Grand Canal, Venice (credit: Randy Yagi)
Many of the most famous locations in cinema history were filmed at places you can actually visit instead of a cavernous movie studio with a green background. For example, in the U.S., movie fans can visit places like the “Field of Dreams” movie site in Iowa, Wyoming’s Devils Tower from “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” Manhattan’s Katz Deli for the unforgettable scene from “When Harry Met Sally” or the Stanley Hotel in Colorado, the inspiration for Stephen King’s “The Shining.” But what about outside of the country? Some spots are quite obvious, such as the Eiffel Tower, the Colosseum, Big Ben and China’s Forbidden City. In a tribute to the most beloved cinema classics, here are five other extraordinary international locations that provided the setting for some of the most unforgettable scenes ever filmed.
Ever since the days of silent film, the magical city of Venice has been portrayed in a long list of famous movies. One of the city’s most familiar attractions is the Grand Canal, the largest of the canals, best known for its gondola rides and sweeping vistas. Referred to as the Canalazzo by the locals, the Grand Canal has often been cast as part of an elaborate chase scene in movies such as “The Italian Job” with Mark Wahlberg, “Moonraker” with Roger Moore as James Bond, and the wild propeller scene from “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.” Other notable movies that were filmed in Venice include “Don’t Look Now” with Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland, “The Talented Mr. Ripley” with Matt Damon and Gwyneth Paltrow, “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider” with Angelina Jolie, “The Tourist” with Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie and “The English Patient,” winner of the Best Picture Award in 1997, with Ralph Fiennes and Juliette Binoche in the lead roles.
In the final, all-revealing scenes of “The Da Vinci Code”, Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) solves the final, intricate puzzle within the shadows of the Louvre Pyramid. As he peers through the enormous glass floor that serves as an inverted pyramid skylight for the central lobby of the Louvre Museum, he spots the smaller pyramid, beneath which is the fictional final resting place of Mary Magdalene as “she rests at last, beneath the starry skies.”
Visitors can explore the enormous public grounds of the world’s largest museum to see the iconic Louvre Pyramid and the the glass base of the Inverted Pyramid (La Pyramid Inversée). But to get a closer look at the location of the movie’s final, climatic moment, visitors must take an escalator down to the lobby, where the primary entrance to the Louvre Museum, the Carrousel du Louvre shopping mall and the smaller pyramid can be found.
The name might not be instantly recognizable. But for millions of movie fans who attended a screening of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” the scene featuring the island of Skellig Michael is unquestionably one of the most memorable and everlasting. Located eight miles off the southwestern coast of Ireland, Skellig Michael is the setting of the breathtaking conclusion of the blockbuster movie, where the leading character named Rey (Daisy Ridley) discovers Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) on a barren island. Also known as Great Skellig, Skellig Michael is one of two islands that comprise the Skellig Rocks and was once a home to a Christian monastery traced between the 6th and 8th century. A UNESCO World Heritage Island for 20 years, visitors can take a 45-minute boat ride to the island, which allows them to explore the historic structures and enjoy the spectacular views of the Atlantic Ocean for about two hours.
Appearing in movies like “King Arthur,” “European Vacation,” “This Is Spinal Tap” and “Thor: The Dark World,” Stonehenge is clearly one of the most famous prehistoric monuments in Europe. Located about 88 miles southwest of London, Stonehenge is estimated to be about 5,000 years old and annually attracts nearly one million visitors from all over the world. One of the most popular times of the year to visit is when the summer solstice occurs, attracting thousands of sun worshippers and curious onlookers. Coinciding with this annual pilgrimage is the Stonehenge Summer Solstice Festival, known as one of the world’s best festivals, held a few miles from the historical park. Visitors staying in London can take a train to Salisbury, then transfer to the Stonehenge Tour bus or take an all-day tour from London or Bath, the former home of Jane Austen. Among the most famous movie scenes depicting the real or fabricated Stonehenge are Chevy Chase’s complete toppling of the stones in “European Vacation” and King Arthur’s (Clive Owen) marriage to Guinevere (Keira Knightley).
Anyone who has seen the Oscar-winning film “Gladiator” will remember the epic battles staged in the Colosseum in Rome, particularly the thrilling tiger sequences. But none of the scenes from the 2001 Best Picture of the Year starring Russell Crowe were filmed at the iconic landmark, let alone in Rome itself. Instead, director Ridley Scott took his crew to other notable spots like Tuscany, Bourne Wood in England, the island republic of Malta and Ouarzazate in Morocco. While Rome was largely recreated for Scott’s pièce de résistance on Malta, Ouarzate is the far better attraction for visitors. That’s because this Moroccan city 120 miles southeast of Marrakesh lies near Aït Ben Haddou and Atlas Corporation Studios, both strikingly familiar settings for an extensive list of other famous movies and televisions shows. Blockbusters like “Lawrence of Arabia,” “Patton,” “Babel,” “Jewel of the Nile” and the 1999 remake of “The Mummy” were all partly filmed at these locations, as well as an episode from “The Amazing Race”and a number of scenes from “Game of Thrones.” Atlas Corporation Studios is the largest movie studio in the world, in terms of acreage, and hosts ongoing studio tours.
Randy Yagi is an award-winning freelance writer covering all things San Francisco. In 2012, he received a Media Fellowship from Stanford University. His work can be found on Examiner.com