How many times can we count the moments while watching a movie that we recognize the place, the city, the country where the characters are? It’s much easier if they are in popular landmarks or iconic buildings or monuments, like the Golden Gate Bridge or Times Square or the Eiffel Tower. Some directors like to shoot in their favorite city, Spike Lee and Woody Allen kind of like New York a lot. But sometimes there are those bizarre scenes where no one would think that shooting a film would be awesome in that location, but as it turns out, it was very good.
In this article, we will share 25 of the most bizarre, most influential, most pivotal, and the most memorable scenes in movies that were shot in real locations. It is not limited to the Warner Brothers lot or any production company lot for that matter, but all over the globe. Asia, Europe, South America, filmmakers often go to the extreme in finding and portraying that authenticity that they want to capture on film. We will also share at least one film and the actual scene that was shot in the said location. So in the words of the late Heath Ledger’s Joker in The Dark Knight: “..and here we go!”
25 New Paltz, New York
The incredible celebrity couple Emily Blunt and John Krasinski set out and made a low-budget film and played on-screen husband and wife in the thriller A Quiet Place. This instant classic grossed $340 million worldwide according to Box Office Mojo from a budget of just $17 million. One location they used with the limited budget was right in New Paltz, New York. That introduction to the film of the monster and the antagonist of the story was set up quite nicely at the abandoned bridge that’s just in New York.
24 Wadi Rum, Jordan
Matt Damon’s been to a lot of places in his film career, he’s been to Vegas in the Ocean’s trilogy, to China in The Great Wall, and all over Europe in the Bourne trilogy. But how do you film a movie that’s supposed to be set on Mars? The answer is you go to Wadi Rum, Jordan. This amazing desert south of Jordan has an obvious touch of red that it could very well be what the environment of Mars would look like. Most of the external scenes in the 2015 film The Martian were shot in Wadi Rum.
23 Stanley Hotel, Colorado
It’s no secret that Stephen King hates the Stanley Kubrick version of his bestselling novel The Shining. It was during a Rolling Stone interview and is documented in this Cinema Blend article. The fictional Overlook Hotel was played in the 1980 film by the Timberline Lodge in Oregon. But King’s inspiration came from a different hotel, Colorado’s Stanley Hotel. This hotel was used in the 1997 TV-movie, been a while, though. Perhaps it’s time for another re-make, one that would make Stephen King happier.
22 Surrey, the United Kingdom
This forest in Farnham, Surrey was used in the epic opening battle scene of Russell Crowe and Ridley Scott’s Gladiator. A film that received 5 Academy Awards (including Best Actor and Best Picture) is no snooze, and that backdrop of tall trees in Surrey set the tone for the first taste of battle and what’s to come in this Rome-era story of betrayal, revenge, and redemption. Filmed in 2000 in various locations aside from Surrey in the United Kingdom, watching Gladiator today does not feel like it was made almost 20 years ago.
21 Grand Forks, North Dakota
Fargo, the 1996 Coen Brothers film created a cult following and a real-life treasure hunt so global that it reached Asia and prompted a Japanese woman to head west and go search for that case full of money buried in the snow as reported by the Guardian. Fargo was the film that gave Frances McDormand her first Academy Award and Best Writing awards for the Coen Brothers. Filmed in Grand Forks, and some in Fargo, North Dakota, that scene where Steve Buscemi’ character was burying the suitcase of cash led to people traveling to North Dakota, shovels in hand.
20 Zhangjiajie National Forest Park, China
James Cameron is probably one of the most successful directors of all-time. Having helmed films like The Terminator, Titanic, and True Lies tells us that any film he writes and directs is a must-see at the cinemas. His 2009 film Avatar is no different. Set in the future, on a fictional planet, the landscape would have to be created. But some of it is real. One background they used was China’s Zhangjiajie National Forest Park. Amazing mountains, rocks, and vegetation that’s almost unreal.
19 Aragorn's Cliff, New Zealand
The second installment to director Peter Jackson’s LOTR trilogy was titled The Lord of The Rings: The Two Towers. Ever the Kiwi, Peter Jackson shot this film on location in New Zealand. His genius worked on what to use, and where to use it, in the almost-unlimited sets and potential areas in the country of New Zealand that were at his disposal. But one smart scene was the pivotal scene where Aragorn falls of the cliff while protecting the people of Rohan in their walk from the castle to Helms Deep. Aragorn’s Cliff, as it would be known later, was actually just a ledge of rock that is no higher than 6 feet.
18 Banaue Rice Terraces, the Philippines
One of the highest-grossing films of the previous year was the culmination of all the Marvel superhero movies of the past decade, and it was titled Avengers: Infinity War. Mostly CGI-driven, as most superhero films usually are, the 2018 film was shot in locations such as Brazil, Scotland, and the Philippines. The Banaue Rice Terraces were used as Thanos’s resting spot at the end of the story. Blink and you would have missed the rice terraces in the background.
17 Alcatraz Island, San Francisco
The correctional facility turned tourist attraction has had its share of films in the past years, but none of these films are more deserving than the film titled The Rock. This is not about Dwayne Johnson, nor is he in this film, but it’s about the Alcatraz prison facility and how the good guys need to break into it to save the country from a deadly threat. Director Michael Bay and his crew used the island extensively, putting actors Nicolas Cage and Sean Connery here and there.
16 Alice Town, the Bahamas
The film that brought the Thomas Harris creation ultra-villain Hannibal Lecter to life was one of only three films that achieved the honor of taking home the Big 5 of the Oscars. As explained by reelrundown.com, the Big 5 are Best Picture, Best Writing, Best Director, Best Actress, and Best Actor. Jonathan Demme’s Silence of the Lambs was the last film that did it, together with Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins, they drew history in this award-winning film. The end scene was shot in Alice Town, Bahamas, and the place portrayed tastefully how an evil character has the world as his oyster, a very chilling ending.
15 Kananaskis Country, Canada
The Revenant was a very powerful film that deserves every bit of Leonardo DiCaprio’s brilliant talent and his first-ever Oscar Best Actor award. Released in 2015 with an equally talented cast in Tom Hardy and Domhnall Gleeson, The Revenant is a story of survival set in the snows of pre-USA North America. The vastness of the snow shot in the film was taken mostly in Canada and most of them in the Kananaskis Country. All Leo had to do to win an Oscar was almost die in his film and then survive because the other option didn’t work in The Departed, Titanic, Blood Diamond, and Romeo+Juliet.
14 San Miguel, Mexico
Western films are a staple in the Hollywood film industry. Not a year goes by without filmmakers releasing a western-themed film, comedy or drama, it’s a certainty at least one will be shown in the cinemas. But there may not be any other person that comes close to the maestro of westerns, Sergio Leone. His films were classics, and his locations nothing less than perfect. He virtually put San Miguel, Mexico on the map, shooting films there the likes of A Fistful of Dollars, and other Clint Eastwood-led western classics.
13 DuPont State Forest, North Carolina
The Hunger Games film series was based on the three-part novel written by Suzanne Collins. The film series is led by Jennifer Lawrence and Liam Hemsworth. Arguably, the best film is still the first one, and it’s largely because of the actual Hunger Games and the scenes in it. The Dupont State Forest in North Carolina was used in filming the scenes in this deadly game. The location is quite popular in Hollywood, having been used by films like The Last of the Mohicans.
12 Hat Maya, Thailand
It is safe to say that director Danny Boyle is a visionary. At a time that nobody has ever thought of using a secret spot in Thailand as the mythical beach that everyone longs for, Danny Boyle made a film there. His film The Beach and “the” beach was shot in Hat Maya, Thailand. Today, this is another tourist beach destination in the beautiful tropical country of Thailand. But in 2000, it was really just a virgin beach, kudos to Danny Boyle.
11 Shannon Mews South Vancouver, Canada
There are probably billions of houses in the entire world, some small and unappealing, others creepy and bizarre, and then there are some that have established quite a celebrity status. We’re talking about the Shannon Mews mansion in Canada. Located in South Vancouver, the Shannon Mews is a picturesque mansion, a timeless architectural work, that can be put in any kind of film, fantasy, present or far into the future. The mansion was used in films such as I, Robot and Watchmen.
10 Savoca, Italy
The Godfather is on the top ten list of any film critic out there. The movie was great and arguably as great as the novel written by Mario Puzo. It was a tour de force by director Francis Ford Coppola and stars Marlon Brando and Al Pacino, among a star-studded cast. In the film, when Michael Corleone had to hide out to Italy, we see a beautiful and serene town that’s supposed to be Sicily. But in reality, it was shot in several places in the country, and most of it in Sacova, a quiet little town in Messina, south of Italy.
9 Blue John Canyon, Utah
The 2010 127 Hours film that starred James Franco was a grueling true story of survival and a literal do-what-it-takes-to-survive film directed by, once again, visionary Danny Boyle. One other character in the story is the mountain, the boulder that Aron Ralston got stuck by for days. The other character is the Blue John Canyon in Utah. Hikers today go to this canyon to look for that boulder that James Franco’s character’s hand got stuck in and take souvenir photos. Oh, just be careful to not get that arm stuck for real!
8 Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Uganda
The diversity of the film Black Panther can also be seen in the locations it was shot in. This Marvel Cinematic Universe movie was shot in several locations such as Georgia, USA, Argentina, and South Korea. But a fictional African nation can only be shot in a real African country, like Uganda. The aerial shots going into Wakanda were actually the forests of the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda. Other Wakanda scenes were shot in Rwenzori Mountains National Park, South Africa, and Zambia.
7 Pembrokeshire, South Wales
The epic film series from the brilliant mind of novelist J.K. Rowling was an eight-part saga that actors Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, and Emma Watson literally grew up in. Most of the scenes were shot on location in Europe, in the United Kingdom. One such scene is the tranquil beach house of Bill Weasley and Fleur Delacour called Shell Cottage. This seaside residence was shot in Pembrokeshire, South Wales. There’s no better beach that can capture the tragedy and the potential happiness the Shell Cottage possess.
6 Chion-In Temple, Japan
Tom Cruise is one of this industry’s last remaining traditional action film heroes. Regular guy, regular skills, all heart. But once in a while, he makes films that are extraordinarily more than just the action we see in it. This is The Last Samurai, released in 2003, and tells us a tale of Japan and an American turned samurai. Japan is a wonderfully elegant country, and the film shows us that in its cinematography and locations. The historic and astounding Chion-In Temple was used towards the end scene with Tom Cruise’s character painstakingly climbing up the steps.
5 St. Croix, US Virgin Islands
The end scene of the classic film Shawshank Redemption was a little like Jonathan Demme’s film Silence of the Lambs, but only with the fact that both endings were shot on a beach city or town. In novelist Stephen King’s story, Andy Dufresne sets out to Guadalajara to enjoy his freedom. In the film, the beach was actually shot in the US Virgin Islands, on a beach in St. Croix. It was such a powerful ending scene portraying freedom that they had to find an equally magnificent beach that smells of freedom, as well.
4 Putangirua Pinnacles, New Zealand
In the closing chapter of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Return of the King, there was an important part where Viggo Mortensen’s character, Aragorn, is being called out by the spirits into the dwelling of the King’s betrayers. Walking the path involved an eerie place, jagged-edged mountainsides, creepy rock formations on the walls, and a really bizarre location. This was shot in the Putangirua Pinnacles. An amazing place, one would think was man-made, but it is purely New Zealand made.
3 Salar De Uyuni, Bolivia
The eighth installment of the George Lucas creation Star Wars VIII: The Last Jedi was a sci-fi adventure that was shot in various locations, and all of them are breathtaking places. The film was shot mostly in Europe, but there is one location that’s amazingly not green-screened by the studio. They used a real location for it, although unfathomable in real life, it is an actual real-life location. Bolivia’s Salar De Uyuni is a natural wonder like no other, it is the world’s largest salt flatland. A white desert, one could say, and is perfect for sci-fi films like Star Wars, with their lightsabers, androids, and spaceships.
2 MacNeil Residence, Georgetown
The best way to start this article is to share with you the creepiest house ever shown on screen. It’s not really the house, it’s what’s about to happen inside it, that’s creepy. The MacNeil Residence on Georgetown was the house used in the film The Exorcist in 1973. During daylight, the building seems normal but under the cover of night, with some special fog effects, it could curdle anyone’s blood. The MacNeil Residence still sits to this day at 3600 Prospect Street in Georgetown, Washington, DC.
1 Hobbiton, New Zealand
It’s not the place and it’s not the film, either. The set created it and the location was so beautiful that they preserved it and turned it into a tourist attraction in Matamata, New Zealand according to 100% New Zealand. The Shire was the home of Frodo Baggins in the epic film trilogy Lord of The Rings. First shown in The Fellowship of the Ring, the Shire was a lovely little, no pun intended, town of hobbits or halflings. What’s bizarre is that the hobbit houses are just facades, try to step inside that circular door and the fantasy would be over.
References: UnderScoopFire, MentalFloss, Curbed, TheGuardian, MSN