This weekend, Dwayne Johnson will likely ascend to the top of the box office with his newest action star vehicle, “Skyscraper.” Surviving this ordeal also means rising to standards set by other classic movies involving big building pandemonium. Below are five action moments with such preceding reputation.
1. “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol” (Burj Khalifa sequence)
Ethan Hunt is known for his addiction to heights, but this takes it to approximately 163 levels of obsession. Thanks to the mainstreaming of IMAX technology, audiences found themselves just as terrified of scaling the tallest building in the world as the franchise’s resident hero. Tom Cruise has never been more impressive precisely because the impossible has been achieved. Thanks to memorable gravity-enhanced gadgetry, Cruise’s fearless yet cautionary performance and Brad Bird’s poetically stylish direction, this sequence is unarguably the most memorable action moment to ever incorporate a building.
2. “Die Hard” (Hans Gruber plummets to his death)
The late Alan Rickman became an immortal movie icon the second his villainous Hans Gruber plunged to his demise in 1988’s “Die Hard.” From the slow-motion descent, to Gruber’s sheer dumbfounded realization of defeat, to the symbolism of time becoming unfastened via Holly’s (Bonnie Bedelia) loosened wristwatch, everything about this moment is resoundingly over-the-top. In other words, it’s the embodiment of an ostentatious, imposing skyscraper: completely unnecessary and totally ridiculous but enormously impressive.
3. “The Matrix” (Neo saves Morpheus)
Having just blown moviegoers’ minds with the bank shootout, the Wachowski sisters up the ante once Neo (Keanu Reeves) and Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) emerge onto the building’s rooftop. This sequence not only demonstrates Neo’s newfound bravery now that the pressure isn’t on him to be “The One,” but it also creates a new form of action cinema known as “bullet time.” Dodging the agents’ firing rounds with such involuntary speed that his image blurs, Neo masters time itself to progress forward. But it’s Trinity’s bad-ass line delivery of “Dodge this!” before putting a bullet in the unsuspecting agent’s digitized head that pinnacles the moment.
Neo and Trinity waste little time salivating their win. Setting aside the fears of distance and height, Neo launches himself towards the adjacent building that Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) is being held in with the grace of the Dalai Lama. Trinity providing air support via helicopter commandeering only enhances the sheer spectacle of this rescue operation for the ages.
4. “Vertigo” (Rooftop Night Chase)
Alfred Hitchcock, master of suspense, knew full well that one should never build to a frenzy – one should begin with it. Thus, the opening sequence of 1958’s “Vertigo” is an immediate heart attack of tension. When his partner falls to his shocking death from the rooftops of San Francisco during an intense police chase, Detective John “Scottie” Ferguson (James Stewart) becomes a slave to his acrophobia. The scene frames the inevitable psychological breakdown of its protagonist with one paralyzing fear. Here, the hero is immediately fallible. When stakes are at their highest, even the most irrational of fears become nightmarish roadblocks. Demolishing bravado from the get-go is a perfect means of subverting the classical notion of “action hero.”
5. “The Dark Knight” (Batman breaks Rachel’s fall)
There’s a plethora of building-related sequences in the Batman movie canon to choose from. However, there’s something quintessentially “alter ego” about this particular event. For starters, the attack takes place at one of Bruce Wayne’s (Christian Bale) high-profile parties. Wayne is exposed, vulnerable but can captivate a room like the most entrancing of magicians. The facade of “billionaire playboy” dissipates the second the Joker (Heath Ledger) and his goons crash the festivities. Bruce Wayne’s true self is his alter ego, one which doesn’t hesitate to dive to his death just to save the most precious person in the world to him. Yes, Bruce is a man of abiding justice who bends the law when needed, but ultimately he’s a man driven by selfish whims.
The scene works because of how swiftly the adrenaline kicks in. As soon as Joker lets go of Rachel (Maggie Gyllenhaal), Batman doesn’t hesitate and leaps after her with magnetic propulsion. Spinning in their free fall, it becomes evident that Batman’s only path is a downward spiral into painful darkness…especially when protecting those he loves.