When a movie’s story wants to change location from anywhere in the world to New York City, the chances are good that the transition will be done by cutting to a shot that features the Statue of Liberty. Arguably one of the world’s most recognizable landmarks today marks the 123rd anniversary of her dedication. And over those years that she has stood in New York Harbor, she has found time to make several film appearances.
National Treasure: Book Of Secrets (2006)
The Statue of Liberty was sculpted by Frenchman Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, who first created a smaller version 22 meters high which now stands on the Île des Cygnes in the Seine in Paris. It also struck screenwriters Marianne and Cormac Wibberly as a good place to hide a clue for Nicholas Cage’s historian/adventurer Ben Gates to find in National Treasure: Book Of Secrets. Although it wasn’t a great movie, it did use several little known bits of United States history for plot points.
With its release during World War Two, director Alfred Hitchcock knew that the use of the Statue would have a big impact on his film’s audience, representing all the ideals that the country was fighting and sacrificing for. Robert Cummings plays a man wrong accused of setting fire to a California airplane factory. Evading the authorities he chases Norman Lloyd across country to Manhattan where the film climaxes on the Statue’s torch. Hitch would go to revisit the idea of setting a film’s finale atop a national monument with North By Northwest, with Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint being chased across the top of the monument by James Mason’s goon Martin Landeau. You can view the climax of the film below, but I’d recommend watching the whole picture. It’s Hitchcock after all.
Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins (1985)
In 1984, the Statue began a much needed restoration. Scaffolding was erected around the entire 151 foot tall structure. It was only natural that someone would look at that and think “Action Sequence.” As its full title none-too-subtly suggests, Remo Williams was intended to be the first in a franchise of adventures based on the satirical-action Destroyer novel series written by Warren Murphy and Richard Sapir. Remo Williams (Fred Ward) was a New York City cop who is recruited into an ultra top secret organization CURE. He is turned over to Chiun (Joel Gray, under some great prosthetics that earned the Best Makeup Academy Award that year), an ancient Korean who schools Remo in the ancient art of Sinanju, the first and still purest of all martial arts. CURE is also investigating an arms manufacturer who has been ripping off the government. While Remo is being trained on the Statue, he is attacked by hired goons of the arms manufacturer and the stage is set for an entertaining climb up and down the scaffolding. While there was some location work done at the Statue, a majority of the sequence was shot on an outdoor set built in Mexico. You can see a bit of the Statue of Liberty sequence in the film’s badly edited trailer below. (Really Sony, that is terrible, even by 1980s standards.)
The Statue Of Liberty becomes the focal point from which villain Magneto (Ian MacKellan) hopes to strike at a gathering of the world’s diplomats on nearby Ellis Island, by using it as a base for a machine that will rewrite the diplomats DNA to make them all mutants. Regarded as a terrorist by the governments of the world, Magneto sees his actions as leading to the liberation of all mutants from the discrimination that they are being subjected to, making the use of the Statue all the more symbolic, at least in his mind. It also leaves the audience to ponder the axiom about one man’s terrorist being another man’s freedom fighter. And the fight between Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) and Sabertooh (Taylor Mane) on top of the Statue’s crown, actually manges to one-up the Remo Williams sequence.
Planet Of The Apes (1968)
As a symbol of New York City, the Statue has always been a in the cinematic crosshairs when filmmakers need to show that something BIG has happened to Manhattan, and usually by extension, the world. It has been knocked over into the New York Harbor by alien invaders in Independence Day, frozen solid in The Day After and decapitated by a giant monster in Cloverfield. But the most iconic stature destruction still remains the first- Its appearance before Charleton Heston in Planet Of The Apes, signaling that the astronaut was planet but in a future where humanity’s once proud civilization had fallen. Not surprisingly, this revelation comes from the mind of Twilight Zone creator Rod Serling, who worked on adapting Pierre Boulle’s novel for producer Arthur P. Jacobs. It was, and still is, a powerful image, one that twsts the knife on Heston’s character and the audience as well. So engrained in even the most casual movie watcher’s consciousness is the image that it has been spoofed by both Mel Brooks in Spaceballs and Kevin Smith in Jay And Silent Bob Strike Back and director Tim Burton didn’t even try to recreate it for his 2001 remake.