9/11 anniversary: How Hollywood covered September 11 attacks and its aftermath

Hollywood has been careful about the way it portrayed 9/11 and its impact on screen (Picture: Rex)

In the 20 years after the Twin Towers were struck by two planes on the 9/11 terror attacks, the events of that fateful day have been explored in a number of ways by Hollywood and TV.

Widely regarded a tragedy that changed the world forever, the events of Septmeber 11, 2001 saw four al-Qaida terrorists hijack four planes and kill almost 3,000 people.

The attack in New York, as well as two other attacks in Virginia and Pennsylvania a short time later, sent shockwaves around the world as many watched live footage in horror.

Naturally, numerous movies, TV shows and documentaries about the devastating event – and all that has happened after – have been released in the years that followed.

However, the projects have been met with mixed responses by audiences as the different attempts to retell the ordeal and the aftermath caused varying reactions.

The Septemeber 2001 attacks have inspired several TV shows, films and documentaries (Picture: Henny Ray Abrams/AFP via Getty Images)

New York City was transformed in the immediate days after the 9/11 attacks, putting a halt to production plans and causing studios to immediately rethink the making and release of several projects.

The film industry felt it was best to keep the topic off-limits and the release dates of Collateral Damage (a film about the firefighter losing his family to a terrorist attack) and Big Trouble (a comedy about an airport bomb scare) got pushed to 2002.

Elsewhere, Adam Sandler’s plans for a film about a Muslim terrorist got put on the back burner before it was eventually repackaged as You Don’t Mess with the Zohan, which was about an Israeli counterterrorist commando who changed jobs to become a hairstylist.

The impact of 9/11 on television

Homeland is one of the most successful shows based on life after the terror attacks (Picture: Moviestore/REX/Shutterstock)

The TV industry first broached the sensitive topics, with Law & Order being one of the first series’ to incorporate the events into its Season 12 plot.

Elsewhere, South Park’s first episode to air in 2001 after the attack revolved around America’s invasion of Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, The West Wing creator Aaron Sorkin also wrote a special episode about a fictional terrorist attack that aired just three weeks after September 11.

There were many more nods to the tragedy before 2011 saw the premiere of Homeland, one of the most successful shows clearly set in a post-9/11 world.

The series, which starred Claire Danes and Damian Lewis, followed a bipolar CIA operative after she becomes convinced a prisoner of war has been turned by al-Qaeda and is secretly planning to carry out a terrorist attack on American soil.

The critically-acclaimed drama started off mirroring the themes of paranoia and terrorist threats present in the US in the years following the attack, winning several Golden Globes and Emmy awards during its run.

The impact of 9/11 on films

Films such as Zero Dark Thirty took time to question the U.S. government’s response in the years that followed (Picture: REX/Shutterstock)

Filmmakers tentatively began to cover the terror attacks in 2006 with a mixture of attempts trying to contextualize the events, framing the day as something the world could learn and heal from.

Director Paul Greengrass chose to tell the story of the United Airlines flight that was aiming to crash into the White House on September 11 in his film, United 93.

Attempting to be as historically accurate as possible, the tense plane drama revealed how passengers took control back from hijackers and crashed into a field instead of its intended target of the U.S. Capitol.

That same year, noted Vietnam War veteran and movie director Oliver Stone released the flick, World Trade Center.

His film focused on the men and women who first responded to the 9/11 terror attacks, including two U.S. Marine Corps veterans that saved police officers that got trapped when building seven collapsed.

The project wasn’t without scandal after it revealed that William Mapother, who was white, had been playing Marine Corps vet Jason Thomas, who was actually a Black man.

United 93 was one of the first films to attempt to retell the story of events that took place on the day (Picture: Universal/Kobal/Rex/Shutterstock)

In 2007, Mike Binder and Adam Sandler released their moving film, Reign Over Me, which saw Sandler play a broken man who lost his wife and daughter on 9/11 and was spiraling into an out-of-control depression.

The focus on the emotional impact of the day continued in 2011 with Stephen Daldry’s adaptation of the Jonathan Safron Foer novel, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.

The powerful drama, starring Tom Hanks, followed a young child who lost his father in the 9/11 attacks. It landed two Oscar nominations.

Elsewhere, The Hurt Locker (2008) actually bagged the Oscar for Best Picture for the flick which followed an Iraq War Explosive Ordnance Disposal team who were targeted by insurgents, with a focus on their psychological reactions to the stress of combat.

The film’s director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal landed critical acclaim again in 2012 when they teamed up for another movie titled Zero Dark Thirty.

Starring Jessica Chastain, the flick chronicled the decade-long hunt for al-Qaeda terrorist leader Osama bin Laden after the September 2001 attacks, and his death at the hands of the Navy S.E.A.L.s Team 6 in May 2011.

The project questioned why American leaders didn’t give forces on the ground full authority to pursue Osama bin Laden sooner.

The terror attacks even played a surprising part in romantic drama such as Remember Me (Picture: Summit Entertainment/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock)

Not all films focused on the emotional impact of the event as some tried to lightly poke fun at the way paranoia swept the globe following the attacks.

Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay’s release in 2008 followed the best friends as they’re detained and sent to Guantanamo Bay, after a fellow plane passenger mistakes Kumar’s bong for a bomb.

Elsewhere, the terror attacks also played a major – and unexpected – part in several romantic dramas such as Dear John, which saw Channing Tatum and Amanda Bynes’ characters struggle with a long-distance relationship after he relists in the army due to 9/11.

That same year, audiences had a mixed reaction when the shock twist ending of Robert Pattinson’s seemingly standard romance flick, Remember M, culminated in the September 11 attacks.

In recent explorations of the tragedy, more focus has been put on some of the U.S. government’s treatment of suspects and questionable military tactics.

The Mauritanian (2021) follows the story of Mohamedou Ould Slahi, a man who was held at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp for 14 years without formal charges because he was suspected of being a recruiter for al-Qaeda.

Slahi’s best-selling memoir was adapted by director Kevin Macdonald with an unforgiving portrayal of the way Guantanamo prisoners were treated and tortured.

9/11 in documentaries

Michael Moore (Picture: Gregg DeGuire/WireImage)

For all the fictional big-screen efforts and TV series, filmmakers have been able to explore 9/11 the most efficiently with documentaries.

Faring better with audience response, Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 was praised for touching on the sensitive subject when it was released in 2004.

Many argue it sparked a wave of new interest in documentaries, with all aspects of the terror attacks’ impact being explored.

In 2006, Dixie Chicks: Shut Up and Sing was released and commented on how opposing the United States’ decision to launch wars in Afghanistan and Iraq was a risky position to take.

It certainly affected the country music career of the Dixie Chicks, after singer Natalie Maines criticized President George W. Bush during a concert.

The criticism led to major backlash, which led documentarians Barbara Kopple and Cecilia Peck to follow the band, now known as the Chicks, as they faced hatred from their fan base – highlighting a growing tension in America.

Director Spike Lee’s docuseries, NYC Epicenters 9/11→2021½, has faced backlash for including conspiracy theorists (Picture: HBO Max)

Elsewhere, 2013’s Out Of The Clear Blue Sky looked focused on the firm Cantor Fitzgerald, whose offices on the top five floors of the North Tower of the World Trade Center were destroyed in the attacks.

Although his firm lost more than 600 employees in the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Cantor Fitzgerald CEO Howard Lutnick became a veritable pariah within weeks of the tragedy.

The reflective project took the time to explore how a company could continue to do business when all of its infrastructure and more than two-thirds of its workforce were wiped out in a single day.

More: US TV news

More recently, director Spike Lee’s docuseries, NYC Epicenters 9/11→2021½, explores events that have occurred in New York City and has made headlines for including interviews with ‘9/11 truthers’.

The final episode of the series, to be shown on September 11, reportedly includes Architects and Engineers for 9/11 Truth, a conspiracy group that believes the debunked theory that the terrorist attack occurred as the result of controlled demolition.

As attitudes and beliefs about the fateful day continue to change, it feels safe to say there are still many stories for Hollywood to tell about the attacks that forever shaped the world.

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