The Most Creative And Controversial Ways Movies And Shows Dealt With 9/11
The horrific events of September 11, 2001, altered American culture forever, including what viewers saw on screens. In the years following the event, a host of movies about 9/11 came out. But before that, in the weeks and months after 9/11, filmmakers and TV producers had to make quick decisions about how to respond.
Movies and TV shows were altered or changed completely because of 9/11 as directors and producers responded to the nation's heightened sensitivity about terrorism, plane hijackings, and explosions. Scenes that included the Twin Towers, for example, once a symbol of growth and progress, reminded people of tragedy and loss. Some creators decided to remove all traces of the towers from their movies. To deal with the profound impact of 9/11 on the American psyche, they made some strange and controversial choices.
- Photo: Buena Vista Distribution
One year after the events of 9/11, director Martin Scorsese released Gangs of New York, a historical drama about crime in the 19th century. The controversial final scene of the film, intended to depict Manhattan in the future, shows the New York skyline with the Twin Towers still standing.
Michael Owens, the visual effects supervisor, said the scene was filmed and edited well before 9/11. The film team weighed a variety of options, including deleting the scene entirely. Despite facing criticism, Owens defended their decision to leave the towers in the scene. He said the scene is “about the city becoming what it is today, an amazingly great city.”
- Photo: Sony Pictures Releasing
In the original teaser trailer for the 2002 film Spider-Man, a helicopter gets caught in a massive web spun between the Twin Towers. Afterward, the towers appear reflected in Spider-Man's eyes.
The trailer ran for months before the release of the movie and was wildly successful. However, soon after 9/11, Sony Pictures stopped running the trailer and pulled it out of movie theaters.
- Photo: Sony Pictures Releasing
The final confrontation in Men in Black II was supposed to take place at the base of the World Trade Center. The film was in production on September 11, 2001. After 9/11, filmmakers changed the location of the climax to the base of the Statue of Liberty.
Despite what seems like a glaringly obvious connection, the film's director, Barry Sonnenfeld, denied that 9/11 affected their decision. He said the finale would be filmed in front of a green screen either way, and “it's not like [the terrorism] in any way affects what we’re doing or what we did.”
- Photo: Paramount Pictures
Zoolander provided welcome comic relief to Americans in the weeks after 9/11. It was originally supposed to include footage of the Twin Towers, but producer Leslie Urdang told Variety that, given the events on 9/11, a silly scene featuring the Twin Towers was “completely inappropriate” and would be removed along with “some other shots of the landscape.”
The film’s director, Ben Stiller, decided to use digital editing technology to completely remove the towers from the film. This decision was met with backlash from critics and viewers who were shocked to see the iconic New York City skyline altered so soon after 9/11.
- Photo: Warner Bros. Pictures
Watchmen filmmakers used technology to add the towers back into the New York City skyline. Director Zack Snyder wanted to fill his audience with the fear and dread described in the original Watchmen comic, where Ozymandias uses a psychic squid to torment the population.
Snyder decided to replace the squid with images of the Twin Towers. He reasoned that the image of the World Trade Center would subconsciously fill his audience with the emotion the film was designed to evoke.
- Photo: Buena Vista Pictures
Before Lilo & Stich was released in theaters in 2002, the producers made some major changes to the climax. In the original version, Stitch and his buddies hijack a Boeing 747 airplane. They fly it through a city, scraping the sides of skyscrapers along the way. What was supposed to be a silly chase became a shocking gaffe in the wake of 9/11.
The filmmakers decided to edit the scene, turning the Boeing 747 into a cute red alien spaceship. They also changed the setting from an urban landscape to Hawaiian volcanoes. In 2009, they made the original version available to the public for the first time. Vox’s side-by-side comparison is still hair-raising.