CGI achieves incredible things in modern day filmmaking, but there’s a buzz to be had from spending time in a real location that you recognize from a favorite movie. It’s part of the reason why New York is so instantly familiar, even to first time visitors: it’s like we’ve been there, via cinematic experience, a hundred times before. Ranging from old movies to newer offerings, and from remote destinations to those closer to home, this list should get you exploring - both from your armchair and on foot.
1. Star Wars: The Force Awakens And The Last Jedi
Skelling Michael will be instantly recognizable to Star Wars fans as Ahch-To, the island planet on which Luke Skywalker was found by Rey at the end of The Force Awakens; it’s also where she subsequently learns how to use her force in The Last Jedi. In reality, this dramatic piece of landscape lies about 7 miles off the southwest coast of Ireland; in around 600CE, monks built a monastery high above sea level, which was accessible only by climbing hundreds of rough stone steps. Various tours run from the mainland to the island.
2. Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert
This cult Australian film follows the misadventures of two drag queens and a transgender woman on the journey from Sydney to Alice Springs, in a bus they’ve named Priscilla. Its portrayal of LGBT people had positive mainstreaming effects - and Australia’s magnificent inland didn’t come off looking too bad either. In the Northern Territory, Kings Canyon formed a majestic backdrop to the film, as did the South Australian mining town of Coober Pedy, which Bowie fans may also recognize from the music video to ‘Let’s Dance’.
3. Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind
Even if you’re still grappling with the slightly out-there concept of this film, you’d have to agree that it ain’t a love story without a lighthouse in the picture. The one near which Joel (Jim Carrey) first sees Clementine (Kate Winslet) on the beach is a beauty: it’s called the Montauk Point Lighthouse, and is set at the very tip of Long Island.
4. La Dolce Vita
As if The Eternal City weren’t heart stoppingly romantic enough, it’s also the city in which La Dolce Vita was set, and in which Anita Ekberg (stunning strapless gown flowing on the water’s surface) frolics sensuously in the Trevi Fountain, luring Marcello Mastroianni to wade in and join her. These days, the closest you can get to the fountain’s waters is by throwing a coin in: if you’re tempted to recreate Ekberg’s scene, scoop up a good handful of those coins as you go, because you’ll be hit with a hefty fine.
An Australian actor playing an Ancient Roman in a Rome that was actually Malta. Not confusing at all, right? In any case, Russell Crowe’s gladiatorial trials and tribulations were not filmed in Rome’s Colosseum, but in Malta on the vast remains of Fort Ricasoli, with additional CGI contributing to the setting’s authenticity. The location was also used a few years later in Troy, starring Brad Pitt.
6. 50 Shades Of Grey
This tale of fantasy and seduction is set in Seattle, but filmed almost exclusively in Vancouver. Christian Grey’s business (his daytime business - you know, the one he remains clothed for) has its HQ in office building Bentall 5. Does your relationship need discussing? Take a walk by Beaver Lake, in Stanley Park - this provided the backdrop for where Anastasia and Christian negotiate the terms of their togetherness.
7. Indiana Jones & The Last Crusade
Hard bitten Indiana visited Petra in his quest for the Holy Grail and in doing so, set this Middle Eastern destination firmly on the movie buff’s tourist map: annual visitors soared from the thousands to the millions after this film’s release. Carved into red desert cliffs, it’s hard to imagine why this ancient city needed the (not inconsiderable) appeal of Indy to spike its popularity, but in any case, it’s a magnificent bucket list destination.
8. Harry Potter
Alnwick Castle, in England’s Northumberland, provides many of the ‘grounds of Hogwarts’ scenes, including where Harry and his classmates learn to fly and to play Quidditch. Non-student visitors can have broomstick lessons here but you’ll need to know how to use the ‘burst’ feature on your phone to capture that in-flight moment.
9. Notting Hill
The film basically takes its name from the suburb - and what a gorgeously cinematic suburb it is. Those colored facades, that bumbling Englishman - these things actually exist. Granted, hardly anyone can afford to actually live there (Spike?! how?!!) but anyone can stroll down Portobello Road and see London in this Hollywood incarnation. You may not find true love, but you will get some very Insta-worthy snaps.
10. The Beach
Alex Garland’s novel may well have been (was! was indisputably!!) better than the Leonardo diCaprio vehicle of the same name, but the Phi Phi Leh Island setting of the film just about makes you forgive Danny Boyle for allowing someone other than Ewan McGregor to play Richard. In a strange twist of cinematic fortune, the idyllic and secret place to which Richard makes his way became, in real life, the subject of environmental concern, with off-the-beaten-track seekers heading to this previously unspoilt spot, just off the coast of Phuket.
11. 127 Hours
Oh it’s all coming of age hotness and flirty anticipation before you have to hack your own arm off, right? In any case, the subterranean pool into which James Franco plunges with the two cute backcountry hikers he meets is an actual natural hot spring, located in Midway, Utah at the Homestead Resort & Spa.
12. The Shining
Staying in a hotel that’s famous because of a film in which being here drove a man to murderous madness may be … a bit twisted perhaps. Nevertheless, the combined appeal of horror maestro Stephen King and on-screen force Jack Nicholson makes the Timberline Lodge in Oregon a sought-after destination: its exterior was shot as The Overlook Hotel in the Kubrick film; but it’s a great real-life base for Mount Hood ski and snowboarding, too.
Maybe Steven Spielberg’s shark classic made you wary of open water, but it did little to deter visitors from Martha’s Vineyard, where much of the film was shot. Although JAWS dates back to 1975, many of the ‘Amity Island’ locations are still recognisable, including the Chappaquiddick Island Ferry, Quint’s workshop and Brody’s residence.
14. Jurassic Park
Despite shocking losses resulting from storm damage during the first Jurassic installment, all four of the films in this franchise have been filmed in Hawaii which, with its lush, primordial landscapes, has lent a sense of authenticity to the pre-civilization storyline. Kauai is the main (landscape) player in the films, but be aware that most of its movie backdrops are accessible only by way of guided tour.
15. Close Encounters Of The Third Kind
Obviously a film with such a name would need a suitably otherworldly backdrop, and Steven Spielberg more than found it in Devils Tower. Located in northeastern Wyoming, it soars dramatically above the landscape to a height of 1,267 feet (386 m) above the Belle Fourche River. The only way to the top is to climb it - no ladders, no stairs, no lifts, no handy spaceships to zip you up to the summit. Blood, sweat and tears all the way - or you could make like most of the 400,000 visitors each year and hike around its base and surrounding area, admiring the formation from ground level.
16. Paddington I & II
Naturally enough, the station scene in which Paddington is found by the Browns is filmed in London’s busy Paddington Station: visitors can seek out the bronze statue devoted to the bear, as well as spending their money in the themed gift shop. Since the real Paddington Station’s frontage isn’t all that attractive, however, the more impressive Marylebone stands in. And Gruber’s shop, in which Paddington finds the charming “Popping Book” he covets for Aunt Lucy? You’ll find it on Portobello Road: still with its distinctive red frontage, but called Alice’s.
Starring Jude Law and Ethan Hawke, this film is set in a dystopian future where eugenics and ‘unnatural selection’ are the means by which children are born and may progress. The sinister Gattaca Corporation’s HQ is similarly stark; in real life, however, this is Marin County Civic Center, located within a short drive of San Francisco. It may be a boring-sounding building, but its made far less boring not only by its starring role, but also by the fact that it was designed by architectural luminary Frank Lloyd Wright.
18. Point Break II
Okay, so maybe nobody will ever say “Wow, the acting in Point Break II was incredible!” (very likely they wouldn’t say it about the first Point Break either …) but you can’t deny that when it comes to adrenaline sports and spectacular natural settings, the remake was pretty amazing. At 3,212 feet high, Angel Falls is the tallest uninterrupted waterfall in the world, flowing from the top of Auyán-tepui, and crashing down its sheer face. What better place for Utah and Bodhi to engage in a bit of (not competitive at all..) free climbing?
19. North By Northwest
Respect for presidents and the democracy they are supposed to represent being what it is (ahem), Hitchcock wasn’t actually allowed to shoot the final chase scene across their craggy features: despite the National Park Service having initially granted tentative permission for filming, it was deemed that the planned scenes were too violent. The compromise? The faces were photographed from every possible angle and then blown up - so realistically, in fact, that showbiz writers at the time incorrectly reported that no mock-ups had been employed in the film’s making.
20. The Sound Of Music
If ever a film could be credited with putting an already-lovely location on the map, the The Sound of Music would surely be a contender: it’s estimated that around 70% of the visitors who come to Salzburg from overseas do so because of the 1965 film. Maria dances with the children at the Pegasus Fountain in the Mirabell Gardens, and Rolf sings Sixteen Going on Seventeen at the gazebo of the Hellbrunn Palace.
21. Mamma Mia!
Many of the scenes in the smash 2007 ABBA/ Meryl Streep movie were filmed on the islands of Skopelos and Skiathos, but the harbor where the “Dancing Queen’ scene was shot can be found on the mainland, in a seaside village called Damouchari in Pelion. If you’re looking to replicate the exuberant jetty-jumping at the end of the sequence, you may be disappointed to find that the wooden structure was only temporary, built for the film - but fear not, because Damouchari’s heavenly blue water is well worth getting into, regardless of where you leap from.
Usually just a sleepy Austrian ski town, with less than 5,000 inhabitants, Solden was put on the international espionage map when James Bond took to its slopes for one of Spectre’s main action sequences. Ice Q, a striking three storey glass building at the summit, also plays a role in the film: those of us not otherwise engaged in secret service duties can simply enjoy a fine dining menu here, as well as the panoramic mountain views offered by the floor to ceiling windows.
23. Kong, Skull Island
It raised some pretty interesting questions about the relationships between humans and nature, and the extent to which the fierce are merely the fiercely protective - but as well as anything else, it has to be said that Kong inhabited some pretty jawdropping landscape. Who wouldn’t uber-resistant to chopper-whirring newcomers when home looks like that? Vietnam was the location for much of the film; head to the caves of Quang Binh, the quiet town of Phong Nha and the stupendously scenic Ha Long Bay to witness Kong’s home for yourself.
24. Catch Me If You Can
Who needs France when you have Quebec? The scene in which Abagnale (Leonardo diCaprio) is arrested in ‘Montrichard’ was actually shot in Quebec City’s Place Royale, with Notre Dame des Victoires, which was built between 1687 and 1723, in the background. Stone buildings and narrow winding streets lined with quaint storefronts add to the area’s distinctly European feel.
25. Superman II
These days, the distracted mother would probably be looking at her cell phone or taking the perfect Instagram shot of Niagara Falls when her silly child falls over the edge. Let’s hope that Superman wouldn’t be doing the same thing or that kid would be a goner for sure. And what about Lois? Would she test out her belief that Clark is actually the caped superhero by risking her own life in the rushing water - or would she be doing an online compatibility test instead of checking out the incredible view?
26. Lost In Translation
Set and filmed almost entirely in Tokyo, those wanting to check out the hotel in which Bob (Bill Murray) and Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) meet and stay need to head to the Park Hyatt in the Shinjuku district. Its incredible New York Bar, where Bob passes his evenings, has sensational views over the city and Mount Fuji; outside, the neon lit streets, showcased at various points throughout the film, were shot just near Shinjuku Station in the red light district of Kabukicho.
27. Lord Of The Rings
Fans of Tolkien won’t be able to resist the breathtaking landscapes that brought Middle Earth to life - and that very possibly put New Zealand on the global radar. Opportunism being what it is, there are plenty of tours available to travelers, via which various locations can be accessed. Some even involve costumed reenactments. The summit of Mt Doom - otherwise known as Mt Ngauruhoe - can be reached in a fairly strenuous hike - or head to Snowdon Forest (known in the films as Fangorn Forest) in Fiordland National Park.
28. Good Will Hunting
The University of Toronto stands in for Harvard and MIT in this 1996 film, but it’s not just the academic scenes where Toronto took to the screen: there’s also Will and Skylar’s novelty shop date, which was filmed in the (now closed but still alive and well online) Ontario Specialty Company at 133 Church St. Meanwhile, head to the Upfront Bar and Grill at 106 Front Street East, if you want to have a beer in the bar where Will Hunting takes down the snotty history student.
29. The English Patient
Although the screen adaptation of Michael Ondaatje’s Booker Prize winning novel is set in Egypt, it’s in Tunisia that the film was made. Modern day Cairo was too developed to be believable as the 1940s city, so the city of Tunis took its place. More remotely, Count Almasy’s desert camp can today be accessed on a four-wheel drive guided tour: it’s actually in the western Tunisian desert close to Nefta.
The world’s highest mountain is inhospitable enough to seasoned climbers, so what were the likes of filmmakers and actors to do with lack of oxygen and frostbitten toes? Recreate the 8, 848 meter peak in the Dolomites, in Italy, of course - not that these majestic mountains exactly laid down a red carpet for Hollywood: there were still temperatures of minus 20 and similarly harsh conditions to be grappled with. The Dolomites are a popular European ski destination if you like your mountains a little more forgiving, preferably with hot chocolate at the end of every run.