9 best sci-fi locations – from Star Wars to Mad Max

Fancy a holiday on Mars or on the Planet of the Apes?

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The movies take you places: cinema is a mode of transport. In just 90 minutes, you can be whisked all the way around the globe – perhaps with a dotted red line marking your progress on a map as you go. Some films take you even farther, out of this world and to other galaxies far, far away. As Roman Polanski put it, a film hasn’t done its job correctly unless you forgot you were sitting in a theatre.

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What’s great is that the converse is often true: there are some places that can transport you into the world of a movie. If you want to feel like James Bond, try going to James Bond Island. In a Holly Golightly mood? Have a danish pastry and some coffee outside Tiffany’s in Manhattan. 

Lonely Planet has just published a book about the real-world places that provided the backdrops and settings for some of our most memorable collective dreams Film and TV Locations: A Spotter’s Guide

They’ve included nine sci-fi locations, from a tiny Irish island that had a starring role in The Force Awakens, to a little town in New South Wales which has hosted Priscilla Queen of the Desert and Mad Max.

Have they missed anywhere out? Let us know in the comments box below. 


1. The Martian (2015) – Wadi Rum, Jordan

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Despite the support and involvement of NASA, it wasn’t practical for Ridley Scott to shoot pro-science Robinson Crusoe story The Martian on Mars, so he returned to the next best thing: Wadi Rum in Jordan, where he’d also shot scenes set on an alien planet in Prometheus (2012).

Wadi Rum is also known as ‘the Valley of the Moon’ but ‘the Valley of Mars’ might be more apt. Red Planet (2000) and the Last Days on Mars (2013) were both filmed there, too. As were key scenes in Lawrence of Arabia (1962).

2. RoboCop (1988) – Dallas City Hall, Texas

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The great cyberpunk sci-fi cinema of the 1980s envisaged dehumanised, depersonalised worlds. For example, RoboCop took IM Pei’s design for Dallas City Hall, a bold modernist inverted pyramid he intended ‘to convey an image of the people’, and turned it into the headquarters of OCP, the ruthless and unfeeling private corporation that supplies law enforcement in a dystopian future.

Still, cool robots!

3. Gattaca (1997) – Marin County Civic Center, California

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Thanks to his utopian, Usonian vision for modern living, and the cantilevering and clean lines of his designs, Frank Lloyd Wright’s buildings continue to look like they could only exist in a space-age future, along with jetpacks and monorails. You don’t expect to find them in the real world, but it’s no surprise that they turn up in sci-fi films constantly. Marin County Civic Center doubled as the underground compound in George Lucas’s THX-1138 as well as acting as the headquarters of the sinister Gattaca Aerospace Corporation.

4. Mad Max 2 (1981) – Silverton, New South Wales, Australia

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Welcome to Silverton, population as of the last census: 89. Either there’s something about the light here, or it looks like the very definition of a typical outback township, because films including The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994), Wake in Fright (1971) and Mad Max 2 were all shot in and around it. Mind you, Mad Max 2 is set in a ‘maelstrom of decay in which ordinary men were battered and mashed’, so think twice before you visit.

5. Star Trek (1966–69) – Vasquez Rocks Natural Area Park, California

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It’s funny how often the final frontier turns out to have been a mere 48km north of Hollywood.

The desert area featuring this particular sandstone formation has featured in countless films and TV shows. Mostly westerns (from The Lone Ranger to Blazing Saddles) and sci-fi (from Power Rangers Turbo to Amazon Women on the Moon). But the area will always be known as Kirk’s Rock, thanks to William Shatner’s Captain Kirk being beamed there for a fight with a stuntman in a rubber alien costume.

6. The Terminator (1984) – Griffith Observatory, Los Angeles, California

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The best place to see the stars in LA – along with the Ivy, the Chateau Marmont and the Walk of Fame – has featured in dozens of films. Notably, it’s where Arnie’s T-800 first shows up in The Terminator. But the observatory is most indelibly linked with James Dean, whose troubled character Jim Stark goes there on a school trip in Rebel Without a Cause, gets challenged to a game of chicken, and pretty much defines teenage cool.

7. Planet of the Apes (1968) – Westward Beach, Point Dume, Malibu, California

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Tied in first place with the final shot of The 400 Blows, the ending (spoiler alert!) of Planet of the Apes – featuring Charlton Heston, Linda Harrison and Lady Liberty – is the joint most famous closing beach scene in movie history. It’s also one of the only times in cinema that a Malibu exterior was used for New York.

8. Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) – Devils Tower, Wyoming

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The second most famous monolith in science fiction cinema is a geologically extraordinary 265m-tall protrusion of igneous rock that doubles as a perfect UFO landing site. In 1906, President Roosevelt designated it America’s first National Monument, and it receives 400,000 visitors annually. It you don’t get to be one of them, you can always do like Richard Dreyfus and make your own out of mashed potato.

9. Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015) – Skellig Michael, County Kerry, Ireland

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This isolated 6th-century monastery was pretty much the furthermost outpost of what remained of Western civilisation throughout the dark ages. George Bernard Shaw described it as an ‘incredible, impossible, mad place’, adding that it ‘does not belong to any world that you and I have lived and worked in: it is part of our dream world.’ Indeed, a long time ago in some far, far away galaxy, it was the first Jedi temple.

Reproduced with permission from Film and TV Locations: A Spotter’s Guide © 2017 Lonely Planet


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