Olympus Has Fallen and White House Down. No, those aren’t headlines referring to the end of the reign of current US President Donald Trump or reflecting on the recent riots in Washington DC. Carnage at the Capitol and violence on the streets of Washington sound like events from a movie, and no doubt they one day will be be. After all, there are a lot of movies about US Presidents, both real and fictional.
For now, we’re focusing on Olympus Has Fallen and White House Down, two action movies released in 2013. Two titles that effectively mean the same thing. Two movies that share a similar plot. The White House in jeopardy, a President in danger and a troubled hero out to save the day. So, which movie did it best? Let’s compare and contrast.
Olympus Has Fallen (OHF): Gerard Butler is our hero, as secret service agent and ex-army ranger Mike Banning. In the opening scenes, he is shown to be the President’s top man. But when tragedy strikes and he is unable to save the President’s wife following an accident he is consigned to desk duty. He could have done no more but the President won’t have him around as he is too much of a reminder of that tragic day. When the White House is attacked, he runs straight into danger to help. He manages to infiltrate the White House, communicate with the Pentagon, free the President’s son and eventually rescue the President. Not bad! All enough to earn him his old job back.
White House Down (WHD): Channing Tatum is the all-action hero this time, playing John Cale. He’s ex-army, working for the Capital Police fro the Speaker of the House and desperate to work for the Secret Service. He has a tricky relationship with his daughter, politics obsessed Emily, so takes her to the White House when he gets an interview, and stumbles into a tour party. That coincides with the terrorists arriving. He has a lot to deal with. There are crazy terrorists, hostages to think of, a President to protect and he is separated from his daughter. He has to juggle all that and work out who’s behind this plot. He handles it all with aplomb though, that’s why he’s our hero. Get’s that job with the Secret Service too!
Winner – A tie. Banning is all business. Cale has some fun. Both get results.
(OHF): Aaron Eckhart stars as President Benjamin Asher, and truth be told doesn’t have a whole lot to do. After the early loss of his wife, it is said he threw himself into the job but we get little insight into what he is like as a President. He spends the majority of the movie as a hostage, stuck in the White House bunker, watching the execution of those around him.
(WHD): Jamie Foxx is President James Sawyer and he is having a great time. When Cale prevents Sawyer being locked in the bunker they go on the run, around the White House. He’s claustrophobic, has to put his glasses on to shoot, stops to get his Jordan trainers on and is handy with a rocket launcher.
Winner – WHD – Sawyer benefits from having far more to do.
(OHF): Rick Yune stars as the chief villain, the awesomely named Kang. He’s a North Korean terrorist who gets into the White House as part of the South Korean Prime Minster’s visiting party. He executes the South Korean PM and holes up in the bunker with a lot of hostages. He wants US troops gone from the Korean peninsula so he can start another war. He didn’t count on having to face Mike Banning though.
(WHD): There is more of an ensemble threat to the villains in this one. James Wood is probably the main one. He is head of the President’s Secret Service detail but is unhappy with the President’s Middle East peace plan. He’s joined by Jason Clarke as the lead mercenary. There are conflicting motivations at play which bring added drama. Turns out the strings are actually being pulled by Speaker of the House Eli Raphelson (Richard Jenkins) who spends much of the film acting the noble politician.
Winner – A tie. Different approaches here, make it hard to split.
The Supporting Cast
(OHF): Some big names here including Morgan Freeman as Speaker of the House, and next man up, Trumbull. He tries to manage the situation from the Pentagon, joined by Robert Forster as the Army Chief of staff and Angela Bassett as the Head of the Secret Service. Radha Mitchell has a minor role as Banning’s wife. They are joined by recognisable faces such as Melissa Yeo, Dylan McDermott, Ashley Judd and Cole Hauser.
(WHD): Maggie Gyllenhaal leads the support as Secret Service agent Carol Finnerty. Outside the White House at the time of the attack, she helps coordinate the response. She’s joined in command by Lance Reddick. There are fun character roles for Kevin Rankin as a terrorist who comes dressed like Arnie in Commando, Jimmi Simpson as a hacker and Nicholas Wright as a tour guide.
Winner – WHD – OHF may have the bigger names but WHD has the greater variety of characters.
(OHF): There’s a stunning opening as the President’s motorcade spins off a snowy, icy road and topples from a bridge. Banning pulls the President out but can’t save the wife. Then comes the ground and air assault on the White House which is a non-stop barrage of gunfire. It then slows a bit. Combat is more man-to-man as Banning works his way through the White House, picking off Kang’s henchmen. Though there is a late helicopter assault when the Pentagon decide it’s time to go gung-ho. Does not go well.
(WHD): White House Down has a much slower build than Olympus, it’s a while until the attack happens. As it’s an inside job, it’s less spectacular and more efficient. There’s a lot of shooting as Cale and Sawyer try to survive and seek an escape. The highlight is a car chase around the White House Lawn, which includes a limousine and a tank. Oh and there is a late helicopter assault when the Pentagon decide it’s time to go gung-ho. Does not go well.
Winner – OHF – All action from the opening scene and it barely stops to breathe.
Reception and Legacy
(OHF): Made $170m at the box office, from a $70 budget. Just 49% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with a slightly better 6.5/10 on imdb. $100m of profit was enough to greenlight a series, with the movie followed by London Has Fallen and Angel Has Fallen. Another instalment, Night Has Fallen, was given the go-ahead in November 2020 with two further movies in development. There’s talk of a television series too.
(WHD): A box office flop, grossing $205m off of a $150 budget. Holds a 51% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes and 6.4/20 on imdb.
Winner – OHF – It’s spawned a universe!
FinalBoss Final Verdict
It’s hard to choose which is the better movie. Olympus Has Fallen is more serious and more relentless, it’s all-out action. It also earns acclaim for getting the title as a line in the movie. White House Down is a little slower, with a more-convoluted plot but it has more moments that are silly and fun. So the final verdict? I just give the edge to Olympus but if in doubt, watch both!
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