Best Scenes of Destruction: Why Does Hollywood Hate London?

Everyone loves London, right? Who wouldn’t? London is one of the most recognisable skylines in the world, with a mixture of ancient architecture and modern skyscrapers inhabited with sexy accents, a quaint monarchy and Beefeaters. So why does Hollywood seem so determined to blow it up at the moment?

This year alone, three major blockbusters have reduced my nation’s capital to rubble. To the casual onlooker, it would seem that America has a grievance with its special partner. The heroes never quite save the day in time to save the South Bank. Not even the Norse God, Thor, who has even adopted our accent, can get there in time. So why does everyone hate London so much?

Well, it turns out London is being blown up precisely because the Americans love it so much. And not because of the Olympics last year. According to Alan Taylor, director of Thor: The Dark World, filmmakers especially love London because of its tax breaks. The little loophole makes such destructive scenes easier to render using CGI when money can be saved elsewhere.

But whilst there has been a particular glut this year, London has not escaped destruction in the past. Indeed, there have been several seminal destruction sequences that would be incomplete without Tower Bridge, the Gherkin or the Houses of Parliament. So I offer to you my run-down of the best (or should that be worst?) scenes of London’s destruction on film.

6. Thor: The Dark World (2013)

No word yet as to how the destructive this Dark Elf finger might be.
No word yet as to how the destructive this Dark Elf finger might be.

Despite the imminent arrival of Thor: The Dark World next month, many fans have to be content for the moment with watching the trailers. And there is much there to entertain and sustain the Thor fan: The newest version of Malekith; a Stone Man from Saturn being demolished; Mjolnir flying through the streets of London and Greenwich being wrecked by the Dark Elves. Rumour has it the Dark Elves made a beeline for London because Thor’s lady-love, Jane, was hiding out there. Whilst I can’t blame her for wanting to spend some time in my capital, I still have to wonder whether there were more hidden places on Earth to hide?

5. Dr Who – The Bells of St Johns (2013)

Even when saving the world, the Dr still has time to stop for photos.
Even when saving the world, the Dr still has time to stop for photos.

In the words of Amy Farrah Fowler in the Big Bang Theory, “For someone who can travel through space and time, Dr Who has a great fondness for modern day London.” As a British Science-Fiction TV show it is no surprise that the city’s destruction occurs every now and then. However, this particular episode does deserve a mention as it is the first instance that the Shard has been destroyed on film.

The Shard is the newest and tallest addition to the London skyline and the viewing platform only opened to this public this year. It is therefore quite impressive that Dr Who managed to destroy it back at the start of this year in The Bells of St Johns episode. And it could not have been done with more style: The Doctor whizzes down the side of the Shard, with companion in tow, as if it had been made for the very purpose. Hey wait a minute – what if it was…?

4. Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince (2009)

The wobbly bridge still seemed to be having some difficulties.
The wobbly bridge still seemed to be having some difficulties.

The world of the Harry Potter films is mostly disconnected from the world of us Muggles, with just the odd hint at our world (such as King’s Cross Station.) But there is nothing like the wanton destruction of a famous landmark to bring it home to viewers that bad things are afoot. So it was with the sixth film in the franchise. Whilst many destructive scenes up till that point dealt with fictitious magical locations, Half Blood Prince took the opening of the book with a pinch of salt and dramatised some Death Eaters destroying the Millennium Bridge in London, (despite the fact that the books were set in the nineties and the bridge would not have been built.) In the book it is actually the fictitious Brockdale Bridge that is destroyed. In using the Millennium Bridge, this scene is one of the key arguments that they films are set a decade later than J.K. Rowling intended in the books. But it is also an instantly recognisable disaster that ramps up the pressure for the rest of the movie.

3. 28 Days Later (2002)

28 Days Later
Something didn’t seem right…

London isn’t so much ‘destroyed’ in this one as it is abandoned. And boy, is it impressive. Anyone who lives in a major city knows how freaky it would be to see that landscape as desolate as Danny Boyle managed to get Westminster Bridge in that sequence. In broad daylight. Without computer effects. To take away the people is to take away the essence of a city. And it is terrifying.

2. Star Trek Into Darkness (2013)

I just wanted Kirk to notice me.
I just wanted Kirk to notice me.

In the latest Star Trek, there is a lot of destruction. Real-life Englishman Benedict Cumberbatch (aka BC) manages to convince another homegrown Englishman (Noel Clarke) to blow up the Starfleet archive that is kept in London, of course. This one is especially confusing because the filmmakers have gone to such an effort to enhance the skyline of London to make it look futuristic: There is so much CGI, they could have chosen any city anywhere in the world and just recreated it digitally. Why still chose London? I like to think it is because Hollywood knows we are the most trustworthy to look after such important documents – it takes a mastermind like BC to convince a Starfleet worker to turn. Unless, other cities ask for royalties when they are used on film?

1. V for Vendetta (2006)

Parliament Explosion. Concept Art by George Hull.
Parliament Explosion. Concept Art by George Hull.

So far, the destruction of London has come from outside forces: A rage virus; aliens; wizards. In V for Vendetta, the destruction comes from a terrorist within: A Londoner with an agenda. And he knows where to hit London so it hurts. V not only destroys the Lady Justice and Houses of Parliament (in spectacular style with fanfare and fireworks) he also uses the shell of one of our beloved modes of transport to do it. This isn’t just physical explosions; V and Evie truly are destroying a symbol. The ironic thing it that despite it being a symbol of a dystopian future in the film, in real life it is a symbol of a slightly less dystopian present.

My above suggestions are by no means exhaustive. I have focused on modern blockbusters (despite the fact that London has been destroyed almost since the beginning of film) because that is the London I recognise. But there are many other portrayals of destruction such as The Day of the Triffids (1962), War of the Worlds (1953) and Seven Days to Noon (1950). And as an (adoptive) Londoner, as long as the destruction remains digital, I’m not complaining. Although, I do feel like Natalie Portman should stop visiting London. She brings trouble with her.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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  1. If V For Vendetta wasn’t here, I would be pissed. Good it was!

  2. Amberly Cangelosi

    This is a cool list! Have you seen the London destruction scene in Gi Joe Retaliation?

  3. Well modern Hollywood seems to think more is always better. More destruction, better movie. More comedic smut, better movie. More shock value, better movie. While quality usually depends on injection moderation into your movies.

  4. Jessica Eve Kennedy

    I was recently at Millenium Bridge and my genuine reaction was, “Oh, I’m glad they rebuilt it after that trouble with the dementors.” Those kinds of movie scenes stay with you.

    Great article!

    • Francesca Turauskis

      Thank you! I know what you mean, I have had the odd “that’s changed since that superhero was here” moment. Reality blows.

      • Francesca Turauskis

        Although I think I should clarify that I am glad Millennium Bridge wasn’t destroyed!

        • Jessica Eve Kennedy

          Me too. And having only just watched 28 Days Later, I can now agree on the effect of those London scenes. Eerily empty, and such a powerful visual. I think I was far more affected by that view of London than any of the more explosive kind of destruction I’ve seen on-screen.

  5. Taylor Ramsey

    To this day the scene at the end of V gives me chills!

    • Francesca Turauskis

      I love it, as you can tell!
      It is very brave of British filmakers to destroy the political home of the country. America has the building destroyed in White House Down etc. but will still have the President and politicians literally defending it with their lives.

  6. At least London is not getting the treatment of New York. Think Independence Day, The Day After Tomorrow, Deep Impact, Ghostbusters, Cloverfield, Godzilla…

    • Francesca Turauskis

      London is the new New York. (I wonder if New York’s history now prevents filmakers from destroying it these days? There’s a-whole-nother essay topic there!)

  7. Tyler McPherson

    Good Article! Guardians of the Galaxy I think is being filmed in London as well I don’t know if they are using London as London in the movie or just filming in certain locations to make it seem like another place. However this is a superhero movie and they tend to have lots of explosions so London could be destroyed in that movie as well maybe.

  8. Christopher Sycamore

    Unique article, I guess London gets targeted so much because we Brits can take it, “keep calm and carry on” and all that!

    • Francesca Turauskis

      Unique, that is the best compliment, thank you! You may well be right. There is a certain sense of pride in seeing your country (fake) blown up on the big screen.

  9. Interesting topic and analysis! I remember going to an exhibition about Paris and the cinema, and there was a section exploring how directors loved to destroy the French capital city. It would be interesting to compare them with other cities, and maybe reflect on the more global question of destruction/ violence in movies.

  10. Nilson Thomas Carroll

    Great topic, by the way.

    Like Japan’s obsession with destruction in media which can be traced to WW II (just watch Eva, for instance), I think that modern western tradition still has an obsession with the WWII bombings of London.

    Plus, everyone loves to watch cities being destroyed…!

  11. As I recall, one reason for the tax breaks are for a form of indirect art subsidy.

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