A film's location isn't just a backdrop – it's a feeling and an atmosphere whose role is sometimes as important as the A-list names on the poster. These films often go beyond the sound stage and into the great outdoors, bringing some of the world's most breathtaking landscapes to the big screen. Here are the ones that still have our jaws firmly dropped.
Svinafellsjokull glacier, Iceland – Interstellar
We're guessing it probably wasn't in budget – or the realm of possibility – for the cast and crew of space drama Interstellar to leave Earth in order to film other-worldly scenes. As such, that's exactly where Iceland's Svinafellsjokull glacier came in.
A vast, bleak and crevasse-laden icescape, it’s a breathtaking backdrop that perfectly fits the bill as Dr. Mann's planet, with blackish-blue ice craters that are eerily lunar. Unsurprisingly, a number of Iceland's uninhabitable locations have been used for astronaut training because they mirror otherworldly scenery so spectacularly.
Canary Islands – In the Heart of the Sea
The Canary Islands made for a sufficiently desolate backdrop for Ron Howard's swashbuckling epic In the Heart of the Sea. The production began in September 2013 at Leavesden Studios in England and then relocated to the Canary Islands for the shipwreck scenes.
Filming lasted about five weeks on and around the island of La Gomera, where the cast was subjected to a diet of 500-600 calories a day so that their bodies would look appropriately emaciated. La Gomera's rugged outline on the horizon gives off the ideal uninhabited island vibes, adding to the panic and destitution that the real life sailors would have felt on the ship.
O'ahu, Hawii and Vietnam – Kong: Skull Island
Setting is of vital importance to the latest installation of the King Kong universe in Kong: Skull Island, in cinemas now. Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts wanted to take mega-monster Kong back to his roots, and for that, they were going to need a deserted and lush jungle landscape.
Enter in the Hawiian island of O'ahu and Ninh Binh, Vietnam, whose rugged greenery serve as the spooky and uninhabited real world set for Kong's hometown. As it happens, Kong: Skull Island is actually the first Hollywood film to ever have sequences filmed in Vietnam, so this landscape really will be unprecedented, at least in the minds of avid movie-goers.
Johannesburg, South Africa – The Salvation
Not all westerns are filmed in America's wild west – some go south. Way south. Take The Salvation, an epic drama inspired by the gruff westerns of years gone by, which was actually filmed on a farm just outside Johannesburg.
This South African backdrop gives the film a dustiness that can't be replicated. There aren't many locations on the planet that still exude that ghostly, wild west feel, but Johannesburg's muddy-red landscape feels almost alive in its forsakenness.
Namib Desert, Namibia – Mad Max: Fury Road
Arid, forsaken, bone dry – it’s difficult to tell whether we’re describing the landscape or the human population of the anti-utopian, post-apocalyptic world in Mad Max: Fury Road. To illustrate this, there was no better place to film than the world's oldest desert, the Namib Desert in Namibia, after switching from Australia when unexpected rainfall made the setting unusually green.
The Namib Desert's stark, scorched scenery was key for believability, as the characters are constantly threatened with the lack of water and resources left on earth. The Namib brought this to life in a way that still leaves us parched every time we think about it.
New Zealand – The Hobbit
New Zealand is renowned for its untouched greenery and rolling hills, so when it came to choosing a setting for The Hobbit trilogy, there was really no choice but to film here. The charming hobbit holes still left in the green hills are a testament to New Zealand's rite of passage as Middle Earth.
The vast, rocky landscape making up New Zealand's two islands make for incredible eye candy as we follow the pack on their way to the Iron Mountain. The vistas are so sweeping and endless that we can't help but be left in awe as Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) and co trek across wide open valleys and over mountaintops.
Gabon – The Legend of Tarzan
When it came to picking the perfect setting for Tarzan’s home, there was no better place than the virtually untouched landscape of Gabon. Located along the coast of Central Africa, Gabon and its dense foliage, waterfalls and twisting rivers is exactly the kind of place you would expect the Lord of the Jungle to be swinging from the trees.
Gabon was almost too real for the crew when filming – sleeping in hammocks, they found that it wasn’t uncommon for wild animals to prowl underneath them at night. Terrifying, sure, but we like to think of it as something that makes this incredible setting just that much more authentic and rugged.