If you are not a fan of beach holidays or cramming as many crazy activities as possible into your vacation time, you might like to do something a little different. How about visiting some of the iconic movie and TV sets that are still sitting exactly where the filmmakers left them?
We aren’t talking the kind of, still in use public areas that feature in many movies such as Grand Central Station. Nor are these areas of cities such as Vancouver where many movies are made and neighborhoods are used to represent towns around the world. These sets are either purpose built for their movie or existing places that were abandoned and repurposed.
Some sets are barely distinguishable, many years after they were abandoned while others are lovingly maintained by fans or run as tourist businesses but all are fascinating to visit.
15. The Płaszów Labor Camp Replica That’s Too Real
The Nazi’s destroyed their Płaszów Labor Camp before the Russians arrived and could witness what went on there so when he decided to film Schindler’s List Steven Spielberg built a replica for the movie. It is located in the Liban Quarry, a few hundred meters from the location of the real camp and it was rebuilt using the original camp plans.
Details such as the infamous gravestone roadway are still clearly visible and if you look closely you can read the inscriptions on the stones. These are not, of course, real gravestones but they are replicas cast from genuine ones of the time in order to maintain a sense realism.
Most of the set can be seen from the quarry edge but it is well worth climbing down to the quarry floor and having an up close and personal experience with the set that could almost be a genuine overgrown Nazi work camp.
14. The New Ancient
Nicknamed “Hollywood in the Desert” Atlas Studios in Morocco was opened in 1983 and, by acreage, is the largest movie studio in the world. While the central studio area is is still in constant use many of the movies filmed there had sets purpose built out in the desert. These sets were abandoned when they were finished with and now provide plenty of ‘set spotting’ opportunities for the intrepid film buff.
When you wander off into the desert surrounding the studios you will be able to find elaborate Tibetan temples, eerily abandoned kasbahs, Greek streets, and Roman amphitheaters and bathhouses.
Many of the locations are already crumbling because they were only built to last for the duration of the filming but you can still experience the rush of standing on the location of the chariot race in “Gladiator” or on a set from “Jewel of the Nile”
13. This Is The Movie Set You Have Been Looking For
Star Wars fans the world over will recognize Tatooine, the home of Anakin and Luke Skywalker. An otherwise uninteresting planet on the outer rim of the galaxy, Tatooine found itself on the radar of the EMpire when two droids holding top secret information were sent there from the starship Tantive IV.
The set that acted as Mos Espa was built by Lucasfilm in the desert a few miles north-west of Tozeur, an oasis city in the south western area of Tunisia. The entire town is there and if you arrive in the early morning you might even have the set to yourself. Walk through the gates off Mos Espa and walk the streets to see the market, Watto’s store and Sebulba’s Café. You can even check out the gallery and the pod racing arena.
12. The Door Where It All Began
Tucked away on a family run sheep and cow farm on the North Island of New Zealand is a little slice of fantasy that draws thousands of visitors a year. It is the set which served as Hobbiton, complete with Bag End, home of Bilbo Baggins, Frodo Baggins and Sam Gamgee and his family. You can step inside Bag End and some of the other forty-four hobbit holes on the Alexander Farm while at other hobbit holes you can only peer over the garden gate.
You can also explore the double arched bridge, dance under the Party Tree (which is always in leaf) and the enjoy a Southfarthing beverage in the restored Green Dragon Pub.
11. Aye You’ll Want To Visit Here Me Hearties
The Caribbean is always a beautiful place to visit but it can be movie goers treat if you are a fan of Pirates of the Caribbean. Wallilabou Anchorage Hotel St. in Vincent & the Grenadines was the principal location for Disney’s 2003 hit and the hotel, restaurant, shops, and offices were transformed into the village of Port Royal, Jamaica.
The hotel decided to leave the set in place after filming was finished and work to preserve the backgrounds and props that you can now visit the place where Elizabeth Swann’s father governed and Will Turner was a blacksmith.
Stroll along the docks still dotted with crates of ‘goods’ or take your photo next to the noose that still hangs from its stand at the waterfront. Cannons dot the area and you can even try on some of the costumes from the original movie.
10. The Hills May Be Looking Back At You
The 2006 remake of Wes Craven’s classic “The Hills Have Eyes” was made in Morocco which comes as a shock to most people who assume it was made where the movie was set, in New Mexico, or at least another desert state in the US.
It was cheaper to leave the set and props out in the middle of the Moroccan desert than it was to dismantle and ship it all back to the US so you can stop at the infamous gas station where the Carter family stop and are directed onto a short cut through the hills.
9. You Remember The Name Of The Movie Don’t You?
The Mansfield Reformatory was closed down in 1990 after decades of protests over prison conditions and the treatment of prisoners. The state of Ohio had slated the building for demolition when a location scout for The Shawshank Redemption saw the amazing Victorian Gothic building and persuaded them to allow filming to take place. After filming, preservationists persuaded the State to keep the front half of the building, which houses the cell blocks and administration offices seen in the movie so you can now experience life as a lifer.
You can climb down and visit the Hole which is still a terrifying cold, dark place, even with the knowledge you can leave anytime you want.
You can also follow the “Shawshank Trail” and see the old oak tree where Andy buried his note and money for Red, the house where Brooks hung himself and the woods where we first see Andy, sitting in his car with a gun in his hand.
8. Hungry For Dystopia?
Located in Burke County, North Carolina, Henry River Mill Village was a small purpose-built mill town. Built on the banks of the river to power the textile mill, the town had three large houses for the mill owners families and 35 homes, 21 of which still stand, for the mill workers.
The town has stood empty since the mill closed in the sixties and was largely unknown until it was used as the location for District 12 in the Hunger Games.
You can visit Henry River Mill Village and see the District 12 bakery where Peeta Mellark tossed bread. Peek through the windows of the abandoned houses and see the crumbling chimneys above the fireplaces that still hold logs.
A wreath still hangs on the door of the house that served as the home of Katniss Everdeen and it is easy to imagine yourself as one of the residents. While the area saw a surge in visitors immediately after the movie was released, visitors are now few and far between so the town maintains its derelict, abandoned feel.
7. Be Here Because Of The System
Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia was a prison designed to inspire penitence, or true regret, in the hearts of prisoners. Opened in 1829 it had single cells for individuals each equipped with its own tiny exercise yard, all designed to keep prisoners in isolation. This philosophy of isolation ended in 1913 as overcrowding became an issue and the facility closed in 1971.
The well-preserved building was the location of the mental hospital in 12 Monkeys and you can walk around the communal areas and see where patients in the future were housed. It is easy to imagine Brad Pitt and Bruce Willis here. Some areas of the prison have been restored so you can see Al Capone’s cell as it would have looked when he was a prisoner and you can also visit the Death Row. You can even opt for the audio tour delivered by Steve Buscemi.
6. Going, Going, Almost Gone
Hawthorne Plaza Mall, in Hawthorne California, was opened in 1971 and, after a slow decline, finally closed its doors in 1999. While it did not succeed long term as a mall it is, for the time being, a popular filming location.
Remember the creepily abandoned mall visited by police in the semi-fictional town of East Carthage, Missouri in “Gone Girl”? That was Hawthorne Plaza Mall.
“Minority Report,” “The Green Hornet,” and “The Fast and The Furious Tokyo Drift” are just a few of the other movies to be shot there and as you walk around you can work out where certain shots were taken from.
If you are going to visit you’d best get a move on though. Plans have been approved for its demolition and redevelopment so, just like the Chicago mall used in Blues Brothers, it will soon become a thing of the past.
5. Should Have Saved Their Money
One of the reasons that “Popeye” was such a resounding financial failure ( as well as the fact it was an awful movie) may have been the money and care lavished on the set on Malta. A construction crew of 165 workers took seven months to erect the twenty wooden buildings at the location and another crew had to build a 250-foot breakwater to protect the village from the high seas during the winter.
Buildings are still populated by the props from the film and actors wander around the set to give you the authentic Popeye experience.
In addition to the film set Popeye Village now also has a cinema where you can watch a film about the production, restaurants, docks, a water park, and even hosts weddings if you should ever find your own Popeye or Olive.
4. Minimalist Sets Exist Too
At the other end of the set building, extreme is this, the diner from Looper. Found sitting at the edge of an open field off of highway 1010, Napoleonville, Louisiana this built for the movie structure was so realistic that the locals asked when it was opening.
The building has survived a hurricane and the exterior looks much the same as it does in the movie but if you are hoping to get in and sit where Joseph Gordon Levitt and Bruce Willis sat you are in for a disappointment.
3. When In Rome….
Cinecittà Studios were built in the late 1930s just outside of Rome. Following the decline of the Italian movie industry, the classic Roman streets built by the studio were abandoned by the filmmakers but it still stands for those who want to explore a bit of movie history. Newer films like The Passion of the Christ and older classic movies such as Cleopatra were filmed on this set which reproduces 4 hectares of Rome at the time of Caesars.
There is an incredible attention to detail. Weathered Roman columns flank large areas that are surrounded by small winding streets. Terracotta tiles top the buildings and you almost expect an ancient Roman to walk around the corner toward you.
2. A Spectre Rises
The town of Spectre was taken from the pages of “Big Fish” and built on a small island in the middle of Jackson Lake, Alabama.
Despite a fire that burned down a number of buildings there are still seven buildings remaining today: The church, the mayor’s home, and five other clapboard houses can be seen from the fake trees that were part of Tim Burton’s original $2 billion set. Also still standing are the poles between which the rope is strung, festooned not only with the footwear from the movie but now joined by shoes from visitors.
Most of the buildings are empty but the Mayor’s house still has the fireplace around which Edward Bloom (Ewan McGregor), Norther Winslow (Steve Buscemi) and Mayor Beamen (Loudon Wainwright III) have apple pie.
1. You Won’t Find The One Armed Man Here
The $1.5 million set of The Fugitive train crash scene is on an abandoned stretch of the Smoky Mountain Railroad. Made before the CGI of today was available, the filmmakers used a real train, set up to derail after the impact and drove it into a bus. Obviously, this was a one-shot deal and when the crash was over they had to dig the cameras out of the wreckage. One of the cameras took over eight hours to retrieve from under 26 feet of dirt. The only part of the scene that wasn’t from that shot was one of Richard Kimble jumping from the wreckage.
You can still clearly see the words“Illinois Southern” on the side of the train and “Corrections” written across the back of the bus.
Sources: Business Insider, The Daily Mail, CNN, Movie Viral, The Independent, Atlas Obscura
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