Movies are often magical experiences. That’s why we love them. Very few of us know, or even care, about what happens behind the scenes.
But you know what? We should! The sets and locations used for classic films are part of that magic. And sometimes, when the cast and crew have rolled out of town, they’re left behind for all to see.
Here are some incredible places where moviemakers created their amazing stories… and then left.
Matamata, New Zealand – The Lord Of The Rings
It’s no secret that The Lord Of The Rings trilogy (2001 – 2003) put New Zealand on the map. Well, it was on the map already. For a lot of people, however, Peter Jackson’s epic was their first real look at the stunning island country.
Director Jackson and his team transported audiences to J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth. When they departed, some bits of it were left behind. One such site was Hobbiton in the Matamata-Piako District, Waikato. The land of the Hobbits is actually part of a regular, human-run farm. Visitors can check out the cozy Hobbit holes painstakingly crafted for the production.
Did you know the location was prepared a whole year before Jackson began shooting? As mentioned on IMDB, producers wanted to let the grass grow. Quite literally – this meant the backdrop looked convincing and not like something created by set builders.
Sweethaven Village, Malta – Popeye
It may have cost millions of dollars, but Popeye (1980), directed by Robert Altman and starring Robin Williams, is an obscure live-action adaptation. Altman and Williams were both mavericks in their own way. So the end result – based on characters created by E.C. Segar – was something a little different.
Anchor Bay in Malta was chosen as the location for Sweethaven. Here, Popeye meets his sweetheart Olive Oyl (Shelley Duvall). He also tangles with arch-nemesis Bluto (Paul L. Smith). With a picturesque Mediterranean setting, the scene was set for action, adventure, and music by Harry Nilsson. It reportedly wasn’t a happy production but when Altman and co set sail, the beautifully constructed Sweethaven remained.
Boats were sunk on purpose to lend the location a salty, maritime ambiance. Today, Sweethaven, or Popeye Village, operates as a tourist attraction. They only let you in if you eat your spinach (kidding).
Dixie Square Mall, Chicago – The Blues Brothers
As Robin Williams was playing Popeye, fellow comedians Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi were having their own fun. With director John Landis, they brought God-fearing, rubber-burning characters Jake and Elwood Blues to the screen for The Blues Brothers.
Who says movies are glamorous? This dilapidated destination was the Dixie Square Mall in the Chicago suburbs. Here, the Blues boys went shopping in their car… albeit as part of an orgy of automotive destruction. The production famously totaled an astonishing 103 cars. This was a world record for a movie at the time. As for the mall, which closed in 1978, it became a geographical hot potato. Universal Pictures producers were reportedly sued to the tune of $87,000. Why? Because they (allegedly) went back on a supposed deal to leave the mall as they found it. That was certainly a challenge and a half with Jake and Elwood around!
Unlike the other places on our list, Dixie Square Mall no longer stands. But it managed to hold out till 2012, before wrecking crews moved in.
Almería, Spain – The Good, The Bad and The Ugly
Nothing screams “Spaghetti Western” louder than Sergio Leone’s “Dollars” trilogy. The Good, The Bad and The Ugly (1966) was the concluding part. Starring Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef, and Eli Wallach as the title characters, it took viewers to the gritty heart of the American West. We’ll let you into a secret… many of these Westerns were in fact filmed around the city of Almería, Spain. The Good, The Bad and The Ugly took advantage of its dusty locations.
The shoot was pretty dangerous. Eli Wallach (Tuco) found himself in danger more than once. He took an unexpected ride on a panicked horse with his hands tied behind his back. He accidentally drank acid kept in a soda bottle by the crew. Oh, and he came close to being decapitated by a train!
Turns out the shooting of these movies was nearly as deadly as what you saw onscreen. Thankfully, tourists exploring the iconic location can roam the area in safety.
Sidi el Driss Hotel, Tunisia – Star Wars
A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away… well, actually, it was Tunisia. George Lucas’ enduring space opera needs no introduction. Among its dazzling space-age locations was the country’s ancient desert.
In the town of Matmata is the Sidi el Driss Hotel. Fans know it better as the Lars Homestead from Episode IV: A New Hope. It was here we first encountered Luke Skywalker and his family, who were busy buying droids and racing landspeeders on Tatooine.
As mentioned by The Guardian, the structure used to be a Berber troglodyte house. Lucasfilm returned to film more installments here, such as Episode II: Attack Of The Clones (2002).
With the franchise still going decades later, there should hopefully be a constant stream of Earth visitors to the area.