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Watch ‘Skyscraper,’ Then Watch These Movies

We recommend what to watch after you see the latest action movie starring Dwayne Johnson.
By  · Published on July 14th, 2018

We can keep this week’s Movies to Watch After… list pretty simple. Yes, you should watch you know what. And given that the obvious title is 30 years old this weekend, there’s a good chance a lot of younger people, which makes up much of Dwayne Johnson‘s fanbase at the moment, haven’t seen it. So let’s not waste any time. Most of my recommendations inspired by Skyscraper similarly involve large buildings as a major element to their plot. And so I’m going to change up the structure a little bit. Here we go.

The Obvious and Acknowledged Inspirations

Die Hard Hanging

Skyscraper is “Die Hard in a building,” which is sort of ironic since Die Hard is already Die Hard in a building. Writer/director Rawson Marshall Thurber is fine admitting that’s what it is. And Johnson went so far as to commission a Skyscraper poster design paying tribute to the much-copied 1988 action movie, which just recently finally was added to the National Film Registry.

But that was just one of two noted influences. The other, less-addressed inspiration for the reunited Central Intelligence pairing is 1974’s The Towering Inferno. While Die Hard is more fitting because that and Skyscraper both involve guys trying to save their wife from terrorists in a tall building, Best Picture nominee The Towering Inferno is an earlier classic, of the disaster movie genre, highlighted for being about a terrible fire in a skyscraper, albeit not one started by terrorists a la the blaze in Skyscraper. Less obvious is the inspiration from the 1993 movies Cliffhanger and The Fugitive. As Thurber told /Film recently:

“I think it’s definitely ‘Die Hard’ meets ‘Towering Inferno’ with ‘Cliffhanger’ thrown in for good measure I hope. And ‘The Fugitive’…Will Sawyer’s on the run. He’s wanted for a crime that he didn’t commit so there’s a little bit of wanted man on the run that you certainly have in ‘The Fugitive.’ There’s this moment in ‘The Fugitive’ where Dr. Richard Kimble has to make a choice when Tommy Lee Jones pulls a gun on him about whether he can be arrested, go to prison for the rest of his life or take a leap of faith. We certainly have moments like that in ‘Skyscraper.'”

The Skyscraper Horror Sequels

Poltergeist Iii Skyscraper

The building in Skyscraper is one of the tallest in the world and also supposedly one of the most advanced. The structure holds an entire society within a number of floors, self-sufficient as residential and commercial space. This reminds me of two horror sequels from around the same time where almost all of the action takes place in skyscrapers touted as being state of the art buildings. The underrated Poltergeist III, which yes has many flaws but also features some incredible practical visual tricks, brings the haunting of young Carol Anne to a Chicago tower that also houses apartments, offices, and shops — and if you dig the digitally done hall-of-mirrors climax of Skyscraper, you should appreciate all the mirror effects. The 1990 meta masterpiece Gremlins 2: The New Batch is set in a new high-tech office building infested by the titular little green creatures. And it even features another wrestling icon! Now, if they can make a sequel to Skyscraper where Johnson has to battle ghosts or gremlins or both, that would be the ultimate nod.

The Unbelievable Skyscraper Stunts

Who Am I Rotterdam Jump

That big crane-to-building jumping stunt in Skyscraper that’s part of all kinds of marketing for the movie is impossible — see a funny Nerdist video claiming the opposite, though. Thurber explains the deceiving effect here:

“Industrial Light and Magic [ILM] added the background from what we filmed in Hong Kong and then they use CGI to add the building into the skyline. It’s sort of like putting a mosaic together piece by piece. And if it’s done right, it’s seamless. We set out to make a movie about a building on fire and we didn’t have a building or a fire. So it was a challenge.”

For seemingly impossible stunts involving tall buildings, I recommend a bunch of movies for their death-defying practical stunts. First, there’s Jackie Chan actually sliding down Rotterdam’s Willemswerf building in the 1998 Hong Kong action movie Who Am I? Then there’s Tom Cruise actually scaling the tallest building in the world, Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, in 2011’s Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol. Both those movies are also fortunately great regardless of those stunts. For unbelievable moments in not so good movies, check out stunt legend Dar Robinson‘s freefalls in 1982’s Highpoint and the Burt Reynolds vehicles Sharky’s Machine (most of that one is a dummy, however) and Stick from 1981 and 1985, respectively.

The Tragic True Stories


This week I’ve got two documentary picks. Of course, one of them is about 9/11. It’s even called 9/11, and it’s co-directed by Jules and Gedeon Naudet (who helmed the new Netflix doc miniseries November 13: Attack on Paris) with NYC firefighter James Hanlon. While there are many docs about that horrible day in US history, 2002’s 9/11 is notable for being such first-hand experience of the events of the World Trade Center tragedy since it spawned from being a film focused on NYFD heroes already shooting that morning and followed its brave subjects as they responded and entered the Twin Towers. Thurber has addressed the idea that Skyscraper may remind some viewers of 9/11, by the way. Here to MovieWeb:

“Of course, if you’re doing a movie about a superstructure on fire, you are haunted by imagery of that tragedy. Every American feels that way in your soul, in your core. We steer pretty clear about hearkening back to that sad day. What we’re trying to do is tell a story about a man and a woman keeping their family safe. The building itself is essentially empty. There is no threat to large groups of people. We keep it focused and simple. There’s never any danger of the building collapsing.”

Another infamous NYC building disaster with a number of docs about it is the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire of 1911. HBO and PBS honored the 100th anniversary with two worthy films, respectively Triangle: Remembering the Fire and the American Experience installment Triangle Fire. There’s also the Oscar-nominated reenactment-based 1950 doc With These Hands. Also, both 9/11 and the Triangle disasters have their own episodes in the essential Ric Burns series New York: A Documentary Film.

The Real Disabled Action Hero

Gregory D Gadson Battleship

While Skyscraper may be celebrated as a step in the right direction for disabled representation in movies (read Kristen Lopez’s personal piece at /Film), there is definitely the matter of Johnson being an abled actor portraying a disabled character. His prosthetic leg winds but being helpful in some situations, a potential impairment in others. Could an actor who actually is missing a leg or two have done all the work Johnson does in the movie? Maybe not, but Johnson isn’t the best actor in the world so it’s not because of that. He is a star, however, unlike the arguably more appropriate Gregory D. Gadson, the real double-amputee Army colonel turned actor who appears in a prominent role in the sci-fi action movie Battleship and manages to steal much of the movie with his genuine demeanor and the way he gets to kick some alien ass, partly through the help of his prosthetic legs.

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Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.