8 Facts About Attack the Block

Franz Drameh, Alex Esmail, Leeon Jones, and John Boyega in Joe Cornish's Attack the Block (2011).
Franz Drameh, Alex Esmail, Leeon Jones, and John Boyega in Joe Cornish's Attack the Block (2011). / Liam Daniel / © 2011 Screen Gems, Inc. All rights reserved.

When Attack the Block arrived in theaters in 2011, it recouped just half of its $11 million budget. The critics, however, were positive in their reviews, and the film became a cult classic. Its unique mix of science fiction, comedy, and horror struck all the right notes and launched some of its young stars onto bigger things—most notably John Boyega, who four years later was cast as Finn in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. It also helped propel Jodie Whittaker into the mainstream, and in 2017 she became the 13th incarnation of The Doctor—and the very first woman to tackle the role—on Doctor Who.

1. A real mugging inspired Attack the Block.

Jodie Whittaker stars in Attack the Block (2011).
Jodie Whittaker stars in Attack the Block (2011). / © 2011 Screen Gems

Years before making Attack the Block, director Joe Cornish was mugged in south London. The gang of kids took his wallet and cellphone. The incident stayed with him, and 10 years later he filmed a similar, albeit more dramatic, mugging for the opening scene of his directorial debut, Attack the Block. But Cornish didn’t want to treat the muggers—the so-called hoodies—as one-dimensional criminals. Instead, they become the main characters in the movie, particularly the teenage gang leader Moses, played by John Boyega.

2. Joe Cornish visited youth groups in south London to ensure their portrayal in Attack the Block was authentic.

Cornish spent months with youth groups in south London, asking them what they thought about the idea of the film. He recorded everything, partly to get a handle on how they spoke, so that he could incorporate authentic-sounding dialogue into the movie. He also asked them what weapons they’d use in the event of an alien invasion.

More importantly, Cornish wanted to get to know these kids, some of whom were already involved in crime and were similar to the character of Moses. When interviewed later about the film, Cornish said some of them had “just been cornered a bit by life, and I think that often the way they’re portrayed doesn’t help with that. Culturally, it makes the problem worse, not better.” This sociological subtext, and the humanizing of misunderstood youths, is a big part of the movie.

3. Some lines in Attack the Block are things the director heard while doing his research.

Attack the Block has plenty of great one-liners. Some of these were things that kids said to Cornish when he told them about the plot of the story, including: “Too much madness for one text” and “You’d be better off calling the Ghostbusters, love.” Another line included in the movie came about after Cornish asked a girl what she’d think of one of the creatures if she found it. She replied, “I wouldn't touch it, don't want to get Chlamydia.” The quote went straight into the script.

4. Attack the Block takes place on Guy Fawkes Night.

The opening shot features fireworks over London. That’s because the movie takes place on Guy Fawkes Night (November 5). The fireworks add to the general chaos of the night, and the crafty aliens presumably chose the night to cover their own arrival.

5. Places in the Attack the Block are named after famous British science fiction authors.

The movie takes place in a fictional neighborhood. The main council block in the film is called Wyndham Tower in honor of John Wyndham, the English science fiction writer famous for novels such as The Day of the Triffids (1951) and The Midwich Cuckoos (1957). Other locations include Huxley Court (Aldous Huxley), Wells Court (H.G. Wells), Moore Court (Alan Moore), Ballard Street (J.G. Ballard), and Adams Street (Douglas Adams). Just after the movie title appears, the camera pans across a map of the area, showing the various names.

6. The director of Attack the Block was inspired by the tower blocks of London.

Tower blocks and council estates feature regularly in gritty British cinema. And while the tower blocks in Attack the Block are totally appropriate for the movie’s setting and themes, they also inspired Cornish in other ways: “I totally looked at all these amazing tower blocks that have been around me all my life and I thought ‘Wow, these are like huge clapped-out spaceships, or they’re like Nakatomi Plaza [from Die Hard], or the Nostromo [from Alien]!’”

7. John Carpenter was a big influence on the Attack the Block and its soundtrack.

Nick Frost and Luke Treadaway in Attack the Block (2011).
Nick Frost and Luke Treadaway in Attack the Block (2011). / © 2011 - Screen Gems

Cornish is a big fan of John Carpenter and particularly his 1976 film Assault on Precinct 13. Like Carpenter, he wanted to create a fun movie that also had a social subtext. The music in Carpenter’s films also inspired Attack the Block. In an interview at New York Comic Con, Cornish said “we studied John Carpenter and one of the things that I noticed is that he never or very rarely uses a snare drum, so he’ll never have a 4/4 beat … and Carpenter’s movies, even though they have these contemporary rhythmic soundtracks, it never feels like a pop promo. You still get absorbed in the action.”

8. The aliens in Attack the Block were created using practical effects and very little CGI.

Budget restraints and Cornish’s own preference for practical special effects meant very little CGI was used to create the movie’s aliens. The extraterrestrial beings themselves were inspired by the ring wraiths in Ralph Bakshi’s animated adaptation of The Lord of the Rings (1978) and the wolf at the start of 2007’s 300.