How Does 'White House Down' Compare to 'Olympus Has Fallen'?

How Does 'White House Down' Compare to 'Olympus Has Fallen'?

Jun 28, 2013

What do you do when two movies about terrorists taking over the White House are released within months of each other? You obsessively compare them in every way, of course. Olympus Has Fallen was a surprise hit earlier this year, but with White House Down in theaters now it's time to see how the two films measure up when placed side by side. It's time to compare these films in ways both significant and superficial, to see which of these two seemingly identical movies is better. 

Channing Tatum vs.Gerard Butler. Jamie Foxx vs. Aaron Eckhart. Roland Emmerich vs. Antoine Fuqua. Let the showdown begin!


The Down-on-His Luck Hero

Olympus Has Fallen: Gerard Butler stars as Mike Banning, a disgraced Secret Service agent who saved the president's life but let his wife die in the process. Now assigned to the Treasury, he spends his days toiling away in obscurity... until terrorists attack the White House and he finds himself the last good guy standing on the inside. Manning proceeds to kill everything that moves with Steven Seagal-esque efficiency for the next few hours.

White House Down: Channing Tatum stars as John Cale, a Capitol police officer who has been nothing but disappointing to his young political junkie daughter. His solution? Take her to the White House so she can see the sights while he interviews for a job with the Secret Service. Of course, his timing couldn't be worse and soon terrorists have seized the building. Cale proceeds to run away from explosions, yell into radios, wisecrack and look really good in a wifebeater for the next few hours.

Winner: White House Down

There's no denying that Gerard Buter is cool in an unstoppable '80s action hero kind of way, but Channing Tatum's goofy-but-noble everyman is so much more entertaining. He's no John McClane, but he's the closest we've seen to a true blue-collar, cut-him-and-he-bleeds action hero in quite some time.


The Noble President

Olympus Has Fallen: President Benjamin Asher, played by Aaron Eckhart, is a bit of a grump. Of course you would be too if your wife died in the first five minutes of the movie. We don't get a look at too many of his actual policies or beliefs (Olympus Has Fallen deftly sidesteps politics at any given opportunity), but we definitely understand that he's meant to be one of those saintly movie presidents. However, he's also a monumentally stupid man who makes a series of unforgivable decisions once he's held by the terrorists.

White House Down: President James Sawyer, played by Jamie Foxx, is a bit of a badass. Inspired by his Abraham Lincoln obsession/fetish, he plans to make big, lasting changes to the world, even if it means only getting one term. To give you an idea, much of the movie revolves around his plan to pull every soldier out of the Middle East as part of a lasting peace agreement. When his home is invaded, he fights alongside John Cale to take back the White House and win the day.

Winner: White House Down

It's kind of amazing that White House Down is a buddy-cop movie where one of the buddy cops is the president of the United States. That alone is kind of amazing. However, there's one scene that makes this 100% win for President Sawyer. At key moments in both films, the president is tasked with weighing one life against the lives of millions. Let's just say that President Asher makes the wrong choice and President Sawyer proves himself a fictional politician worthy of your vote and admiration.

The Useless Vice President

Olympus Has Fallen: Held hostage alongside the president and his cabinet, Vice President Charlie Rodriguez is a total nonentity who doesn't contribute anything to the plot beyond being a bargaining chip for the terrorists. 

White House Down: Put in charge of the country when the president goes AWOL inside his own home, Vice President Hammond is a crotchety old white guy who doesn't contribute anything to the plot beyond making a series of colossal and monumentally stupid decisions that threaten the lives of everyone.

Winner: White House Down 

In terms of who ultimately offers more to the movie, White House Down's second in command wins. In terms of which one actually appears to be a slightly capable politician, Olympus Has Fallen is superior (but by default, really).


The Shockingly Important Speaker of the House

Olympus Has Fallen: With the president and the vice president held by terrorists, it's up to Speaker of the House Trumbull to lead the country and rescue its commander in chief. This is a paper-thin character who offers almost no real substance other than being a figure of authority who Gerard Butler can yell at over his radio, but the casting of the great Morgan Freeman elevates the character from "boring old guy" to "holy sh*t, I love me some Morgan Freeman!"

White House Down: While the vice president coordinates things from Air Force One, Speaker of the House Raphelson (Richard Jenkins) works with the military and the Secret Service on the ground floor of the Pentagon, helping to figure out how the heck they can take the White House back. Although he's certainly not a deep or complex character, he has a surprising amount of sway on the plot and ends up proving vital to more than a few key moments in the film.

Winner: White House Down

Asking to choose if you prefer Morgan Freeman or Richard Jenkins is like asking if you prefer God or your best friend who saved your life back in the day and lent you $10,000 so you could keep your house. Both are incredible actors who elevate fairly simple roles in these films. However, White House Down ultimately takes this category because Jenkins has so much more to do, contributing to the film in deeper, weirder ways.


The Big Bad

Olympus Has Fallen: Rick Yune is Kang, a terrorist who wants to reunite North and South Korea by force (while, you know, destroying America for personal reasons). He's not a particularly deep or interesting villain, but Gerard Butler's deliberately simple action hero doesn't really need a complicated adversary -- he just needs someone menacing to kill.

White House Down: On paper, Jason Clarke's Stenz is as simple and shallow as villains get. A former special ops guy left out in the cold by his government, he wants revenge and so on and so forth. However, the key to the character's success is the casting of Clarke, an incredible actor who looks ready to snap and kill everyone at his most calm.

Winner: White House Down

Neither bad guy will win any points for originality, but Clarke manages to elevate something uninteresting while Yune doesn't. When Butler and Yune have a big fight, there's no doubt that the heroic superman will win. When Channing Tatum fights Clarke, you can't help but think that crazy looking guy from Zero Dark Thirty may come out on top.


The Traitorous Jerk

Olympus Has Fallen: Dylan McDermott plays Forbes, a former Secret Service agent who betrays his country for financial gain and because he's eeevil. There is never a particularly great reason for this character to go Benedict Arnold on his president, but he's played with such wonderful sleaze by McDermott that we can just accept that he's a traitor because he's a real son of a bitch. No other reason needed.

White House Down: James Woods plays Walker, the head of the president's security detail, who is just about to retire when he orchestrates the takeover of the White House. Unlike his fellow attackers, he isn't driven by greed or vengeance, but by personal reasons that are as insane as they are understandable. In fact, his full motivation is kept a mystery for much of the film and its revelation ups the stakes of the third act in a pretty significant way. 

Winner: White House Down

Although it's easy to treasure McDermott's sleazy performance, Woods' nutty performance and even nuttier character are the clear winner in this showdown.

The Anonymous Henchmen

Olympus Has Fallen: The bad guy's anonymous henchmen are just that -- anonymous.

White House Down: Taking a page from the first Die Hard film, many of the villainous henchmen are giving just enough lines and just enough personality to leave an impression. You may not get to know them like you would a major character, but you get just enough of sketch to appreciate the bizarre collection of personalities assembled here.

Winner: White House Down. Duh.


The Implausible Hacker

Olympus Has Fallen: An emotionless female hacker works robotically to break through the necessary security firewalls to access the United States' nuclear arsenal and trigger armageddon.

White House Down: A goofy, foppish hacker works with the subtlety of a fireworks demonstration to break through the necessary security firewalls to access the United States' nuclear arsenal for mysterious reasons.

Winner: We'll give it to White House Down and the hacker who has a little character.

The Secret Service Support

Olympus Has Fallen: While Gerard Butler is on the ground and getting his hands dirty, Angela Bassett's Secret Service director sits in a remote location and gives him the intel he needs to survive and save the day.

White House Down: While Channing Tatum is on the ground and getting his hands dirty, Maggie Gyllenhaal's Secret Service agent sits in a remote location and gives him the intel he needs to survive and save the day.

Winner: It's a tie!

Who do you prefer, a Gyllenhaal or a Bassett? They're both pretty much the same character, so this one is a tie.


The Child in Peril

Olympus Has Fallen: President Asher's precocious son gets lost in the terrorist-infested White House, forcing Gerard Butler to go out his way to save him before the bad guys capture him and use him as leverage against the president.

White House Down: John Cale's precocious daughter gets lost in the terrorist-infested White House, forcing Channing Tatum's heroic cop to frequently choose between rescuing the president and rescuing his adorable spawn.

Winner: White House Down

The son in Olympus Has Fallen is little more than a plot point, acting as another objective on the list of everything Gerard Butler has to do to win the day. The daughter in Olympus Has Fallen is not only an important, major character, she is instrumental is helping save the day. Once again, White House Down takes this one.


The Assault on the White House (and the Reason for It)

Olympus Has Fallen: After a heavily armed plane opens fire across Washington D.C., a small army of terrorists make use of the distracted law enforcement to literally march across the White House's front lawn en masse, taking heavy casualties but ultimately commandeering the building by sheer force. Ultimately, the goal of the attack is to force the immediate removal of U.S. forces from South Korea and then initiate nuclear devastation on American soil.

White House Down: After a terrifying bombing sends the Capitol Building crumbling to the ground, a small team of elite former soldiers and mercenaries remove their maintenance-man disguises and quietly take control of the mostly evacuated White House. The reason for the assault varies from person to person, ranging from financial gain to personal vengeance to something far more sinister.

Winner: Olympus Has Fallen

Neither scenario feels even remotely plausible, but each of them has their own merits. The attack on the White House in Olympus Has Fallen feels like something out of a horror movie, emphasizing the death toll and the collateral damage. The smaller-scale assault in White House Down is a capable sequence, but the best stuff is yet to come. Olympus Has Fallen takes this one.


The Underground Bunker and What Lies Within

Olympus Has Fallen: The top-secret, supposedly impenetrable bunker underneath the White House is home to a supercomputer called Cerberus, which allows its user access to the nation's nuclear fail-safes. Also, much of the film takes place in this little room as the bad guys attempt to hack their way into the computer and the president and his staff sit helplessly nearby.

White House DownThe top-secret, supposedly impenetrable bunker underneath the White House is home to an unnamed supercomputer, which allows its user access to that nation's nuclear launch codes. Not much of the film takes place here, but the above-mentioned flamboyant hacker earns plenty of laughs whenever the film cuts to him hard at work.

Winner: Olympus Has Fallen

Because the bunker in Olympus Has Fallen houses an all-powerful computer with a goofy name, it handily outdoes White House Down in this category.



The Action

Olympus Has Fallen: After the frightening initial assault, the action in Olympus Has Fallen gets progressively smaller, with Gerard Butler engaging in a lot of one-on-one firefights and fistfights to the death. The film's budget is noticeably smaller than its chief competition here, which means the action is simple, straightforward and competently (but not spectacularly) shot.

White House Down: This is a big, expensive movie made by a director with a ridiculous amount of experience directing absurd action. The result is the rare modern action movie that somehow manages to top each action scene with the next one. Cleanly shot and inventively staged, White House Down is a filled with spectacular, meat-and-potatoes action that is a wonderful change of pace from all of the cataclysmic superhero action we've been seeing in other movies lately.

Winner: White House Down

Olympus Has Fallen has plenty of perfecting entertaining action, but White House Down has enough terrific, silly action for three movies.


The Humor

Olympus Has Fallen: Do you like your action movies impossibly grim and sullen? Then Olympus Has Fallen is the movie for you! While there's nothing necessarily wrong with a movie being completely humorless, the sheer amount of goofy stuff that we're asked to take completely serious can be a little overwhelming. What's wrong with an over-the-top action movie cracking a smile here and there?

White House Down: This is the goofiest movie of the year and it knows it. White House Down always seems to have a sly grin on its face, asking you to laugh along as the film to gets increasingly ludicrous. You can see it in the performances, too. The ever-charismatic Channing Tatum is frequently hilarious and Jamie Foxx is the perfect straight man for his frequently exasperated character. Even the bad guys get in on the laughs, with James Woods hamming it up to 11.

Winner: White House Down wants you to laugh. Olympus Has Fallen doesn't. For some, that's totally fine and perfectly fair, but when it comes to this category, that's a clear win for White House Down.



The Use of the White House

Olympus Has Fallen: Once the initial assault has been completed, it's easy to forget that Olympus Has Fallen actually takes place in the White House. The entire building is presented as a series of dark hallways and concrete rooms, with little attention paid to setting the action in unique and interesting environments. This could be a budgetary issue more than a creative issue, but it certainly shows.

White House Down: On the other hand, White House Down revels in reminding you that everything is taking place in a historic building with hundreds of rooms. The film takes place across the entire building, moving the action from offices to bedrooms to kitchens to dining rooms to press rooms to both lawns to the swimming pool to the tennis court to the parking garage to the... well, you get the point. By opening up the scope of what the White House offers, White House Down is able to make each action scene unique by building it around a different distinct location.

Winner: White House Down. By a landslide.


The Overall Film

Olympus Has Fallen: Olympus Has Fallen is fine. It has its fair share moments, but it's a small film with small ambitions. It'll scratch certain specific itches for certain specific action fans (it really is the best Steven Seagal film ever made that doesn't star Steve Seagal), but it brings nothing new to table.

White House Down: To be fair, White House Down also doesn't bring anything new to the table, but it's so big and slick and fun that it's forgivable. It's a crowd-pleaser, the kind of movie that feels like it was made to be accompanied by the sound of popcorn munching. At the risk of sounding like generic praise that you'd find splashed across a TV spot, it really is a blast.

Winner: White House Down

White House Down is one of the most entertaining films of the summer. I would've forgotten that Olympus Has Fallen even exists if I weren't assigned to write this article.

Categories: Features, Geek, In Theaters
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