Movies can take you away to a completely new world. Whether it’s action, adventure, fantasy, romance, or comedy, for just a few hours we’re able to escape our regular lives and trade them in for something new and exciting. It’s no wonder that according to a 2018 study published on Statista, nearly 20 percent of those surveyed went to the movies at least once a month, and nearly 10 percent visited their local theatre several times each month. It’s the perfect escape.
Movies offer a sense of wanderlust akin to a mini vacation, as they take us to exotic locales around the world, even if often they’re posing as somewhere else, from ancient time periods to other planets. Whether we notice it or not, the setting of a film is a huge part of the story. Planet earth has some fantastic places worthy of exploring, and even if we can’t afford to put some big-ticket stamps on our passports, we can travel through some fantastic blockbuster hits, and add an epic vacation to our bucket-lists.
Here are 25 real-life destinations that inspired box office hits, so get swept away in your favourite film (or planning your next life-changing trip).
25 New Zealand Becomes Middle Earth In Lord Of The Rings
People from the USA quickly discovered it was worth the 14 plus hour flight when they were taken to Middle Earth care of the lush green background of New Zealand. Tourism hubs offer Lord of the Rings day trips to explore the country.
Those who want to explore “the land of Mordor” don’t need to look any further than Tongariro National Park, the main setting, with Mount Ngauruhoe (also known as Mount Doom). This 2000 year old Mountain is climbable, however be warned, the climb takes around five or six hours because the entire cone of the mountain is made of a soft ash, which makes climbing Mount Doom pretty similar to conquering a giant sand dune.
24 The Martian, Jordan
Many assumed that the setting for The Martian took place on a set with a green screen meant to represent the red planet, but it was filmed in Wadi Rum, Jordan, a valley set into the sandstone and granite rock, about 60km east of Aqaba. The area is affectionately called ‘the Valley of the Moon” and has an aesthetic shockingly close to the surface of the fourth rock from the sun. The protected desert, complete with red sand was also used for the filming of Prometheus as well as Lawrence of Arabia.
23 Scotland & Oxford Are Magical For Harry Potter
Since Harry Potter became a fan favourite more than 300,000 tourists and visitors have stopped by Oxford Christ Church Cathedral for a tour, because it’s best known as Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. The Cathedral offers reasonably priced walking tours for around $30. Those curious about the train to Hogwarts need to travel to Inverness-shire Scotland where the Glenfinnan Viaduct serves as the pathway to the land of Witchcraft and Wizardry. The Glenfinnan viaduct remains the largest concrete railway bridge in all of Scotland at 416 yards.
22 Greece & Mama Mia Here I Go Again
When half of legendary foursome Abba decided to turn their most popular discography into a play, they felt the perfect backdrop would be a romantic Greek Island. Dripping with sweet catchy songs, blue waters, whitewashed houses, and cobbled streets, the charm of the set and soundtrack works impeccably. Filmed on the islands, Skopelos and Skiathos, these islands are just a mere half-hour hydrofoil ride away from Athens, Greece.
You can visit the church where the wedding is held, Agios Ioannis Prodromos Monastery, located at the top of top of a 100-metre headland overlooking the water.
21 The Force Awakens For Star Wars In Ireland
It sounds a little less epic to think of Luke Skywalker spending years in self-imposed exile in Ireland. Filmed at a Gaelic Christian Monastery, Skellig Michael, in County Kerry, Ireland is where Luke spent his time in The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi.
This site, an island just off the coast of Ireland, was built around the sixth to eighth centuries and is said to be one of the most breathtaking views in the world. No matter how grumpy next-Gen Luke is in the films, you must think Mark Hamill enjoyed the scenery while filming.
20 Indiana Jones in Hawaii
Indie went to Peru, but filming for the beginning of Raiders of the Lost Ark was captured in Kauai, an island known as Hawaii’s own Garden Isle. Like we need an excuse to head to Hawaii! The Temple was located close to a town called Lihue.
Remember that iconic scene with the rolling boulder? It was filmed at the picturesque Huleia National Wildlife Refuge, a protected area without access, but if you’re so inclined you can get a view from afar by visiting Alekoko Fish Pond on the southeast side of Kauai.
19 The Hills Are Alive In The Sound Of Music & Salzburg Austria
Based on a memoir, this musical was filmed for authentic backdrops. Today there are businesses built in Austria to help tourists recreate the magic of The Sound of Music, even if there is no time machine to take you back to 1938.
The original tour is run by Panorama Tours, which will take you to Nonnberg Abbey (where Maria was training to become a nun), Hellbrunn Castle, Mondsee Cathedral, and even the Leopoldskron Castle, one side of which was used as the exterior for the Von Trapp home.
18 Lost In Translation In Tokyo
Lost in Translation is a love letter to Tokyo, as well as a love story between a depressed young woman and an aging American celebrity. Filmed at The Park Hyatt Hotel in Shinjuku, Bob and Scarlett guzzle whiskey on the top floor New York Bar, and enjoy amazing sushi from Ichikan. If you want to check out the neon building highlighted, check out Shinjuku district. Many other scenes were filmed in the entertainment district, including Air in Daikanyama, which remains one of the hottest clubs in Tokyo.
17 Jurassic Park In Hawaii
Most of us don’t want to end up in a dinosaur park, but when you remove the element of sharp toothed danger, the backdrop suddenly becomes a lot more appealing. The green and mountainous setting, peppered with waterfalls, lakes, and the best nature has to offer in the franchise are in Kauai, Hawaii.
While many of the areas are restricted to visitors, by signing up for a tour, you can see the lush greenery where Dr. Hammond set his vision that went very, very, wrong.
16 Dirty Dancing In Pembroke Virginia
While the story of Dirty Dancing takes us back in time to the Catskill Mountains of upstate New York in the 1960’s, the movie wasn’t filmed there. Those who really want to recreate the lodge scene should visit The Mountain Lake Lodge, located in Pembroke, Virginia. The lodge served as the setting for all exterior shots of Kellerman’s, and some interior scenes. The lodge has embraced its Dirty Dancing roots and tourists can book theme weekends where you can book the Virginia Cottage (where Baby slept) and maybe even learn a dance step or two.
15 Go ‘Wild’ For the Crater Lake National Park Oregon
Both the book and the movie offered people a slice of the raw and rugged beauty of completing this enormous 1,100-mile hike on the Pacific Coast Trail, from Oregon through California. While the story has inspired many to tackle this journey, most of the film was shot in Oregon with only two scenes recorded on the actual Pacific Coast Trail.
To get the Wild experience without so many blisters visit Ashland and Crater Lake National Park, as well as The Oregon Badlands Wilderness, which was transformed into the California Pacific Trail with some ‘imported’ Joshua Trees.
14 Star Wars, Tunisia
Tatooine isn’t really in a galaxy far, far away. Much of Luke Skywalker’s home planet is in Tozeur, a city in south west Tunisia, and the perfect spot for Jedi’s everywhere to explore.
Tourists can rent a 4X4 and explore the 700 troglodyte (cave) homes that locals still live in to help protect them from the intense regional desert heat. Star Wars fans flock to the Sidi Driss Hotel, located in Matmata, where the scenes from Luke’s childhood, blue milk and all were filmed.
13 The Hunger Games, Georgia
The dystopian future trilogy is ripe with places we’d never want to explore, but it’s hard to ignore the rich and impressive sights in The Capital, where only the richest humans (including President Snow) live. The impressive scenes in The Capital for both Catching Fire and Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 were shot in Atlanta, Georgia, at the Marriott Marquis.
This world-famous hotel has a 50-story atrium which at one time was the biggest on earth. Book a room today, starting for around $160.
12 Philippines Now For Apocalypse Now
While the Francis Ford Coppola War film Apocalypse Now was about the Vietnam War, taking place in Vietnam and Cambodia, the movie was shot in Philippine jungles. No matter how much the film is loved today, the filming was known as being chaotic at best with Coppola saying, "We were in the jungle. There were too many of us. We had access to too much money, too much equipment. And little by little we went insane."
Tours are offered so travellers can walk in the footsteps of Capt. Willard and company through a guide led journey up the Bumbungan River.
11 The Shining Overlook Hotel, Oregon
The Overlook Hotel from The Shining remains a highly customer rated operational hotel in Mount Hood Oregon, and no we don’t think it’s really haunted, but that’s probably up for debate.
The hotel is set atop Mount Hood, National Forest, and guests can book a room at the Timberline Lodge from around $200 per night for a getaway, cause all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. The hotel is a national historic landmark that sees over two million visitors every year. The lodge is a four-storey building that is a vast 40,000 square feet.
10 Martha's Vineyard, Jaws
The juxtaposition of a vacation destination for people ready to relax, paired with the horror that ensued in the hit film Jaws was perfect. Filmed in the summer home community of the wealthy, Martha’s Vineyard hasn’t stopped tourists and seasonal residents from enjoying the sand and surf of Massachusetts. Martha’s Vineyard Online boasts, “Come in summer and enjoy our world class beaches, cultural events, fresh seafood, farm fresh produce and laid-back lifestyle.”
Beyond life on the beach, many aspects of the town, such as the Amity Gazette Building (located in Edgartown) appear as if no time has passed since filming.
9 James Bond Skyfall, Turkey
Made famous in the 2012, 007 film Skyfall is a Turkish century-old viaduct, around 320 feet high. The Varda Viaduct is a popular site thanks to its admirable design and film history, the location where James Bond (played by modern maverick Daniel Craig) falls off the top of a train when he is shot mid-fight. This is one Hollywood stunt you shouldn’t try at home. Some local teens snuck onto the set of Skyfall to capture the rehearsals for the infamous fight scene at the Varda Viaduct.
8 Hatley ‘Mutant’ Castle From X-Men, British Columbia
Deadpool and Ryan Reynolds aren’t the only Canadian elements in the Marvel World. Hatley Castle, located in British Columbia Canada, is the home of the exterior for Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters in the X-men Movies. Previously the home of dormitories for Royal Roads Military College it is now the Administrative hub for Royal Roads University and where fans can pay for tours five days each week.
The larger than life castle is 200 feet long, and 86 feet wide.
7 Sideways Dining Adventures, Northern California
Whether you’re into grapes, Merlot, or films, anyone who loves wine has a trip to California wine country on their bucket list. Wine aficionados can visit The Hitching Post Restaurant in Casmalia, California where character Miles from the dark comedy Sideways was practically a fixture. The Hitching Post has been owned and operated by the Ostini family since 1952. Those who enjoy California style BBQ eats and grapes should check out this real-life venue the next time they’re in Northern California, bachelor bender not necessary.
6 The Beach, Thailand
The film The Beach, inspired by a book of the same name, came out in 2000 and starred Leonardo DiCaprio, bringing tourists to Ko Phi Phi Leh Thailand in droves. Unfortunately, the lush paradise has suffered because of the overcrowding, leading to severe coral destruction in the area. There is a daily ferry that will take you to the spot where a backpacker looks for the perfect beach that leaves from Krabi and Phuket.
Some claim the area was vandalized when palm trees were imported to the beach to up it’s aesthetic beauty even more.
5 The Godfather Roots, Italy
The Godfather crime trilogy began in 1972 and famously tells the epic tale of the Corleone family, Italian American immigrants and gangsters with roots in Corleone, Sicily, Italy. When going to Italy to film, they found that Corleone was too modernized and developed to accurately portray the Don Vito Corleone’s (Marlon Brando’s) hometown.
Instead, filming took place in the Villages of Savoca and Forza D’Agro, Sicily to give the locale the rustic authenticity which helped make the 1972 film the highest grossing Blockbuster of the year. The other 90 percent of the film was shot in New York City.
4 The Motorcycle Diaries, Central America
The Motorcycle Diaries follows the famed journey of Che Guevara as he sets off on a 1939 5,000-mile motorcycle Journey across South America. Filmed where it took place, the movie is as much about the backdrop of Che’s journey as it is about the story.
Those wanting an adventurous trip can retrace the footsteps (or bike tires) west from Buenos Aires, Argentina, through Patagonia and into Chile, north along the Andes to Machu Picchu, concluding in Guajira Peninsula in Venezuela, to where Che and his friend Alberto Ganado attended their medical residency in a leper colony.
3 Grand Budapest Hotel - A Department Store In Germany
Wes Anderson films have a specific look, which is why the setting of anything he creates becomes an important character in the film. The Grand Budapest Hotel is really the Gorlitz Department Store, located in Germany. This long running department store was operational for nearly a century (from 1913 to 2009), in a picturesque Art Nouveau style building. The critics agree, the film won an Academy Award for production design.
In 2013 an investor purchased it and sizeable renovations are underway to return it to function as another department store.
2 The Truman Show, Florida
Big Brother was real in the reality TV inspired film about the first baby adopted by a television network, The Truman Show. The town of Seaside has since become well-known after its role as Seahaven Island in the award-winning film that proved Jim Carey was capable of mastering a dramatic role. This real-life Florida Gulf-Coast community boasts walkable neighbourhoods and was designed in the New Urbanist Style. Fans can offer their patronage to one of the many local businesses featured in the film, including cast and crew hangout Great Southern Café.
1 Forrest Gump's The Box of Chocolate Bench
The famous spot where Forrest Gump sits and retells all of the most important and amazing stories from his life is The Bench at Chippewa Square in Savannah, Georgia. This southern park seems like the perfect place to reflect, because it is. Located in the historic downtown district of the city, the bench itself can now be found at the Savannah History Museum.
Surrounded by cafes and theatres, this downtown bench is one of the most popular tourist and local sites in the city. There is no signage indicating exactly where Forrest sat, so you’ll have to figure it out yourself.