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?

28 thoughts on “Reflecting on 9/11 and the Movies… 11 years later

  1. Great post Ruth. I felt a bit distant from the 9/11 attacks but I’ll never forget switching on the tv and witnessing those scenes. My first reaction was, I thought it was a hoax or some scene from an upcoming film. Unbelievable.

    1. I was listening to the radio when I heard it so I didn’t see the visuals until an hour later. But yeah, I thought the first plane was a freak accident. I kept thinking what was the pilot smokin’?? But when the second plane hit, I knew it was NOT just an accident 😦

    1. Yeah, I just found that out recently too. That’s so cool isn’t it, such a positive event coming out of such a dark moment. Amen on your last sentence, Fogs!

  2. Ted S.

    I still remember that day like it was yesterday, I woke up late and saw what was going on TV. First I thought it was some kind of accidents but then I was numb after I saw the planes clashed into the buildings. I still can’t watch anything 9/11 related, I want to see Greengrass’s United 93 but I can’t bring myself to do it. Maybe another ten years from now I can.

  3. I’ll never forget that day. I was off from work and my girlfriend called me after the first plane hit the towers. I must have watched TV for 16 straight hours! I live in western PA and the path of flight 93 actually flew over the South Hills of Pittsburgh that day. Also I’m only about an hour from Shanksville. Yikes. Sadly a friend of mine lost his brother in the towers that day. It hit too close to home, you know?

    The best doc I’ve seen on 9/11 is HBO’s In Memoriam. It’s still gets me to this day even as the memories fade. Also Greengrass’s United 93 is an incredible film. Really. If you ever saw his Bloody Sunday film about the Irish massacre in ’72 you’d understand how he’s one of the very few directors that could handle that subject with such grace and delicacy. There are so few movies that are being released today that move me anymore. This is truly one of those rare films. BTW it actually premiered at the Tribeca FF in ’06.

    1. Yeah, we didn’t get hardly any work done that day, Dave. We didn’t have a TV on our old workplace so we all went down to a small restaurant downstairs and watched the news there. It was surreal, we just couldn’t believe it happened in real life, y’know. That’s so sad that you knew someone who lost a loved one in the attacks.

      I might give one of those movies a watch, but like Ted said, it’s really hard not to get emotional about it. Glad that Greengrass treated the subject matter with care, I haven’t got around to seeing Bloody Sunday either. Thanks Dave.

  4. PrairieGirl

    Thanks for the background surrounding that day. I remember ticking off in my mind where all my friends and relatives were at the time, and when it came to my brother-in-law I discovered he was on a plane over the Atlantic returning home from a visit to Nigeria when the planes hit the tower. The captain told them they were being diverted, but didn’t say why. They had to land in Gander, Newfoundland, and he was stuck in a school gym with a cot for four days.
    In fact, there’s a book (The Day the World Came to Town by Jim DeFede) about how the people in this small Canadian town reached out to everyone on the planes that had to land there, even the struggle about how best to care for all the pets that were onboard. If you want to see a more positive side of the tragedy, this book is encouraging:

    1. Oh my, I didn’t know your brother in-law was on the plane at the time. That must’ve been nerve-wracking for all the people waiting for him. That day everything seemed to shut down, and of course traveling’s never been the same after that.

      I’ll check out that book, sounds interesting. Yeah, it’s not just the darkness that we should remember but the personal and human triumphs that happen in respond to it.

  5. This was a wonderful read, Ruth. Such a sad day in America’s history. Every time I see the Twin Towers in an old film, my thoughts shift to that tragic day.

    Glad to hear the Tribeca Film Festival is helping the economy. It’s great to see art being able to contribute to the community like that.

    1. Thanks Josh. I think that’s why studios remove the images of the Twin Towers as it’d take people away from the story. Yeah, it’s very cool about TriBeCa, I’d love to attend that film fest one day!

  6. What a beautiful article, Ruth. I appreciate your perspective, especially your sharing your experience as an immigrant to America.

    I was fortunate enough not to be directly affected by this tragedy, but it is still very emotional for me, especially as Sept. 11 is also the anniversary of my mom’s death.

    When I received a call from a friend saying “Turn on the T.V. — the United States is being attacked.” I thought it was a sick joke. That certainly made me very aware of how blessed I was. I’d spent my entire life in a country I was confident wasn’t vulnerable to direct attack. How many people around the world wish and pray for the luxury of being so complacent? 😦

    I definitely think it’s changed the way many of us see the world, in many ways.

    1. Oh I’m sorry to hear about your mom’s death on 9/11. I think a ‘sick joke’ was what a lot of people had in mind when they saw the Twin Towers visuals of that day. Interesting perspective there about not feeling vulnerable as we live in a relatively safe country. I think if anything this event makes us appreciate our lives and what we’ve got, I certainly never take living here for granted. Thanks Stephanie.

  7. An unforgettable day for most people who lived through 9/11. I haven’t seen any of the Hollywood movies directly concerning the event but have seen a few excellent documentaries like the ones they show on National Geographics and The History Channel. Always chilling to watch these and remember that day.

    1. Hi Castor, those are some good recommendations. I have not seen a single documentary of 9/11 but I should give ’em a shot. It’s amazing how quickly time has passed isn’t it? I felt like it just happened a few years ago.

  8. Great post! Loved how you linked 9/11 to the world of film and media in general.

    I could never claim to be personally affected by 9/11 (because there are thousands of people who lost their loved ones, or someone dear, or their work, their will to live, etc.) but I am still in shock at what happened that day. I remember I woke up to get ready for school (elementary) and the images were on the TV but I still couldn’t believe them. We didn’t do anything at school that day; everybody was in shock. It was an awful, awful day and I still makes me so sad.

    1. Thanks Fernando. I wasn’t directly affected either, but it felt personal to me. Yeah, I think a lot of people didn’t get much work done that day.

  9. Well whenever you feel like you would be ready to watch it, I highly recommend United 93. Its a masterful film. It feels completely genuine. However, I warn you that you will not be able to watch it without remembering where you were when you heard the news that day, especially since the events in the film feel like they are really happening all over again. And I think its good to remember.

    1. Sounds good, Ian, I’ll definitely give it a shot one of these days. I guess that is too be expected that all the memories from that day would come back all over again, so best not to see it so close to that date.

  10. Pingback: A Laugh and Links: TiFF, To The Wonder, Rust and Bone, Hyde Park, Sessions, Romantic Comedies, 9/11

  11. markuswelby1

    It’s really strange how this tragedy has affected film in general. I remember they pushed the opening of Schwarzenegger’s “Collateral Damage” back because it contained a bombing. I’ve also been on a Die Hard kick lately and they surely would never do something like the 3rd one again where New York is constantly under threat from a mad bomber. I also remember them removing the first “Spider-Man” teaser because a crucial shot was a helicopter webbed up between the World Trade Center towers. Probably a bunch more stuff we’re not even aware of.

    1. Hi Markus! Yeah, there probably a bunch of other movies, probably smaller ones, that never got released because of 9/11. Very true about Die Hard 3, that’s gotta hit too close to home for a lot of New Yorkers.

  12. 11 years on and when I think about how unbelievable it is, it’s still mind-boggling that it happened! If they’d put the idea of two planes flying into the WTC in a movie and then had the buildings collapse, I would have found it hard to believe.

    Didn’t know Tribeca FF was launched after 9/11. Interesting post!

  13. Paul

    I remember when it happened. In England it was after 2 o clock in the afternoon and I had just finished lunch. Back then I would go to the porch area attached to my house to work out a song or some new music on my piano. I write music and do most days and this normally happens after lunch. I’d been out there for about 10 minutes when my mum came in and said “come and have a look at this, you won’t believe it, some idiot has just flown two planes into these buildings in America” I said “what”? That’s when I came into the lounge and saw the footage playing on TV. The first thing I thought was “why is this happening”? Shortly after that the first building fell and I hoped that the majority, if not all got out of there alive. I didn’t realize this would be the worst attack on American soil, even worse than Pearl Harbour. I sat there glued to the screen for the next 24 hours trying to make sense of it. It was a terrifying day for all. God only knows how awful it must’ve been to be in New York that awful day. RIP.

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