A growing trend in travel is the phenomenon of set-jetting, a playful term for the search some film lovers undertake to find the real-life inspirations behind their favourite movies. It usually means visiting places such as Iceland, Greece or Croatia for real cities and wild destinations seen on screen, but what about the elaborate film sets that are constructed or repurposed for the movies themselves?
Here are some of the best film sets that have been left behind after production has wrapped but are still standing today.
Located close to Nefta, on the fringes of the Sahara desert, in northern Africa, this relic from George Lucas’s epic space saga Star Wars is still hugely popular today. The remnants of Luke Skywalker’s home on Tatooine have been well maintained and somewhat protected from the elements – even playing host to a music festival in recent years – but are easily accessible if you’re willing to travel a few hours from the capital, Tunis.
Tunisia played a big role in the success of one of the most iconic films of all time, with the look and feel of several elements of the sci-fi classic taking inspiration from the design and architecture of the country.
This bizarre collection of colourful wooden buildings along the Maltese coast has had a second wind, thanks to the entrepreneurial spirit of the area’s residents. The set was built for a musical, live-action adaptation of Popeye, but after a troubled shoot, the cast and crew left the country in a hurry. Popeye (1980) failed to ignite the box office, but Popeye Village is now one of the most popular tourist attractions on the island.
Of all the things you might expect to find on a dark, narrow street in Edinburgh, we bet an old cowboy town isn’t one of them. The ghost town was built as a promotional stunt for a furniture brand in Morningside in the 1990s and while it has repeatedly been threatened with demolition, it has gained something of a cult following in recent years.
Another abandoned Wild West relic is Pioneertown, this time in the far more appropriate setting of the actual American frontier. The location was part of a bigger film studio set and even funded by stars of the big screen, but as cowboy movies fell out of favour in Hollywood, so did Pioneertown. A new wave of visitors has brought life back to the fully functioning town, which now boasts a hotel, several bars and a growing number of residents who call the place home. There are actually a quite a few Wild West sets in different parts of the world, including a bizarre anomaly just off the M25 in Kent.
An eerie, vintage-looking gas station can be found on the way to the biggest film studio in the world in the deserts of Morocco. Atlas Film Studios, in Ouarzazate, is regularly used for period movie productions and has a number of original props from films such as Gladiator (2000) and Jewel of the Nile (1985) on its grounds. However, one of the most striking has to be this piece of retro Americana.
The set was used for The Hills Have Eyes (2006) and sits on a road known as the Highway to Hollywood on account of the number of movies shot here that required desert settings and on-location filming. The creepy gas station looks so convincing, confused drivers have even been known to pull into the forecourt hoping for a refill.
Wallilabou Bay, on the northwest coast of volcanic island Saint Vincent, was transformed for the surprise blockbuster hit Pirates of the Caribbean (2003). The unassuming yet naturally beautiful area was turned into the primary location for the seafaring adventures of Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp), based around the ride of the same name at the Disneyland Resort. Today, you can book a stay at the Wallilabou Anchorage, which has kept some of the props and features used in the movie. The film was such a big draw that the hotel has added a museum and picture archive.
“If you build it, he will come,” whispers the prophetic voice in the sentimental drama Field of Dreams (1989). Kevin Costner’s seemingly gullible character hears the call to action and promptly builds a full-size baseball diamond in his cornfield. By the end of the movie, the field is home to a team of ghostly players who get the chance of one last hurrah.
In real life, just as you see in the closing credits of the film, the Field of Dreams, in Dubuque County, Iowa, attracts visitors from all corners of America. The popularity of the field has risen to such levels that a Major League Baseball game was scheduled to take place here in 2020. Sadly, the outbreak of Covid-19 put that idea on pause, but officials have scheduled it for 2021.
The Shire, as described in JRR Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings saga, comprises a series of green spaces, rolling hills, endless trees and, most important, hobbit holes. When Peter Jackson took on the mammoth task of bringing this world to life for his movie series, he found the perfect setting for Hobbiton in the heart of Waikato, New Zealand. Locals have done an incredible (and no doubt profitable) job of preserving the dozens of hobbit holes – the dwellings used by the diminutive characters in the stories – for the thousands of visitors who come to New Zealand every year.
We squeeze in one more visit to the Wild West, but this time we’re off to southern Spain. An offshoot of American cowboy movies, Spaghetti westerns were popular in the 1960s and ’70s. They were produced by Italian filmmakers, usually starred Hollywood actors – these were the films that kickstarted the career of Clint Eastwood, after all – and were filmed in Spain. More specifically, the movies were shot on location in the arid Andalusian wastelands, and purpose-built sets were constructed rather than using studios elsewhere. These sets are still accessible today, and you can even ride into town on horseback if you’re feeling brave.