Very many movies have been filmed on set, in rooms or even towns, villages and countrysides purpose-built for the occasion. When a real life setting is chosen – often at great expense to the production company – directors, producers and location managers go out of their way to pick the most beautiful or iconic settings possible, within their budget. What if we all had the budget to set our life stories wherever we wanted? Imagine this month filming on location in Rio, next month in Paris, or on a Caribbean beach!
If you had your choice of places to pick for filming your life (!) where would you set up the movie crew? Would you choose those Caribbean beaches, or would you fly to the hills, hiking with cameras to higher climes? Would you film coastline or forest? Where you choose would depend, of course, on the storyline. Is the movie a Western? Set in the courts of a Siamese king? Or is it a movie about a bunch of friends who go on spring break?
The locations we’re listing here include a great variety of places the world over, though many of them have something in common: water. It seems there’s something about lakes, seas and oceans that people are so drawn to – although, of course, it could have something to do with the impracticality of creating an ocean in a film studio! Whatever the reasoning behind these movie location choices – be it practicality, aesthetics or authenticity – the following 10 locations have become some of most iconic on-screen settings in movie history.
10. The Vikings : The Nærøyfjord, Norway
This classic film from 1958 featured a star-studded cast: Kirk Douglas, Orson Welles, Ernest Borgnine, Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh. The set, which included a Viking village, was researched meticulously. The movie was filmed mostly on Norway’s southwest coast, including the Nærøyfjord. The fjord, or inlet, is situated in the municipality of Aurland and is 18 kilometers long, but at some points can be as little as 500 meters wide. It’s the perfect setting for the longboats Vikings used, and indeed this area once was inhabited by the Vikings. The beautiful rocks and cliffs in the Nærøyfjord are typical of much of this area of Norway, with clear waters running light at shore and deep blue further out. Oh, to be a Viking maiden…
9. Cocktail : Port Antonio, Jamaica
One of Tom Cruise’s earlier films, this movie marked a turning point between his teen roles and his later adult roles. Filmed on Jamaica’s northeast coast town of Port Antonio, scenes were set mainly on the beach at a thatched-hut bar, but also included romantic locations like Port Antonio’s Reach Falls. Port Antonio was once home to swashbucklers and buccaneers, and it even boasts a small island offshore once owned by Errol Flynn, who made his home there. Referred to as “Portie” by locals, the town is much lusher than most other tourist towns on the island because it gets more rain, and as a result is, in parts, quite like a rainforest.
8. Stagecoach : Monument Valley, USA
The only location on this list not surrounded by water, Monument Valley is just the opposite: a desert treasure. Located on the state line between Arizona and Utah, this Navajo land with massive sandstone buttes is part of the majestic Colorado Plateau. Featured in numerous Westerns by director John Ford, the area is “five square miles” that movie critic Keith Phipps noted have become formative in many generations’ concepts of the American West. The jutting stone is filled with beiges and rust reds; similarly colored earth makes up this dry landscape, where one can easily picture a cowboy ambling through the desert on horseback on his way from one gal to another.
7. Mamma Mia! : Damouchari, Skopelos, & Skiathos, Greece
The azure blues of Greece’s waters are matched only by the whites of their coastline. A country made up of a series of rocky Mediterranean islands, film directors and producers have made the region famous with movies like Shirley Valentine and For Your Eyes Only. The 2008 movie Mamma Mia!, an adaptation of a Broadway musical based on Abba songs that was made in the late 1990s, is a bit like a more grown-up version of Three Men and a Baby, in that the parenthood of a child can only be narrowed down to a few different people. The 2008 movie drew international attention towards the Greek islands as beautiful, untouched vacation spots.
6. 50 First Dates : Kane’ohe Bay, Oahu
Filmed on location in Oahu, particularly on the North Shore/Windward Side, this movie with Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore is a romcom about a woman with a head injury that causes her to have almost no short-term memory, so that she accepts a date and the next day cannot remember she even met the man. Imagine getting a fresh start with your loved one every day! Although fun in a movie, it would likely be very frustrating in reality, but Oahu would certainly be the perfect setting for 50 first dates! The third-largest of the Hawaiian Islands, it is also the most populated; the film uses the island’s community as part of its story. This beautiful setting is enjoyed by locals, and also by tourists worldwide.
5. Pirates of the Caribbean I : Wallilabou Bay, St. Vincent & the Grenadines
Wallilabou Bay is on the leeward side of St. Vincent, the main island of this Caribbean nation that is made up of a chain of islands. The word “leeward” refers to the side that is sheltered from the wind, making this bay an ideal filming location. The village that was a pirate haven in this film is actually the Wallilabou Anchorage, a hotel that has since become famous because of the film series starring Johnny Depp. St. Vincent is only 18 kilometers long and 11 wide, and lies near Barbados and St. Lucia. It’s very densely populated, with about 300 people living in each square kilometer!
4. Under the Tuscan Sun : Tuscany, Italy
Based on a book by the same name, this true story is about a woman who takes a hiatus from her life and buys a villa in Tuscany, which she renovates herself (using the help of local men for the heavy work). Part inspirational and part sickening (because, really, how many people can opt out of reality and buy an Italian villa?) the setting is nothing if not perfect. Tuscany is a region in the center of the country known for its wines, olive oil, landscapes and amazing culture. Considered the birthplace of the Renaissance, Florence is the region’s cultural (and actual) capital, with famous sites such as the Uffizi museum, the Cathedral of Pisa and the Medici gardens and villas. Michelangelo created his David here. Who was the model, and are his descendants still in the area?
3. Lord of the Rings : New Zealand
Thought by many the world over to be one of the most beautiful nations, this country is sparsely populated, perhaps one of the factors in its remaining so stunning. About 1,500 kilometers east of Australia, it is made up of two Pacific islands, the North Island and South Island, and is so remote it was one of the last places in the world to be settled. A mix of Polynesian and European peoples, New Zealand has an ideal landscape for many films, particularly because of its lack of population and correlating lack of cities and towns, and manmade structures in general. Whole worlds can be encompassed here, and this is what producers had in mind when the fantasy lands of the Lord of the Rings movies was shot there.
2. From Here to Eternity : Oahu, Hawaii
Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr were in one of the most famous kissing scenes ever in this 1953 film that won eight Academy Awards. Also shot in Oahu, the kissing scene was filmed in Halona Cove, a location that has since become iconic. The story is set in a US army barracks on Oahu in the months leading up to the attack on Pearl Harbor, and is about the personal lives of three soldiers there. Oahu has been nicknamed “The gathering place,” and its beauty is renowned. It certainly is more beautiful now that after Pearl Harbor, a fact evidenced by the massive amounts of tourists the lush, volcanic island attracts.
1. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty: Seyðisfjörður, Iceland
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty saw a memorable performance from Ben Stiller. Mitty is a timid daydreamer who finally escapes his humdrum life on a life-changing adventure through Greenland and Iceland. The film is the first large scale Hollywood release to feature Iceland’s beautiful natural landscape in the foreground of the action, and the movie’s stunning visuals trained the spotlight on the country’s wild mountains and expansive fjords. Indeed, it so inspired tourists that ‘Walter Mitty Adventures’ are now offered by Icelandair. While many parts of Iceland have screen time in the movie, Seyðisfjörður – in the Eastfjords of Iceland – features during a memorable skateboarding scene which pans the landscape and showcases some of the country’s most beautiful features.