President of the United States James Sawyer (Jamie Foxx) generates controversy over a proposed peace treaty between the allied nations to remove military forces from the Middle East. Divorced US Capitol Police officer John Cale (Channing Tatum) is currently assigned to Speaker of the House Eli Raphelson (Richard Jenkins) after saving his nephew's life during a tour in Afghanistan.
Cale hopes to impress his politically obsessed daughter Emily (Joey King) by getting a job interview for the Secret Service Presidential Detail, while also getting tickets for the two of them to tour the White House. However, his interviewer, Secret Service Special Agent Carol Finnerty (Maggie Gyllenhaal), a former college acquaintance of his, believes him to be unqualified due to his disrespect towards authority, and subsequently deems him ineligible for the job.
Disguised as a janitor, a man detonates a bomb at the center of the US Capitol building, causing the White House to be on lockdown. Finnerty is sent to escort the Speaker to an underground command center in the Pentagon, while Vice President of the United States Alvin Hammond (Michael Murphy) is taken aboard Air Force Two. At the same time, mercenaries led by Emil Stenz (Jason Clarke), having infiltrated the White House by disguising themselves as audio-visual repairmen, quickly overwhelm the Secret Service, take the tour group hostage and seize the White House. Cale manages to escape to go find his daughter, who was separated from him during the tour. Retiring Head of the Presidential Detail Martin Walker (James Woods) escorts Sawyer and his detail to the Presidential Emergency Operations Center. Once they gain access, Walker kills his detail, revealing himself to be the real leader of the attack on the White House. He wants vengeance against Sawyer after a botched black ops mission resulted in the death of his son. Cale kills a mercenary, takes his gun and radio, and rescues Sawyer.
Walker and Stenz bring in Skip Tyler (Jimmi Simpson) to hack into the defense system, but still require Sawyer to activate the nuclear football. One of the mercenaries, Carl Killick (Kevin Rankin), catches Emily recording a video of the mercenaries and takes her hostage. Cale and Sawyer contact the command structure, which uses Emily's video to discover the identities of the mercenaries, who used to work for various government agencies. Cale and Sawyer try to escape via a tunnel but find the exit gate rigged with explosives. They are forced into the garage and escape in the presidential limo, which is attacked by Stenz and flips into the White House pool. After Sawyer and Cale are presumed dead in an explosion, Hammond is sworn in as the 47th President of the United States. Cale and Sawyer are still alive and learn that Hammond ordered an aerial incursion to take back the White House, but the mercenaries shoot down the choppers. Having already learned of Emily from the video, Stenz takes her to Walker in the Oval Office. Tyler finishes hacking into NORAD and launches a missile to shoot down Air Force One, killing Hammond and everyone else on board. Raphelson is sworn in as the 48th President of the United States and orders an air strike on the White House.
Sawyer surrenders himself to Walker to save Emily. Walker attempts to force Sawyer to use the football to launch the nuclear missiles against the various cities in Iran, which will result in retaliation by many countries. Sawyer refuses at first, while Cale sets various rooms on fire as a diversion. Down in the tunnels, Tyler accidentally detonates the explosives, killing him. After killing most of the remaining mercenaries and freeing the hostages, Cale confronts Stenz and blows him up with a grenade belt during a fight. Sawyer attacks Walker, who uses Sawyer's handprint to activate the football. Walker locks Iran's targets, but before he can initiate the launch, Cale kills him. Emily waves a presidential flag on the front lawn, convincing the incoming fighter planes to call off the air strike. Raphelson is revealed to have conspired with Walker in orchestrating the attack. Sawyer has Raphelson arrested and names Cale as his new special agent and takes him and Emily on a personal aerial tour of DC.
White House Down is directed by Roland Emmerich and based on a screenplay by James Vanderbilt, who is also one of the film's producers. Sony Pictures purchased Vanderbilt's spec script in March 2012 for $3 million, in what The Hollywood Reporter called "one of the biggest spec sales in quite a while". The journal said the script was similar "tonally and thematically" to the films Die Hard and Air Force One. In the following April, Sony hired Roland Emmerich as director. Emmerich began filming in July 2012 at the La Cité Du Cinéma in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. Cinematographer Anna Foerster shot the film with Arri Alexa Plus digital cameras.
In 2012, Sony competed with Millennium Films, who were producing Olympus Has Fallen (also about a takeover of the White House) to complete casting and to begin filming.
White House Down was originally scheduled for a November 1, 2013 release, but was moved up to a June 28, 2013 release.
The film was released on DVD and Blu-ray Disc on November 5, 2013.
White House Down received mixed reviews from critics. Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a rating of 50%, based on 187 reviews, with a weighted average of 5.4/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "White House Down benefits from the leads' chemistry, but director Roland Emmerich smothers the film with narrative clichés and choppily edited action." At Metacritic, which assigns a weighted average score to reviews, the film has an average score of 52 out of 100, based on 43 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews".
Roth Cornet of IGN gives it a 6.5/10, concluding: "White House Down is a pretty silly rehashing of previously tread action movie territory, but if you're willing to laugh along with (or even at) it, it can be a highly entertaining experience."
Andrew Chan of the Film Critics Circle of Australia writes, "I am not entirely sure, whether I should be happy or sad that I laughed when someone got shot or bombed, but such is the manner of how the film is played out. Therefore, I prefer Olympus for this one."
Richard Roeper, however, gave the film an F, stating that "Everyone in White House Down is an idiot, clinically insane, a cliché, or a vehicle for shameless exploitation." He later named it the worst film of 2013.
The film grossed $73.1 million in the United States and $132.3 million internationally for a total gross of $205.4 million, against a budget of $150 million.
On its opening weekend in the U.S., the film disappointed and came in at 4th at the box office. It earned $24.9 million, less than March's similarly themed Olympus Has Fallen ($30.4 million opening). In its second weekend, the film made $13.4 million.
In October 2013, Sony announced it lost $197 million for June, July, and August 2013, and largely blamed "the box office flop of the movie White House Down as a key reason for the weakness".