The ten best scene-stealing structures

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1 HAMLET, Laurence Olivier, 1948

1 HAMLET, Laurence Olivier, 1948

Olivier really succeeded in bringing the castle in the film to life. He later made fun of himself and said that he got carried away with these long tracking shots up the stairs and through the passage ways. But viewing it as a child, it was magical. It gave a foreboding sense of the inside of the castle, which in some ways was like the entrapment of Hamlet's own mind.

2 THE FOUNTAINHEAD, King Vidor, 1949

This is a tricky film to make, as it was a tricky book. It tells the story from the position of architect as hero, and while the heroic stance may seem a little bit laughable today, some of what he says in the film rang true with what I saw while making My Architect. One of the quotes that really stands out in a movie that is full of kicker lines is, "A building has integrity, just like a man, and just as seldom." It's a terrific line to me and I quite agree with it. The film captures some of the intense struggle that is an architect's life.

3 DIE HARD, John McTiernan, 1988

This film was produced by Joel Silver who is a true champion of architecture in America, and his love of architecture really comes out in the movie. The film is very innovative in creating an interior atmosphere, an entire suspense movie inside one building. He uses the mechanics of the building well, and there are the wonderful sequences when Bruce Willis climbs up in the elevator shaft. The building really plays a starrng role in the film.

4 METROPOLIS, Fritz Lang, 1927

This is a hugely important film for anyone making movies involving architecture. The moralistic aspect of the film doesn't hold up particularly well any more, but what does haunt you are the scenes of people stuck in a city. That seems very modern today with our concerns of attack, and being stuck in a city. Scenically he made the sense of an underground city seem very menacing. One other thing about the movie that I think is remarkable is how much the look of the skyscrapers in the exterior process shots remind one of the kind of soulless high-rises we were building in America in the Fifties and Sixties, decades after Lang made Metropolis. If only we'd looked closer at that movie, we might have avoided some of that mess!


This was later remade as The Money Pit. Watching Cary Grant doing anything is a great joy, but seeing him getting stuck in the endless complications of an inanimate object is loads of fun.

6 DAS BOOT, Wolfgang Petersen, 1981

Architects love boats, and the thing I feel very strongly about Das Boot is that Wolfgang Petersen managed to create an entire world in an architectural space. Within the film he manages to reveal human character in how the ships crew interact with the structure. When the boat sinks you feel bereft as you have fallen in love with the boat. The characters have loved the boat and so does the viewer. You love the inanimate structure as a living thing.


The same things apply to Bridge on the River Kwai. Seeing the characters building the bridge, knowing every part of it intimately and falling in love with it, the moment when it falls down at the end feels like you have just lost a friend. It comes back to the impression I have - that for great architects what they build is actually like a living being.

8 THE SHINING, Stanley Kubrick, 1980

Buildings are sometimes very threatening, as in The Shining, which is a magnificent movie and scary as hell. Kubrick managed to use vast open spaces and symmetrical shooting to terrify the viewer, and the hotel is the fourth presence in the film.

9 VERTIGO, Alfred Hitchcock, 1958

Hitchcock always used architecture very skilfully, but in Vertigo the way he managed to turn one stairway into such a focus of anxiety, guilt, death and love was pretty phenomenal. It's enormously simple but enormously affecting.

10 THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME, William Dieterle, 1939

This has an unbelievable performance from Charles Laughton, where he really is that building. It's a really powerful association. Seeing him, like a little boy lying back and kicking those bells in the belfry is something that puts man and architecture together in an unforgettable way.