Top 10 Architecture Thrillers Not To Be Missed

From Silent Movies to Science Fiction Classics

illustration, shades of grey skyscrapers, red letter film title within buildings
Movie poster by Boris Konstantinovich Bilinsky of "Metropolis" Directed by Fritz Lang, 1926. Photo by Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images (cropped)

There's nothing like the big screen to capture big buildings. Here are our favorite flicks that take place in or around skyscrapers and famous buildings. Some of these movies are cinematic masterpieces and others are just for fun, but they all combine architecture with edge-of-your-seat adventure.

Directed by Fritz Lang, this silent film classic interprets Le Corbusier's plans for the future, imagining a mile-high city built by slaves. For this DVD version, producer Giorgio Moroder cranked up the pacing, restored the tints, and added a rock and disco soundtrack. 1926

The 1992 Director's Cut edition of Blade Runner enhanced the 1982 original, but the 2007 Final Cut is said to be director Ridley Scott's last take—until the next one. In a futuristic Los Angeles, a retired cop (Harrison Ford) pursues a murderous android. Some scenes were filmed inside the Ennis-Brown house by Frank Lloyd Wright.

Adapted from Ayn Rand's bestselling potboiler, The Fountainhead combines architecture with drama, romance, and sex. Gary Cooper plays the now iconic character of Howard Roark, an idealistic architect who refuses to create buildings that violate his aesthetic values. Patricia Neal is his passionate lover, Dominique. The Roark persona is often said to be modeled after the real-life lover-architect Frank Lloyd Wright.

An aging thief (Sean Connery) becomes enmeshed with a beautiful insurance agent (Catherine Zeta-Jones). The real stars of this film are the Petronas Twin Towers (1999) in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. 

An architect (Paul Newman) and a fire chief ( Steve McQueen) race to rescue the occupants of a burning San Francisco skyscraper, which is touted as the "world's tallest building." 

Who could forget the sight of the giant gorilla clinging to the top of the Empire State Building, his furry hand grasping the terrified Fay Wray? America's favorite skyscraper heightens the drama and brings a sense of scale to the monster movie classic. Forget the remakes; get the original, made in 1933.

When a dozen international terrorists take over a Los Angeles high-rise, a tough New York cop (Bruce Willis) saves the day. The Fox Plaza in Los Angeles plays the part of the doomed Nakatomi Building, overrun with terrorists. Just remember—knowing the ins and outs of a high-rise office building proves valuable when fighting terrorism.

A rising black architect (Wesley Snipes) has an adulterous affair with a working class Italian-American (Annabella Sciorra) in present-day New York—which just goes to show that architecture isn't all science and math. Directed by Spike Lee. 

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (silent, with music track) is a must-have for anyone who is serious about studying the relationship between film and architecture. In this German Expressionist masterpiece, the evil Dr. Caligari (Werner Krauss) hypnotizes an innocent villager to commit murder. Director Robert Wiene set the eerie tale in a surreal world of twisted angles and contorted buildings. 

Before there were safety codes on movie sets, before there were pyrotechnic specialists to control explosions, and before computers digitalized catastrophes and Armageddon there was Harold Lloyd. Arguably as brilliant as Charlie Chaplin and as funny as Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd was the third leg of the silent comedic film stool.

Often called the "King of Daredevil Comedy," Lloyd was known to transverse the iron beams of a high-rise building, always doing his own stunts. Architecture became a tool for his adventures. He would fall from structures only to bounce on awnings or hang onto the hands of a clock. His film "Safety Last!" is a classic, which laid the foundation for all action adventure movies that followed. 

But Wait, There's More!

Want more? For serious viewing, see our roundup of award-winning documentary movies about architecture and movies about architects.