airport you take. In Die Hard 2: Die Harder (still a magnificent title for a sequel), the airport is destroyed by a 747 plummeting into the runway, fully loaded with passengers, as a warning to authorities that they need to release a military dictator from an unnamed Central American country. John McClane also destroys an entire terminal while taking out a team of highly trained troops dressed as house painters. It’s great '90s action, with lots of explosions, gunshots, and John McClane narrowly escaping death while saving the day.
9. Air Force OneTimes destroyed: 1
Movies: Air Force One
This is in Gary Oldman's "I Can Play Anyone" period, and in Air Force One, he portrays a crafty Russian terrorist. His squad takes control of the most famous plane in the world in a daring fashion, packing weapons and supplies and impersonating the staff of the jet. They hold the president, played by Harrison Ford, and his family hostage on board, and while the damage to the plane itself is initially confined to bullet holes, the situation escalates with Ford turning into Action-dad with a semi-automatic weapon. Eventually, they regain control of the plane and attempt to evacuate in an amazing tethered transfer once the tail is damaged. Ford makes it across, then everyone in the room (including the room you’re in) jumps up with a fist-pump, and the C-130 they’re on is the new Air Force One, while the original crashes into the sea. Boom.
8. The Jefferson MemorialTimes destroyed: 1
Movies: X-Men: Days of Future Past
In X-Men: Days of Future Past, Magneto goes on a rampage in the third act of the film, in which we witness him really unleashing his mutant power. That power -- the ability to manipulate metallic items -- is in full effect as he throws cranes, cars, and monuments into the wind, damaging the Jefferson Memorial, arguably our city's prettiest. Eventually, he moves RFK Stadium, twisted up like red vines, and lands it on and around the White House. It’s... impressive.
7. The Capitol Hill Parking LotTimes destroyed: 2
Movies: Clear and Present Danger, Live Free or Die Hard
Good riddance, honestly; this parking lot is a genuine eyesore. The lot where our representatives park, on the eastern side of the National Mall and right in front of the Capitol building, is a total a travesty. It was destroyed most notably in Live Free or Die Hard, when terrorists decide that bazookas, C4, and machine gun fire is the way to bring chaos to the nation’s capital. Timothy Olyphant’s pre-Heath Ledger try at the madcap villain is good, but you know he’s going to lose. It’s likely the fourth best Die Hard movie, but that’s not to say it’s bad -- the over-the-top action is still intense.
6. The FBI Federal BuildingTimes destroyed: 2
Movies: Arlington Road and The Siege
As much as we love Denzel, we may have to skip The Siege, because that's feeling too close to home right now. Instead, we'll be rewatching Arlington Road: it's under-appreciated, and follows Jeff Bridges, Tim Robbins, and Joan Cusack in a thriller set in the suburbs of DC. While we normally hate to give away the ending, this movie is 17 years old, so come on: the FBI headquarters collapse after Tim Robbins detonates a bomb in Jeff Bridges' trunk. This aggression will not stand, man.
5. The Washington MonumentTimes destroyed: 3
Movies: 2012, Independence Day, and Jonah Hex
Throw out Jonah Hex and watch Independence Day... or this summer’s sequel. The best part about a Roland Emmerich movie is always the spectacle: when city-sized UFOs hover above most of the world’s major cities and unleash massive destruction, it’s beautiful and terrible at the same time. The plot is usually a little simple, but that’s only the medicine to get you your sugar: huge battles, great special effects, and classic "round up the good guys" storytelling. In the most notable scene, the green destructo-ray from the UFO pulses into the Monument, making it explode like one epic water balloon.
4. The Lincoln MemorialTimes destroyed: 5
Movies: Logan's Run, Night at the Museum 2: Battle of the Smithsonian, Planet of the Apes (2001), Transformers: Dark of the Moon, and The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)
This is the most trafficked of the monuments to former presidents, mainly because it's the easiest to get to. In Logan's Run, society is lived literally underground because we messed everything up. So that we don’t over-consume everything, at 31 years old, you’re recycled. Logan, hoping to escape this fate, attempts to escape with his partner (Jenny Agutter), and ends up above ground, where Washington, DC was long ago rendered unlivable. Iconic DC buildings have collapsed everywhere, and the Lincoln Memorial has vines, trees, and the earth reclaiming the once-beautiful memorial.
3. The White HouseTimes destroyed: 8
Movies: 2012, The Day After Tomorrow, Earth vs. the Flying Saucers, G.I. Joe: Retaliation, Independence Day, Mars Attacks!, Olympus Has Fallen, Superman II, White House Down, and X-Men: Days of Future Past
This place was destroyed once in real life, and was nearly falling apart when Truman came to the residence. The most iconic destruction in film, however, is probably in the original Independence Day, where models were recreated so that the White House could be blown up like an M-80 in a mailbox, but with more fire... plus, it looks amazing on Blu-Ray. But if you want an older, quainter experience of watching the capital get destroyed, go for Earth vs. the Flying Saucers. It's more than a little cheesy -- the acting will make you snicker, but man do they try. The UFO models are surprisingly good for the time (1956), and during the final act, an occupation is being negotiated between the humans and visitors (comically named "Marvins"). The occupiers then tear off with their version of a destructo-ray, taking out the White House, the roof of the Capitol Building, and damaging the National Monument.
2. The National MallTimes destroyed: 9
Movies: Earth vs. the Flying Saucers, G.I. Joe: Retaliation, Independence Day, Jonah Hex, Mars Attacks!, Olympus Has Fallen, White House Down, and X-Men: Days of Future Past
In a good year, the mall oscillates between being genuinely beautiful and looking like a run-down baseball outfield. While out-of-towners might not get how or why, DC residents tend to feel really cut-up when that strip of grass and reflecting pool are destroyed -- the Mall is the backbone that connects some of the best museums, monuments, and architecture in the country, after all. White House Down is probably the movie that best captures the scope of it, and really delivers an adrenaline rush. In the first act, a retrofitted cargo plane flies into the city pursued by jets: the cargo plane’s pilots lower Gatling guns, take out the jets, and tear apart most of the Mall in a nearly continuous rain of bullets, shells, and sweeping arcs, leaving no one to defend it. This leads into an assault on the White House, which is right on top of the Mall: buses and garbage trucks explode, blowing out guard houses, tearing apart the surrounding trees, and laying the smack down.
1. The US Capitol BuildingTimes destroyed: 9
Movies: Day After Tomorrow, Earth vs. the Flying Saucers, G.I. Joe: Retaliation, Independence Day, Olympus has Fallen, Superman II, White House Down, and X-Men: Days of Future Past
This building really is gorgeous, right? And it gets destroyed in so many imaginative ways: catastrophic climate change (Day After Tomorrow), alien invasion (Earth vs. the Flying Saucers, Independence Day, and Superman II), and through fantastical means (X-Men: Days of Future Past). The scariest iterations of the Capitol Building's destruction involve the infiltration, takeover, and dismantling of a system that has worked, albeit sometimes frustratingly, for over 200 years. When the structures of this representation of democracy are crushed by those who would see everything ruined, it can be weirdly heartbreaking. It’s painful to see the Cobra flags drop from the White House and Capitol Building -- even if it's just in a G.I. Joe summer blockbuster.
Sign up here for our daily DC email and be the first to get all the food/drink/fun in town.