Bon Location: Filmdom’s 10 Most Exotic Destinations


Hollywood movies excel in presenting the adventures of actors and actresses in exotic locations. While the people are real, the locations are often not – that’s what film lots are for. On the occasions when films actually ARE shot on location, however, the results can be spectacular. These 10 movie hot spots showcase the world’s most exotic locations and yes, they’re ready for their close-up!

The Sound of Music: Salzburg, Austria

(images via: Enchanted Serenity of Period Films, SolarNavigator.net and Bright Lights Film Journal)

The hills are alive! Mid-sixties moviegoers were dazzled by the spectacular Alpine scenery splashed across movie screens in the blockbuster film The Sound of Music. Filmmakers shot most of the outdoor scenes on location near Salzburg, Austria and Bavaria in Southern Germany. The timeless beauty of the snowy mountain peaks and lush meadows sprinkled with delicate Edelweiss provided a stirring contrast to the film’s darker moments as Austria, the Von Trapp family, and the world slid agonizingly into war.

The film’s first musical number and perhaps its most iconic scene, captured above, was the last part of the film to be shot before production ended in Europe. Overhead sequences were filmed from a helicopter and had to be re-shot nearly 20 times, as the chopper’s propeller wash kept knocking star Julie Andrews off her feet.

The Beach: Maya Bay, Thailand

(images via: TravelPod/Livingmydream, BBC and Phi Phi Don)

The Beach, released in 2000, stars Leonardo DiCaprio and some of the loveliest scenery ever to cross the silver screen. DiCaprio’s character finds a beach paradise on a secret island courtesy of a map given to him by a suicidal drifter. Not only does the mythical place (Ko Phi Phi Lee island and Maya Bay) turn out to exist, just inland is a lush marijuana plantation. Smokin’!

(image via: Travelblog.org & Kirsten Dijkstra)

The setting of The Beach is Ko Phi Phi Lee island, located in the Andaman Sea of the coast of Thailand’s Krabi province. The island is roughly crescent-shaped and its steep-sided limestone bluffs shelter Maya Bay, and some of the most perfect tropical beaches on Earth. The filmmakers, 20th century Fox, were widely criticized for altering the natural contours of Ko Phi Phi Lee island’s beaches and in fact were sued by the Thai government for “despoiling” the setting. Ironically, the deadly 2004 Tsunami did much to restore the island’s beaches by remodeling the coastline and sweeping away any remaining artificial constructs.

Sex and the City 2: Abu Dhabi, UAE

(images via: Filmofilia and Stylelist)

The much-hyped sequel to 2008’s Sex and the City saw Carrie Bradshaw and her trio of femme fatales kicking up their high heels in far-off Abu Dhabi… until the Sheik who invited them regrets doing so after seeing WAY too much camel toe. Adored by the franchise’s feminine fan base and tolerated by males dragged along, the film garnered scathing reviews yet still topped the list of 2010’s highest-grossing romantic comedies.

(image via: NY Daily News)

Ironically, both SATC flicks have been effectively banned from theaters in the UAE and the producers (who include Sarah Jessica Parker) were refused permission to film anywhere in the Emirates. What purports to be Abu Dhabi onscreen is actually Morocco – but hey, all those dunes look alike, amiright?

Cast Away: Monuriki, Fiji

(images via: Haz Mace, Will Raid, Hollywood Jesus and Lonely Planet)

With upwards of 6 billion people crowding our planet, it’s not easy to find an uninhabited island… but Tom Hanks’ character in Cast Away did. Monuriki is one of the Mamanuca Islands, a group of around 20 volcanic islands belonging to and located off the coast of the main Fijian island of Viti Levu.

(image via: Reverse Shot)

Although filmgoers were given the impression that Monuriki is alone and isolated, visitors are able to clearly see several other islands of the Mamanuca group from Monuriki’s beautiful beaches. The popularity of 2000’s Cast Away has resulted in a steady stream of tourists to the island, which is not particularly hard to get to (or get off of) once you arrive in Fiji. Be sure to bring swim fins and plenty of sun screen… volleyball optional.

Out Of Africa: Ngong Hills, Kenya

(images via: The_Nunley, Flixster and MSNBC)

Out Of Africa, starring Meryl Streep and Robert Redford, features the idyllic scenery of Kenya’s Ngong Hills southwest of the country’s capitol Nairobi. The area around the Ngong Hills was a favorite of colonial settlers and plantation owners such as Karen Blixen, played by Streep in the 1985 film.

(image via: Christoph Grandt)

The Ngong Hills rise up to 2460 meters (8070 feet) above sea level and there is a walking trail along the ridge line, though hikers have reported incidents of mugging and robbery. Some stately homes dating from colonial times have been preserved, including Karen Blixen’s house (now the Karen Blixen Museum) shown above.

Seven Years In Tibet: Lhasa and elsewhere, Tibet

(images via: Tibet Support, Joanamaro and Daily Scrawl)

Seven Years in Tibet, a 1997 film directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud and starring Brad Pitt, is the story of an Austrian mountain climber who travels to Tibet in 1939 to climb Nanga Parbat peak and, through a series of misadventures, trials and tribulations finally returns home having gained much wisdom and an appreciation for the strength and resiliency of the Tibetan people.

(image via: Only Good Movies Blog)

Chinese authorities were none too pleased with the film’s depiction of rude, bullying Chinese soldiers and the peaceful, ever-smiling Dalai Lama to the point where Pitt and co-star David Thewlis were forever banned from entering China. However, Annaud may have gotten the last laugh: in 1999 he revealed that about 20 minutes of footage from the film was secretly shot in Tibet with the remainder being filmed in Argentina. Hello, Dalai!

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade: Petra, Jordan

(images via: Here, There, Whatever, The Journey and Insert Clever Phrase Here)

Though filmed at a variety of locations, the penultimate scenes of 1989’s Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade take place in the ancient and abandoned city of Petra in Jordan. Specifically, inside The Treasury (or Al Khazneh), an enormous Greek-columned building carved out of a canyon’s pink sandstone walls by hand.

(image via: Woman’s Day)

Though only the exterior of The Treasury is featured in the film – inside are several bare and empty rooms – the eerie silence and palpable great age of Petra resonate through the film’s climactic scenes. Visitors who journey to Petra invariably report on the vast size, plethora of colors and timeless beauty of the 2,500-year-old city. One might say of their travel itinerary, “they chose wisely.”

The Man with the Golden Gun: Ko Tapu, Thailand

(images via: Blu-Ray Stats, IGN, DVD Talk and Travelling Board)

When your exotic island location changes its name – in popular usage, at least – to that of your film’s main character, you know you’ve done something right. Such is the case of Khao Phing Kan and, to a somewhat lesser degree, Ko Tapu: the otherworldly islands where Scaramanga, numero uno villain of 1974’s The Man with the Golden Gun, based his hideout. Scaramanga (sounds like a frightening Japanese comic book) doesn’t get the glory, however, that goes to his nemesis James Bond.

(image via: Home Cinema)

Khao Phing Kan is actually a two-island pair located in Phang Nga Bay, just off the Thailand’s west coast. Ko Tapu, a 20 meter (66 ft) tall limestone sea stack, rises out of the bay’s luminous waters about 40 meters (130 ft) offshore. Visitors to Ao Phang Nga National Park can easily access James Bond Island, and indeed local tour operators are happy to play up the 007 connection in their promotional efforts. “How do you like my island, Mr Bond?”

Popeye: Sweethaven Village, Malta

(images via: Malta Info, Movies Finder and LOCR)

Popeye, the 1980 live-action screening of the classic cartoon, starred Robin Williams as Popeye and Shelley Duvall as Olive Oyl. It was filmed entirely on location near the village of Mellieħa, on Malta’s northwest coast. The set built by the filmmakers representing the village of Sweethaven was constructed so well, Maltese authorities asked that it not be disassembled after Popeye was filmed. Tourists visiting Malta often make a point of visiting what is known today as Popeye Village.

(image via: Brodyaga)

Sweethaven, or Popeye Village, retains its original character but has grown into a theme park for children featuring shows, rides and a museum. Sweethaven does double duty in December when, for a few days at least, it becomes Santa’s Toy Town. Ho Ho Ho, merrry spinach!

Borat: Glod, Romania

(images via: Sydney Morning Herald, Huffington Post and Network Europe)

The 2006 mockumentary film Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (or just “Borat“, for short) featured the miserable village of Kuzcek, Kazakhstan, where Borat was born and raised – possibly by wolves. In actual fact, British actor and comedian Sacha Baron Cohen could not find a suitable Kazakh village, selecting instead the gypsy hamlet of Glod, Romania.

(image via: Panoramia/OL_HH)

Romania has at least 5 villages that go by the name of Glod, which is nothing to boast about since “glod” in Romanian means “mud”. As one might expect, Glod was never a major (or minor) tourist attraction and since the villagers are up in arms (chasing off a TV crew with pitchforks) over Cohen’s exaggeration of their occupations and lifestyles, it will probably stay that way. Very nice… not!

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