Of course, as a travel writer, I’m often most impressed by films that manage to tell a compelling story while sparking my interest in the places featured on screen. Although films like Gravity and Captain Phillips probably won’t encourage most people to head into disaster-prone outer space or the pirate-plagued ocean, plenty of movies over the years have definitely inspired wanderlust in me and, undoubtedly, my fellow travelers. Here are films that highlight specific destinations around the world—and may just persuade you to start packing.
In this Oscar-winning dramedy, two wayward, middle-aged men embark on a weeklong road trip through central California’s wine country, a region rife with golf courses, well-regarded wineries, and delectable restaurants. Filmed just north of Santa Barbara in and around the Santa Ynez Valley, this flick has enticed many a wine lover to recreate the movie’s tour of Santa Barbara and the Central Coast. Visit Firestone Winery—yes, that Firestone of The Bachelor fame—where you can take a tour of the giant barrel room and get a look at California winemaking behind the scenes. The Hitching Post II has been a local favorite for decades, but the restaurant’s upscale take on classic Santa Maria-style barbecue hit a new high upon appearing in Sideways, when patrons snagged so many souvenir cocktail napkins that the restaurant’s owner couldn’t keep them in stock. Get your own with a glass of their house-label Highliner pinot noir. The best way to experience this region is by car, as Jack and Miles do, stopping frequently to drink in the perpetually sunny skies, rolling golden hills, and sprawling live oaks that adorn the landscape. (Download a map of locations featured in the movie here.)
The Beach (2000)
In this Danny Boyle-directed adventure, a twentysomething traveler and his two new companions follow a strange map to a secluded island paradise in Thailand. While many dangers—from gun-toting marijuana growers to unexpected shark attacks—plague them in the wake of this decision, they do temporarily find that the “paradise” does live up to its legend. Actually shot in Thailand, the film features verdant jungles, secluded lagoons, white sand beaches, swaying palm trees, and underwater caves—all of which entice travelers annually. To experience this magical place for yourself, head to Koh Phi Phi Ley, the second largest island of Thailand’s Phi Phi archipelago, and now part of Phi Phi National Park. Essentially a ring of steep, foliage-enshrouded limestone hills, the island encloses two shallow bays, Maya Bay and Loh Samah, and a shallow inlet, Pi Ley. Maya Bay, where much of The Beach was filmed, is popular among snorkelers and scuba divers. However, the island has undergone quite a transformation since the film’s release: visitors will now encounter permanent facilities, such as restrooms, campsites, and a snack bar, and the beaches can be a lot more crowded these days.
A River Runs Through It (1992)
Based on Norman Maclean’s semi-autobiographical novella, this Robert Redford-directed drama focuses on the two disparate sons of a Presbyterian minister in rural Montana. Like Maclean’s story, the Oscar-winning movie takes place in and around Missoula in western Montana, though it was actually shot near Livingston and Bozeman in the southern part of the state; for example, Redeemer Lutheran Church in Livingston served as the father’s church in the movie. However, the reason the film inspires me to travel exists outside any of the buildings—the landscapes are truly phenomenal, particularly the crystalline, forest-lined streams that feature prominently in the numerous fly-fishing sequences. Many of these outdoor scenes were filmed on the nearby Yellowstone, Gallatin, and Boulder Rivers, and the latter two are particularly popular among fly-fishing enthusiasts today. Given the natural beauty and enviable serenity of this untamed wilderness, it’s no wonder that the state has long been known as Big Sky Country.
Somewhere in Time (1980)
Several movies underscore the diverse state of Michigan, from the gritty streets of Detroit to the wilds of the Upper Peninsula. Perhaps no film, however, is as well-regarded as Somewhere in Time, a passionate love story that was shot almost entirely on Mackinac Island, a nostalgic locale that sits at the convergence of Lakes Huron and Michigan, between the state’s two peninsulas. To this day, fans of the movie flock to its principal backdrop, the Grand Hotel, a gorgeous, many-columned edifice constructed in 1887. Resembling an enormous hilltop mansion, the hotel even welcomes non-guests who want to explore its historic public rooms and well-landscaped grounds (for a small fee).
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)
Unlike the other films on my list, the first installment of Peter Jackson’s epic, Oscar-winning trilogy wasn’t shot in the place it represents. The story’s setting is the fictional world of Middle Earth, but most moviegoers know that the entire trilogy was staged in Jackson’s home country of New Zealand. This remarkable locale is filled with picturesque lakes, rivers, valleys, meadows, glaciated mountains, jagged volcanic rock formations, and deserts, all of which were utilized in the three movies. Predictably, the films have inspired many people to venture to New Zealand, where they can visit “backdrops” like Hinuera Valley (which doubled as Hobbiton), Kaitoke Regional Park (Rivendell), Mavora Lakes (Amon Hen), and Tongariro National Park (Mordor). Although you can visit all of these locations on your own, you might appreciate taking an official, two-hour tour of the Hobbiton movie set near Matamata on the North Island of New Zealand. Here, you’ll be able to see several gardens and structures, from hobbit holes to The Green Dragon Inn, that were built for the Lord of the Rings trilogy as well as The Hobbit films.
Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (1997)
Inspired by the bestselling nonfiction account by John Berendt, this atmospheric mystery focuses on a magazine reporter and his unlikely friendship with a murderous millionaire, but the real star of Clint Eastwood’s film is the town of Savannah, Georgia. With its moss-covered trees, scenic squares, atmospheric graveyards, and eccentric denizens, this coastal town routinely lures culture lovers and outdoor enthusiasts alike. The movie features several recognizable locales and has inspired many people to plan a trip to this historic destination. If you’re one of them, be sure to visit the Mercer Williams House Museum, which was once the home of Johnny Mercer’s great-grandfather and later housed restorationist Jim Williams, the focus of Berendt’s book. To follow in the film’s footsteps, take a narrated tour of the Bonaventure Cemetery (a memorable backdrop in the movie and perhaps the city’s most famous graveyard), stroll amid the shady walking paths and athletic areas of Forsyth Park, and enjoy a meal in Churchill’s Pub.
Runaway Jury (2003)
Based on a John Grisham novel of the same name, this riveting thriller pits a mysterious juror and his girlfriend against a man who manipulates court trials involving gun manufacturers. Naturally, as with many films shot in and around New Orleans, this one takes full advantage of my hometown’s iconic settings, such as Café Du Monde, the St. Charles Avenue streetcar, and a quintessential French Quarter apartment. Like Cat People (1982), The Big Easy (1986), Interview with the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles (1994), and many other movies, Runaway Jury captures the unique essence of the city and may just convince you to experience it for yourself.
Based on the popular Broadway musical, this popular, Oscar-winning biopic illuminates the life of Eva Duarte, a B-movie actress who eventually became the controversial wife of Argentinian president Juan Perón. Partially filmed on location in Buenos Aires, this energetic film highlights several historic sites in Argentina’s capital, such as Casa Rosada on the Plaza de Mayo, where Evita (played by Madonna) sings “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina” to a riveted crowd. Fans of the film may also recognize the town of Pilar, which is part of the greater Buenos Aires area, as well as the Estacion Retiro in the city’s Federal District. This Renaissance-style train station played itself in the film, not long before being declared a national monument in 1997.
Under the Tuscan Sun (2003)
Based on an autobiographical book by Frances Mayes, this sumptuous film is the ultimate inspiration for both short-term travelers and expat wannabes. It’s the enviable tale of a writer who, in the wake of a gut-wrenching divorce, impulsively purchases a run-down villa in Tuscany. Filled with zany, memorable characters, the movie also serves as a love letter to Italy, highlighting the cities of Florence and Rome, the Tuscan town of Cortona, and the seaside village of Positano on the Amalfi Coast. The climate, scenery, history, and cuisine of the country are all exalted in this life-affirming story.
Perhaps the most sought after adventure in life is to travel—to take a hiatus from reality and escape into an unknown world brimming with exotic foods, interesting culture, and picturesque views. Book-turned-movie Under the Tuscan Sun has captivated audiences since its release in 2003. Sloping valleys and decadent foods fill the screen and motivate everyday people to forgo their typical hustle and bustle and claim their own small piece of paradise. Audiences get just a taste of Italy’s old-world charm, captivating architecture, and divine landscaping. The allure of someday sipping espresso in a corner café along the cobblestone streets of Tuscany is almost impossible to ignore!
—Ashley Le Sage, Receptionist at Avalon Travel
Naturally, these aren’t the only films that have inspired my yen for travel. Whenever I watch Dr. No (1962), I feel a sudden desire to fly to Jamaica, and 50 First Dates (2004) always finds me craving a trip to O’ahu. Meanwhile, The Blues Brothers (1980) routinely makes me miss Chicago, and not surprisingly, Midnight in Paris (2011) makes it hard not to yearn for the Arc de Triomphe, the Cathédral Notre Dame, the Musée du Louvre, and all the other romantic aspects of the jewel of France. Even Mary Poppins (1964) sends me back to the picturesque streets of London, despite the fact that it was actually filmed at Walt Disney Studios! Of course, any number of movies can entice me to visit the bustling cities of Los Angeles and New York.
So, which films give you a reason to plan your next vacation?
Moon Staff Picks
Here are four films that inspire us, encourage us to hit the road, make us remember our favorite journeys, and remind us how truly wonderful traveling can be.
To Catch a Thief (1955)
In Alfred Hitchcock’s winner of the Academy Award for Best Cinematography, John Robie (Cary Grant) and Frances Stevens (Grace Kelly) fall in love while zipping along the winding roads of the French Riviera in an electric blue convertible. In addition to showcasing the staggering hills and pastel homes above the Mediterranean, this classic film pays homage to such landmarks as the Nice flower market and the Cannes Carlton Hotel. From the sprawling villa where ex-cat burglar Robie tends to his vineyards to the white sand beach at Cannes where he and Frances sunbathe and banter, To Catch a Thief could convince anyone to take a trip to the South of France!
—Anna Gallagher, Publicity Assistant
The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994)
Take an old tour bus, add two drag queens and a transsexual woman, put them in the Australian Outback, and you have the cult classic The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. The film features a road trip from Sydney to Alice Springs, a small town in the heart of Australia. Along the way, viewers get a taste of the Outback towns Coober Pedy and Broken Hill, in which much of the filming actually took place. Of course, nothing beats the gorgeous views of King’s Canyon when the trio climbs it in full drag regalia to fulfill a lifelong dream. Their ultimate destination is Lasseters Hotel Casino, a real hotel where you can book a room with views of the Todd River and the mountains of the MacDonnell Ranges. I can’t watch this movie without wanting to hop in my car (or better yet, buy a bus) and drive off to parts unknown.
—Cat Snell, Operations Assistant
For me, the movie that always evokes the strongest travel memories is the indie musical Once. The film takes place in Dublin, where I spent the better part of a two-week literary study tour of Ireland in 2006. When Glen Hansard belts out “Say It to Me Now” and plays his ragged acoustic guitar in front of Dunnes Stores in the opening scene, I imagine that I’m back in Dublin, walking along the red brick road and people-watching as I dip in and out of boutiques and coffee shops.
In one scene in the film, Hansard even chases a pickpocket into historic St. Stephen’s Green, one of the first sites I visited. Many of my favorite memories of my trip took place in Temple Bar, and every time I watch Hansard and Markéta Irglová walking together through this district, I remember the nights spent with my fellow travelers—drinking beers, talking about all of the sites we’d visited that day, and declaring how we’d never feel quite ready to leave Ireland and head back to the States…
—Jesse Wentworth, Associate Publicist
The Fall (2006)
One movie that never fails to whet my appetite for travel is The Fall, a film directed by Tarsem Singh that was shot on location in some of the most colorful and awe-inspiring sites in the world. The Fall tells a story of a journey through many fantastic lands—the high dunes of the Namib Desert, verdant rice terraces in Bali, lush botanical gardens in Buenos Aires, and the ruins of the Bayon Temple in Angkor Thom, Cambodia.
But the majority of the film is a wonderful tour of sites in the director’s home country of India. We first meet one of the characters in the City Palace in Jaipur, a major landmark built in the 1730 that features walls, ceilings, and frescoes that are elaborately decorated with intricate carvings and paintings. The film then takes us throughout India, from the “Gate of Magnificence,” Buland Darwaza, to the Emperor Akbar’s tomb and Agra Fort in Uttar Pradesh. I always marvel at the Mehrengarh Fort overlooking the Blue City of Jodhpur, the iconic Taj Mahal, and the stunning architecture of Chand Baori, a “stepwell” built in 800 AD. One of the oldest landmarks in the state of Rajasthan, this massive irrigation system collected and stored groundwater in the arid region, and also served as a gathering place for the local villagers.
The entire movie is a visual treat, and it’s sure to make you want to pack your bags for distant lands that seem like they could only exist in your imagination.
—Carrie Hirsch, Marketing Associate