Reflecting on 9/11 and the Movies… 11 years later

Photo by Robert Vizzini @

It’s September 11’s eve as I’m writing this… eleven years after that infamy of the heinous terrorist attack, once again it falls on a Tuesday. I could not remember what I was doing that night of September 10, but I certainly won’t ever forget where I was when I heard the news. I’ve jotted down my memory of that day when I posted the Out of the Blue poem by Simon Armitage last year and it’s still clear as day even a decade later.

I’ve been reading some of the things about 9/11 as it relates to the movies, as this is a movie blog after all. But before I get to that, I’d like to share good news that a friend of mine has just gotten her green cards just a few days ago, and another one also got hers last month. As an immigrant, life just would not be the same post 9/11. In the case of those applying for permanent residence here in the US, it’s certainly taken a heck of a lot longer to obtain those and I for one won’t take such a privilege for granted.

One of the write-ups on 9/11 I read today by L Magazine calls September 11 a ‘cinema event’… the most immediately and extensively documented catastrophe in human history. I can’t exactly refute that as the cultural references to that event seems endless and the impact it has on pop culture, more specifically the movies, is undeniably great.

The Moviefone blog did a timeline last year of the month of September 2001 and it showed how ‘most of show business grinds to a halt’ in the wake of the two planes hit the two towers that fateful morning. You’ve likely heard most of them, i.e. Toronto Film Festival (TIFF) had to cancel multiple screenings as film prints and the celebrities could not reach the city due to flight restrictions. Releases of movies with potentially sensitive content are pulled/delayed, i.e. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Collateral Damage, Disney’s Big Trouble, and most notably the trailer of the first Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man movie containing footage of the WTC towers being used by Spidey to trap a helicopter with his web is yanked off its distribution to have the images of the Twin Towers removed.

What I find most interesting is that despite much ado about the portrayal of violence in movies by nervous studio execs, cinematic content haven’t really changed in the movies. The studios’ fear that people were would be reluctant to watch things getting blown up on screen following 9/11 proves to be unfounded, as even a month later, a violent cop thriller Training Day opened to a relatively big business, reaching over $100 mil at the box office. Seems to me that movies just get more and more violent and shocking as time goes by anyway.
Looking back at the movies released weeks following 9/11, seems that fantasy films (the first Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings movies, released in Nov and Dec 2001 respectively) and lighthearted fares for all ages (Pixar’s Monsters, Inc. and Oceans Eleven) all made the top 10 box office of that year. So apparently the movies still provided a means of escapism for people during such a dark and trying times.

The catastrophic event itself has become big business. Just look at this Wiki page, there’s a huge number of documentaries and films made with 9/11 being part of the plot, not just by Hollywood but by world cinema as well. I actually have not seen a single movie depicting the actual event, i.e. United 93, World Trade Center, etc., it’d just be too heart-wrenching, but perhaps in time I’d be able to watch those. However, I have seen films that have 9/11 themes in it, like Remember Me and Babel, the latter shows in an unconventional way how the world views Americans post 9/11.

One major positive thing that comes out of 9/11 for us cinephiles is of course the TriBeCa Film Festival. I knew that Robert De Niro was one of its co-founder, but what I didn’t know is that it was specifically launched months after the event to help revitalize the economy of the TriBeCa neighborhood in lower Manhattan that was devastated by the 9/11 attacks. According to its Wiki page, now in its 11th year, the festival has generated on average $600 million annually. I think that’s cool whenever arts and good will meets and this is an excellent example of that.

As people gather around Ground Zero to commemorate the event, my thoughts are with the families and friends of the victims… may God’s love and time heal all wounds.

Well, that’s my random reflections/observations of 9/11 and the movies. How has 9/11 affected you?