Whether it’s the setting for a dramatic conversation, intense action sequences or capturing stunning views, filmmakers are among those who recognize the importance of roofs in our lives.
In honor of National Roofing Week — the National Roofing Contractors Association’s annual initiative highlighting the significance of roofs and the roofing industry — RC is taking a look at 10 scenes from famous movies where the roof (or roofs) became the setting for memorable and iconic scenes.
WARNING: Spoilers ahead!
1. “Skyfall” (2012)
The latest installments of the James Bond franchise ramped up the action, proof of which is found in “Skyfall.” In the opening, Bond chases down a mercenary in Istanbul who has a hard drive containing information about undercover agents. Both Bond and the mercenary end up on motorcycles and precariously driving on top of tile roofs.
Fittingly, the film’s ending includes a rooftop scene, with Bond standing on a roof gazing at the skyline while he and his partner from the opening scene (revealed to be Moneypenny) converse about the future. The film won multiple awards and is the only Bond movie to gross over $1 billion worldwide.
2. “The Matrix” (1999)
“The Matrix” is one of the most influential sci-fi movies thanks to its reality-bending special effects and crazy fight scenes. Perhaps the most memorable scene, though, is during a rooftop fight where the heroes, Neo and Trinity, encounter one of the dangerous agents sent to kill them. The agent attempts to gun down Neo, but he miraculously dodges the bullets, allowing Trinity to kill the agent.
Technically, the now-iconic “bullet time” segment wasn’t filmed on a real roof. Filmmakers shot the slow-motion, bullet-dodging segment using green screens and digitally re-created the rooftop.
3. “The Shawshank Redemption” (1994)
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One of the most famous rooftop scenes in film belongs to “The Shawshank Redemption.” In it, protagonist Andy Dufresne and some other inmates at the Shawshank State Penitentiary are tasked with tarring a roof using mops. During the grueling task, Dufresne overhears the guard captain complaining about being taxed on an inheritance, and offers to help him legally keep it tax-free. In return, he asks the captain to buy beers for the inmates tarring the roof.
It’s a dramatic scene, which shifts from Dufresne nearly being thrown from the roof to Morgan Freeman’s epic narration explaining Dufresne’s generosity for his hard-working inmates.
4. “King Kong” (1933)
Even if you’ve never seen this classic movie, you’re undoubtedly familiar with its famous climax. In it, Kong, the massive gorilla, scales the Empire State Building with an abducted actress. He fights off airplane attacks on the skyscraper’s roof until succumbing to their gunfire and falling to his death.
The film is considered one of the 100 greatest American films by the American Film Institute. The 2005 remake recreates the scene using computer-generated imagery in place of stop-motion animation.
5. “Die Hard” (1988)
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Now considered one of the greatest action movies and possibly the best Christmas movie, “Die Hard” features amazing stunts, including one filmed on the roof of the Fox Plaza, portrayed as the Nakatomi Plaza in the movie.
Having fought off multiple bad guys, NYPD Detective John McClane heads to the roof where hostages were forced to relocate. The villains wired the roof to blow up, so McClane fires his gun into the air to scare the hostages back inside. FBI agents in a helicopter mistake McClane for a terrorist and fire on him, and to escape them and the ensuing explosion, he uses a fire hose to leap off the roof and re-enter the building through a window.
6. “The Hangover” (2009)
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This comedy about a wild bachelor party going horribly wrong is mostly devoid of rooftops — with the exception of the film’s intro and climax. In the beginning, the groom and his three friends head to the roof of the Caesars Palace in Las Vegas and have a few drinks. The friends wake up the next day to discover the groom is missing and they have no memory of the prior night.
During a conversation at the film’s climax, a character mentions how someone who takes roofies will end up on the floor rather than the roof. This triggers a memory in another character of where to find their missing friend. They head to the Caesars Palace to find the groom sunburned and trapped on the roof.
7. “Ghostbusters” (1984)
“Ghostbusters” became a cultural phenomenon thanks to its blend of comedy, horror, action and memorable performances. Scenes like trapping the gross Slimer while trashing a fancy hotel are memorable, but the final battle that takes place atop the transformed roof of a New York City apartment building is fantastic.
At the top of the building, the Ghostbusters encounter a portal to another dimension where they confront Gozer, a demigod of destruction. In the ensuing battle, they famously battle the gigantic Stay Puft Marshmallow Man and “cross the streams” of their proton packs to close the portal and save the day.
8. “Sleepless in Seattle” (1993)
The romantic comedy featuring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan received a ton of nominations and four awards for its entertaining story about Sam and Annie, who fall in love despite living on opposite ends of the country.
After hearing Sam on a radio show, Annie writes a letter to Sam suggesting the two of them meet on the roof of the Empire State Building. After multiple missed opportunities for Sam and Annie to meet, Sam and his son end up on the building’s observation deck at night. In what seems like yet another missed moment, Annie arrives just as they’re leaving, but love wins in the end when the two finally unite.
9. “The Bourne Ultimatum” (2007)
The Bourne series is packed with action, inventive fights and intrigue, including a tense scene in “The Bourne Supremacy” where the highly-skilled spy Jason Bourne questions the head of the CIA via phone while watching her from the roof of the next-door building.
One of the more memorable sequences from the series is found in “The Bourne Ultimatum.” In it, Bourne leaps from one roof to the next and dashes through people's homes, both in an attempt to elude local authorities as well as catch up to his colleague to save her from a hit man. The chase ends with a thrilling leap through a window.
10. “Batman” (1989)
It’d be a crime to not include at least one superhero film on this list. While there are many heroes to choose from, thanks to their habit of fighting crime from atop roofs, Batman is among the most iconic.
Sure, there are multiple roof scenes in Christopher Nolan’s “Dark Knight” trilogy, such as the Batmobile driving on rooftops. But nothing compares to the opening scene in Tim Burton’s 1989 film when Batman confronts two thugs who just robbed a family. He dangles one from the roof’s edge, and when the frightened criminal asks “What are you?” we get the classic line: “I’m Batman.”
There are plenty of other movies out there that weren’t covered in this list. Let us know in the comments below or email Chris Gray at firstname.lastname@example.org and share your favorite rooftop movie scenes.
Editor Art Aisner contributed to this article.