The “dreaming spires” of Oxford have starred in many a film (The Italian Job, Howard’s End, The History Boys), but it’s the college of Christ Church that’s most recognizable in the Harry Potter films, doubling up as the inimitable Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. From the cavernous wood-clad Great Hall and the echoey sixteenth-century staircase to the spooky cloisters and quadrangles, Christ Church makes the perfect setting for magical escapades.
The world’s most infamous fish laid claim to many innocent lives beneath the stunning turquoise waters of Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts, an affluent summer colony accessible by boat and air only. Local residents were picked by director Steven Spielberg to moonlight as extras in the film, including Chief Brody’s two young sons.
The mind-bending film, Inception (2010), flits from country to country and city to city – as dream-world scenes are apt to do – but we kick off the tale in Japan, in the ornate seventeenth-century Nijo Temple. Or rather, a staged Warner Bros. set with a design based on Nijo Castle… which is, in reality, located in Kyoto and open to the public.
Pretty Woman, the iconic 1990 rom-com starring Julia Roberts and Richard Gere, is set in Los Angeles. Gere plays Edward Lewis, a successful businessman who hires a beautiful prostitute, Vivian Ward, to be his escort at several high-flying events. She stays with him at the impossibly glamorous hotel, Beverly Wilshire, where she enjoys a luxurious week of scented bubble baths, champagne and, eventually, true love. Awwww.
J.R Tolkien’s “Middle Earth” is mocked up in New Zealand’s picturesque rural village, Matamata, in the heart of the Waikato region (North Island). The Shire’s quaint thatched cottages surrounded by idyllic countryside of flower-strewn meadows, baa-ing sheep and tinkling streams is also known as “Hobbiton” where LOR fans can take tours and pretend they too are hobbits.
Whenever you’re feeling down, put on a Richard Curtis film: his feel-good offerings are bound to cheer you up. The 1999 film, Notting Hill, is a tried-and-tested film formula featuring classic Brit actor Hugh Grant as bumbling William Thacker, who falls in love with celeb of the day, Anna Scott (Julia Roberts). As the title suggests, the film is set in the gentrified, oh-so-pretty London neighbourhood of Notting Hill, showing off Portobello Road market and that blue door on Westbourne Park Road.
A paradise concoction of sugar-soft white sand and translucent sea, framed by glorious mountains, Ko Phi Phi Leh was the bewitching backdrop to Alex Garland’s novel-turned film, The Beach. A fresh-faced Leo di Caprio runs amok with a beach community fuelled by marijuana-lovin’, but it’s the glorious Thai scenery that steals the show here. Following the film, visitors flocked here in their droves, leading to environmental concerns.
Most Gladiator fans can recite the immortal lines: “My name is Maximus Decimus Meridius…Father to a murdered son, husband to a murdered wife. And I will have my vengeance, in this life or the next”. It’s a heady and emotional Oscar-winning film, made all the more potent by its surroundings, from the dank forests of “Germania” (near Farnham, Surrey) to the scorched African town of Aït Ben Haddou, near Ouarzazate in Morocco, where Maximus is sold into slavery.
The Hook and Ladder 8 Fire Station in Tribeca, New York City, has enjoyed a somewhat spookier past as the headquarters for Peter, Ray and Egon, three oddball parapsychologists who set up a business ridding the city of troublesome ghoulies. The fire station is still in use today, so if you’re visiting armed with camera and questions, do be careful of fast-paced, on-duty vehicles.
It’s a thoroughly English story about King Arthur and his band of knights, but the 1975 film, Monty Python and The Holy Grail was filmed mostly in Scotland. Dating from the thirteenth century, Doune Castle, near Stirling, appeared as Arthur’s home, Camelot, complete with Great Hall and Round Table. The castle wasn’t just Camelot though, as due to restrictions imposed by the authorities on filming in the area, it had to step up as Guy de Lombard’s abode, as well as “Castle Anthrax” and “Swamp Castle”.
This BAFTA-winning extravaganza combined undead zombies, irascible parents (brilliantly played by Bill Nighy and Penelope Wilton), long-suffering girlfriends and a directionless chap named Shaun (played by the matchless Simon Pegg). The film was shot entirely in London, mostly in the north round Finchley, Crouch End and Finsbury Park, but (weirdly) hops south of the Thames to Shaun’s “local”, “The Winchester”, actually the Duke of Albany in New Cross, now redeveloped into flats.
A best-selling thriller that delves deep into the murky world of a secret society, The Illuminati, Dan Brown’s first novel, Angels and Demons, was turned into a film in 2009. Tom Hanks plays protagonist Robert Langdon, who energetically romps around the symbol-strewn Vatican City – though of course, this is not the real Vatican City… it’s all film studios and substitution.
Starring reputable actors such as Ewan McGregor (Renton), Robert Carlyle (Begbie) and Kelly Macdonald (Diane), the original Trainspotting movie is a tough and destructive story about heroin abuse in the late 1980s. The backdrop is an economically depressed Edinburgh, and the opening scene, where we meet Renton and his friend Spud running down Princes Street to the Calton Street Bridge, is duly filmed in the Scottish capital. After this though, most of the filming switches to Glasgow.
With a narrative to melt the hardest of hearts, amplified by a wonderful soundtrack, Forrest Gump (1994) opens with a contemplative Forrest sitting on a bus stop bench in Chippewah Square, Savannah, Georgia, telling his story to anyone who will listen. Now in The Savannah History Museum, not far from the square, the bench is where Forrest utters that immortal line, “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know which one you’re gonna get”.
You may or may not have plucked up the courage to see Stanley Kubrick’s pyschological horror film, The Shining, but you’ll have certainly heard of it. The terror takes hold within creepy “Overlook Hotel”, where Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) is employed as a winter caretaker, accompanied by his wife and psychic son, Danny. The hotel’s interior was filmed in Elstree Studios in Hertfordshire, England, though the exterior is actually the Timberline Lodge in Mount Hood, northern Oregon.
We are in Punxsutawney, Jefferson County, Pennsylvania… again and again and again. It’s February 2nd and arrogant weatherman Phil Connors (Bill Murray) is inexplicably trapped in a time loop, reliving the same day, until he manages to break the spell by capturing his love interest, Rita’s, heart. The film’s “Punxsutawney” is actually a city in Illinois called Woodstock.
The subject of no less than ten films – the first dates to 1979 – the Amityville Horror is based on a novel by Jay Anson, which detailed the story of the Lutz family who move into a ghoul-ridden, Dutch Colonial-style house at 112 Ocean Avenue in Amityville. They stay just 28 days, supposedly tormented by ghosts of the victims of Ronald DeFeo Jr, who murdered six family members there in 1974.
Number 23 in the Bond series, Skyfall welcomes back Daniel Craig as the one and only Agent 007. But we say goodbye to beloved M, played by Judi Dench, who (spoiler alert!) is killed. Filming locations included London and Turkey, as well as Scotland – where Skyfall, Bond’s family home, is sequestered away in the misty glens of Glen Coe (though the house itself is a plywood and plaster creation knocked up in Surrey).
Ben Affleck’s Oscar-winning offering tells the story of six Americans who escape a besieged embassy in the middle of Tehran, Iran in 1980. They are forced into hiding, until Tony Mendez (Affleck) helps them escape, using an elaborately concocted ruse. Of course, filming in Iran was an impossibility, so the film-makers opted for the chaotic, colourful bazaars and crowded streets of Istanbul in Turkey to substitute.
The science fiction hit of 2008, The Hunger Games was written by Suzanne Collins and adapted for the movie screen in 2012. Violent, imaginative and hugely compelling, the “Games” take place within the beautiful pine forests, craggy mountains and rushing waterfalls of DuPont State Forest in North Carolina.
The ancient troglodyte building, Hotel Sidi Driss, in the Berber village of Matamata in the Tunisian desert, is also known as the Stars Wars Hotel. Consisting of five pits connected by a series of underground tunnels and staircases, it was where Luke Skywalker grew up with his aunt and uncle Lars in Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. The connection with the “galaxy far, far away” has ensured the hotel’s popularity – at least as a day-trip, if not an overnight stay.
It needs no introduction: this acclaimed Spaghetti Western stars Clint Eastwood as Blondie (“The Good”), Lee Van Cleef as Angel Eyes (“The Bad”) and Eli Wallach as Tuco (“The Ugly”) and involves tense gun duels, violent hangings, Confederate v Union forces, stolen gold and relentless heat – the latter provided by fierce sunshine in Tabernas Desert, in Andalucía, Spain.
A mind-blowing mix of live action and computer-generated sequences, Avatar (2009) is predominantly set within a rainforest backdrop populated by a nature-loving, blue-skinned race, the Na’vi. It’s difficult, therefore, to tell what’s a real-life location and what’s “technified”, but one thing is for sure – Hawaii looks pretty amazing in Cameron’s hectic motion picture.
The hills are alive in and around Salzburg, where much of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, written by Robert Wise, was filmed – and where the Von Trapp family story originates. There are lots of historical inaccuracies in the film (for example, the family didn’t really live in this magnificent mansion), but who really cares, when this musical spawned tuneful classics such as “Do-Re-Mi” and “Edelweiss”.
As he successfully escapes the depths of the dingy underground prison, Bruce Wayne (aka Batman) is confronted by the sight of the magnificent Mehrangarh Fort. Balanced superbly on a cliff overlooking the city of Jodphur in Rajasthan, the fifteenth century palace makes a suitably terrifying setting for the “Pit” that once imprisoned indomitable Bane.
Prague stars as the movie location of the 2003 comic-book caper, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. The “London Club”, where the League is assembled by M, is the grand Rudolfinum, Prague’s erstwhile House of Commons and now concert venue, home to the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra.
A toe-tapping extravaganza of ABBA hits belted out by actors like Meryl Streep, Colin Firth, Julie Walters, Amanda Seyfried, and, um, Pierce Brosnan, Mamma Mia! is bound to make you want to hop on a plane and get to Greece, fast. The sunshine, sea, sandy beaches and tavernas are donated courtesy of Skiathos, a gorgeous island in the Aegean.
In The Avengers, a medley of superheroes – think Iron Man, Captain America, the Hulk and Thor – join forces to stop Thor’s villainous brother Loki (played by Tom Hiddleston) from conquering and ruling Planet Earth. The city of Cleveland in Ohio doubles up as New York City, scene of some especially chaotic battle scenes; “Stuttgart Square”, where Loki forces the public to kneel to him, is Cleveland’s Public Square.
The ultimate gangster movie, The Godfather (1972), is a violent and complex story of family loyalties, murder, coercion, drugs, Dons and offers “he can’t refuse”. The Corleone family, headed up by Vito (Marlon Brando), come from the town of Corleone in Sicily, however due to its overdeveloped look, the filming shifted over to the prettier, more atmospheric villages of Savoca (pictured) and Forza d’Agrò, near Taormina.
A rust-red valley hewn into the sandstone east of Aqaba in Jordan, Wadi Rum has long been inhabited by humans, who have left their mark on the rocks and valley walls since prehistoric times. A more recent connection is to Lawrence of Arabia, the 1962 movie based on the life of T.E. Lawrence (who passed through the area during the Arab Revolt in 1917–1918), which was mostly filmed here.
It’s a French story by thoroughly French novelist Victor Hugo, but epic musical “Les Mis” was shot pretty much entirely in England, including the dockyards of Portsmouth, a chapel in London’s Little Venice and the elegant Naval College at Greenwich. There is one unquestionable French scene, however, and that’s the lovely hilltop town of Gourdon in the Alpes-Maritimes, where main man Jean Valjean secures his redemption.
Westminster Abbey, site of real-life coronations, is played by Ely Cathedral in director Tom Hooper’s 2010 oh-so-British film, The King’s Speech. Stammering Duke of York (Colin Firth) is “cured” of his vocal affliction by Australian speech therapist Lionel Logue, and successfully conquers his first radio broadcast as King George IV, following the abdication of his brother, Edward VIII.
Kick-ass adventure- and archeology-lover, Lara Croft (Angelina Jolie) is on an Illuminati-thwarting mission in Cambodia – in the beautiful temple complex of Angkor Thom, to be exact. The full splendor of the area is on very much on show, including the 54 incredible towers carved with enigmatic smiling faces.
Rain Man tells the heartwarming tale of two brothers who embark upon a cross-country car trip from Ohio to Los Angeles. Dustin Hoffman plays autistic savant, Raymond (“Rain Man”) while Tom Cruise is his abrasive brother Charlie, who, once he learns Raymond has an excellent memory and mental calculator, carts him off to win at blackjack in the Las Vegas casinos in Nevada. Caesar’s Palace is where Charlie teaches Raymond how to dance.
Planet of the Apes has popped up in a few forms over the years – including a 1970s TV series and a Tim Burton re-hash in 2011. The original film (1968), complete with a bewildered and craggy-looking Charlton Heston, comes to an end on delectable Westward Beach in Malibu (between Zuma Beach and Point Dune), a gorgeous strip of yellow sand lapped by frothy waves.
Representing James Dean’s zenith as cultural and acting icon – he was to tragically die in a car crash before the release of the film – Rebel Without a Cause is a stark social commentary on the moral corrosion of 1950s American youth. The influential school trip and explosive final shootout takes place at the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles, where a bust of Dean has been erected in the building’s grounds.
The Last Crusade (1989) is the third installment in the popular Indiana Jones series, and here we head to the ancient city of Petra in Jordan. The Holy Grail is supposedly housed in the “Canyon of the Crescent Moon”, actually – in real life – the Al Khazneh. The intricate sandstone carving and Greek-influenced architecture make it an exceptionally beautiful structure.
Ohio State Reformatory is an imposing nineteenth-century building in Mansfield, Ohio, that shows off a mix of architectural styles – Victorian Gothic, Queen Anne and something called Richardsonian Romanesque. Behind this impressive facade huddled the inmates of Shawshank State Penitentiary – Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) and Ellis “Red” Redding (Morgan Freeman) among them.
Though it’s set in New York, the 2000 blockbuster featuring comic-strip favourites such as Wolverine and Magneto, is filmed for the most part in Ontario, Canada. The Gooderham Worts Distillery, once one of the largest distillers in the British Empire and now an entertainment district in downtown Toronto, appeared in the opening scene as a Polish concentration camp.
Steven Spielberg’s horrifying and emotional depiction of the 1944 D-Day Landings in his Oscar-winning war epic, Saving Private Ryan, used windswept Ballinesker and Curracloe beaches in Wexford, Ireland, to stand in for Omaha Beach in Normandy. The beaches are Blue Flag beauties known for bird-watching.
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