Architecture in the Movies: 8 Classic Films


Architecture infuses our lives — subtly and not so subtly — with emotions, ideas, splendor, and stress all the time. It’s only fitting it does the same in great movies. After the jump are eight classic films where the buildings are more than a backdrop. Which ones are we forgetting? You know what to do.

Blade Runner, 1982 The classic “architecture in the movies” movie. It has it all: hyper-vertical cities, buildings-as-advertisements, the used future, and Frank Lloyd Wright. If you took an architecture class in college, you watched this movie. If you didn’t, you should.

The Third Man, 1949 The backdrop of urban glory and urban decay (Ferris wheels and rubble piles) would make The Third Man a contender on its own. Filmed by Carol Reed with deep, moody shots of interiors (the infamous sewer chase scene) and tense, odd-angled shots of streets and facades, its depiction of city chaos is beyond perfect.

Metropolis, 1925 Another bit of required viewing. The prime example of a modernist utopia: simple, spotless, and monumental, with the workers hidden out of sight.

Batman, 1989 Tim Burton’s Gotham is New York on steroids, or acid, or both: towering, smoke-choked and claustrophobic, it’s total dystopia: a warning against unchecked, unedited, unselfconscious development.

The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, 1988 The moon scene alone puts this movie on the list. Robin William’s disembodied head buzzes around a bizarre landscape that’s part Italian fascist monuments and part stage set.

Ghost Busters, 1984 An Easter egg hunt for NYC architecture buffs: from the NYPL, to Hook and Ladder 8 (aka Ghostbusters HQ), to 55 Central Park West (aka the Temple of Zuul). Lincoln Center, Rockefeller Center, and the Brooklyn Bridge make cameos. If there isn’t a Ghostbusters-themed architecture tour of the city yet, there should be.

The Cruise, 1998 Timothy Levitch’s love song to New York. Sappy sometimes and totally loony other times, sure, but you have to respect a guy who’d fuck the Brooklyn Bridge if he could.

2001, 1968 The set’s architecture, starkly modernist as it is, is insanely detailed, down to instructions on how to use the space toilet in the bathroom.