In 1875 France announced an unusual gift for its ally, America: a statue of the Roman goddess of freedom, Libertas, standing 151 feet and 1 inch (46 meters) tall. The Statue of Liberty has become one of America’s most iconic and beloved national landmarks. Unfortunately, though, Hollywood hasn’t always taken the best care of her. Over the years she’s been blown up, decapitated, frozen, covered in ectoplasmic slime and even had her face shredded by the propellers of a helicopter. Here’s a look at ten of Lady Liberty’s most hair-raising silver screen encounters.
10. Cloverfield (2008)
First up, Cloverfield. In this 2008, Matt Reeves-directed sci-fi thriller, a gigantic monster lays waste to New York City, inconsiderately interrupting a leaving party thrown for Rob Hawkins (played by Michael Stahl-David). When what seems to be an earthquake hits the city, the guests run out into the street, only to be greeted by the severed head of the Statue of Liberty, which comes flying through the air and crashes down next to them. Rob and some of his fellow revelers now have to escape the monster’s trail of destruction and attempt to rescue their friend, Beth MacIntyre (Odette Annable), from across town.
In the movie, the iconic statue’s head is shown to be roughly half as big again as it is in reality. Graphics coordinator David Vickery explained that a lot of people picture the head to be a great deal bulkier than it really is – and that it was blown up in size in the film following criticism that it didn’t look large enough in the trailer.
9. The Day After Tomorrow (2004)
Roland Emmerich’s epic 2004 disaster film The Day After Tomorrow realizes Al Gore’s worst fears, as global warming leads to a string of cataclysmic extreme weather events. Paleoclimatology professor Jack Hall (played by Dennis Quaid), who’s in India presenting his climate change research to the UN, heads to New York with his team to save his son, Sam (portrayed by Jake Gyllenhaal). Meanwhile, a huge tidal surge smashes into the Big Apple, washing over most of the Statue of Liberty. Afterwards, freezing temperatures leave her protruding from the ice sheet, creating a striking movie moment.
Roland Emmerich admitted that, in reality, the statue would have been toppled by the sheer power of the storm surge. However, he wanted to engender an image of American values holding true in the face of adversity.
8. A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001)
Steven Spielberg directed the strange and beautiful 2001 movie that is A.I. Artificial Intelligence after director Stanley Kubrick passed the baton over to him in 1995. The story follows a very human-like robot boy named David (played by Haley Joel Osment) who embarks on a Pinocchio-inspired journey with fellow “Mecha” Gigolo Joe (portrayed by Jude Law) to locate the “Blue Fairy,” which he believes has the power to make him human.
In the movie’s late-21st-century setting, the Earth’s ice caps have melted and caused massive flooding across the globe, including in New York. When the Statue of Liberty makes her cameo appearance while David and Joe fly over Manhattan, the water has risen so high that only her right arm, defiantly holding her torch aloft, can be seen above the water.
7. Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987)
In critically panned 1987 sequel Superman IV: The Quest for Peace – the last installment to star Christopher Reeve – the Man of Steel meets his match in super-camp super-nemesis Nuclear Man. Arch-villain Lex Luthor (played by Gene Hackman) plunders a piece of Superman’s hair and then, as you do, attaches the extracted genetic material to a nuclear missile. It’s only once Superman hurls the missile into the fiery furnace of the Sun, however, that Nuclear Man is born.
Although he’s not necessarily the brightest spark, Nuclear Man does have a flair for destruction – in one sequence tearing the Statue of Liberty from her pedestal and dropping her while flying over the city. Fortunately Superman saves the day, catching Lady Liberty before she turns several pedestrians into human pancakes and returning her to Liberty Island. In the process of his heroism, though, the Man of Steel suffers radiation sickness after sustaining a nasty scratch at the hand of his super-foe, prompting the Daily Planet to run the headline, “Superman Dead?”
6. National Lampoon’s European Vacation (1985)
Everyone’s favorite holidaymakers, the Griswolds, had a run-in with Lady Liberty in classic 1985 sequel National Lampoon’s European Vacation. As the title suggests, this time the Griswolds take in the heady traditionalism of European cities like London, Paris and Rome. Needless to say, the continent is forever changed.
With his makeshift French, Clark Griswold (played by Chevy Chase) offends pretty much every Gallic person he meets. He also inadvertently kills a pet dachshund after throwing a beret off the Eiffel Tower – with the dog in eager pursuit. And in Italy, while trying to save his wife, Ellen (Beverly D’Angelo), Clark ends up in a fistfight in a Roman fountain.
Even America isn’t safe from the Griswolds. When the family finally heads home – dressed in the finest, most over-the-top ‘80s fashion their money can buy – Clark mistakes the cockpit door for an unoccupied restroom and stumbles in, knocking the pilots onto the controls and causing the airplane to plummet. Eventually, Clark untangles himself and the pilots right the plane – but not before it has hit the Statue of Liberty’s torch, leaving the treasured object hanging precariously upside down.
5. Batman Forever (1995)
Val Kilmer takes on the dual role of Batman and Bruce Wayne opposite Two-Face (portrayed by Tommy Lee Jones) and The Riddler (Jim Carrey) in Joel Schumacher’s 1995 sequel, Batman Forever. In the film, the Statue of Liberty takes a break from playing herself and dresses up as the Statue of Justice, a.k.a. “Lady Gotham.”
The monument makes a brief appearance in the movie’s opening action sequence. A bank robbery-cum-hostage-taking effort by Two-Face is foiled when Batman arrives and takes out a bunch of bad guys with the kind of bone-crunching, gadget-assisted flair you’d expect from an opening sequence involving the Caped Crusader. Two-Face then attempts to haul away a bank vault in a helicopter, until Batman steps in and forces the chopper to crash into Lady Gotham. The rotor blades cut into the face of the statue, but they’re no match for our leading lady, and the helicopter explodes and falls to the ground.
4. Deep Impact (1998)
Directed by Mimi Leder, 1998 sci-fi disaster movie Deep Impact features Robert Duvall as Captain Spurgeon Tanner, Elijah Wood as amateur astronomer Leo Biederman, Morgan Freeman as President Tom Beck, and a whole lot of CGI as a huge comet hell-bent on destroying planet Earth.
In the face of such a mass extinction-level event, it’s left to America to save the day once again – albeit with a bit of help from Russia. See, the two nations have been covertly building a spaceship, the Messiah, to deal with the extraterrestrial threat. However, before the Messiah and crew can take out the comet with some last-ditch kamikaze heroics, a fragment of it collides with the Atlantic Ocean, generating a megatsunami that washes over New York, bowling over the Statue of Liberty like it’s a toy. The massive, roaring wave also crushes a series of other iconic New York structures, including the World Trade Center. Later we see the head of the statue bobbing along under water.
3. Independence Day (1994)
In Roland Emmerich’s 1996 sci-fi blockbuster Independence Day, what are initially believed to be meteors set to collide with Earth turn out to be huge alien spaceships. Unlike friendly alien E.T., however, these intergalactic invaders are not very talkative, and they also display a flagrant disregard for human structures – and indeed major cities – by blowing many of them up. Though we don’t see Lady Liberty’s demise directly, it’s a safe assumption that no self-respecting fleet of invading aliens could leave her undestroyed. And sure enough, the statue is later shown face down in the mud.
At one point in the movie, a shot of the tablet held by our lady shows off the 4th of July inscription commemorating the 1776 American Declaration of Independence. And with that piece of inspiration, it’s up to Captain Steven Hiller (played by Will Smith) and co. to win the biggest fight for independence America – and the world – has ever seen.
2. Children of Men (2006)
British actor Clive Owen plays disenchanted former peace activist Theo Faron in Alfonso Cuarón’s dystopian 2006 sci-fi movie Children of Men. Loosely based on the novel of the same name by P.D. James, the film is set in the year 2027, a time in which all the women on Earth have mysteriously become infertile and no children have been born in the past 18 years. The future looks bleak, until one woman, Kee (played by Clare-Hope Ashitey), does become pregnant.
The Statue of Liberty makes a brief appearance in a video clip showing the destruction of cities around the world. In a brief but chilling moment, she can be seen standing as New York is wiped out by what appears to be a nuclear explosion.
1. Planet of the Apes (1968)
Arguably the most iconic Statue of Liberty moment in movie history is the twist ending of 1968 cult sci-fi classic Planet of the Apes, directed by Franklin J. Schaffner. A group of astronauts, including George Taylor (played by Charlton Heston), crash-lands on a planet ruled by intelligent apes, while the native humans are subservient and little more than slaves, or worse. Taylor is taken prisoner but eventually escapes to the “Forbidden Zone” with the help of two of apes, archaeologist Cornelius (played by Roddy McDowall) and his animal psychologist fiancé Zira (Kim Hunter).
After everything he’s been through on the planet, Taylor is walking along a beach at the end of the film when he spots the statue emerging from the sand. Putting two and two together, Taylor realizes that he’s actually been on a post-apocalyptic Earth the whole time.
There’s a six-DVD box set of the original Planet of the Apes movies with what’s left of the Statue of Liberty on the cover, thus ruining the ending of the first film for anyone who hasn’t already seen it. Coming soon: a new Star Wars box set complete with Skywalker family tree artwork.
Bonus: Ghostbusters II (1989)
Ivan Reitman’s classic 1989 sequel Ghostbusters II reunites proton pack-wielding Ghostbusters Peter Venkman (played by Bill Murray), Ray Stantz (Dan Aykroyd), Egon Spengler (Harold Ramis) and Winston Zeddemore (Ernie Hudson).
After a restraining order against them is lifted, the Ghostbusters are back in business, this time attempting to stop evil 17th-century tyrant Vigo (portrayed by Wilhelm von Homburg) escaping from a painting and possessing the eight-month-old baby of Venkman’s love interest, Dana Barrett (Sigourney Weaver). As you’d expect, this kind of job requires some pretty unusual measures. But, when the Ghostbusters run out of ideas, who are they gonna call? Well, the Statue of Liberty, actually.
Deciding that the city needs some upbeat energy, the Ghostbusters coat the inside of the statue with positively-charged “mood slime” and cue up a remix of “Higher and Higher.” Suddenly, Liberty comes to life, and the gang steers her through the streets of New York before using her torch to bust their way into the Manhattan Museum of Art and do battle with Vigo.