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still from the film 'Ex Machina' showing Domhnall Gleeson as Caleb and Oscar Isaac as Nathan standing by a big, glass window in a room with a forest view

Films set in inspiring locations

As the lights go down and the opening titles roll, the silver screen has the power to transport us to lands far away. Film aficionado Ally Wybrew rounds up her favourite movies with filming locations that are more than worth the binge


01/07/2021

The Juvet Landscape Hotel in Norway set the scene for Ex Machina (also opening image, with Domhnall Gleeson and Oscar Isaac)

Ex Machina (2014)

Star of the show: Norway

British filmmaker Alex Garland’s intense sci-fi thriller has a lot going for it: a first-rate cast in Oscar Isaac, Domhnall Gleeson and Alicia Vikander, a philosophically challenging narrative and distractingly convincing visual effects. But though these are all excellent talking points, it’s the billionaire protagonist’s luxurious home in a stunning Norwegian valley that had everyone’s tongues wagging on release. Nathan’s stylish ‘mansion’ is in fact the Juvet Landscape Hotel in Alstad, Norway – a swish, minimalist getaway in the middle of the Norwegian Scenic Routes. A cubic complex, the hotel has floor-to-ceiling windows that put incredible views of the surrounding mountains, forests and rivers centre stage.

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Waitakere Ranges Regional Park on New Zealand’s North Island is the perfect backdrop for a wild escapade

Hunt for The Wilderpeople (2016)

Star of the show: New Zealand (North Island)

If you weren’t googling New Zealand in the early Noughties after Peter Jackson’s nine-hour-plus Oscar-winning advert, we’re confident you will be after watching Kiwi director Taika Waititi’s 2016 comedy caper. In an attempt to avoid separation after his wife dies, Hec (Sam Neill) and foster son Ricky (Julian Dennison) make a run for it in the North Island bush. The hilarious escapade that follows shows off the dense and tropical Waitakere Ranges, a sprawling jungle outback featuring five reservoirs, glow worms and the country’s only land-based indigenous mammals: long and short-tailed bats. Meanwhile, Tongariro National Park, a 100km-long range comprising three active volcanoes and every terrain imaginable – from dusty calderas to forested slopes – makes up almost all of the film’s remainder (including an unforgettable car chase across the Rangipo Desert). In the words of Hec, “It’s pretty majestical.”


Nick Jonas, Kevin Hart and Jack Black take a chilly breather in snow-covered Alberta, Canada

Jumanji: The Next Level (2019)

Star of the show: Alberta, Canada

It might surprise some to learn that this family-friendly sequel to a reboot based on a film about a board game has something in common with multiple 2015 Oscar-winner The Revenant. The unifying factor? A superb taste in shooting locations. Jumanji: The Next Level is as wild a ride as you’d expect from an adventure film starring Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, Karen Gillan, Jack Black and Kevin Hart, and covers a lot of ground, including stages in Atlanta, deserts in New Mexico and jungles in Hawaii. The most jaw-dropping backdrops, however, were shot at the Fortress Mountain Resort in Alberta, Canada – a ski resort nestled amidst the mind-blowing beauty of the Rockies. Even when all the protagonists (and a talking horse) dive into ice-cold water at altitude, it’s hard to take your eyes off the snow-capped peaks behind them. For ski-lovers, it’s dreamy stuff. For movie lovers, it’ll propel you into Inception, Brokeback Mountain, The Revenant or, just maybe, the next level.

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Crazy big ideas: the Supertree Grove at Gardens by the Bay in Singapore

Crazy Rich Asians (2018)

Star of the show: Singapore

The ground-breaking 2018 rom-com had us in love not only with super couple Rachel (Constance Wu) and Nick (Henry Golding), but also with the primary shooting location: Singapore. As the romance ramps up and comedy ensues, the backdrop reads like a veritable tourist’s guide to the country. And, with so many architectural highlights to choose from, it’s unsurprising the movie makes the most of it. Familiar breath-taking sites such as the Supertrees at Gardens by the Bay and the futuristic Marina Bay Sands resort provide a backdrop to scenes between the pair, while more intimate moments show off Singapore’s quieter, but no less affluent, areas, including the idyllic Bukit Pasoh Road in Chinatown and the Newtown Food Centre. The real show stealer, however, is the location of the film’s elaborate bachelor party, Sentosa Island, a palm-filled, soft-sand beach paradise just 1km from Singapore itself.

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John Wick (Keanu Reeves) teams up with Sofia Al-Azwar (Halle Berry) and her killer dogs in the Sahara Desert

John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum (2019)

Star of the show: Morocco

Keanu Reeves kicked off his kung-fu renaissance in 2014 with the immensely popular and choreographically rewarding John Wick. Three films and more than 500 million box office dollars later, the franchise shows no sign of slowing down. For the third and latest instalment, Baba Yaga leaves his favoured New York and European haunts to head to Eastern Saharan hotspot Essaouira, the seaside city a few hours’ drive from Marrakech. The four-week on-location shoot saw Reeves, as the ever-hounded Mr Wick, meet Halle Berry’s Sofia and her duo of killer dogs, but, most importantly, introduced the world to ‘dog-fu’. Stunning aerial shots of the sweltering Sahara and an incredibly complex night-time set piece in Essaouria’s medina help make Morocco the ultimate action hero backdrop. With Chapter 4 in the works, the question now is ‘Where next for Wick?’

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A haggard horseman rides past Mexico City’s Metropolitan Cathedral on the Day of the Dead

Spectre (2015)

Star of the show: Mexico City

The James Bond film franchise has given us innumerable movie memories over the years, but easily one of the most talked about is the four-minute ‘one shot’ opening to 2015’s Spectre. An incredible technical feat, the sequence (a mix of steadicam and crane camerawork) in the city’s historic Zócalo plaza shows off Mexico City’s exuberant Día de Muertos parade like nothing else: skeleton-clad revellers crammed between hulking colonial edifices; giant skulls rolling along on chthonic floats. The moment encapsulates the magnetism of Mexico as a destination: all history, hedonism and heat. But if it’s not your bag, watch to the end and enjoy picking from one of the many other destinations visited by the globe-trotting spy, including London, Rome, Tangier and the Austrian Alps.

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Oliver (Armie Hammer) and Elio (Timothée Chalamet) chum up in the northern Italian town of Crema

Call Me By Your Name (2017)

Star of the show: Italy

Don’t expect to come out of seeing Luca Guadagnino’s indie hit anything but infatuated with everything in it, whether it’s Armie Hammer’s bronzed Adonis, or the piano-playing, multilingual, laid-back life of Elio’s family. That said, while almost everything in sight is mouth-wateringly seductive, nothing is more so than the sleepy Italian vistas that house them. Lombardy in Italy is a painting come to life: a crumbling villa baking in the Mediterranean sun flanked by peach trees and plunge pools, while fields of low corn frame flirtatious bike rides and ancient colonnades cover lovers’ cautious glances. It’s a one-stop shop for the best of Italy (Lake Garda even gets a look in), with talent-of-the-moment Timothée Chalamet, to boot.

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