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Five alternative Oscar-winning film locations

The 2021 Oscars are taking place this month and, despite glorious cinematography of some of the greatest places on earth, there’s somehow still no Academy Award for location scouts. Luckily, film fan Ally Wybrew is here to galvanise your next adventure with her roundup of five Oscar-winning films with award-worthy settings


 Mukeng Bamboo Forest, Anhui, China (Getty Images)


Film: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
Oscars (2001): 10 nominations, 4 wins

Arguably the movie that brought wuxia (a film sub-genre about ancient Chinese martial arts) to the West, Ang Lee’s highly choreographed masterwork made the most of China’s vast and varied topography. Shot in part at the world’s largest film studio in Hengdian, much footage was also captured on location, including the film’s most iconic scene: a mid-air sword fight between Jen Yu (Ziyi Zhang) and Li Mu Bai (Yun-Fat Chow), which took place among the towering grasses of Mukeng Bamboo Forest in east China’s Anhui Province.

Many of the film’s most arresting landscapes – including the stunning striations of red, ochre and amber on the undulating rocks of Rainbow City – feature in Jen’s flashbacks to her capture by raffish bandit Lo (Chen Chang) and were filmed in the vast Gobi desert near the borders of Kazakhstan, more than 4,000 miles northwest of Mukeng. If this all sounds a bit remote, an equally impactful (and more travel-attainable) location is the precariously perched Fortune Celebration Temple on Mount Cangyan, 220 miles from Beijing. Ancient buildings cling to the steep mountainside and are connected above by a waterfall-backed bridge that serves as the setting for Lo and Jen’s final meeting. It can be reached by climbing just over 360 steps or an easy cable car.

Take off to China

Two-mile West Sands beach, St Andrews, Scotland (Alamy)


Film: Chariots of Fire
Oscars (1982): 7 nominations, 4 wins

Whether you’ve seen this British classic or not, you’ll know that scene. Parodied in everything from kids’ animation Madagascar to Jim Carrey’s Bruce Almighty, Nike adverts to prostate exam commercials, the film’s ‘running on the beach’ scene is about as iconic as it gets. The sandy shore in question is West Sands, a two-mile stretch of coastline in St Andrews, Scotland, standing in for Kent in the story, where competitive runners Abrahams (Ben Cross) and Liddell (Ian Charleson) train for the Olympics. It’s a beautiful scene on a beautiful beach. And with Vangelis’ magical soundtrack to back it up, it’s enough to tempt even the weariest traveller to seek it out.

There’s more to Hugh Hudson’s film than an award-worthy beach, however. The magnificent gold-gilded church in the opening memorial scene is St Mary-le-Bow, just behind St Paul’s Cathedral in London, and Eton College provided the ‘Cambridge University’ interiors. Lord Lindsay’s eye-watering country estate is in fact Hall Barn in Buckinghamshire (which also featured in Gosford Park). Everything was shot in the UK – even the Paris Olympics, which was mostly captured in Merseyside – proving that it’s a versatile and attractive destination both on screen and off.

Take off to Scotland

Badlands National Park (Brian Konoske/Gallery Stock); also opening image (Getty Images)

South Dakota, USA

Film: Dances with Wolves
Oscars (1990): 12 nominations, 7 wins

Kevin Costner’s epic directorial debut about a Union Civil War soldier (Lt. Dunbar, played by Costner) allying with Native Americans is known for its Oscar success, sensitive portrayal of indigenous people and panoramic views of Midwestern America. The majority of the film was shot on South Dakota’s Great Plains, with some scenes captured in neighbouring Wyoming. The undulating hills of honey-coloured grasslands Dunbar traverses en route to his remote posting of Fort Hayes were filmed in the Badlands National Park amid the largest undisturbed mixed-grass prairie in the States. The nail-biting buffalo hunt took place within the confines of the Triple U Ranch and its 50,000 acres of prairie land grazed on by a 2,000-strong herd.

Dunbar’s final farewell was captured in a snow-clad Spearfish Canyon, a gorgeous gorge of rough rock edges and waterfalls that handily features film signage pointing to the shooting location for curious travellers. For those tempted to seek out these vast vistas, be sure to visit 1880 Town on the I-90 in South Dakota, which exhibits not only a replica Western village, but also a panoply of Dances with Wolves set pieces and memorabilia, including the mechanical stand-in for Dunbar’s faithful steed, Cisco.

Take off to the USA

La Calahorra beneath the snow-capped Sierra Nevada (Getty Images)


Film: Doctor Zhivago
Oscars (1966): 10 nominations, 5 wins

David Lean’s classic tale of love and loss during the Russian Revolution faced many production challenges, not least of which was finding a place to film. Unable to shoot in Russia due to restrictions on the source material (Boris Pasternak’s 1957 novel was banned), the British visionary chose to film his snow-swept spectacle primarily in balmy Spain. Famously recreating the streets of Moscow in Canillas, a suburb of Madrid, production designer Eddie Fowler used thousands of tons of marble dust as snow – at one point mixing it with wax and soap flakes to create Zhivago’s icicle-clad Varykino home. This idyllic, isolated building (in one scene stunningly surrounded by 7,000 daffodils) was put together in fields near Soria, halfway between Madrid and the French border. Further south, the Sierra Nevada provided the imposing backdrop to Yuri’s father’s funeral, while the Moncayo Range in the northeast doubled for Russia’s Ural Mountains.

Take off to Spain

Poiana Brașov in the Transylvanian alps (Alamy)


Film: Cold Mountain
Oscars (2003): 7 nominations, 1 win

Not long into this civil war romance, Rev Monroe (Donald Sutherland) tells Ada (Nicole Kidman) that, in Cold Mountain, “It’s the view that heals”. While – spoiler alert – that might not quite have been the case for Monroe, it certainly is for the viewers of this North Carolina-set epic. The primary location for Ada’s inexorable pining for her recently conscripted lover Inman (Jude Law), is the idyllic valley village of Cold Mountain. All wooden farmhouses with wraparound terraces flanked by rolling fields and clumps of wildflowers, it’s a ‘pack-your-bags-and-go’-type vista.

Though set in the southern USA, shooting predominantly took place in Romania, as the countryside was less marred by modern visual obstructions (such as power lines), saving on costly post-production work. The village of Cold Mountain itself was constructed from scratch in Poiana Brașov in the Transylvanian alps, while the eponymous peak, where the protagonists are reunited before the film’s dramatic climax, is Zărneşti Gorge in Piatra Craiului National Park (the real Cold Mountain being in North Carolina’s Pisgah National Forest). Both are seriously seductive settings, though the few US locations used on Inman’s arduous trek home give them a run for their money. Not even Philip Seymour Hoffman’s near-constant talk of constipation can spoil the beauty of the James River in Richmond, and somehow even the swamps look good: an aerial shot over a lily pad-clad waterway in Cypress Gardens, South Carolina, is sure to bust those marshland stereotypes.

Take off to Romania

The perfect location

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