Films often inspire our lust for travel, and we got to thinking about some of the world’s most iconic filming locations; places that have inspired writers, locations that lit up the screen and backdrops that directors dream about. Here’s a round-up of some of our most memorable destinations. Read on to find out more about the settings that wowed you on the silver screen.
Set in a 1970s Iran, but with no way of filming in the country itself, Ben Affleck’s Oscar-winning Argo had to get resourceful when it came to locations and Istanbul was a natural choice. A scene set in Tehran’s chaotic bazaar provided an obvious challenge, but Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar created a seamless backdrop. The film also used Hagia Sophia Basilica’s impressive interiors over their two-week stint in the city, although not before allegedly having all 2,000-plus light bulbs changed to suit Mr Affleck’s vision. Bond’s been seen in town here too, twice, with both From Russia with Love (1963) and Skyfall (2012) making use of the city’s distinctive skyline.
Angkor Wat, Cambodia
Cambodia’s Angkor Wat temple complex was put firmly on the map when the Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001) team spent a week filming here. Angkor Wat last saw a film crew in 1964, after which years of political strife left it a no-go zone. It took the assistance of the Royal Cambodian Army to travel the cast and crew safely through the pot-holed and mine-peppered Khmer Rouge stronghold to reach the site, with bridges hastily repaired en route on an as-and-when basis. An ironic undertaking indeed when you consider that, at the time of filming, Cambodia had no purpose-built cinemas.
Paris is well worthy of the silver screen, providing not just an attractive backdrop, but direct inspiration for many films. Top of our list is Richard Linklater’s Before Sunset (2004), which sees the nine-year old romantic tangle of characters Jesse and Celine unravel in seeming real time as they wander through Paris’ picture-perfect streets. Paris was wrapped up in kooky romanticism in captivating Amélie (2001), whilst Woody Allen took us from present day Paris to the 1920s with Midnight in Paris (2011), introducing some iconic Parisian residents of the time, such as Pablo Picasso, Gertrude Stein, Ernest Hemingway and the Fitzgeralds. Montmartre is the common thread between all these features, with its charming cobbles providing an effortlessly captivating backdrop in each.
Ko Phi Phi Lee, Thailand
Nestled in the Andaman Sea and framed by the jagged peaks of surrounding cliffs, Thailand‘s Ko Phi Phi Lee was an idyllic choice for Danny Boyle’s film adaptation of Alex Garland’s novel The Beach (2000). Its sandy set of choice, Hat Maya, is only reachable by boat (these days from Krabi or Phuket) giving it a real-life mythical edge. The filmmakers were accused of ecological vandalism as a result of their time here, as they allegedly introduced non-native palms to heighten the paradisal factor to cinematic levels. True or not, it was all changed in 2004, when Hat Maya was devastated by the tsunami; thankfully, it has since fully recovered.
Jordan, Middle East
The stunning red deserts of Jordan are captivating both on and off camera, so it’s no surprise that this Arabian gem has cropped up over the years in films of all shapes and sizes. The critically acclaimed Lawrence of Arabia (1962) portrayed the biographical journey of the eponymous archaeologist, military officer and diplomat, as he launched the attack on Aqaba from Wadi Rum, whilst Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989) used Petra’s ancient ‘Treasury’ as the ‘Temple of the Sun’. More recently, Jordan’s played a backdrop in sci-fi blockbuster Prometheus (2012), and was used to portray its neighbour Iraq in Oscar-winning The Hurt Locker (2008). Last year, Jordan’s Wadi Rum stepped in as an alternative landscape to Mars, in Ridley Scott’s Oscar-nominated The Martian (2015).
Notting Hill, London
Nothing puts a place on the map like having a blockbusting film named after it; cue Notting Hill (1999), which saw Hollywood meet Hugh Grant on his leafy London doorstep. The blue door that marked the entrance to his character William Thacker’s apartment is situated on Westbourne Park Road and, at the time, belonged to the film’s screenwriter, Richard Curtis. (Needless to say, the apartment itself was based in a studio, baring no resemblance to Curtis’ actual interiors). This isn’t the first time Notting Hill’s seen the bright lights of a film set – in The Italian Job (1969), Michael Caine’s flat was located at one end of Portobello Road, with the area’s swinging Sixties aesthetic providing the film with an authentic backdrop.
Monument Valley, USA
Monument Valley has got to be the veteran of all filming locations, appearing in an impressive selection of blockbusting flicks ever since director John Ford put it on the filmmakers map with Stagecoach (1939), starring John Wayne. This distinctive set of rocks has witnessed the flight of Thelma & Louise (1991), the random quest of Forrest Gump (1994), the enthralling hum of Easy Rider (1969) and the insane adventures of Marty McFly in Back to the Future Part III (1990). Johnny Depp roamed its solitary plateaus in The Lone Ranger (2013) and the surviving Autobots reunite amidst its scenic surrounds in Transformers: Age of Extinction (2014). Perhaps its most exciting incarnation was in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) when it was digitally recoloured and used as an alien planet.
With a storyline set on the fictional island of Kalokairi, it was Greece’s 6,000 islands that offered Mamma Mia! (2008) enough scenic scope for this fantastical romcom – specifically, the Sporades Archipelago. Whilst much of the action is set on serene Skiathos, neighbouring Skopelos hosted the star-studded cast too, with ABBA classics Does Your Mother Know? and Lay All Your Love on Me performed on its (usually tranquil) shores. The Agios Ioannis chapel provided the perfect location for meddling daughter Sophie’s wedding, and needed very little sprucing to meet Hollywood’s high standards. However, Villa Donna, the story’s hotel, was a little less glamorous, and existed solely on the 007 Stage of Pinewood Studios in Buckinghamshire.
Rome is a filmmaker’s delight, begging the question of what came first – Rome or cinematography? Described by iconic Italian film director Federico Fellini as a city that “doesn’t need to make culture [as] it is culture” creatives have flocked here for decades to soak in its distinct charm. Audrey Hepburn epitomised the city’s appeal with her portrayal of a mischievous princess in Roman Holiday (1953) – who didn’t want to hop onto a Vespa after watching Hepburn’s skirts take to the wind? A scene echoed nearly fifty years later in The Talented Mr Ripley (1999) which saw Matt Damon and Gwyneth Paltrow taking to two wheels on Rome’s scenic streets. Hollywood heights soared further with Eat Pray Love (2010) when starlet Julia Roberts munched on pizza and savoured ice cream in some of Rome’s timeless pavement cafes.
It would be remiss not to include this year’s Oscar-favourite The Revenant (2015) as, when it comes to locations, director Alejandro González Iñárritu held nothing back. Insistent that this epic tale (which is loosely based on a true story) would not be filmed in front of a green screen, he took his cast and crew to the remote and unforgiving wilderness of a snow-covered Alberta to create some of the most fantastic cinematic scenes of all time. With 93% of the film shot on location, great lengths were reached in achieving Iñárritu’s vision; whilst the torturously tense bear attack was of course expertly crafted in CGI, the avalanche that further threatened lead actor Leonardo DiCaprio was created by bombing the mountain by plane. With two-time Oscar-winning Emmanuel Lubezki as the film’s cinematographer, it’s little wonder that a wintry Alberta’s hardships and beauty are brought so ferociously to life.
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