One of the most magical things about movies is their ability to transport viewers to all-new places and make them feel like a part of those settings. Whether it’s a jump back or forth through time, lurking through the darkest depths of the sea, or venturing into the outer reaches of the known universe, the possibilities are endless for when, where, and how a movie can take us places.
One tried and true technique for a lot of filmmakers is to scout real world locations that suit their visual needs and set up production there, which means if and when these sites garner some audience attention and fanfare, they often become (whether willingly or not) tourism hot spots. Here are some of major motion pictures that have brought their real-life settings a boost in foot traffic as a result of their popularity.
The Stanley Hotel was a creepy source of inspiration for Stephen King and his novel-turned-cinematic masterpiece The Shining. The author spent the night in the Estes Park, Colorado hotel’s Room 217, had a nightmare about his then-three-year-old son running through the halls, and thus the story was born. And although the hotel was called The Overlook in the story, and Stanley Kubrick’s film adaptation was shot in Mt. Hood, Oregon’s Timberline Lodge, King’s fans know just where to get their thrills.
The Stanley itself, of course, is more than willing to accommodate that interest. The hotel, which was built in 1909, has fully embraced its status as a haunted mansion of sorts, offering a ghost adventure package for visitors and even boasting about its visitors’ paranormal experiences onsite - recently, a visitor famously claimed to have captured a ghost standing in the lobby stairway and made national news for his encounter. Even its website gives a cheeky wink to The Shining by saying it hopes visitors “will be able to feel the mantle of time slip away.”
Although Stephenie Meyer never visited the Olympic Peninsula before writing her vampire saga, her fans have turned the real-life Forks, Washington into a Twilight haven. The small town’s Chamber of Commerce hosts an annual Forever Twilight in Forks event right around Bella’s birthday to commemorate its role in the supernatural romance series, which all but resurrected its economy from the dead. Before Twilight put Forks on the proverbial (and perhaps literal) map, the town suffered from a major decline in its logging industry, but the series ushered in a surprise new landscape of success for business owners in the area. By 2012, when the final Twilight Saga film hit theaters, it was estimated that at least 200,000 fans had made way to the Cullens’ mainstay to pay homage. Interestingly enough, none of the films were actually produced in Forks, despite its being named in both the literary and cinematic iterations of the story.
The curse of the Blair Witch might have been a construct of fiction, but fans of the found footage film created a Hollywood-based hex of their own when they headed to the real town of Burkittsville, Maryland (population: just 151 in 2010) in search of the film’s deadly namesake. The 1999 sleeper hit spawned a sudden spooky interest in the tiny town, and its residents were none too thrilled about the new visitors. Unlike a lot of cinematic landmarks, Burkittsville was not consulted about being shown in the movie, so its citizens have a hate-hate relationship with it from the very beginning. In fact, in 2010, they put it to a public vote whether the town’s signs, one of which was incorporated into the picture, should be sold at auction to compensate residents for the “trouble” caused by the commotion. Oof.
Maya Bay on Thailand’s Koh Phi Phi Lay may have always been a popular pristine paradise, but ever since then-tween dream Leonardo DiCaprio helped put the spotlight on the place in Danny Boyle’s 2000 film The Beach, it’s been an absolute mecca of tourism, for better and for worse. While residents of the area have been pleased with the prosperity that comes with it turning into a prime piece of vacation real estate, they’ve also been dismayed by the changes that have resulted to the land, such as environmental degradation and over-crowding. Local environmentalists protested the Thai Royal Forestry Department’s decision to allow the film to be made in its national parks in the first place because they had to raze certain areas of vegetation to make it suitable for production, which was against the law. The island, however, still welcomes its Beach-inspired visitors, offering snorkeling and diving tours as well as kayaking and, of course, scenic party spots.
If having Star Wars II: Attack of the Clones partially filmed there wasn’t boon enough for the tourism industry in Lake Como, Italy (not to mention George Clooney’s oft-pictured allegiance to the vacation spot), James Bond lending his mysterious cachet to the place certainly did the trick. 007 visited the Villa del Balbiano in 2006’s reboot Casino Royale and made the hotel many a Bond fan’s vacation plans easy peasy because, as one local tourism site boasts, “James Bond is now synonymous with Lake Como in the eyes of local restaurants and second home owners” as it draws in a new wave of guests who deign to order their shaken, not stirred martinis in the same place as Bond, James Bond. Lake Como is far from the only Bond locale to get a tourism bump after the globe-trotting franchise stops in for a visit, though.
“Yo, Adrian, let’s go run up the Philadelphia Museum of Art steps.” That’s a presumptive paraphrase we just made up and all, but it’s probably not too terribly off from the reality of when fans across the world decide to pay a visit to the Philly MOA in real-life. The public place, just like Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger,” has become an irreversible callback to the three-time-Oscar-winning 1976 picture and still boasts the bronze statue of Sylvester Stallone’s prized pugilist, which was erected for the third installment of the now-seven-film franchise. The town has even dubbed the landmark the “Rocky Steps” as a hat tip to its film-based fame and offers tours of some of its other story sites, including Pat’s restaurant and the Italian Market where Rocky Balboa once made meat slabs into his personal punching bag.
Dyersville in Dubuque County, Iowa might have been smack dab in the middle of nothing before Kevin Costner showed up and brought along his dream team to play some baseball in the cornfield. So the story goes, the Lansing Family, which owned the farm upon which the movie was made, first agreed to let the filmmakers utilize their yard for production after they got a knock at their door with the request and found out it was a movie about baseball, and, well, they liked baseball. They may not have been able to then anticipate the fact that their home would become a film fanatic’s must-see travel stop, but they certainly have done their part to encourage the long-lived trend by setting up their own lodging recommendations and visitor center. As the iconic verbiage says, “if you build it, they will come.”
The shale oil boom isn’t the only thing bringing people to North Dakota. The Coen Brothers’ 1996 crime drama Fargo, which has been followed up with the critically acclaimed FX television adaptation of the same, has turned its titular town into a tourist attraction. Among the photo ops available in the small town is the Woodchipper, which boasts its own fan frenzy as thousands of annual visitors come to take a picture alongside the famed prop at the town’s visitor center. The city does, however, effort to distance itself from the “brand” it’s given by the movie and show, which depict it as a barren and chilly, not to mention crime-addled atmosphere. Fargo has become such an iconic stopover that one woman even died in 2001 after reportedly visiting the area in search for the treasure buried by Steve Buscemi’s character Carl Showalter in the movie. Interestingly enough, the film itself was shot in Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota, while the TV series is filmed in Calgary, Alberta, Canada and Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
If there’s any movie series that can catapult a food item into next-level sales by mere mention, it’s Marvel’s The Avengers. In the 2012 pic, Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man asked Chris Evans’ Captain America, "Have you ever tried shawarma? There's a shawarma joint about two blocks from here. I don't know what it is, but I want to try it." Then, in the end credits, the characters were seen grabbing a bite of the same. For those few who haven’t tried the item since The Downey Effect came into play, it’s a Mediterranean sandwich pita, usually filled with stuffings like lamb and tabbouleh, and subsequent sales of the meat-filled treat went through the roof, from Los Angeles eateries to ones in New York, per local restaurateurs reporting on the sudden phenomenon. The bad news is this shawarma boom has not been linked to any confirmed cases of sudden onset superheroism, as many of those who rushed out to try it no doubt hoped might happen. Talk about your superfood.
Prisons might not normally be the ideal venue for a family getaway, but after The Shawshank Redemption, the Ohio State Mansfield Reformatory has become a tour hub for lovers of Frank Darabont’s 1994 adaptation of Stephen King’s crime novel. The prison, which has been out of operation as a real-life detention center since 1990, has its own inherent spookiness due to the 200-plus deaths which occurred within its walls over the years and offers a Paranormal Penitentiary experience to satisfy its haunting-hungry explorers. It became a true Tinseltown lovers’ tour destination, however, after Shawshank was shot there. The site still boasts guided tours of the Warden’s office, Andy Dufresne’s escape tunnel, and the Parole Board room where he was finally delivered his long-overdue walking papers.
Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry is, unfortunately, all based on imagination, but for fans of J.K. Rowling’s series, the school’s magic lives on through various real-life locations erected across the United Kingdom to celebrate the series. Platform 9 ¾, which was the portal through at the King’s Landing train station through which young wizards would access the Hogwarts Express, is but one of the real-life locations Potter fans are known to frequent. King’s Cross at St. Pancras Station, which was utilized for the exterior station shots in the film, now boasts a Harry Potter shop with a special Platform 9 ¾ photo op construction for fans to take pictures with, and Warner Bros. offers a studio tour of its London film sets. Even in America, which is only now becoming a Harry Potter series mainstay by way of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Universal Studios’ Orlando and Hollywood locations have entire Wizarding World sections set up in the theme parks.
What Jedi worth his or her lightsaber wouldn’t want to see the real-life setting used to create Tatooine? The Tunisian desert locales which were used to create Luke Skywalker’s home planet have enjoyed decades of tourism as a result of their connection to a galaxy far, far away, and even the Official Star Wars Website offers a day-by-day suggested itinerary for fans who do decide to take a trip to see some of the iconic sci-fi sets.
Mos Epsa, in particular, has received a bevy of international interest, even relying on outside fan funding to restore the site’s film-related landscapes after a sandstorm created destructive dunes in the area. Recently, however, after the sites were linked to potential jihadi terrorism in the media, visitation fell significantly, a downward trend with locals and Star Wars fans alike are working to turn around in order to preserve Tatooine for future generations.
Okay, okay, so Game of Thrones isn’t a movie, but given the undeniable impact it’s had on Northern Ireland tourism, it’s just got to be included here. The hit HBO series, which just concluded its action-packed sixth season, has brought in million of pounds of revenue thanks to fan tourism since the show’s production there began six years ago. One tourism official credits GoT with putting the country “on the map from a tourism perspective” because while the lands themselves are beautiful enough to attract a fair amount of visitors, the series “brings in a new generation of people [thanks to its] cult status.” Among the sets visited by frequented the Westeros faithful are the Dunluce Castle, which serves as House Greyjoy of the Iron Islands, the Dark Hedges which made up the woodsy backdrop for King’s Road, and Old Castle Ward which is used as the set for Winterfell. All for the watch, of course.
Even in the mind’s eye, the very sight of Jurassic Park’s fecund Isla Nublar from afar evokes a visceral memory of John Williams’ score that welcomed us all to the 1993 film’s perilous setting. Though the pic claimed its fictional park was set in Central America, it was actually filmed on the island of Oahu, which has drawn in loads of cinematic tourism ever since. Kualoa Ranch, for example, was the site of the Steven Spielberg-helmed franchise starter and has since enjoyed a deluge of Hollywood interest, both on the production front (Pearl Harbor, Godzilla, and 50 First Dates are among the movies which followed in its use) and travel interest. The site offers tours of its impressive set pieces, which now include Jurassic World’s Indominus Rex paddock and gyrosphere launch pad, and as of 2015, tourism officials at the ranch are “still feeling the effects” of the series.
Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy was significant for more than just its visual effects-filled battle sequences and Frodo Baggins’ epic journey to cast the “one ring to rule them all” into the fires of Mordor. The films were also filled with lush landscapes which made the hobbits’ foot journey across Middle Earth stunning to watch. Those incredible backdrops weren’t built on a set with green screens but were instead shot in the scenic nation of New Zealand, and the country has received a massive influx of tourism interest as a result.
LOTR fans have made their own Kiwi pilgrimages en masse to visit some of the 150 locations captured in the film series, and annual visitation grew 40 percent after the series hit theaters. In 2012, tourism was cited as the country’s second-highest industry, with many of its international visitors admitting that the J.R.R. Tolkien-based series was their reason for checking out the outdoor sites, like Matamata which served as the set of the Shire and remains preserved as an attraction, or Wellington, the locale used for the beautiful city of Rivendell on-screen. Due to the popularity of the franchise fellowship, New Zealand Custom Service even stamps international passports with a “Welcome to Middle Earth” emblem upon arrival.