Urban battles waged before ‘Star Trek’

According to the psychologist Carl Jung, we all have access to a vast reservoir of archetypal images called the collective unconscious. (And that was even before we had access to movie trivia on the Internet.) In this new weekly feature, we aim to tap your collective thoughts by proposing a theme that relates to a current event or movie. Submit your favorite film titles that fit the theme and we’ll publish a sampling here. This week, to get the ball rolling, we took our cue from the action-packed sneak attack on London in “Star Trek Into Darkness.” That produced five sci-fi movies featuring cities under attack, listed here in chronological order.

Paramount Pictures

1. The War of the Worlds (1953)

  • Producer George Pal’s adaptation of the H.G. Wells classic features then state-of-the-art special effects (the soundtrack is especially nerve-racking) and showcases the systematic destruction of Los Angeles, with cameos of Paris, London, and other cities being blown to smithereens.

: Columbia Pictures

2. Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (1956)

  • At the height of the Cold War, everyone went to bed dreaming of nuclear annihilation or flocked to the movies to see their nightmares enacted on the screen. This might be the first film to lay waste to iconic D.C. landmarks like the Washington Monument.

Twentieth Century Fox/Reuters

3. Independence Day (1996)

  • The targets are the same, but the f/x are a lot noisier in Roland Emmerich’s alien invasion epic. Bill Pullman as a pre-W jet jockey president and Will Smith as his wingman show these invaders that they’re messing with the wrong planet.


4. Starship Troopers (1997)

  • Alien arthropods level Buenos Aires with an asteroid in Paul Verhoeven’s adaptation of the Robert Heinlein novel. A savage satire, it could be seen as a spooky foreshadowing of the real-life War on Terror.

Frank Masi/Paramount Pictures

5. War of the Worlds (2005)

  • Tapping into still-raw 9/11 imagery, Spielberg first lays waste to New York, then moves on to Boston, demonstrating that sometimes you need to destroy a planet to reconcile father and son, especially when one roots for the Yankees and the other for the Sox.

  • COMING UP: For the May 26 column, with a nod to “The Hangover: Part III,” we’re looking for the best morning-after films without the word “hangover” in the title. And since that’s too easy, we’ll also give you a head start on your June 2 assignment: the film is “After Earth”; the theme, the best Will Smith performances. Cast your votes at

Peter Keough can be reached at
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