Top 10 Movie Buildings

Over the years cinema has presented us with some of the greatest architecture imaginable. In some cases these buildings actually exist, meaning overly enthusiastic tourists like myself, can pay huge amounts of money to fly around the world and take my own photo of something that already looks way better on film!

Before I launch into my top 10 I’d like to apologise. I will more than likely have some glaring omissions – I admit that my inspiration for starting this article was the fact that number 1 was so obvious, I thought the rest would flow like metaphorical water from the fleshy bath taps that are my fingertips. But hey ho, you never know I might just nail it and capture everyone’s exact opinion to a tee………hmm.

10. Vandamm House – North by Northwest

vandamm house - cultoid

Designed to mirror the architectural style of Frank Lloyd Wright this fantastic standout building is the perfect fit for a showdown at Mount Rushmore. The design of the house itself, looming out from a cliff face mirrors the story of a man being thrust into a situation he cannot fathom. It also plays to the film’s repeated imagery of height and in particular the dizzying effects of being placed on the edge. It’s not often that a building within a film plays so beautifully to the story as a whole, becoming a character of its own in the process……But…..you know……..Hitchcock.

 

9.Mikey’s House – The Goonies

Mikey's House - Cultoid

I’m a sucker for Astoria. It’s such an iconic town as a whole; like if Steven Spielberg owned a construction company and won a contract to build an entire community. Its lush green surroundings and uneven hills make it the perfect setting for an adventure that begins in a kid’s attic.

Mikey’s house sits at the top of a hill and looks out over everything. It’s got a real sense of magic – more importantly it has a Rube Goldberg contraption to open the garden gate. Isn’t that what every child wants?

This was the film that made me plead with my dad to board out the attic. That incredible scene where the boys find the map and the adventure really begins was made all the more powerful in that dimly lit, almost mythical loft space, with the lightning flashing through the roof tiles. It made me think I could find my own map if I could just get into my attic. It also made me want to move to Astoria – I still want to.

8. The Tangiers – Casino

tangiers - cultoid

This is in no small part down to Martin Scorsese and Robert Richardson (DoP) who really shot the shit out of it. Let’s be honest a casino is a casino (once you get inside). But never before had a casino been shot with such style and beauty that you really want to be there. It feels decadent and yet grimy at the same time. You can really feel the air of high rollers and epic losers that make up the everyday drama of Las Vegas life.

But crucially we are also shown the ‘behind the scenes’ areas. The decidedly unglamorous places in the Casinos: The counting room where consumer greed and good fortune go to die; a totally clinical affair with little room for fun and nary a neon light to be seen – Also the ‘back room’, where card counters and hustlers alike are taken to be straightened out.

I guess that’s what I like best about this building; the fact that it wears a shiny, entrancing mask to hide its dank and seedy true face – all of which is committed with a sure hand and an artistic eye by one of the all-time greats.

7. Subway Lair – TMNT 2 Secret of the Ooze

TMNT_SECRETOFTHEOOZE_Cultoid

Ok I know what you’re going to say; it’s not actually a building. But to that I would firstly say… yes I agree with you and I’m cheating, but secondly I would argue that any film that can convince me I could, and should, live in a sewer is worthy of a spot in this list.

I’m sure anyone of a certain age (ahem) can attest to the sheer awesomeness they felt when that cobweb covered power switch was pulled and the subway station lit up for the first time. Not only do you get a retro chic squatting pad but also a full on train! It’s any kid’s dream come true.

Consider also that the lair isn’t even the best thing about this film. My fellow Cultoid editor James W can be seen on the night of a full moon with his shirt off shouting “I Tatsu now lead” in a very loud and wholly inaccurate homage to that legendary moment. And of course who can forget Vanilla Ice’s ‘impromptu’ rendition of Go Ninja Go during one of cinema’s finest breakdancing fight scenes.

Let’s all agree that this entry is valid and the Sewer lair is where we all want to live!

6. Stark Tower/Stark’s Malibu Pad – Avengers/Iron Man

Stark House - Cultoid

Yep I’m cheating again. But surely two buildings owned by the same man can count as one larger property portfolio can’t they? That’s how the real world works kids don’t you know?

The other point is that I love both buildings for the same reasons. They are both unashamed statements of frivolity and ego, and they are both places I would give my left nipple to own. I want that basement/garage/robotic laboratory in the Malibu house. I also want to say I own a Manhattan skyscraper with a mechanical roof entry system that dresses me in comfy clothes as I walk in. I want all of this with a Paul Bettany computerised pal that can build any idea I come up with whilst I’m out drinking Martinis.

In other words I’m jealous of everything Tony Stark is, and everything he has. The likelihood is I’ll never have anything close, so the reality is Tony Stark has made me hate myself. Ah well.

5. Pankot Palace – The Temple of Doom

Pankot_palace - Cultoid

I’m in the unpopular minority on this (surprise surprise) but I’ll say it anyway: Temple of Doom is my favourite Indy film. This has everything to do with the fact that it was the only one I had as a kid on VHS so I watched and re-watched it hundreds of times until it became the mantra by which I now live my life. For example I refuse to eat in any Chinese restaurant that doesn’t have spinning table tops.

But Pankot is the place that really escalates the film to its spot in my ‘all-timers’ pantheon.

Any building with a Catacombs wins. That is a fact. You know that if a story is taking us down to the Catacombs then shit is going to get real!!! Temple of Doom is the Catacomb king. Firstly that satanic sacrifice cavern where Mola-Ram taught many 80s children their first chant. Then into the mines where that giant slave driving child abuser cracks the whip on literally hundreds of starving Indian kids – It’s pretty damn hardcore when you think about it.

Aside from the dark hell of a basement, the palace very happily goes full Liberace upstairs. The feasting hall in particular is awash with colour and over indulgence that plays as an extreme façade for the events that will unfold later.

For a single building to include palatial rooms, caves, dungeons, a mine, a corridor of giant insects and a booby trapped room of spiky ceiling crushing death is impressive to say the least.

4. Minas Tirith – The Return of the King

Minas_Tirith - Cultoid

One of the most awe inspiring sites I’ve ever witnessed on screen. That long scene as Gandalf rides with Pippin to the top of the White City is still as rousing today as it was almost 10 years ago. The Gondor theme is one of my favourites of all 3 scores too which can only help.

So I’ve just admitted it is a city not a building, but I think I can be allowed to class this as a single structure. If not then I don’t care because I love it anyway.

The design is so unique, so authentic and so magnificently executed; one of those wondrous creations whose reality is never in question. It exists…pure and simple (except it doesn’t….but it does…but not really…but…).

There is a shot after Gandalf rides out to rescue Farimir and his remaining soldiers as they flee from the Nazgul on the Pelennor Fields, where Gandalf turns back to ride towards Minas Tirith and we catch a distant glimpse of it, far off and blurred through a sunny haze. The city never looks more real than this moment. It is a fleeting glance at a megalithic mega-structure and even in the distance it commands and dominates the landscape…………EPIC!

3. The Cabin – Evil Dead

Evil-Dead-Cabin - Cultoid

The impressive thing about this building’s iconic status is its size: It’s tiny! But as with many things in life good things come in small, horrific packages. The simple design resembling a pair of eyes staring out into the forest is the first thing that hits you. This coupled with its dank exterior is enough to tell you that whoever goes inside is not going to come out.

But what’s most brilliant about this building is its interior. For a shack that seems all but empty there is more atmosphere than in most entire films! Most obvious is the fruit cellar; nasty hanging objects, incessant dripping pipes, buckets of blood, a half torn poster for The Hills Have Eyes and in Evil Dead 2 a heavily prosthetic bearing Ted Raimi as Henrietta Knowby – the possessed witch!

I also love the way Sam Raimi gets the most out of every single inch of the place. Bruce Campbell is at one point chased through every room, wall and crawl space of the building by the camera representing the Deadites. It is one of the great POV shots of all time and sees Campbell at his slapstick best, managing to maintain a terrified performance as he breaks through multiple doors and walls.

And of course what kind of write up would this be if I didn’t mention the laughing Deer’s head? Genius!

2. The Overlook Hotel – The Shining

The Overlook - Cultoid

I know for many of you this will be the entry that should have come top. But I have my reasons so you’ll have to just get over it and move on.

Never before or since The Shining has a building played more of an integral role in a film. This building is a character, pure and simple. It has inspired, confused, terrified, intrigued and downright frustrated people for years.

Kubrick’s insane attention to detail and artistic genius mean that the building’s inconsistencies are as purposeful and crucial as every other thing in the film. The fact that certain corridors shouldn’t exist, geography seems to change and all is coated in dizzying pattern work and contrasting design choices makes the hotel come alive. Can it be that the building is attacking Jack Torrence? Or is it that Kubrick wanted us as an audience to experience our own descent into madness? Either way it makes for a wondrous achievement that has led to many essays, debates and even conspiracy theories over the years.

When you’ve got the world theorising about a building, you know you’ve won! Kudos Mr Kubrick (as if you need them).

1. Hook and Ladder 8 – Ghostbusters HQ

What am I looking at?

Come on now, admit it, this is the obvious winner….of everything in the world! It’s hard to believe a few bricks and a good deal of mortar can inspire such a welling of emotion; especially when that building isn’t some epic cathedral or palace. But this modest fire station means more to me than any other building on earth. It represents the best of my childhood and symbolises my yearning nostalgic outlook as an adult. It’s also the building that taught me how every problem in life can be solved if you have a pole connecting your first and ground floors.

For those interested in paying it a visit, you can find it on the corner of North Moor St and Varick St in lower Manhattan. Having stayed in an apartment by Central Park on my only visit to the big apple, I can confirm that it is worth the near 5 mile walk through one of the world’s busiest cities to catch a glimpse of this dream factory! In fact I’d say it was probably made better by the fact that I was tired, hungry and dehydrated when it finally came into view, as it gave me my own personal Andy Dufresne Shawshank Redemption moment. I didn’t fall to my knees mind you, and it also wasn’t raining and I hadn’t crawled through that much poo either, but you know what I mean….don’t you?

So that’s my list. Please feel free to slag me off in the comments for missing some obviously superior entries to any and all of the above. After all I should be condemned, there’s serious metal fatigue in all my load bearing members, my wiring is substandard and I’m pretty much a demilitarised zone…..but hey, my pole still works!

James is a movie obsessive with a particular love for scores and screenplays. He has written for numerous blogs, sites and cinemas and has been involved in several screenwriting projects. He can usually be found in front of a large plasma screen devouring Westerns, 80s pulp, Jimmy Stewart movies or anything by the Coens.

4 Comments

  1. yosemite sam

    25 April, 2013 at 8:10 pm

    You forgot the most iconic building in all films .The castle in Sahara Hare.

    • James Plummer

      25 April, 2013 at 9:19 pm

      “I wonder if he’s dumb enough to open all those doors?” Love that one

  2. Pete

    26 April, 2013 at 1:01 pm

    Great topic, if anything it could have been more articles. Movie cities and movie interior spaces could each be articles in their own right.

    e.g. Movie cities: major cities appear in multiple films but are different in every film. Take the fun but spooky New York of Ghostbusters, compare it with the grim New York of Taxi Driver, the flashy but just as unpleasant New York of Wall Street, the fairy tale city of Home Alone 2, the violent prison of Escape From New York and the eerie ghost city of the future in A.I.

    Movie interior spaces: Don Corleone’s study, the corridors of the Nostromo, every villain/monster needs a suitable lair!

    • James Plummer

      26 April, 2013 at 2:04 pm

      Good shout! I think a Top 10 Villains’ Lairs article might be the next order of the day!

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