With the I-95 collapse and potentially tainted drinking water in West Philly occurring on the heels of a dense haze of smoke wafting down from Canadian wildfires, being in Philadelphia last week kind of feels like living through a disaster movie.
Not that it’s a new feeling. Health officials advised residents to stay inside and wear N95 masks — which feels like an echo of the pandemic warnings of the past three years. And according to some climate change experts and environmental advocates, this is only the beginning.
The beginning of what, though? The entertainment industry has brought quite a few disastrous escapades to Philly. Here are nine fictional dystopian futures set in Philadelphia you can be glad you’re not actually living through.
‘The Day After Tomorrow’
Philadelphia is rendered frozen and uninhabitable alongside most other U.S. cities in this 2004 film. It’s based on a nonfiction book titled “The Coming Global Superstorm,” and scientists say the movie’s premise isn’t entirely unrealistic, despite a sped-up time frame. The blockbuster disaster film has Jake Gyllenhaal’s character trapped in New York City while his mother, played by Sela Ward, works in a Philly hospital on lockdown. A cinematic vehicle to warn about climate change, the movie debuted around the same time as Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth.”
‘Shazam! Fury of the Gods’
Superheroes and mythological figures battling out their personal vendettas in human form leads to disaster in Philadelphia in this 2023 movie where Citizens Bank Park and the Benjamin Franklin Bridge make cameos despite production taking place entirely in Atlanta. Zachary Levi, Rachel Zegler, Lucy Liu, Helen Mirren, Djimon Hounsou star in this fantastical sequel — the first flick was also set in Philly — that bombed at the box office.
With scenes shot at Eastern State, Reading Terminal Market, and Girard College, this 1995 post-apocalyptic classic stars Bruce Willis as a prisoner sent back in time to 1996 Philadelphia to stop the release of a deadly virus that would wipe out almost all of humanity. Does he succeed? Is Brad Pitt’s character friend or foe? This “what if?” scenario is surely something many wish we could do with COVID, stopping the pandemic before it started.
‘World War Z’
This 2013 action horror film also features a virus that incapacitates the world — and also features Brad Pitt! (Coincidence? Maybe.) It’s technically a zombie movie, with the zombification of characters occurring for seemingly scientific reasons, and Pitt’s character has to escape Philadelphia traffic with his family in order to globe trot in search of safety and a vaccine.
‘Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen’
A lot of cities around the world are highlighted and/or destroyed in this installment of the “Transformers” franchise, but Philadelphia sites seemed in particular demand. Filming on the 2009 movie took place at a defunct PECO Richmond power station, the University of Pennsylvania, Drexel University, Eastern State Penitentiary, Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia City Hall, Rittenhouse Square, historic Chancellor Street, and Wanamaker’s.
Accidental human-created tornadoes are let loose on Philadelphia and Paris by workers at a fictional Chester County solar energy company in this TV movie from 2011. It got poor ratings, but not before showing the City of Brotherly Love saved by a drone bomb fleet.
Main Line resident M. Night Shyamalan modeled this 2008 flick after 1960s paranoia films like “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” and “The Birds.” While it didn’t come close to reaching the iconic status of those movies, it did capture the fear around nature taking revenge. It also captured several Philly locales, including Walnut Street, Rittenhouse Square Park, Masterman High School, South Smedley Street, and the ‘G’ Lodge in Phoenixville.
‘Dawn of the Dead’
This 1978 George Romero classic — a sequel to the “Night of the Living Dead” original about a plague that triggers a zombie apocalypse — is centered around a Philadelphia couple and two SWAT team members as they seek shelter at a shopping mall and other real-life locations in Philly, Pittsburgh, and Monroeville.
Always Sunny ‘Storm of the Century’ episode
A hurricane threatens the city in Season 7, Episode 6 of sitcom favorite “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.” The 2011 story sends the gang into a scramble for emergency supplies and escape routes. Pretty realistic.