What's Up With the Trend of Monsters and Mutants Destroying San Francisco?

Not long after I moved to the Bay Area about 10 years ago, I started having regular nightmares about the destruction of the Golden Gate Bridge. In some, it was blown up with dynamite while I stood on nearby banks, unable to stop a mysterious villain from pushing the red button of detonation. In others, I've actually been on the bridge, holding on to a side rail as it swings around wildly or swerves violently back and forth.

So, it has been viscerally, deeply disturbing to watch the bridge threatened or outright destroyed in a slate of recent action films, from Star Trek to Pacific Rim to Planet of the Apes to X-Men: First Class to, most recently, Godzilla—which shows the bridge in the clutches of its titular monster in the action-packed trailer.

Sure, San Francisco and its famous bridge have a long history of cinematic destruction. But in recent years, it seems to have become particularly de rigueur to smash the city into smithereens. As the SF Gate remarked last year, laying San Francisco to ruin has become a "distressing trend" in movies. Indeed, based on this listbetween 1936 and 2003 just seven major films depicted San Francisco's destruction  vs. 10 films between 2003 and today. That equates to about one a decade vs. one a year.  

So what gives? Why are directors sending their monsters and mutants into the San Francisco Bay for merry mass destruction? There are a few possibilities ... and the last one may be cause for alarm.

1. Manhattan is out

The classic choice for devastation writ large has long been, of course, Manhattan. But as it turns out, you can only watch the Brooklyn Bridge fall or Statue of Liberty collapse into the ocean so many times before it starts to feel like one particularly haunting cliche. Then, of course, there was the impact of 9/11, which made it much harder to stomach images of the city's demise. Hollywood could have shied away from city-destruction movies altogether, but they rake in way too much cash for that. Instead, it searched for a new city to take down.

Enter San Francisco.

2. San Francisco is in

The City by the Bay hits the sweet spot for destruction in a few keys ways: it has a compact, skyscraper-filled downtown; recognizable landmarks that are suitably horrifying to watch fall; an ocean for monsters to arise out of and stuff to crash into; and global cache to lure international audiences.

Other major metropolises just don't fit the bill like SF does. L.A. is too sprawling. Chicago's most notable downtown landmark is the big glass John Hancock tower, which lacks the distinctiveness of the Statue of Liberty or Golden Gate Bridge. Seattle, though it boasts the dazzling Space Needle, isn't as well-known overseas, where loads of movie magic money is to be made.

But the real selling point is that damn amazing bridge. The Golden Gate is such an incredible icon of human ingenuity, it is truly unsettling to watch it ravaged by apes, robots or giant lizards. Not only that, but San Francisco has Alcatraz, so memorably destroyed in X-Men, as well as the Transamerica Pyramid, which Godzilla is shown hulking over in promotional materials for the film.

Basically, it's too beautiful and iconic not to be destroyed.

3. Audiences are hating on SF

There's another potential reason behind this trend, and it's kind of a sad one: consciously or not, the film industry is responding to a general backlash against the City by the Bay.

In recent years, San Francisco has become increasingly similar to its predecessor in film destruction, Manhattan. Largely due to an influx of tech money, it too has become defined by sky-high prices, uber-trendiness and six-figure professionals spending $15 on ginger martinis. These trappings have distanced it from the sensibilities of middle America while making it, in a word, annoying.

It can't be an accident that Slate's review of Godzilla included this aside:

I kept hoping for some Internet-economy humor, like a shot of one of the creatures crashing through Twitter’s SF headquarters clutching a Google bus in each claw.

With its slick tech influences, San Francisco has tapped into collective classist outrage. And what better way to manifest these tortured feelings of financial injustice than by watching the city fall in spectacular fashion?

Whatever the reason for this new dawn of destruction, as a dedicated San Francisco-phile, it's with mixed feelings that I continue to watch it jumped on, chomped through and otherwise messed with. On the one hand, I want to tell those monsters, monkeys and supervillains to stay away from my beloved city. On the other, all this on screen destruction kind of feels like San Francisco has "made" it somehow.

In any case, it looks like Golden Gate Bridge nightmares won't be going away anytime soon—in my sleep or on the silver screen.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

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