The Smithsonian in Movies

The Smithsonian was long been portrayed in movies ranging from sci-fi, romance, and adventure, to historical fiction. In the 1950s, sci-fi was one of the first genres to use the Smithsonian’s distinctive image. Sci-fi films such as The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) and Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (1956) utilize the Smithsonian’s buildings as backdrops for alien invasions. Space ships flew over the Smithsonian Castle and through its towers. Though Sputnik had yet to launch, space flight was on the minds of Americans and the Smithsonian was center stage for this fantasy. Later films have ranged from romances such as Chances Are to dark murder mysteries like Silence of the Lambs. The twenty-first century has seen a tremendous growth in films portraying or set at the Smithsonian. Several of these have mostly been highly entertaining, and quite successful, adventure films – hopefully reflecting a much more positive image of the Smithsonian. Perhaps the best known recent example where the Smithsonian was center stage was in Night at the Smithsonian: Battle of the Smithsonian.





Connection to the Smithsonian

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The Day the Earth Stood Still  1951 In this Sci-Fi film, Kalaatu, an alien from a planet 250 million miles away, comes to Earth to warn its people that the future of the planet is at stake. The film is set in Washington, DC, where Kalaatu attempts to contact world leaders to convey his message. Thwarted by bureaucrats, Kalaatu seeks the help of a world renowned scientist and a young mother to tell the people of Earth how they can save themselves.
1. Opening scene shows the space ship flying over the Smithsonian Castle.
2. People stand in front of the Arts and Industries Building and at the National Museum of Natural History to watch the space ship land on the Ellipse.
Earth vs. The Flying Saucers 1956 Kitschy Sci-Fi B-movie from the 1950s, where married scientists working on missiles help save the Earth from kamikaze Flying Saucers. The film was released one year before the launch of Sputnik. 1. Filmed scenes featuring theSmithsonian Castle.
2. Flying Saucers fly through the towers of the Smithsonian Castle in the trailer.
The Rescuers 1977 An animated film about two heroic mice. Miss Bianca and Bernard are members of the Rescue Aid Society, a secret organization of mice that helps anyone in need. The two mice set out on an adventure when they receive a note from Penny, an orphaned girl who has been kidnapped by the evil Madame Medusa. With the help of their friends, Miss Bianca and Bernard bravely take on the assignment to save Penny and stop Madame Medusa from stealing the world's largest diamond.
1. At the end of the film, the diamond is sent to the Smithsonian "Institute" (many films make this mistake by using the word Institute instead of Institution).
The French Lieutenant's Woman 1981 Based on a novel of the same name, film stars Anna and Mike are cast in a period drama that explores the relationship of Charles Smithson, a Victorian gentleman paleontologist, and Sarah Woodruff. The lines of fiction and reality begin to blur when the two actors begin an affair.
1. The role Charles Smithson is loosely based on James Smithson, founding donor of the Smithsonian Institution.
First Monday In October  1981 Film about two Supreme Court Justices' relationship, Dan Snow the liberal and the ultra conservative Ruth Loomis who happens to be the first female justice appointed to the Supreme Court.
1. Filmed outside theArts and Industries Building and Smithsonian Castle.
2. The Rotunda of the Arts and Industries Building was turned into a movie set.
Manhunter  1986 FBI profiler Will Graham comes out of retirement to investigate the serial killer known as the "Tooth Fairy." Not only must he face this killer, but face his past and the notorious Hannibal Lector.
1. Medical examiner Dr. Princi mentions the Smithsonian with these lines:
"This is what the subject's teeth look like. The Smithsonian in Washington reconstructed them from the impressions we took of bite marks off the Leeds woman here and off the Jacobi woman last month in Birmingham."
2. Document expert Lloyd Bowman mentions the Smithsonian in this line:
"If there's any doubt, we matched the indents of the bitemark on the note against the Smithsonian teeth. This is your boy...."
Chances Are 1989 Corrine Jefferies loses her husband on their first anniversary. Years later a young man, Alex Finch, befriends her daughter. As Alex becomes acquainted with the family he starts to have flashes of his past life. He soon discovers that he is in fact Corrine's husband reincarnated.
1. Corrine Jefferies (Cybill Shepherd) is a museum curator in charge of the First Ladies Collection at theNational Museum of American History.
2. Several scenes are with the First Ladies Collection.
3. Several shot sequences show the exterior of the Smithsonian Castle andEnid Haupt Garden.
The Silence of the Lambs  1991 Academy Award winning film in which FBI Agent Clarice Starling investigates the gruesome crimes of a serial killer known as Buffalo Bill. In order to save a Congresswoman's daughter, Starling enlists the help of the psychotic, yet genius Hannibal Lector, a professor turned serial killer known for eating his victims. 
1. The movie was not filmed at the Smithsonian but scenes were set at the Institution.
2. A Smithsonian entomologist identifies the moth found in the victims.
Star Trek: First Contact    1996 Captain Jean-Luc Picard and the crew of the Enterprisemust face a Borg threat to save the birth of the Federation.
1. Captain Jean-Luc Picard mentions the Smithsonian in this line:
"It's a boyhood fantasy...I must have seen this ship hundreds of times in the Smithsonian, but I was never able to touch it."
Amistad 1997 Africans, taken from their home, begin a mutiny aboard the slave ship Amistad traveling in 1839. When the Africans land in America they are taken captive as runaways where they will be tried for the murder. However, abolitionist lawyer, Roger Sherman Baldwin, defends the accused arguing they are free citizens of a different country, not slaves.
1. John Quincy Adams is shown sleeping through the congressional debate about James Smithson's bequest.
Note: This is unlikely because Adams was a major advocate in acquiring Smithson's bequest for the United States.



Atlantis: The Lost Empire 2001 An animated film about a young historian named Milo Thatch and his quest to find the lost city of Atlantis. Thatch, a historian working in the boiler room of a museum, believes he has the key to find Atlantis. When he is contacted by his grandfather's old friend Preston B. Whitmore, Thatch finds himself a member of an expedition team to find Atlantis. The crew sets off on a journey to find the lost city, but once it is found the real adventure begins.
1. The opening scene shows Milo's museum which is a drawing of the Smithsonian Castle.
National Treasure   2004 Legend has it that, in the years of the American Revolution, members of the Freemasons hid the world's greatest treasure for its own protection, and for years the Gates family have spent their lives searching for this treasure. After listening to these stories his whole life, Ben Gates believes he has the knowledge to follow the clues to find the treasure. With the help of an archivist and computer whiz, Gates must find the artifacts before treasure hunters find the treasure to sell to the highest bidder.
1. Ben Gates donates some of the artifacts to the Smithsonian with this line:
"Divide it amongst the Smithsonian, the Louvre, the Cairo museum...."
Get Smart  2008 Maxwell Smart, CONTROL Agent 86, is sent on his first assignment as a field operative to stop the terrorist group KAOS. Alongside Max is his more skilled and experienced partner Agent 99.
1. Several shot sequences are of the exterior of the Smithsonian.
2. The headquarters of CONTROL (a secret government agency) is located inside theNational Museum of Natural History.
3. Includes interior scene of Max walking through the Rotunda of National Museum of Natural History.
Other Bottle Shock  2008 In 1976, sommelier Steven Spurrier travels to Napa Valley to find wines for a contest called the "Judgment of Paris." Jim  Barrett, owner of Chateau Montelena vineyard, does not want to participate in the event, but his headstrong son and foreman Gustavo have something else in mind.
1. The end of movie explains that a case ofChateau Montelena's winning Chardonnaywas sent to be displayed at the National Museum of American History.
Julie and Julia   2009 Blogger Julie Powell's and chef Julia Child's life stories intertwine while the blogger attempts to cook all the recipes in Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking
1. Julie Powell visitsJulia Child's kitchen at the National Museum of American History and leaves a bar of butter behind in honor of Child's love affair with butter.
Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian   2009 In this sequel to the Night at the Museum, Security Guard Larry Daley heads to Washington, DC, to find artifacts and exhibit pieces from his museum that were accidentally sent to the Smithsonian Institution.
1. First time "Smithsonian" is allowed in the title of a feature film.
Note: Contrary to popular belief this isNOT the first time a movie was filmed in the interior of a Smithsonian museum.
3. The film uses artifacts, exhibits and notable items from Smithsonian museums.
Transformers 2 or Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen   2009 In this sequel to the blockbuster film Transformers, the Autobots (good robots) once again fight the Decepticons (bad robots) in a battle for the universe.
2. The National Air and Space Museum's Steven Udvar-Hazy Center'sSR-71 Blackbird was featured in the film as the Autobot namedJetfire.
Other The Young and Prodigious Spivet 2013 Based on the book The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet: A Novel, this is the story of young T.S. Spivet, a cartography prodigy, who is asked by the Smithsonian Institution to come and give a speech about his work.  T.S., unbeknownst to his parents, decides to attend and takes off from Montana to deliver his speech.
1. The Smithsonian asks T.S. Spivet to speak at one of its museums.
Captain America: The Winter Solider   2014 Steve Rogers, also known as Captain America, struggles to adapt to life in the modern world. However, when a powerful enemy arises, Captain America, along with S.H.E.I.L.D member Falcon and Black widow, are called into action to stop him.
1. Scenes from the movie were filmed outside the Smithsonian buildings on the National Mall.
2. The film also shot scenes inside theNational Air and Space Museum's Milestones of Flight gallery and in the area surrounding it.

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