Some cities are renowned for their industries. Hollywood makes movies, Detroit makes...made cars. Others are known as hotspots for the scientific community, like Geneva. Or for the political community, like... Geneva. And in some places, there is a landmark. Such as Geneva.
A few of these landmarks, in various locations around the globe, are so well-known by so many people that they've come to function as a sort of visual shorthand for the city, sometimes the country, in which they're located to the point where some footage of the landmark in question must be portrayed on the screen, even when that landmark is irrelevant to the plot and nowhere near where the characters are supposed to be. The National Mall in Washington, DC, Westminster Palace (specifically, its clock tower housing Big Ben) in London, the Taj Mahal in India, St. Basil's Cathedral in Moscow (occasionally mistaken for the nearby Kremlin), the Sydney Opera House in Sydney... When these locations are portrayed in a film or TV show, expect numerous, panoramic establishing shots of the landmark in question. Occasionally, these landmarks will be visible out of windows or from rooftops where viewing them in real life would be geographically impossible, or in historical settings when they weren't actually built yet.
Iconic structures such as these can also function as Red Shirts. If they are ever destroyed, then circumstances have become dire indeed. Which naturally means that in a disaster movie, the landmark in question will probably be doomed to certain destruction. The remainder of the Hollywoodland sign in California and the Statue of Liberty are popular targets for CGI catastrophes. Alternatively, the structure will be one of the few things left intact After the End, either mostly undamaged, to give the characters some kind of hope for the future, or nearly collapsed, as a testament to how much has been lost.
This trope is not simply here to list various landmarks around the world, but rather instances of landmarks in fiction used as a shortcut to showing either where the action occurs or how bad things have gotten.
Can overlap with both Scenery Gorn and Scenery Porn, depending on how lovingly and lavishly the landmark in question is filmed. For instances where entire countries, or more, are represented by the landmarks of only one city, see Britain Is Only London. Compare Landmarking the Hidden Base, where a major HQ is situated inside or underneath one of these monuments; Rushmore Refacement, where they are deliberately altered; Weaponized Landmark, where they're turned into Weapons Of Mass Destruction; and Monumental Damage, where they are damaged or destroyed, possibly as a result of a Monumental Battle.
The trope namer is on the Champ de Mars in Paris and was completed in 1889. The Other Wiki calls the Eiffel Tower "one of the most recognizable structures in the world."
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Pick any advertising for a French perfume. It will inevitably be set in Paris, with its landmarks.
Anime and Manga
Tokyo Tower functions this way in many anime; one of the most famous is in the X/1999 manga, TV series and movie.
Death Note uses both the Eiffel Tower and the London Eye to indicate that the world is listening to a broadcast. More bizarrely, the anime uses Big Ben in a flashback where the character in question was remembering Winchester and not London at all.
In one episode of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, Section 9 assists German military counterintelligence in capturing an international terrorist in Berlin. During his stakeouts, Batou makes one of his hiding spots on top of the Siegessäule. While at 67 meters height, it offers quite a view, it's right in the centre of Berlin's largest park and about 500 meters from the nearest buildings, making it completely useless for that task.
Darker Than Black seems to employ this with the giant wall around Hell's Gate. It's most noticeable in Huang's flashback episode, where the wall still in construction is often visible to signalize the timeframe.
Mostly averted for Noir. Although much of the series is set in Paris, the only glimpse of the Eiffel Tower is from a good distance away in the opening, which an inattentive viewer may miss entirely. The absence of this trope actually causes a slight problem with the narrative pacing, since not all viewers realize at what point the first episode transfers between Japan and France, which may lead to confusion.
The series Blake and Mortimer subverts it numerous times, while playing it straight with others.
In the story Professor Sató's Three Formulae - volume 1, Tokyo Tower is really prominently seen (as seen here). Funny enough, while the story mostly does take part in Tokyo, apart from one panel where it is seen broadcasting a TV signal, and one panel where it's a vague outline in the background, it doesn't appear whatsoever in the story itself. It also doesn't appear in the second volume of the story.
In the story SOS Meteore, the Eiffel Tower is prominently seen on the cover, but not once in the story itself, despite the story otherwise faithfully showing many places in Paris.
Jacobs seemed aware of this trope, since the other story taking place in Paris, The Necklace Affair, also never shows the Eiffel Tower.
In the story The Sarcophagi of the Sixth Continent - volume 1 however, the Atomium in Brussels is not only seen on the cover, but also rather prominent in the story itself, which is no wonder, since the story takes place at the world fair for which it was built.
The Palace of Westminster and its famous clock tower are shown in stories taking place in London, like The Yellow M and The Francais Blake Affair.
Since the first two-volume story was called The Mystery of the Great Pyramid, it was inevitable that the Pyramids of Gizeh are the center piece of this story taking place in Cairo.
Played dead-straight in the first story 'The Secret of the Swordfish. When the Yellow Epire announces its victory, they talk about the destruction of Rome, Paris and London. And indeed, we do see St. Peter's Basilica, the Eiffel Tower (collapsing) and the Palace of Westminster in Flames.
Since A Christmas Carol was written before Westminster Palace, Tower Bridge, and the Clock Tower were built, most film adaptations use St. Paul's Cathedral to this effect.
The retooled cut of Superman II has terrorists planting a bomb on the Eiffel Tower. Notably, the French police are rather blasé about it exploding.
The villain of The Rocketeer (Timothy Dalton) meets his end by crashing into the "HOLLYWOODLAND" sign, resulting in its present lettering.
Parodied (hard) in Team America: World Police. Each set is an elaborate miniature of the most visible landmarks in the city (Paris, Panama, etc.), placing them all in the space of a few blocks...and then destroying them, much to the consternation of the people who live there.
In the Bollywood film Don, most of the action occurs in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Every five minutes or so there is an establishing shot of the Petronas Towers so that we don't forget this, even when they come between scenes that occur miles away from the towers.
Both National Treasure films did this in every single scene set in a major city. The Lincoln Memorial is the backdrop for a very serious discussion between Ben and Riley early on in the first film, apparently just so that they could get it in there.
Fun fact: That scene was filmed on a day when the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool was drained for maintenance. They digitally added the water back in, in post production.
In The Avengers (1998), the Big Ben was completely demolished by the film-makers to demonstrate that the bad guy was really, truly evil.
Largely averted in The Bourne Supremacy. You see the Eiffel Tower in Paris, but in a ground view and in the distant background as the hero walked across a courtyard. That is the only shot of it.
Actually averted in all the Bourne films, as the entire series does away with all but absolutely necessary establishing shots and creates a very realistic version of Europe.
It would have been completely averted in the series, except for one scene in The Bourne Identity where it plays it straight. When several agents are being called to duty from different places in Europe, an agent settled in Rome conveniently rides his Vespa passing by the freakin' Colosseum, which is in Rome, when he gets called.
Attempted (badly) in Taking Lives. The film is set in Montreal, but has numerous lingering shots of the Chateau Frontenac...which is in Quebec City.
On one of the theatrical posters for the 1956 Around the World in Eighty Days, the Westminster clock tower and the Eiffel Tower are used as shorthand for London and Paris, despite the fact that the movie takes place in 1872 and the Eiffel Tower hadn't been built yet.
The Day After Tomorrow, while it didn't destroy the Statue of Liberty, did make a point of freezing her solid, just so the audience could see how cold it was.
They did, however, take out the Hollywood sign with some tornadoes.
The 1st Harry Potter used a brief shot of Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament, and the River Thames to establish London before we cut to Harry and Hagrid arriving at the Leaky Cauldron. The 6th shows the Millennium Bridge being destroyed by Death Eaters.
Dhoom 2 wanted to be sure everyone knew the second half of the movie took place in Brazil, so they made a very big deal out of the Christ The Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro. So much so that a scene in one of the songs took place there.
In Roland Emmerich's 2012, it's the end of time! What happens at "the end of time"? Famous landmarks get destroyed! Time, meanwhile, apparently continues to flow.
In the original Planet of the Apes, the movie ends with Taylor finding a demolished Statue of Liberty "You animals! You finally gone and done it!"
Being There takes place in and around Washington, D.C., but the setting is only gradually revealed to the audience because the film is confined to Chance's townhouse for its opening section. He's never been outside it, and it's in a poorer section of the city, so we don't start seeing landmarks like the Washington Monument, the White House, and the Capitol Building until he's wandered well away from it. Prior to this, the only hint that Chance lived in Washington was an ad for the Washington Post on a television.
The Mummy Returns established clearly that the opening scene was set in London, by showing the Houses of Parliament, St Paul's Cathedral and Tower Bridge. All apparently next to each other.
Continuing from the first movie, where you can see the Pyramids from Thebes.
While the James Bond movies in general have used Big Ben far more than necessary, a more egregious example is in Goldfinger where Felix's office has a clear view of the White House, even though the CIA's headquarters are in the suburb of Langley, Virginia.
Since the last third of A View to a Kill takes place in the San Francisco/Silicon Valley area, it's perhaps inevitable that the film climaxes over the Golden Gate Bridge.
And earlier in that film, May Day leaps off the Eiffel Tower itself.
In Octopussy, there is a shot of Bond's helicopter flying in front of the Taj Mahal, although Agra is not on the way to his destination. The director felt that he needed to insert a shot of the Taj Mahal because it was so beautiful, and they were in India anyway.
The most egregious example is definitely The Spy Who Loved Me in which the Egyptian base of operations for MI6 is located just inside the main entrance to the Temple of Ramesses II.
All sorts of science fiction movies have destroyed the Golden Gate Bridge as an avatar for San Francisco. In reality, crossing the bridge north from the city doesn't really go anywhere other than some ritzy bedroom communities and the sticks further north. Destroying the Bay Bridge, on the other hand, would put a serious wound in the city's infrastructure and many people's commutes, but the Golden Gate is a much prettier and more instantly-recognizable bridge.
Averted as a very brief joke in Star Trek, where Spock shoots Nero's drill down when it's drilling into Earth, just above Starfleet Academy in San Francisco. The drill breaks up and part of it falls down...just to the right of the Golden Gate Bridge and into the water.
28 Weeks Later concludes with a scene of the "infected" running rampant in Paris. One guess as to how we're shown that it's Paris.
In Casablanca, Rick's Paris flashback begins with a shot of...the Arc de Triomphe.
In Hudson Hawk, the title character wakes up after being knocked out to find himself in Rome. He knows this because his hotel window just happens to face the Colosseum. Even better, when he then passes a door/window at a 90 degree angle with the first, he can still see the Colosseum.
At the end of 2010: The Year We Make Contact there's a montage showing the Lincoln Memorial, St. Basil's Cathedral, the Pyramids of Giza, the Eiffel Tower, Tower Bridge and the beach next to Heywood Floyd's house in Hawaii. In every shot, there are two suns in the sky.
Inception is a bit of a Shoot the Money film, so we have Scenery Porn (and Scenery Gorn) in the form of the streets of Paris exploding outwards in a beautiful manner, folding in on themselves like a taco and during the scene where Ariadne plays with the use of mirrors on the street, the Eiffel Tower is visible in the background.
The Transformers movies are quite notorious for this by now. In the first film, we had the Hoover Dam, and Starscream partially destroyed one of its water towers. In the second, the Great Pyramids of Giza are directly across from the Rose Red City of Petra (what happened to Israel in-between?). Michael Bay was pretty happy about being allowed to film at both locations.
Spoofed in Despicable Me, where Gru is giving a speech to his minions in which he recalls some of their famous landmark-stealing capers, including the theft of the Statue of Liberty ("The small one, from Las Vegas"), and the Eiffel Tower ("Also from Vegas").
Further fun is had when it is revealed that food is raining down on all major landmarks first before spreading to less interesting parts of the world.
The Sinking Of Japan, particularly the 2006 remake, does this quite a bit. Flying volcanic rocks smash into ancient Japanese temples and the Tokyo Tower succumbs to the waves.
The Sentinel is about a Secret Service agent accused of being a mole, and as such there are lots of establishing shots of the White House and other Washington DC landmarks.
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade uses the Petra ruins in Jordan as the entrance to the temple at the end. However, there is nothing apart from solid rock behind the façade in Petra, and the context in which it appears in the film would imply that the actual ruins do not exist in the movie's reality.
Played for laughs in Under Siege 2: Dark Territory. The Big Bad makes his threat video using a fake backdrop of the Eiffel Tower and playing French music in the background (he was on a train the whole time). When the government agents are coming up with ways to catch him, one feebly suggests searching Paris.
In the film adaptation of The Devil Wears Prada, when Andy finally goes to Paris the Eiffel Tower is clearly visible out of the window in her suite.
In the 1960 film Austerlitz, the Palace of Westminster, including St Stephen's Tower, is visible out of Pitt's window. Unfortunately, it wasn't built until decades after the time the film is set.
Averted to great effect in Jacques Tati's film Playtime. It's set in Paris, but the film is all about the alienation of the jet-set 1960s. The only times monuments like the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe are visible are when they're accidentally reflected in the glass doors of the hyper-modern, anonymous buildings the film's shot in.
In a background gag, a travel agency has posters of places like Rome, New York, and Cairo. All of the posters show the same hyper-modern anonymous building.
Various parts of Spice World have the group riding around on their tour bus around numerous landmarks in London, as The Nostalgia Chick notes in her review of said movie, including a death-defying scene toward the end of the movie with Victoria Beckham trying to drive the bus over the London Bridge, as it rises to allow a boat to pass through, so they could make it to their performance at the Royal Albert Hall.
It's a little hard to make out since it's so far away, but in Who Framed Roger Rabbit the Hollywood Sign is visible from Eddie's office window.
Zodiac uses a number of icons to show San Francisco, the Ferry Building, the Transamerica pyramid is shown frequently, though it's still under construction, Melvin Belli's St. Francis Wood mansion is shown to have a close view of Downtown San Francisco. In reality, the neighborhood is miles from Downtown and the view is obscured by hills.
The Trans America Pyramid appears in The Social Network which would almost be a Shoutout to Fincher's Zodiac but Fincher says it was random stock footage they picked.
Argo uses the Azadi Tower in Tehran and the Hollywood sign with the latter shown in decrepit condition (anachronistically so, apparently for symbolic reasons; it had been restored the year before the story takes place).
The Mosfilm biopic Mikhailo Lomonosov opens with a shot of a snowbound Peter and Paul Fortress to represent both St. Petersburg and Tsar Peter I "the Great" whose death opens the film.
The 1945 film Captain Kidd features the Tower Bridge in its establishing shot for a scene set in London — even though the bridge wasn't built until nearly two centuries after Kidd died.
Various landmarks are shown in Independence Day to indicate where some of the alien ships have parked.
Subverted in The Kentucky Fried Movie's in-universe spoof "A Fist full of Yen" which shows the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, then labels the shot "Hong Kong."
Averted in Thor: The Dark World — though much of the action takes place in London, we never see Westminister Palace (home of "Big Ben"), Tower Bridge, or Buckingham Palace. The only landmarks on display are the Greenwich naval college building, and the gherkin-shaped 30 St. Mary Axe tower.
In Out of the Past, any exterior shot of San Fransisco stars the Golden Gate Bridge.
In the Cory Doctrow novel Little Brother, it is the Bay Bridge that gets blown up by terrorists, instead of the Golden Gate; the narrator lampshades this with the same comment made above in the film section; the Golden Gate is for tourists, people actually living in San Francisco use the Bay Bridge.
Alias: Plays it straight with the Los Angeles skyline, which will always show the U.S Bank Tower.
The Benny Hill Show: Subverted in a spy movie sketch. An establishing shot of the Eiffel Tower is shown, and after a second, the caption "Istanbul" appears on the screen.
Castle: Played straight, where (almost) every scene-changing shot to Paris had the Eiffel Tower in it. Also, many scenes took place near a bridge that looked very much like the place where Duncan MacLeod (see Highlander entry) had his barge anchored.
Charmed: Virtually every episode featured a montage of San Francisco aerial footage beneath the first-act credits, much like the CSI example below but even more extended. In later seasons, some of the main characters (with the ability to teleport at will) took to using the top of one of the Golden Gate Bridge's towers (or an approximation thereof on a Los Angeles soundstage) as a regular meeting place.
CSI: Crime Scene Investigation: Loves this. Vegas is shown in loving detail in nearly every episode. Expect to see tons of aerial shots of the Vegas strip at night. Especially of The Stratosphere.
CSI: Miami: In the episode "Rio", set in, Rio, the opening shot shows Caine getting down on one knee dramatically, and then pans up to reveal the Christ the Redeemer statue just before the YEEEEAAAAHHH. This statue is in virtually every shot of the episode. Caine even looks up at it (dramatically) after the episode's climactic knife fight.
Daybreak: The studio of the London-based breakfast news programme has a window wall with a view of the London skyline, centred on the dome of St Paul's Cathedral. So far, a Justified Trope, but where the trope really comes into play is that, with the show being on at 6am, in the winter it's still dark outside. So the production company pay to have the cathedral lit up specially.
Cardiff is always represented by the Roald Dahl Plass, with its recognizable Millenium Centre and Water Tower. On Torchwood a sweeping aerial shot of the Plass is frequently used to indicate the action is moving to the Torchwood Hub, which is directly beneath the Water Tower.
The first series of the revamped Doctor Who featured an alien ship crashing through Big Ben before landing in the Thames.
The Doctor then deduces that this is a staged event just by the fact that this is too perfect a crash landing in terms of cinematography for just this reason.
Frasier: The pilot episode has Frasier pointing out the Space Needle, which, of course, his lofty apartment has a view of. Uncharacteristically for this trope, the Space Needle is NOT seen. However, Martin thanks him for pointing out a landmark that Frasier acts like his father has never seen before, despite having lived here all his life!
Grey's Anatomy: The show is set in Seattle. The space needle is prominently displayed.
Subverted on Growing Pains when Jason and Maggie go on a second honeymoon in Paris. She comes down with appendicitis and has to be hospitalized. Jason tries to cheer her up by reminding her they're still in Paris by opening the curtains to her window but instead of a view of the Eiffel Tower it's the brick wall of a building a few feet away.
Highlander: Frequently featured numerous, plot-irrelevant establishing shots of the Eiffel Tower when the characters were hanging out in Paris.
How I Met Your Mother: Averted Trope: When Robin goes on a bender, Barney tries to dramatically show she'd ended up in Toronto by opening a window, hoping to see a memorable Toronto monument. Except there isn't any, just the solid wall of another building about 10 feet away blocking the entire view.
iCarly: It wasn't until the third season that this show added an establishing shot of the Seattle skyline with the Space Needle prominent.
Joey: Spoofed: Gina's apartment has a view of the Hollywood sign - if you lean back on the balcony. And then you only see the middle of it, so technically, it's a view of the OLLYWOO sign.
Parodied. Frank Drebin goes to question the relative of a victim in Little Italy; as he drives there, Stock Footage of the Colosseum is rear projected behind him. When he arrives, the Leaning Tower of Pisa is visible from the apartment.
The view from the Police Squad office window changes from episode to episode. In one, the Eiffel Tower can be seen; in another, the US Capitol Building is clearly visible.
Poltergeist: The Legacy: Often had stock footage of the Golden Gate Bridge, the Bay Bridge, and other San Francisco landmarks. There was also a scene in a bar in the Tenderloin (a famous San Francisco slum), with a crude mural of the Golden Gate, the Trans-America Pyramid, Coit Tower and a cable car.
Revolution: Makes use of some notable Chicago areas, like the Grand Hotel, and they use Wrigley Field as this, even using it in all of the trailers for the show.
Smallville: When Lana Lang visits Paris, the Notre Dame cathedral is always shown whenever the episode shifts to her story.
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: One episode had an odd Subverted Trope instance: the Golden Gate Bridge was destroyed, but off-camera, and we only got a brief view of its wreckage. Maybe not so odd on a TV fx budget.
It became a noticeable element of Deep Space Nine's style to use this trope for in-universe locations as well, with standard establishing shots repeatedly used to introduce scenes on Bajor, Cardassia, Future!Earth and Kronos. note In part this was because the limited access to CGI meant having actual backgrounds wasn't technically feasible, so there would always be precisely one sweeping vista created via matte painting and the rest of the scene would take place indoors.
Star Trek: The Next Generation: One episode features a scene in Paris where the Eiffel Tower is visible in the background of nearly every shot, even if two shots are facing in opposite directions. It was a recreation of Picard's memories on the Holodeck, so maybe the computer was trying to be clear it was simulating France.
Played totally straight in Attack from Mars, where each of the cities attacked by the Martians is represented by its major landmark: The Eiffel tower in Paris, The Pisa tower in Italy, The Brandenburger Tor in Berlin, The Tower Bridge in London, and the Statue of Liberty in New York.
Since Data East's Secret Service pinball is set in Washington D.C., the playfield includes model replicas of the Capitol Building and the White House.
In Of Thee I Sing, Wintergreen's Presidential office in the White House has a view of the Washington Monument. He asks his secretary Jenkins what it is, and Jenkins immediately identifies it as Grant's Tomb.
Mass Effect 3 begins the final mission in London by throwing a backdrop of Big Ben right in your face from the offset, despite how your location seems to not match up to anywhere near the tower. Sure, some rebuilding will have happened, since the Mass Effect series is futuristic, but a lot of current-day architecture seems to be intact in the city.
In Keen II: The Earth Explodes, eight different major landmarks around the world were used to represent the cities in which they were located (and the threat of that city's impending doom):
There's also the scarred remains of the Capitol building (which you can freely explore), along with several national museums (these are within walking distance in real life, too, though all that walking to be done on the Mall is conveniently abridged). Oh, and if you're feeling patriotic, you can always go visit the White House, or rather the smoldering radioactive hole where it used to be.
In Fallout: New Vegas, The Lucky 38 can be seen from nearly anywhere, outside of DLC area, much like its real life counterpart, the Stratosphere. It itself is very mythic in gameplay lore as it shines in the wasteland's nights and in that no one is allowed in under its owner's, Mr.House, watch. In terms of gameplay as well, it helps give you bearing on where you generally want to head towards, the Strip.
The Other buildings in the strip also count, as the area is generally still just as it was before the war due to Mr.House's defense systems saving most of it from the atomic bombs.
Happily averted in Hitman. Our globetrotting 'hero' rarely checks himself into a conspicuous place... though Blood Money eventually led him to Washington D.C. The mission? Break into the White House.
IO Interactive landed in hot water when they included the Harmandir Sahib, a Sikh temple, as a sniper's nest in Hitman 2. Whoops.
The first level of Jungle Strike is set in Washington DC (the jungle comes later), so the bad guys' first targets are the Washington Monument, the Capitol Building, and the Library of Congress, with your base at the White House.
In every version of Where In The World Is Carmen Sandiego?, going to almost any country will immediately take you to its most famous landmark, which just happens to be where the crook last was. Slightly subverted in the third version in which the Golden Gate Bridge, of all places, is the U.S. locale, presumably because the heroes' headquarters is supposed to be in San Francisco.
Shin Megami Tensei Imagine had, in its intro, as one of the last surviving elements of Tokyo, the Tokyo Tower. Somewhat ironic given that game's portrayed genre, that tower's survival ratio is extremely low indeed.
In Dangeresque 3, all of the exotic cities are filmed in the same location with a really crappy cardboard cutout of a landmark or other relevant object sitting nearby. Paris gets the Eiffel Tower, naturally.
The bigger levels in the Katamari Damacy games have countries that consist of a landmark and a few stereotypical homes. Or sometimes several iconic landmarks right next to one another. Apparently, the Roman Colosseum is on a large plateau above downtown Paris, and New York is within driving distance of Easter Island. Who knew?
In Agent USA most cities have a generic "city" look to the skyline, sometimes with water for coastal cities or mountains for cities in the mountains, like Denver. However, the skyline in New York City clearly shows the World Trade Center and the Empire State Building and, in fact, is a pretty good representation of the famous Manhattan skyline.
In Rhythm Thief & the Emperor's Treasure , the Eiffel Tower appears prominently on the cover and in just about every shot of the skyline in the game. it also serves as the place where Napoleon tells Phantom R to meet him there to exchange the Dragon Crown for Marie and Phantom R uses it to get into the Hanging Gardens
In Modern Warfare 3, the Eiffel Tower is prominently featured (and destroyed) in the appropriately-named mission "Iron Lady" (that being one of its many nicknames), while the Statue of Liberty and the not-yet-complete One World Trade Centre can be spotted around New York City in "Hunter-Killer".
Christ the Redeemer is fairly visible in the Brazil levels of Modern Warfare 2.
Battlefield 3 actually manages to avoid showing the Eiffel Tower in the Paris-based mission "Comrades", but the multiplayer maps based on it have the Tower visible in the background. Meanwhile, every mission in Tehran has Milad Tower prominently visible on the skyline.
Super NES racing game Top Gear (no relation to the TV show) mostly played this straight, with every race going on in a major city around the world (except maybe Sheffieldnote this actually was Creator Provincialism since the developer, Gremlin, is based there). It gets ridiculous when, in the Loch Ness level near the end of the game, they went to the length of placing a Stock Ness Monster in the lake, off in the distance.
El Viento begins with the spirit of Hastur being summoned into the Empire State Building, "the landmark in New York." The game is set in 1928, and the Empire State Building wasn't even under construction until 1930.
In Spec Ops: The Line, the Burj Khalifa building can be seen at all times during the game. This is understandable as it is quite hard to miss the tallest building in the world.
The very first trailer for Pokémon X and Y had Pikachu standing on the (real) Eiffel Tower. Cut to in-game footage, and a tower very obviously inspired by it is seen when the player character is running through a city. Needless to say, once we finally did get a map of the Kalos region, it was indeed clearly France, its hub city quite clearly Paris.
The Sims 3: World Adventures: The Egyptian setting is the biggest offender, including the Pyramids, the Sphinx, Abu Simbel, and Temple of Queen Hatshepsut all within short distances of each other. The Chinese setting has the Forbidden City, the Temple of Heaven, and the Great Wall. In the French setting, the Eiffel Tower is visible in the distance (you can't actually visit it) even though the community is modeled as a vineyard town.
The College Humor short Google Street View Guys, which involves a couple of marshmallow-like caricatures driving around in a vehicle with a camera mounted on top to make shots for Google's Street View feature has a moment when they pass through St. Louis and one of the caricatures refers to the Gateway Arch as the "Golden Arch" and the "Archway to Heaven."
Most of the seasonal animations viewable at www.noradsanta.org display Santa's sleigh passing over or circling a monument of this type.
Gargoyles had shots of both the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe when the characters went to Paris. I'm pretty sure there was a shot of Big Ben in the London episode.
This trope can also be done with wildlife if an animal is particularly tied to the area. When the group is sent to Australia during the World Tour season, a kangaroo is passing by just as they show up, instantly cluing them in on where they are.
In Monsters, Inc., when Mike and Sully go through the Portal Network of closet doors to escape Randall, guess what Parisian landmark is visible outside one of the bedrooms?
It's also the first landmark Remy sees when he emerges from the sewers in Ratatouille.
Also in Monsters, Inc. you can see Mt. Fuji in the room with the sliding door.
The Himalayas are also mentioned earlier in the movie.
Parodied by an episode of Futurama. when the gang goes to the beach just in time for the beach to be overrun by Omicronians, with Fry walking onto the beach, and saying, "Hey, the Statue of liberty!" and then Leela shows off a series of others, and Bender comments about a particular evil scientist who moved them all to that particular beach after becoming ruler of the planet, and superimposing his face over one of the presidents on Mount Rushmore.
Justified in The Simpsons. The CN Tower features prominently in the episode where they go to Toronto, but this is just Truth in Television. It's so tall you really can see it from damn near anywhere within city limits (cf. Real Life). If anything, they don't show it enough.
In the opening credits of Jackie Chan Adventures the Golden Gate Bridge is a regular feature, and in the Grand Finale it is damaged along with half the city. However, once the Big Bad is defeated the city magically is repaired, saving the bridge presumably. Also, the Bay Bridge, Transamerica Pyramid, and Coit Tower make appearances throughout the show.
In An American Tail, the Statue of Liberty is seen under construction, thus using this trope to establish that the characters have arrived in New York of the past.
Played for Laughs in the Rocko's Modern Life episode "Road Rash." When Heffer tells Rocko to take a shortcut on their motorcycle trip, they end up passing random world landmarks that are Egyptian Pyramids, Stonehenge (Heffer even tells Rocko to "turn right at Stonehenge,") a Venetian canal, Moai Statues on Easter Island, the Eiffel Tower (obviously), and the Taj Mahal in India. Even some Regional Riffs for those areas are being played!
My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic: The episode "Rarity Takes Manehattan" is set in Equestria's version of New York, complete with pony versions of the Statue of Liberty, Times Square, the Verrazano–Narrows Bridge, and many other recognizable landmarks.
Washington, DC has a thirteen-story height capnote Well, not precisely. In general, it limits buildings to 130 feet or the width of the street they face plus twenty feet, whichever is less, except that on the north side of Pennsylvania Avenue NW between 1st and 15th Sts. NW—the stretch between The White House and the Capitol—the cap is 160 feet. This amounts to a thirteen-story cap, on average. on buildings within its city limits, so the Washington Monument is at least partly visible throughout a large portion of that city.
Supposedly some building codes in the area were made for intelligence and counterintelligence purposes.
The aforementioned CN Tower is similar to the Washington Monument, but for different reasons. It's not that the buildings in Toronto are especially small, it's just the CN Tower really is that huge. It can even be seen from some points north of the city.
It can be seen (on a very clear day) in Rochester, New York, which is on the other side of a Great freakin' Lake and in another country.
In Paris itself this does happens to some degree with the Eiffel Tower, visible from the entire Western half of the city, and to the dismay of many Parisians, it also happens with the Montparnasse tower and the Southern half.
Some go out of their way to avoid this effect: Novelist Guy De Maupassant supposedly ate lunch in the Tower's restaurant every day. When asked why, he answered that, as no big fan of the Tower, it was the one place in Paris where he knew he wouldn't see it.
Georges Clemenceau also allegedly chose his apartment in the Rue Franklin (in Passy, now a museum) so that he would not have to look at the Eiffel Tower from his study.
Non-visual example. Recently, a lot of movies have been backing establishing shots of Middle-Eastern cities with the Islamic call-to-prayer chant to establish their Middle-Eastern-ness.
New York City used to be instantly recognizable by the Twin Towers. Since 9/11, the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building, the Statue of Liberty, or the UN headquarters building are forced to stand in instead.
The Statue of Liberty has been used to establish a New York setting since the very beginning of film.
Marina City gets used a lot, too. It's sometimes called "Wilco Towers" since its appearance on the cover of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.
The Gateway Arch in St. Louis. For Missouri in general. That's what ended up on the back of the Missouri quarter.
The Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco (prevalent in the title credits in Full House, for one). You can substitute cable cars for similar effect.
The Sutro Tower in San Francisco really can be seen from anywhere in the city– it's a tripod-shaped radio tower much taller than any building, located on the second-highest hill, in the geographical center of the city. Ironically, it almost never appears in film, possibly because it's quite ugly.
Probably even more visible (though far less spectacular) than the tower in Paris is the Petřínská rozhledna on a hilltop in Prague, a city with few skyscrapers. Unfortunately, despite being higher up than the real Eiffel Tower, it's still not as conspicuous in the skyline as the world's second ugliest building◊.
South African TV news, when broadcasting from Johannesburg, includes an opening shot of the Hillbrow Tower, even though it's just a radio antenna and the newsroom isn't in there, to establish the location (justified in that it's the tallest building in Africa). Foreign news stories tend to include shots of Table Mountain if an event happened anywhere in South Africa generally. This is sometimes quite funny, as if you were reporting on an event happening in Maine while showing a picture of the Statue of Liberty. Close, but no cigar.
The Space Needle's entire reason for existence seems to be as a means to set up establishing shots of Seattle. Never mind that the Needle itself is dwarfed by surrounding buildings to such a degree that it ends up looking comically small if not framed well.
It also stands somewhat apart from the rest of the skyline, another reason for exact framing. As a result, every photo of the Seattle skyline is shot from the same angle. This often results in the Needle looking much taller on film than it is in real life.
One of the Seattle area's other iconic landmarks, Mount Rainier, is easily visible from a large portion of Washington State on a clear day.
The Oriental Pearl shows up in nearly every establishing shot of Shanghai.
Tian'anmen gate is often used as a establishing shot for Beijing, but as a bit of a subversion, the structure is only visible if you stand next to it. Classical Chinese architecture is rather disdainful of the vertical dimension. Chinese television and movies tend to use the CCTV tower instead.
In Taiwanese Series, the Taipei 101 building in the country's capitol is the tallest building on the island and tends to show up in the background of at least one episode.
Los Angeles has the US Bank Tower, which is the tallest and usually the most recognizable skyscraper in the city. It's usually shown in establishing shots when the story takes place in Los Angeles, or they'll show the whole skyline if the shot is being taken from one of the many hills. Sometimes a shot of the Hollywood sign is used as well/instead. However the Hollywood sign can only be seen in Hollywood, and not throughout LA, unlike the Bank Tower.
Another recognizable LA landmark is the Capitol Records building which isn't very tall, but it is cylindrical to simulate a stack of records.
For when you want to show the Gangsters Paradise side of things, shots of the Los Angeles River and the bridges spanning East LA with West LA get shown often.
Mexico's main cities are not exempt from this. Mexico City has this with the Zócalo, a huge slab of concrete bearing a huge monumental flag, as well as with the Angel of Independence and the Reform Avenue, whereas Guadalajara has this with the cathedral, the Minerva Roundabout, and more recently, the small patch of skyscrapers near Puerta de Hierro in the northwest. Monterrey, however, is best represented by the prominent Saddle Hill (Cerro de la Silla).
A supposedly rare example for lesser known state capitals would be Albany's Empire State Plaza◊, which typically consists of a unique flying saucer-shaped venue called The Egg, and the Erastus Corning Tower, which is quite justified, considering that it happens to be the tallest building in Upstate New York.
Thousands of Armenian paintings and photographs would suggest that Mt. Ararat is visible all over the country, when in fact it has to be a really clear day to be able to see it from its capital, Yerevan. And partly due to a long, sad history of horrible luck, Armenia's most iconic landmark isn't even in Armenia anymore but in Turkey.
Many recent British productions have used the Gherkin in establishing montages because of its distinctive architecture. London's tallest tower (as of 2012), the Shard, may be joining it.
In slightly-older works, the London Eye serves this purpose.
As mentioned before, the Great Pyramid of Giza and/or the Sphinx is generally the establishing shot for Cairo, or anywhere else in Egypt for that matter. Egyptian and other Middle Eastern productions tend to use the Cairo Tower or Tahrir Square for Cairo.
Again, framing matters, since The Pyramids are quite close to Cairo (the oldest parts of Cairo were actually built from the scavenged facade of the Pyramids, and the Sphinx is deteriorating due to the modern city's pollution).
Any time Auckland, New Zealand appears, the Sky Tower is guaranteed to be shown. Justified, since it is a 328m (1076ft) structure in a city where there are only two other buildings taller than 150m. Locals sometimes use the tower as a compass, since it can be seen from afar and is to the north from most of the city.
Even within Australia the Harbour Bridge and Opera House are used to define Sydney since they are such iconic parts of the skyline. Sometimes they will use Sydney Tower (formerly known as Centrepoint Tower) to change it up.
As for other cities, Parliament House is used as short hand for Canberra - although often the old Parliament House, which is still more recognisable to many Australians 25 years after the switchover - and, more rarely The Story Bridge for Brisbane, though it's mostly seen in news casts.
Because Melbourne lacks any landmarks of international stature, the go to iconic image for Melbourne is usually a tram (Melbourne, alone among Australian cities, has an extensive light rail network). If the media in question is aimed at Melbournians, expect to see steps at Flinders Street Station or the Arts Centre Tower. And a tram.
St. Basil's Cathedral is the visual shorthand for Moscow and, to some extent, the entirety of Russia. So in works set during the Cold War, the atheistic Soviet Union is ubiquitously represented by a colorful, onion-domed church. (The building was turned into a museum under Soviet rule. Today it's a church and museum in one.) And just so everyone is clear on this, St. Basil's Cathedral is not the Kremlin.
The Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro, justified since it stands on a very high mountain top overlooking the city.
In an interesting subversion, the nearby city of Niterói, tired of being overshadowed by neighbouring Rio de Janeiro, built an "extravagant" landmark of its own. The Contemporary Art Museum has the shape of a flying saurcer (think of the Space Needle minus needle), and every single media appearence of the city has to feature it since - it's even on the city administration logo.
Whenever something is established to take place in Cleveland, it always includes a shot of the Terminal Tower, the oldest and most distinctive highrise in the city.
St. Petersburg, Russia is often represented by the Peter and Paul Fortress.
Pyongyang's Kim Il-sung Square for North Korea, usually Stock Footage of a military parade there.
The Stratosphere, although limited by nearby airports, is visible from nearly every inch of the Las Vegas valley due to its dwarfing height on the nearby hotels, but the Luxor Pyramid and its light (which can be seen in space) tends to be more popular for appearances in movies.
Pittsburgh's hills make it unlikely to find a candidate in much of the city, however in the Oakland/Shadyside neighborhood (home to the big universities) the Cathedral of Learning fills this role. It can even be seen from the South Side and Mount Washington.
The Milwaukee Art Museum's Quadracci Pavillion (completed and opened in 2001), with it's distinctive "wings" that give it the appearance of a sailboat has become this for Milwaukee. Before then, City Hall was often used (most famously in the opening montage on Laverne and Shirley).
Ottawa contains no buildings other than Parliament. The Centre Block of Parliament, specifically.
The big German cities are confusing. Either their defining building is rather unseeming/small, or they suffer from having too many to chose from (most often the case). Only some examples are given, since there are simply too many.
Berlin has so many, it's difficult to make a choice. The most well known the the Brandenburger Tor, the Reichstag and the Siegessäule. In the future, the Stadtschloß, which is currently in reconstruction, could join them. In general, the Reichstag is used for political news and the Brandenburger Tor for the city itself
It's somewhat easier for Munich. The Münchner Frauenkirche is so iconic, everyone recognises it right away.
Colonge has two that are so close together, that they are often seen together. The Kölner Dom is of course the most well-known one of world fame, but the Hohenzollenbrücke right at its feet is also famous.
The city of Hamburg lost tons of old buildings in WW II, but still retained three that almost everyone recongsies at once. The Hamburger Michel is the most famous one, closely followed by the Rathaus. The big surprise is the third one, which is the very distinctive Hamburg Central Station.
Dresden is a very interesting case. There was no defining building after WW II (many good ones, but nothing defining) until the reconstruction of the Frauenkirche.
The city of Bremen is an example of something rather small that is difining. The Bremer Roland is mere 5,47 meters high, but is the sign of the city.