News / Arts & Entertainment

New York's Twin Towers Appear in Many Hollywood Films

New York City skyline with World Trade Center twin towers in Center. (1990 file photo)
New York City skyline with World Trade Center twin towers in Center. (1990 file photo)
Penelope Poulou

For almost 30 years, the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center graced the New York skyline. They were 110 stories high and symbolized strength and optimism. The monumental complex in Lower Manhattan was at the heart of New York's financial center. But the towers were more than that. They became a landmark of popular culture. For three decades, they were showcased in more than 1,000 films. For  Americans and people around the world, they became an emblem of New York and the entire USA.

In 1978, the world watched as Superman, the all-American hero, brought truth and justice to Metropolis.  It was the first of the "Superman" films, showcasing Christopher Reeve as the red caped man of steel. New York's World Trade Center provided the background.

"It summarized a certain kind of American grandeur. Not the grandeur of old. Not the grandeur of tradition because they were so new and so modernist in their design," explains film critic David Sterritt. "But the grandeur, I would say, of sheer American powerfulness."

Hard to miss

Film critic David Sterritt
Film critic David Sterritt

For years film Sterritt lived next to the Twin Towers.  

"I was never very fond of them architecturally," he admits. "However, they certainly are large. I guess for a while they were the tallest building in the world and it’s kind of an American triumphalism here. You not only build the tallest building, but you build it twice!”

Sterritt says the sheer size of the buildings made them hard to miss.

The Twin Towers were also in the drama Wall Street as well as in the opening shots of Brian de Palma's The Bonfire of the Vanities.

Both films highlighted the arrogance and greed of Wall Street in the 1980s.

Mike Nichols's 1987 Working Girl depicts the Towers as a power center.  But here, the Towers are a symbol of women's empowerment.

At the center of the story is Tess, a working class woman from Staten Island, a ferry ride away from Manhattan. She dreams of making it New York's financial district.  She finally succeeds.

The 1979 re-make of King Kong has the giant ape climbing the Twin Towers,  not the Empire State Building as in the original.  

Dramatic stunt

But the most dramatic stunt was in 1974, by the French high wire artist Philippe Petit.  He secretly stretched a wire between the Twin Towers and walked on it for 45 minutes. The police were left to look on.

The 2008 documentary Man on Wire, captures the breathtaking stunt with photographs and original footage. It represented one man's power over the towering edifice.  

The Towers also became linked to romance, like in the 1987 film Moonstruck which features the steel buildings in New York nostalgia. The  story centers around Loretta Castorini, an Italian-American widow who falls in love with a one-handed baker in Brooklyn, played by Nicholas Cage.

In one poetic moment, a full moon shines over Loretta's quaint Brooklyn neighborhood, stirring the hearts of its Italian residents, while the Towers shimmer in the background.  

Disaster movies also appropriated the Towers. In Roland Emmerich's 1996 Independence Day, aliens from another planet destroy, one by one, America's  landmarks, including the World Trade Center.   

"The Twin Towers have been destroyed in various disaster movies that were made before 9/11," notes film critic Sterritt. "That became something that you couldn't do even retroactively after 9/11."

Post 9/11

In some cases, Sterritt says, filmmakers cut out scenes that showed the Towers so audiences wouldn't be upset.

One example can be found in footage from the 2002 movie Spiderman.  Sterritt believes the cuts were patronizing. But New Yorkers have their own opinion.  Here's what some at Ground Zero had to say:

"You know I lost some relatives there. So, it’s a sad thought for me unfortunately," one man said.

"When I see them in a movie, I think it's wonderful and I love it and then when we were travelling and coming across from Jersey we look over it and we don't see it, there is a big gap and we miss it," a woman said.

David Sterritt says the gap is seen best in the 2002 crime drama 25th Hour by Spike Lee, a quintessential New Yorker.

The camera focuses on two parallel beams of light shining up from where the Towers once stood, an amputated New York still feeling its extremities.

You May Like

Video In US, Columbus Day Still Generates Controversy

Holiday marks date Columbus discovered Americas, but some are offended by legacy because he enslaved many natives he encountered More

Video Through Sports, Austria Tries to Give Migrants Traction

With 85,000 people expected to claim asylum in Austria this year, its government has made integration through joint physical activities a key objective More

Video Kickboxing Champion Shares Sport With Young Migrants

Pouring into Europe by hundreds of thousands, some migrants, especially youngsters, are finding sports a way to integrate into new host countries More

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Amnesty Accuses Saudi Coalition of ‘War Crimes’ in Yemeni
Henry Ridgwell
October 12, 2015 4:03 PM
The human rights group Amnesty International has accused the Saudi-led coalition of war crimes in airstrikes against Houthi rebels in Yemen. Henry Ridgwell reports the group says hundreds of civilians have been killed in strikes on residential areas.

Video Amnesty Accuses Saudi Coalition of ‘War Crimes’ in Yemen

The human rights group Amnesty International has accused the Saudi-led coalition of war crimes in airstrikes against Houthi rebels in Yemen. Henry Ridgwell reports the group says hundreds of civilians have been killed in strikes on residential areas.

Video No Resolution in Sight to US House Speaker Drama

Uncertainty grips the U.S. Congress, where no consensus replacement has emerged to succeed Republican House Speaker John Boehner after his surprise resignation announcement. Half of Congress is effectively leaderless weeks before America risks defaulting on its national debt and enduring another partial government shutdown.

Video New Art Exhibit Focuses on Hope

Out of struggle and despair often comes hope. That idea is behind a new art exhibit at the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland. "The Big Hope Show" features 25 artists, some of whom overcame trauma and loss. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.

Video Columbus Day Still Generates Controversy as US Holiday

The second Monday of October is Columbus Day in the United States, honoring explorer Christopher Columbus and his discovery of the Americas. The achievement is a source of pride for many, but for some the holiday is marked by controversy. Adrianna Zhang has more.

Video Anger Simmers as Turks Begin to Bury Blast Victims

The Turkish army carried out new air strikes on Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) targets on Sunday, a day after the banned group announced a unilateral cease fire. The air raids apparently are in retaliation for the Saturday bombing in Turkey's capital Ankara that killed at least 95 people and wounded more than 200 others. But as Zlatica Hoke reports, there are suspicions that Islamic State is involved.

Video Bombings a Sign of Turkey’s Deep Troubles

Turkey has begun a three-day period of mourning following Saturday’s bomb attacks in the capital, Ankara, that killed nearly 100 people. With contentious parliamentary elections three weeks away, the attacks highlight the challenges Turkey is facing as it struggles with ethnic friction, an ongoing migrant crisis, and growing tensions with Russia. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Afghanistan’s Progress Aided by US Academic Center

Recent combat in Afghanistan has shifted world attention back to the central Asian nation’s continuing civil war and economic challenges. But, while there are many vexing problems facing Afghanistan’s government and people, a group of academics in Omaha, Nebraska has kept a strong faith in the nation’s future through programs to improve education. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Omaha, Nebraska.

Video House Republicans in Chaos as Speaker Favorite Withdraws

The Republican widely expected to become the next speaker of the House of Representatives shocked his colleagues Thursday by announcing he was withdrawing his candidacy. The decision by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy means the race to succeed retiring Speaker John Boehner is now wide open. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Video German, US Officials Investigate Volkswagen

German officials have taken steps to restore some of the reputation their car industry has lost after a recent Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal. Authorities have searched Volkswagen headquarters and other locations in an effort to identify the culprits in the creation of software that helps cheat on emission tests. Meanwhile, a group of lawmakers in Washington held a hearing to get to the bottom of the cheating strategy that was first discovered in the United States. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Why Are Gun Laws So Hard for Congress to Tackle?

Since taking office, President Barack Obama has spoken out or issued statements about 15 mass shootings. The most recent shooting, in which 10 people were killed at a community college, sparked outrage over the nation's gun laws. But changing those laws isn't as easy as many think. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.

Video In 'He Named Me Malala,' Guggenheim Finds Normal in Extraordinary

Davis Guggenheim’s documentary "He Named Me Malala" offers a probing look into the life of 18-year-old Malala Yousafsai, the Pakistani teenager who, in 2012, was shot in the head by the Taliban for standing up for her right to education in her hometown in Pakistan's Swat Valley. Guggenheim shows how, since then, Malala has become a symbol not as a victim of brutal violence, but as an advocate for girls’ education throughout the world. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.

Video Paintable Solar Cells May Someday Replace Silicon-Based Panels

Solar panels today are still factory-manufactured, with the use of some highly toxic substances such as cadmium chloride. But a researcher at St. Mary’s College, Maryland, says we are close to being able to create solar panels by painting them on a suitable surface, using nontoxic solutions. VOA’s George Putic reports.

VOA Blogs

New in Music Alley

Border Crossings: Justin Haywardi
|| 0:00:00
October 07, 2015 11:57 AM
The Moody Blues singer, songwriter and guitarist Justin Hayward sat down with Border Crossings host Larry London to talk about his career and perform songs from his solo CD, "Spirits from the Western Sky."

The Moody Blues singer, songwriter and guitarist Justin Hayward sat down with Border Crossings host Larry London to talk about his career and perform songs from his solo CD, "Spirits from the Western Sky."