1. Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (New Zealand)
Though the film was shot at various locations across New Zealand, easily the most iconic and recognizable set in the whole LOTR trilogy was Hobbiton, the small hobbit village where we’re introduced to series protagonists Frodo, Sam, and Gandalf the Grey.
The set, which still exists and offers daily tours, was built in the Hinuera Valley of Matamata in Waikato (an hour south of the famous glow worm caves) and looks every bit the part today as it did nearly two decades ago, when the movie was originally filmed.
2. Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (Tunisia, England, Guatemala, USA)
If you’re like me (and any of a bajillion other nerds out there), you saw this first film in the preposterously successful Star Wars franchise and were easily convinced that Tatooine was just some barren wasteland of a planet (in a galaxy far, far away).
But as it turns out, those scenes were actually just shot in the convincingly barren Djerba, Sidi Jemour, Tozeur, Mos Espa, Tataouine (yes, this is where the name came from), and Matmata in southern and western Tunisia. Bonus: You can actually spend a night (or several) in Luke Skywalker’s home, the Hotel Sidi Driss in Matmata.
3. Gladiator (Morocco, England, Italy, Malta, USA)
Stripped of his rank and left for dead, Gladiator protagonist Maximus Decimus Meridius is carted off by slave traders to the Roman province of Zuccabar, where he embarks on a series of epic training montages to become the infamous gladiator. In reality, you can visit “Zuccabar” (aka Aït Benhaddou) in Morocco’s Hollywood, Ouarzazate. If those burnt-orange clay spires seem awfully familiar, it’s probably because they’ve been featured in > 20 films and television shows since the ’60’s (including: Gladiator, The Mummy, and Game of Thrones).
Sadly, each film that passes through the ancient city (which people still live in today) leaves a permanent mark, including the massive pit that was dug to house the arena for Gladiator and never filled in, and an entire temple gateway facade that was built for the Mummy and just left there.
4. Monty Python and the Holy Grail (England, Scotland, Australia)
A British cult-classic, Monty Python and the Holy Grail is a textbook example of movie magic at work. Apparently, the film’s producers originally secured the rights from the National Trust in Scotland to shoot at a variety of Scottish castles, as well as special permission to shoot at the Doune Castle from the Lord of Moray.
At the very last minute, the National Trust reneged on their deal, forcing the Monty Python producers to shoot several different scenes using only the various parts of Doune Castle (including, among others, the famous King Arthur vs. the garrison guards scene, the “Knights of the Round Table” musical number, and the Trojan Rabbit scene).
5. Skyfall (England, Scotland, Japan, Turkey, China)
The third film in Daniel Craig’s James Bond incarnation, Skyfall opens with an intense motorbike chase scene across the rooftops surrounding Eminonu Square, and then through the Grand Bazaar in the old quarter of Istanbul, Turkey.
According to local reports, on the first day of shooting the chase, Craig’s stuntman lost control of the bike — and smashed right through the crystal glass window a 330-year-old historic storefront.
6. The Good, The Bad, The Ugly (Italy, Spain)
Nothing says “authentic Old West America” like… Spain? As odd as it sounds, apparently outsourcing our tumbleweeds and swinging saloon doors to locations in Italy and Spain was the common practice for nearly every (now famous) spaghetti Western produced in the 1960’s and 1970’s.
If you’re itchin’ to get some dust on your spurs and experience the American Old West as only the Spanish city of Almería could capture, you can actually visit some of those sets (which they still use for shooting) in the pseudo-amusement park now called “Texas Hollywood” or “Fort Bravo.”
7. Dark Knight Rises (India, England, Scotland, Italy, USA)
In the third and final film of Christian Bale’s stint as the Dark Knight, Bale’s Bruce Wayne finds himself trapped with a broken spine, deep inside a prison pit in some faraway land. After (ostensibly months of) rehabilitation, Wayne manages to liberate himself from the pit, and emerges to find himself at the foot of the impressive Mehrangarh Fort of Jodhpur, the second-largest city in the northwest state of Rajasthan, India.
The fort was also heavily featured in one of the dreamlike story sequences from Tarsem Singh’s 2006 film, The Fall.
8. Mamma Mia! (Greece, Morocco, England, USA)
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the 2008 ABBA-inspired film Mamma Mia! that is set in Greece, was largely shot in Greece (even though producers took other liberties, like filming scenes set in New York in London, for example). Filmed largely on the Greek island of Skopelos, and in parts of nearby Damouchari in Pelion, Mamma Mia! was shot almost entirely without a hitch… save for one exception.
According to director Phyllida Lloyd, during the “Dancing Queen” musical number scene: the cast was joined by a chorus of extras comprised of Pelion locals, and (somewhat randomly) one German expat who brought along her donkey. Apparently, every time the music started, the donkey became agitated, and proceeded to charge full speed through the set, jeopardizing the shot.
9. Lawrence of Arabia (Morocco, Spain, England, USA, Jordan)
Featuring some of the most quintessential and archetypal “camels crossing the desert” scenes in the history of film, Lawrence of Arabia may be single-handedly responsible for my insatiable desert-lust. Though producers hit a number of dune hotspots around the world (including the Imperial Sand Dunes in California, and Ouarzazate in Morocco), the majority of the sweeping desert panoramas that immediately come to mind when recalling the film were shot in Wadi Rum, Jordan.
Bonus: it is probably no coincidence that Wadi Rum was selected as the image of the desert the production team wanted to relay, as it was the desert that the real Lawrence spent time in, and which the film itself was inspired by.
10. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (Jordan, Spain, USA, Germany, Italy, England)
While the temple may not be filled with booby-traps or contain the holy cup of Christ, the cliffside facade at Al Khazneh (featured in the climax of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade) really *does* look like that, and can be found in Petra, Jordan.
As a direct result of the film’s success, tourism to the region has exploded exponentially, and the phenomenon has even been acknowledged by Middle Eastern satire publications (like this article, titled “Petra to be renamed ‘That place from Indiana Jones’“).
The Matador Network recently visited Jordan, and shot some killer footage around the country (and at Al Khazneh). Check it out here.
11. Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (Dominican Republic, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, USA)
The first in a remarkably successful 4-film franchise, Pirates of the Caribbean was actually shot largely in the Caribbean…who knew? If you’ve seen the film, you probably remember the scene where Captain Jack Sparrow and Elizabeth Swan find themselves marooned on a deserted island — the same island where Jack is later forced to utter the most quotable line from the whole movie: “but why is all the rum gone?”
That island is actually known as “Petit Tabac,” in the Tobago Cays island group of St. Vincent and the Grenadines off the Northeastern coast of Venezuela. To get there in real life, you’ll need to charter a boat (likely at the Tobago Cays Marine Park on Clifton Union Island), and sail just 6 miles northeast.
12. The Beach (Thailand, UK)
For those who have not seen the movie, the film The Beach starring Leonardo DiCaprio is essentially about trying to find that perfect, untouched beach we all imagine when we think of “idyllic, sun-swept, footprint-less paradise.” You know, the kind of beach you’d see in a travel brochure or “epic beaches” listicle. So naturally, producers had a pretty tall order to fill… but ultimately settled on Koh Phi Phi Leh, one of the largest islands in the Krabi province of Thailand.
And for those looking to find the same thing as Leo’s character in the movie: I have good news and bad news. The bad news, is that while still amazingly beautiful, Koh Phi Phi Leh is now regularly swarmed by tourists. The good news, is that Thailand is so jam-packed with literally hundreds of remote islands (including, for example, Ko Tarutao), that you’ll definitely be able to find whatever flavor of “paradise” you’re looking for.
13. Cast Away (Fiji, Philippines, Russia, USA)
I dare you to tell me you haven’t once stopped and wondered where exactly it was that Tom Hanks (and Wilson!) washed up in the film Cast Away. As it turns out, it actually is a completely uninhabited 99-acre island off the coast Viti Levu, the largest of the islands in Fiji. A member of the Mamamuca island chain, Monuriki Island now sees daily “Cast Away” boat tours, many of which depart from Port Denarau on Viti Levu.
14. Die Another Day (Spain, England, USA, Iceland, Norway)
I grew up with Brosnan’s Bond, so while I freely accept that he is probably the lamest blip in James Bond history, he’ll always be the one I think of when I hear “007.” In the 4th installment of Brosnan’s tenure as Bond, Die Another Day culminates in one of the craziest car chases I’ve ever seen on film: sliding and skidding across a glacier.
On the one hand, I was disheartened to learn that the actual glacier they filmed on in the glacial lagoon of Jökulsárlón, Iceland doesn’t exist. On the other hand, I also learned that the production team actually had engineers dam the lake in an effort get it to freeze for the scene… and that it only froze to a safe thickness for the stunt days before the production team was scheduled to move the shoot to Alaska.
15. Mad Max: Fury Road (Namibia, Australia, South Africa)
Sure, it may be the new kid on the block (it is still in theaters, after all), but Mad Max: Fury Road is already comfortably seated as Imdb’s #38 best movie of all time. So in an effort to tiptoe around spoilers for those of us who haven’t seen the film yet: there are car chases. In the desert. And it’s pretty freaking sweet.
Unique to this installment of the Mad Max franchise, large swaths of the film were shot in the Namib desert of Namibia (of NatGeo “this picture looks painted but it isn’t” fame). Director George Miller made the tough call to break from tradition (and move the shoot to Namibia) after the third wettest rainy season in Australia’s recorded history left the original shooting site of Broken Hill too lush with new growth to be considered gritty and post-apocalyptic enough for the film.
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