Top 5 “deserted city” scenes in film

Written by deputydog

there’s a relatively easy way to give the audience a chill during a film: slip in a shot of a deserted city centre, a city centre that’s notoriously busy in real-life, the scene preferably culminating in the camera panning out to prove the crew didn’t just manage to clear 10ft of road for 5 seconds.

it’s a guaranteed talking point. look at vanilla sky: the film was bordering on atrocious but the one thing that always gets mentioned (apart from cameron crowe losing his grip) is the ‘how the fuck did they manage to clear times square?’ bit. if i was a director i’d have a deserted city scene in every film, regardless of the movie’s plot.

here are my 5 favourite goosebump inducing ’empty’ scenes.

5. philadelphia – twelve monkeys, 1995 (imdb)

the opening shot of terry gilliam’s top-notch ‘twelve monkeys’ is superb, bruce willis’ character coming above ground in a post-apocalyptic philadelphia to be faced with a world deserted but for wild animals roaming the streets. gilliam’s crew were given a corner of the city hall to work with, built a lip around the area to hide surrounding traffic and added snow to make it feel ‘more desolate’.

4. los angeles – omega man, 1971 (imdb)

‘omega man’ was the 2nd film based on the novel ‘i am legend’, the 1st being ‘last man on earth’ and the 3rd being ‘i am legend’, to be released in a few weeks. after coming to terms with the fact that a huge set would be too costly the producer realised prior to filming that l.a. was surprisingly quiet early in the day at weekends so all of the deserted city scenes were shot at that time of the week. the scene below even includes a pan-out for added despair and the echoes of ringing payphones.

3. madrid – abre los ojos, 1997 (imdb)

the gran via in madrid was completely closed off to film the scene below, the inspiration for vanilla sky’s big budget version in times square. it may not have the flashing billboards and an a-list star to run down the street like a maniac but the street’s architecture more than makes up for it. this clip is actually the first 10 minutes of the film, the initial 3-4 minutes being the ‘deserted’ section.

2. manhattan – vanilla sky, 2001 (imdb)

this remake of ‘open your eyes’ was largely disappointing, this scene being the best part of it. the crew were given 3 hours to shoot the times square sequence early on a sunday morning and crowe was determined not to use cg to remove any signs of life. the whole process included lenghty discussions with the new york mayor’s office, the new york film commission and the police department. the result is incredible.

1. london – 28 days later, 2002 (imdb)

it took 6 days to shoot the ‘deserted’ sections of this brilliant film on mini-dv cameras, the crew only able to get permission to close off entire streets in london for minutes at a time, and the effort was worth it. for the empty motorway scenes, they even managed to persuade the traffic police to close off a 10 mile stretch of the m1 for a very short period of time. warning: the clip below has been subjected to a shit soundtrack by the youtube user. turn the volume down.

sources: 1, 2, 3

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