Cinema is an exceptionally dynamic art form, capable of generating intense degrees of fandom. For those who truly love a movie, the only way to adequately express that love is to watch it again and again. Or, they can visit the location where their favorite film was shot. Movie tourism is hardly a new phenomenon, but its popularity has grown in recent years, and for many people, standing where a director once yelled “cut” is more fun than watching the movie itself.
10. In Bruges (2008) Bruges, Belgium
How important is the location to this movie? That the former is essentially the title of the latter should be a good indication. The film, starring Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson and Ralph Fiennes, is an amusing gangster comedy, nothing more. It went mostly unnoticed in theaters, but has since developed a cult following. The city, the largest in the Belgian province of West Flanders and sometimes called “the Venice of the North” (so is Amsterdam), received its charter in 1128. It’s a beautiful and historic place, but outside Western Europe it’s little known. In other words, the movie and the city make a nice couple, even though the film’s characters spend most of the picture bemoaning their being in Bruges. It’s all in good fun, and city officials are hardly complaining. They’re still welcoming visitors who might never have even heard of Bruges without the movie of (almost) the same name.
9. Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961) Tiffany’s, New York City
To be perfectly frank, this much-loved movie is kind of thin, but it’s no thinner than the Truman Capote novella on which it is based. But the film, directed by Blake Edwards, has something Capote’s pages did not, and that’s those opening 2 minutes and 30 seconds. A taxicab drives up an empty Fifth Avenue in the gray dawn. Audrey Hepburn steps out of it in that dress, the strains of Henry Mancini’s theme song are heard, and Hepburn’s character, Holly Golightly, stands in front of a window at Tiffany & Co., pulling out a croissant and coffee as the film’s title comes on the screen — it’s one of the most iconic sequences in Hollywood history. “Nothing very bad could happen to you there,” Holly Golightly later says of the jewelry store that dates to 1837. Scores of tourists have since taken her at her word.
8. Braveheart (1995) Scotland
There are a great many reasons to take a vacation in a fascinating country like Scotland. A movie directed by and starring Mel Gibson, in which he portrays Scottish freedom fighter William Wallace, is merely one of them. But the film’s influence on tourism in Scotland, even almost 20 years after the picture’s release in theaters, has been remarkable. Wallace wound up on the losing end of Scotland’s wars for independence, and in 1305 was gruesomely executed by England for his involvement with the cause. But his martyrdom is celebrated in Braveheart, and the movie drew a million fans to the National Wallace Monument in Stirling in 1996, up from 40,000 the year before, according to Scottish media. The pilgrimages have scarcely slowed down since. The financial boon to the country from Braveheart tourists has now climbed into the tens of millions of euros. During the summer months, Stirling Castle, featured so prominently in the movie, hosts battle reenactments.
7. The Shawshank Redemption (1994) Richland County, Ohio
The rural countryside outside Mansfield, Ohio, does not resemble Maine, where this movie is set. But it’s close enough, at least for those who aren’t familiar with Richland County, Ohio, or Maine. Mansfield is also home to the Ohio State Reformatory, an architecturally striking prison built in 1896 that’s seen a surge in tourism ever since Shawshank, filmed there, began airing seemingly on a loop on the cable network TNT in 1997. The Mansfield Reformatory Preservation Society sponsors tours of this historic structure from May 1 to Sept. 1, with special programs in 2013 to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the movie. The old reformatory isn’t the only site to capture the attention of Shawshank fans; a large oak tree that figures prominently in the movie’s plot also draws a steady stream of visitors to a farmer’s field near the small town of Lucas, although a severe thunderstorm in 2011 basically cut the tree in half. But no matter. What the tree signifies to the film’s fans still stands tall in their imaginations.
6. Mamma Mia! (2008) Greece
Before becoming a hit movie, Mamma Mia! made headlines as a smash Broadway musical, which itself drew inspiration from a 1974 chart-topping single by the Swedish pop group ABBA. The stage production, which debuted in 1999, first set a fairly complicated story on a Greek island. The film, which stars Meryl Streep, Colin Firth, Pierce Brosnan and others, was likewise shot on the Greek island of Skopelos. Mamma Mia! is the highest-grossing musical film to date, so perhaps it’s no surprise that travel agents on Skopelos are still making the most of the island’s cinematic claim to fame, offering both boat and overland tours to the movie’s principal locations. Talk of a movie sequel is so far just that, but business people on Skopelos surely must have their fingers crossed.
5. The Shining (1980) The Stanley Hotel, Estes Park, Colorado
With most of the motion pictures on this list, the location is so singular that it amounts to a character in the film as well. That’s especially the case here. The hotel didn’t need Stanley Kubrick’s horror film to make it famous; it already had that distinction. At least it was famously haunted. Author Stephen King, one of many VIPs to stay at the Stanley Hotel since it opened in 1909, was inspired to write The Shining after picking up on the establishment’s creepy vibes. Ironically, while the movie is largely responsible for the hotel’s boost in tourism, Kubrick didn’t shoot any of his film there. The director, who didn’t like to leave Great Britain, shot all the movie’s interior shots in the U.K.; even the exterior of the Stanley was re-created there. The film’s second unit grabbed a few shots of the Timberline Lodge in Oregon for exterior scenes. Still, movie fans head to The Stanley Hotel for an experience that includes tours showcasing the hotel’s haunted history and an annual horror film event, the Stanley Film Festival. If you’re visiting The Stanley, don’t worry about watching The Shining in advance; the movie is broadcast 24/7 on a hotel TV channel.
4. The Twilight Saga (2008-12) Forks, Washington
Fans of the five movies based on Stephenie Meyer’s vampire books, at least those who have gone in search of the films’ locales, have learned an important lesson about moviemaking; it’s all about creating an illusion. Meyer’s Twilight books are largely set in the little town of Forks, Washington, on the Olympic Peninsula — a place Meyer had never personally seen when she started writing. That community has since been transformed by a steady stream of tourists, who started showing up before the arrival of the films. Here’s the catch — none of the Twilight series was filmed in the town. A multitude of locations throughout the Pacific Northwest stood in for Forks on the big screen, most of which have also endeavored to cash in on the tourism windfall. Be aware, however, that a bookstore in the films is an office building in reality, a restaurant is really a construction business and the post office is actually a bank.
3. The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (2001-03) New Zealand
When The Return of the King, the last of the three LOTR movies, won 11 Oscars — on 11 nominations — in 2004, it seemed as if all of New Zealand was in the theater accepting awards. Since then, much of the rest of the world has returned the favor, traveling to where director Peter Jackson and other filmmakers shot the trilogy. More than 150 locations were utilized for the monumental production, and while all of them are picturesque in their own way, a handful have become especially popular with tourists, notably the Tongariro Crossing, which stood in for Mordor, and Glenorchy, site of the fortress of Isengard. Although it’s been several years now since the Lord of the Rings movies appeared in theaters, Jackson’s film trilogy of The Hobbit is a New Zealand product as well, which is sure to keep the tourists coming.
2. Field of Dreams (1989) Dyersville, Iowa
“Is this heaven?” asks a baseball player, no longer of this world. “No, it’s Iowa,” answers his son, played by Kevin Costner in an undeniably hokey movie that has nonetheless endured for a quarter-century. It’s eastern Iowa, to be specific, on a farm in Dubuque County. Don and Becky Lansing’s lucky day came when location scouts dropped by, asking if they could build a baseball diamond and film a movie on their property. Field of Dreams became a commercial and critical hit, even garnering an Oscar nomination for Best Picture. And then the crowds came, drawn by their love of baseball, or the resonance of the film’s message about fathers and sons, who knows what. In the years since, fans have visited to walk around the baseball diamond, sit in the bleachers prominently featured in the movie, and even play pickup baseball games. In early 2013, the Lansings sold their farm for $3.4 million to an investment group that plans to turn the property into a baseball and softball tournament complex.
1. The Hunger Games (2012) North Carolina
It’s the kind of economic boon every community dreams about. North Carolina politicians happily bestowed $8 million in tax credits to the makers of the first Hunger Games film because the state knew it would make out in the end. And has it ever — to the tune of $60 million in economic activity courtesy of the 5,000 people associated with the film’s production in the state. That’s not even counting the money spent by tourists flocking to North Carolina to visit the locations seen in the movie, particularly the many waterfalls along the Little River in DuPont State Forest, where interested fans can sign on for tours. The Hunger Games tourism surge also shows the downside of such instant popularity. The location that served as District 12 in the movie, Henry River Mill Village near Hildebran, N.C., banned tourists after a rash of vandalism. The village, built by a textile mill, became a ghost town after fire destroyed the mill in 1977, but with its newfound fame, the owner put the property up for sale in 2012 for $1.4 million. Luckily for North Carolina, Suzanne Collins wrote a book trilogy, and four movies are planned from it, all set in Panem, a post-apocalyptic North America. Young-adult franchises come and go, but for now North Carolina is basking in the popularity of The Hunger Games.