Some movies have unique film sets as it’s an essential part. A film location has an enormous influence on the entire film experience. A realistic and/or atmospheric environment can strengthen the story or determine the tone, where a bad or fake film set can sour the film experience. Still, a unique film location is not a guarantee for a successful film.
Finding a suitable location is the job of a location scout. Even if he remains subordinate to the production designer who has a defining role. Furthermore, he will eventually capture the atmosphere (in consultation with the director) of what is in front of the camera. An art director and set decorator will execute the plans, but also have quite a bit of creative input. Sometimes a story takes place in a specific country or booth, but due to circumstances, the film crew cannot shoot at this location (too busy, too dangerous, …)
This list is in no particular order.
10 Most Unique Film Sets
Raiders of The Lost Ark
The most enchanting thing about Indiana Jones’ sets is that they have that adventurous and exotic character. The tropical film scenes in Peru in the Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) were actually shot in Kauai, Hawaii, but this doesn’t make it any less beautiful! And the locations that actually had to take place in Egypt were mainly shot in Tunisia. On top of that, the entire film crew also got very sick of the food, except for director Steven Spielberg. He had his own food flown in from the States. Two scenes remained, such as the beginning scene in a Mayan temple where Indiana Jones has to avoid several traps and eventually has to walk in front of a giant sphere. And finally, the final scene where the ark is stored in a box in a gigantic storage room.
Although you might not want to be in Jurassic Park itself, the films provide enviable images. There is a lot of vast green fields, dense jungle, and beautiful mountain peaks.
In the movie, the park is located in Costa Rica, but the scenes were not shot here. That led to much controversy at the time. Steven Spielberg had chosen to film in Hawaii on Kauai’s island (just like The Raiders of the Lost Ark) because of the more accessible infrastructure. Controversy or not, at least, led to iconic images.
Memoirs of Geisha
Another film that has been praised for its film set is Memoirs of a Geisha (2005) by Rob Marshall. Initially, the film was meant to be shot in Japan. However, the filmmakers couldn’t find exactly what they were looking for.
While scouting locations, it soon became clear that there wasn’t much left of Japan’s 1930s. Therefore it was decided to build the film sets in California by means of a lot of photos and experts. The set included an entire village, including three-story buildings, a 75-meter river, and five cobblestone roads. Maybe not a film that was shot on location, but one that you can take directly into Japanese life during the 30s.
Blade Runner 2049
I might as well have put the original Ridley Scott in this list of unique film sets. Mostly because Alien, The Martian, Prometheus, or Hannibal also have an extraordinary set design.
The 300 story Wallace building is one of the most beautiful designs of recent years. At times it looks like a Japanese version of an Egyptian temple. The keyword was “scale”. It seemed as if the spaces were endlessly far away from each other. There is virtually no sunlight in the film, with the exception of the artificial light in this complex, ironically built under the supervision of a blind man.
It seemed at times that the location provided access to the sky. On the other hand, ‘the red desert’ is also a fascinating location. It resembled Las Vegas of the 1940s, but with desolate futuristic influences and bizarre images.
2001: A Space Odyssey
Speaking of set design, I can’t help but highlight a film by Stanley Kubrick, and what better than 2001: A Space Odyssey. And yes, many of his other films are also worth mentioning. The director’s attention to detail is of that order that there is something to tell about every frame.
Kubrick wanted to make the ultimate science-fiction film, and I think he succeeded quite well. The man even sought help from NASA space shuttle builders to design his shuttles. The sets at least stick to our retina, and I think of the 360° rotation band, the pod in which the two crew members conspire against the mother computer, or the timeless bedroom.
One of the better examples of production design can be seen in Gladiator.
The film was overloaded with Oscars and with good reason because even though most of the event took place in Rome, a lot of meticulous building was done in Morocco and in the region of Tuscany where director Ridley Scott lost his heart.
The film got 5 Oscars, but Arthur Max grabbed next to the statue in favor of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Here we wanted to do something about honor recovery through this way.
The Harry Potter Movies
The unique film sets of Harry Potter also take you straight into the magical world of J.K. Rowling. All scenes are shot in the UK, which makes for spectacular and authentic images! One of the most famous scenes is where the Hogwarts Express drives through the green landscape over a viaduct in Scotland. You can experience this train journey on a daily basis!
There are also about ten castles, cathedrals, and other buildings used for both indoor and outdoor scenes of Hogwarts. Some examples are the Gloucester Cathedral, the Alnwick Castle and the Bodleian Library of Oxford University.
However, the most famous Harry Potter film set is probably Kings Cross. Opened in 1852, this train and subway station serves as the location where Harry Potter and his London schoolmates take the train to Hogwarts. Don’t mind queuing up? Then you can take a picture on platform 9¾ with a cart that seems to go through the wall!
One of the many things Star Wars are known for is their unique and diverse fim sets /movie locations. From the volcanic black planet Mustafar where Obi-Wan Kenobi took on Anakin Skywalker (filmed on Mount Etna in Sicily) to the secret rebel alliance base on the icy planet Hoth (filmed in Norway).
Some of the most memorable film locations are; Redwoods State Park in California, this national park served as the set for ‘the land of Endor’ where the rebels and the Ewoks fought together against the Empire. The village of Medenine in Tunisia, which was used for the exterior shots of Anakin Skywalker’s house and Plaza de España in Seville, where Anakin, Padme, and R2-D2 run over and served as the set for the planet Naboo. But the tone was set with Star Wars (1977).
Talking about a movie where the film sets are incredible and unique, you can hardly ignore Inception by Christopher Nolan.
The scene that takes place, in a scene that takes place in yet another scene is fascinating in itself. However when the ride slows down as you dig deeper. Gravity also plays with perception. You get those hallucinating scenes like the hotel corridor scene that suddenly starts spinning while two men engage in a firefight. But of course also the sequences in Paris where Leonardo DiCaprio teaches his pupil the tricks of ‘Inception’ are of the best of what cinema has offered us in the last 20 years.
Lord of the Rings
The saga that remains unsurpassed in terms of both location choice and set design in my eyes is the Lord of the Rings saga. And the first film has set the tone for all follow-up films.
The Shire to Mount Doom, the Lord of the Rings films are all shot in New Zealand. The country is the perfect platform to show J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth. Many film sets can still be visited today. For example, the Kaitoke Regional Park was transformed into the breathtakingly beautiful Rivendell during filming, and not much had to be done to turn the cute and green Waikato Town of Matamata into The Shire.
But the most unique location from the Lord of the Rings trilogy is Mordor. The place that was ruled by Sauron and where the Hobbits destroyed the ring. These scenes were filmed in the beautiful Tongariro National Park, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.