A Brief History of Cinematic Assaults on the White House
During the War of 1812, British forces burnt the President’s mansion to the ground, marking one of the few times in American history that the seat of executive power has been directly assaulted. From its ashes, the White House was built and there it has stood.
For two centuries, the home and office of the President of the United States has been a fortress, a seemingly untouchable and impregnable building designed to keep the nation’s leader safe and secure.
The only place where this isn’t true is in the movies.
Countless movies have featured plots against the United States government and many of those have featured plots that directly threaten the White House. However, only a surprisingly small handful of films have dealt with the direct invasion or destruction of the most famous building in America. In honor of the impending release of ‘White House Down,’ it’s time to take a quick tour through cinema history and remember all of those times the White House got blown up.
(Note: This tour will begin with the more minor incursions and work its way up to complete and total obliteration.)
'Earth vs. The Flying Saucers'
Although the White House has been constantly under threat from the enemies of America since the founding of the United States, it's never come closer to total destruction without actually being touched than in 'Earth Vs the Flying Saucers.' Although the Presidential mansion escapes harm in this classic 1956 alien invasion film, the rest of the nation's capital isn't so lucky, with both the Capitol Building and the Washington Monument getting taken down.
Although the White House isn't successfully invaded, this attempted assault remains a landmark moment in the cinematic destruction of Washington, D.C. The White House may have escaped the wrath of the flying saucers, but it was this close to getting burnt to the ground.
'G.I. Joe: Retaliation'
Sometimes, an invasion doesn't necessarily mean destruction. In 'G.I. Joe: Retaliation,' the White House is invaded by sinister forces without anyone in the country (or in the government) knowing anything until it's too late.
With the evil master of disguise Zartan impersonating the President, the sinister terrorist group Cobra is able to perform a silent coup, destroying the G.I. Joes and placing control of the country in the hands of Cobra Commander. The remaining Joes manage to take the country back and save the real President, but this ultimately goes down as one of the most successful assaults on the White House in the history of the movies. After all, they did it without firing a shot...and they managed to hang Cobra banners from the building without arousing too much suspicion.
'X2: X-Men United'
The Cobra forces may have succeeded in taking over the White House with relative ease, but they were certainly lacking in the "razzle dazzle" department. Enter the mutant superhero Nightcrawler, who opens 'X2' with such a bang that the rest of film feels a little disappointing.
Mind-controlled by the real bad guys, the blue-skinned, teleporting X-Man-to-be sneaks into the White House as part of a tour group and fights his way through any army of Secret Service agents. The body count is pretty low, but it's a monumental breach of security, concluding in the Oval Office with Nightcrawler hovering over the Commander-in-Chief with a knife. You see, Cobra? That's how you make an entrance.
Although the cinematic White House has seen its fair share of terrorist assaults, most of the direct damage and destruction that has come its way has been the work of extraterrestrial forces. The White House remains standing at the end of Tim Burton's 'Mars Attacks!', but it's been thoroughly gutted. The President is dead. The First Lady has been crushed by the Nancy Reagan chandelier. The entirety of the Secret Service has been wiped out. The basic structure remains, but the inside is going to need a talented interior designer and couple million bucks before life can properly go on.
The aliens in 'Mars Attacks!' are evil little pranksters, so their attack on the White House is simply a case of merciless destruction. However, the super-powered Kryptonian bad guys in 'Superman II' have nastier motives.
General Zod and his thugs smash their way into the President's home, effortlessly send every armed bodyguard in the building to the hospital and waltz right into the Oval Office, where they commandeer the seat of the nation and issue a direct challenge to Superman. The White House may be standing after their invasion, but they do a darn fine job of shattering the nation's morale and making the Secret Service look really, really bad.
'Olympus Has Fallen'
You've got to hand it to the terrorists in 'Olympus Has Fallen' -- they manage to trash the White House and deal more direct, horrifying damage than a trio of aliens with the power of Superman.
Although wildly implausible, the plan is rather terrifying in its execution, using great swaths of collateral damage to mask the invasion plans. After a heavily armed plane attacks the nearby streets, a small army of highly trained terrorists literally storm the White House lawn, overwhelming the first wave of security and taking control of the building before the military can assemble. In the process, they kill everyone and wreck massive portions of the mansion, leaving behind a White House that just looks plain sad.
'White House Down'
The overall invasion plan featured in 'White House Down' is similar enough to its accidental sister film 'Olympus Has Fallen,' but with a few exceptions: it's slicker, bigger and sillier. No one can blow up national monuments quite like director Roland Emmerich (see below), so the hostile takeover of the President's home in this film is accompanied by the complete obliteration of the Capitol Building, which, once again, only exists on film to get blown up to show how serious and well-equipped the baddies are.
However, where 'White House Down' beats 'Olympus Has Fallen' is the sheer amount of detail to the destruction of the White House. While 'Olympus Has Fallen' presents the President's mansion as a series of dark corridors, 'White House Down' takes great pleasure is decimating virtually every single room in the whole iconic building.
Roland Emmerich may have left the White House in tatters with 'White House Down,' but he wiped it off the face of the Earth in 'Independence Day.' Arguably the most famous moment of movie destruction in cinematic history, the White House getting completely obliterated by an alien laser blast feels like a summation of Emmerich's entire career. It's an image that defines him as a director and haunts his filmography in equal measure.
More importantly, it's the "White House gets invaded" moment that every other diaster/invasion movie attempts (and generally fails) to live up to. Heck, the only person who managed to come remotely close to topping it was Emmerich himself over a decade later.
How do you top the White House getting blown to smithereens by aliens? You make a movie where those smithereens themselves are completely wiped out of existence. In Roland Emmerich's '2012,' a series of cataclysmic events strike the planet, causing all kinds of massive destruction around the world.
Naturally, Emmerich reserves the most absurd moment for Washington D.C. and the White House. Stranded on the White House lawn, the President of the United States can only look on as a tsunami overtakes the nation's capital, literally dropping an entire aircraft carrier on top of the White House and the Commander-in-Chief. The entire ocean of water that follows in its wake ensures that the White House is gone forever. It's no more. It can never be rebuilt. There isn't even a place for a remembrance plaque. Mother Nature managed what aliens and terrorists failed to do: it erased the White House forever.