5 fantastical film set substitutes

Jo Price discovers the fascinating landscapes, buildings and cities worldwide that represent cinema-goer’s best-loved imaginary destinations

Team Wanderlust
21 April 2012

1. Tunisia

Arid landscapes, vast deserts and intriguing architecture make Tunisia the ideal spot to stage planet Tatooine in Star Wars – not so far, far away. The oasis of Tozeur, makes a good starting point to explore the home of Anakin and Luke Skywalker. Organised tours are available to take you bouncing over Saharan dunes in a 4×4 to visit the hotspots that are out of this world.

Sidi Bouhlel, north-east of Tozeur (aka Juntland Wastes), is the canyon where Luke Skywalker met Ben Kenobi.

Explore the set from Mos Espa that still stands in the middle of the desert and hosts a pod-racing arena.

In southern Tunisia, Matmata is home to sandstone, underground dwellings of native Berbers and is well worth a visit. These traditional homes doubled up as the residences of the troglodytes in the first Star Wars film and in The Phantom Menace. Stay overnight in a Matmata home and experience life as a Berber or troglodyte – take your pick.

Did you know? Sidi Bouhlel was also the choice location for filming scenes in
Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark and The English Patient.

2. United States

Blade Runner (1982) depicted LA in a very different light. Ageing blade-runner, Harrison Ford must track down and destroy ‘replicants’ (genetically engineered robots) who have returned to Earth. The cult film transformed the American city into a futuristic metropolis.

Located in downtown Los Angeles, the Bradbury Building was used for the film’s climactic rooftop scene. It also doubled up as character J F Sebastian’s apartment, where much of the film’s story unfolds.

Iconic Ennis House also features in the sci-fi adventure. Originally designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and inspired by Mayan architecture, the building was the apartment of Rick Dekard (Ford) and still continues to capture the imagination of movie-makers 30 years later. In July 2011, it sold for $4.5 million but the buyer is contracted to open it to the public 12 days a year.

For an alternative experience escape the hectic city and make for the countryside. The Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy has preserved the rivers, trails and wildlife habitats of this beauty spot for visitors to enjoy. It’s a stark contrast to the intoxicating fumes and hovercrafts reminiscent of Blade Runner.

Did you know? The Bradbury Building has also been used in Murphy’s Law, Disclosure and the recent multi Oscar award winning The Artist.

3. United Kingdom

Harry Potter-mania has swept the globe and during filming, the novel adaptations managed to transform British buildings and landscapes into magical sets. Black Park in Buckinghamshire may have substituted for the frightening Forbidden Forest in the films but is open to the public, to explore its footpaths and wildlife, throughout the seasons.

The Glenfinnan Viaduct near Loch Shiel, Scotland, is a great attraction not only for rail enthusiasts but walkers too. Beautiful views can be seen across the valley, or opt for a gentler route and take a stroll along the River Finnan.

A prime and remote surfing beach in Pembrokeshire, Freshwater West, was chosen to stage the Shell House of Bill Weasley and Fleur Delacour in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

London’s charming Leadenhall market certainly captured the attention of Hollywood when it was selected as the site of Diagon Alley. On a visit you may not be able to buy a wand or broom but there is certainly enough variety of food, drink and merchandise to keep you spellbound!

Did you know? Alnwick Castle in Northumberland was not only used to film scenes of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry but also starred in Elizabeth and Robin Hood Prince of Thieves.

4. Hawaii

Disney chose the tropical paradise and Hawaiian island of Kauai as the location for swashbuckling adventure in the latest Pirates of the Caribbean film – On Stranger Tides. The surrounding Pacific Ocean and long stretches of pristine beach, which define this luxurious haven, succumbed to the bounty-hunting antics of Johnny Depp. He trawled the island in the film in search of the ‘Fountain of Youth’.

Aptly named ‘Hawaii’s Island of Discovery’, Kauai has roaring waterfalls, rainforests and charming villages waiting to be explored. Makauwahi Cave in Kauai is the largest limestone cave complex in the Hawaiian Islands. It may have been invaded by scheming pirates during filming but has provided an archaeological treasure trove of Polynesian artifacts and sediments spanning millennia. This secluded get-away may just be the pirate’s life for you.

Did you know? Film scenes that have also been shot in Hawaii include footage for The Descendents, Tropic Thunder, Jurassic Park and Avatar.

5. Australia

In 1999 the Wachowski Brothers took to the streets of Sydney to turn their dystopian vision of a ‘matrix’, controlled by machines and supported by human beings, into an on-screen reality. The futuristic thriller used the State Capital of New South Wales and its modern architecture to its advantage.

The corners of Pitt Street, O’Connell Street and Hunter Street created the iconic bird’s eye view phone booth shot in the film. Martin Place Fountain was the site of the ‘Woman in the Red Dress’ that taught Neo (Keanu Reeves) a lesson in looking out for deadly agents.

There are plenty of places to go in this cosmopolitan mega-city if you’re looking to escape the sentinal. Embark on a short train ride to visit the less frequented Jibbon Beach in the Royal National Park or climb the famous Harbour Bridge and take in the panoramic views of the city and beyond.

Alternatively, tuck yourself up in an earthy bar in The Rocks district and try crocodile pizza and a wide selection of beers in The Australian Hotel.

Did you know? X-Men Origins: Wolverine and Superman Returns also shot scenes in Sydney – definitely an action-hero hotspot.

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