Since two of my biggest interests are traveling and movies, one might guess that I’m naturally attracted to films with a touch of travel inspiration. Here are a few of my favorite examples, most of which I have visited the recording site location.
- Lost In Translation: A melancholic love letter to Tokyo with fantastic Tokyo settings such as Park Hyatt, Shibuya and eastern Shinjuku. It even got me walking half across Kyoto alone with a bad fever. Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson play their lonely characters with dedicated resignation. Urban alienation has never been sweeter.
- Before Sunrise / Before Sunset / Before Midnight: This is a tale in three parts where Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy spend a day together. The first one is a slow-cinema indie where the new couple wander the cobblestone streets of Vienna. In part two, they meet as adults in Paris. The third installation focus on the middle-aged couple during a crisis in Greece. I like the fact that the films have a real decade between their recordings, so the actors have aged naturally to fit the story. Hopefully there will be a fourth movie soon.
- The Secret Life of Walter Mitty: A silly feel-good movie where Ben Stiller’s character daydreams about going on adventures, until he actually finds himself heading straight into one. Amazing views from Iceland and other locations will cause many armchair travelers to reach for their passport.
- In Bruges: Arguably the only film ever shot in Bruges, it gives a very romantic image of the medieval city. Colin Farrell is a reluctant hitman trying to escape from the radar in the cutest city of Belgium.
- Le fabuleux destin d’Amélie Poulain (Amelie from Montmartre): The movie that made everyone want to visit Paris in 2001. The city has never looked so dreamy and shiny, but it’s a clever trap since the real city certainly is a lot worse for wear. For more of those unreal mirages of Paris, have a look at Midnight in Paris.
- Le Grand Bleu: Luc Besson’s masterpiece of love, sea and dolphins. Not to mention the scenic locations of Amorgos, Peru and New York. If this movie fails to inspire you into diving, stay away from your tub for safety reasons. Just make sure to go for the long director’s cut version and avoid the modified American version with a happy ending.
- Talented Mr Ripley: Matt Damon, Jude Law and Gwyneth Paltrow travel across Italy during the 1950s, from the beautiful islands of Ischia and Procida to the bustling streets of Rome and Venice.
- The Beach: A young Leonardo DiCaprio stays in a shady hostel in Bangkok, where he by chance discovers the location of a paradise island. The eponymous beach is actually Maya Bay in Phi Phi Islands. The first half of the movie brings back the feeling of backpacking in the early 2000s to a time-typical soundtrack from Moby.
- Collateral: A film where Los Angeles steals the show from Tom Cruise. Shows such as Californication makes me want to get back to LA and casually walk along the Venice pier again, but Collateral gives a completely different view on the city. In the eyes of Michael Mann, the city of angels displays its criminal underbelly in a dark way, similar to his previous work on Heat and Miami Vice. For some visitors it probably feels more familiar due to the fact that most of the movie scenes consists of endless freeways.
- The Terminal: Aah, the familiar stench of airports. The story is based on Merhan Karimi Nasseri who actually stayed at CDG for 16 years. If you prefer to stay above the airport, try Up in the Air starring George Clooney.
- Up In The Air: On the topic of airports, if you’re a big fan of security checks and endless transfers this movie may be your thing. The pristine George Clooney is cooler than carbonite as he transitions from one location to the next, taking pride in his airline miles as a badge of honor.
- Lord of the Rings: It’s a bit hard to avoid this one in any kind of traveler list. The tourism of New Zealand must have gone up by several magnitudes since the trilogy was released. I’ve visited some of the sets on the northern island and it was amazing.
- Vicky Cristina Barcelona: Woody Allen’s movies are usually set in New York, but this time he leaves his beloved Manhattan for the trendy Barcelona. Scarlett Johansson and the rest of the cast moves seamlessly across the city from one perfect location to the next, making the movie work as a Catalan tourism advertisement.
- Into The Wild: The movie is based on the book by Jon Krakauer, telling the true story of Christopher McCandless. The young man decided to exile himself and travel into the wilderness. Despite the movie’s flaws, director Sean Penn manages to evoke strong feelings associated with leaving the civilization behind. The abandoned bus at Stampede Trail outside Denadi National Park i Alaska suddenly turned into a morbid tourist location.
- Gladiator: Visit ancient Rome where it is even more beautiful than reality thanks to clever use of CGI. I remember standing on the ledge inside Colosseum a decade ago, staring down at the center where a lot of blood was spilled two thousand years ago. Of course it wasn’t filmed at the real Colosseum, but rather a smaller replica constructed in Valetta. Gladiator also includes scenes filmed at Fort Ricasoli in Valetta, which also appears as the Red Keep in Game of Thrones and the city of Troy in the Brad Pitt movie with the same name. Roman Holiday from 1953 and the HBO series Rome are also good for getting inspired about the ancient city.
- Game of Thrones: So it’s a tv series rather than a movie, but the narrow alleys of Dubrovnik and Girona will never be the same.
- 1492: I know, it’s not the greatest film in the world, but at least listen to the epic soundtrack by Vangelis and imagine being on a big ship arriving at the Caribbean islands, walking ashore in the steps of Gerard Depardieu.
There are also films that you choose to watch just for the location, such as Love Actually where Christmas shopping in London actually seems like a soft breeze, and XXX where Prague is more sinister than usual. The romantic side of Paris is dominating every scene in Midnight In Paris and Moulin Rouge (even though the famous theater lacks a giant elephant – I’ve checked). The atmosphere from the streets of New York comes back to you in lots of contemporary films including Kissing Jessica Stein, Vanilla Sky, Eyes Wide Shut and countless other movies including classics such as Taxi Driver.
Some landmarks are prominently featured in several films. The Ferris wheel in Vienna can be seen in The Third Man (1949), Before Sunrise (1995) and Living Daylights (1987) where characters have long dialogues while riding the wheel.
The three Jason Bourne movies features a lot of locations from Paris, Berlin, Prague, New York, Madrid, London and more. I’ve visited several of them, even though they are quite non-distinctive due to clever editing.
The Bond movies are also generally very good at portraying exotic locations. They are often a bit silly and over the top, but there has been a lot of great locations during the years which fit beautifully in the films. Some of the scenes I’ve followed in the footsteps are the Rio de Janeiro cable car fight in Moonraker, the Vienna scenes in Living Daylights (the Bratislava scenes in the movie were also actually shot in Vienna), many views of San Francisco and Golden Gate bridge in A View To A Kill, the Karnak columns from The Spy Who Loved Me, the silly Las Vegas car chase from Diamonds Are Forever (notice the cowboy), and the “Montenegro” village in Casino Royale (which was actually filmed in Czech Republic).
And then there are always tiny sequences that are excellent but not quite capable of lifting an entire film, such as the lightning-fast trip through Europe in The Rules of Attraction. Even the fake scene from Eurotrip actually made me go to Bratislava, just to check it out and exclaim “Dear sweet mother of God… we’re in Eastern Europe”.
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