Any modern moviegoer could tell you that we live in an age of cinema ruled by CGI landscapes and the impassive blank slate of the green screen. In many big-budget films, computer animation has taken over not just the jobs once filled by puppeteers, pyrotechnicians and the guy in the latex monster suit, but also the roles that once went to places like Times Square and Tunisia. But fortunately for those of us with an appetite for real-life earth, air and water, one can still think of many great films that don't just pop into existence from an ethereal world inside some graphic sorcerer's head -- they're shot in real locations that you can visit and touch. For example, do the spires above look familiar to you? You may have seen them on the big screen.
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Look familiar? Try to imagine this structure with a few animated architectural features tacked on, such as a sky-piercing spire above the existing towers. Still not getting it? OK, now add in a zooming owl and a pack of black-robed children riding aloft on broomsticks. This is Durham Cathedral in England, which has often stood in for the role of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry in the Harry Potter series. For this and other reasons, Durham Cathedral is a well-traveled tourist destination, which claims to receive more than 600,000 visitors annually. Read on to see more real-life filming locations from movies young and old!
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Lacock Abbey in Wiltshire, England, has also played host to several of the Harry Potter movies. Lacock's arched cloisters and dusty, dungeon-esque "warming room" will be familiar to anyone who has seen the early films of the series. Though the fictional Hogwarts is more than a thousand years old, Lacock Abbey was founded slightly more recently, in the 13th century. Next, do you know which 1976 sports film placed its most iconic moment at a well-known Philadelphia landmark?
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Where would the science of the training montage be today without the pioneering research conducted by the creators of the Rocky films? The key elements are now firmly established: a driving, fist-pumping anthem of victory; a series of scenes in which the hero becomes more apt at a particular skill over time; and of course, an at least semi-vertical structure for the hero to scale irresistibly in the final moment of the montage. Do you remember which real-life man-made hilltop Rocky Balboa climbs as Bill Conti's "Gonna Fly Now" reaches its climax?
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The titular scrapper in Rocky (1976) completes his triumphant jogging montage atop the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, pictured above. If you're so inclined, you can find dozens of YouTube videos of Rocky fans mimicking Sylvester Stallone's moment, though many seem to come at the culmination of slightly less impressive workouts, beginning at the bottom of the stairs -- or somewhere near the middle. Next up, we'll scope out the real-life location of a scary summer blockbuster from the summer before Rocky Balboa's debut.
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"Back home we got a taxidermy man. He gonna have a heart attack when he see what I brung him!" Robert Shaw and Richard Dreyfuss prepare their implements for an epic battle with a 25-foot monster shark in Jaws (1975). The film takes place on a fictional East Coast island known as Amity -- so where did the then-unknown director Steven Spielberg film this salty showdown?
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The island of Martha's Vineyard, Mass., is the real-life Amity Island, and the center of principal photography for Jaws (1975). So you're sure to ask: Is the real Martha's Vineyard a hotbed of great white shark activity? It's not exactly ground zero for dorsal fin sightings, but like most temperate coastlines, the Northeastern U.S. coast is well within standard great white range. Though shark attacks on humans in Massachusetts are exceedingly rare, as recently as the summer of 2012, a Colorado man was bitten by a great white while swimming near a Cape Cod beach. Next, can you name any of the famous corners of Paris to appear in the French film Amélie (2001)?
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This is the Sacré-Cœur Basilica in Paris -- one of the many unforgettable rendezvous points from the French capital to appear in the beloved Jean-Pierre Jeunet film Amélie (2001), starring Audrey Tautou. The name of this church translates to the Basilica of the Sacred Heart. Next up, do you know which North African nation stood in for the surface of an alien planet in Star Wars?
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Though George Lucas has more recently shown his affinity for wholly animated landscapes and computer generated sets in the Star Wars prequel trilogy, the technology to create these imaginary worlds was unavailable in 1976, when principle photography for the original Star Wars (1977) began. So where could Lucas find a lifeless world, bleak enough to represent the dead-end planet of Tatooine, where a young Luke Skywalker could see no future?
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While the North African countries of Algeria, Tunisia and Libya have much more hospitable areas within their borders -- usually closer to the Mediterranean coast, one can find truly desolate miles of Sahara in their southern reaches. These Tunisian deserts stood in for the planet of Tatooine. Some elements from the set of Luke Skywalker's arid home world in the original Star Wars (1977) lie set against the level sands.
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To stick for a moment with characters created in part by George Lucas, we can turn to the unusually violent archaeologist Indiana Jones. Though the character's films have featured many memorable locales, perhaps none is more stunning than the next ancient site, which appears in the final act of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989). Can you name the ancient city in Jordan where the film's Holy Grail is kept?
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These tombs line the dusty avenue known as the Street of Facades in the ancient city of Petra, Jordan. Inhabited in ancient times by tribes such as the Edomites and later the Nabataeans, Petra hosts many astounding structures, most carved directly into solid rock. Not a bad spot for a final showdown between good and evil.
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Just for scale, can you see the two tiny figures paused underneath the main entrance? Yeah -- this thing is big. This is the Monastery of Petra, which, though larger, has a façade similar to that of Al-Khazneh, or "the Treasury" -- the carved building that appears prominently as the Temple of the Holy Grail in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989). Unlike Dr. Jones, real-life visitors to Petra won't have to contend with unholy decapitation traps or immortal crusader guardians, but the Jordanian desert can grow very hot and very dry, so tourists planning a journey to the stone city should take all of the appropriate precautions. Next, we'll take a look at a desert locale near Petra that shows up frequently in popular cinema.
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This is the Wadi Rum desert of Jordan -- the "Valley of the Moon." The rocky hollows of the Wadi Rum have provided filming locations for many movies, including the 2012 Ridley Scott film Prometheus, in which it served as the backdrop for a modified landscape that would appear to be an ancient alien home world. But here's an interesting coincidence for you: The Wadi Rum also appeared in a classic David Lean film that is repeatedly viewed and emulated by an android character in Prometheus. Do you know which film it is?
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David Lean's Lawrence of Arabia (1962), with which the android character David in Prometheus is obsessed, features many scenes filmed in Jordan's Wadi Rum. Next, do you know the 1965 musical that pitted catchy sing-alongs against an occupying horde of Nazis?
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Julie Andrews opened the 1965 film version of Rodgers and Hammerstein's The Sound of Music with those words we all remember: "The hills are aliiiiiive …" Though the songs they (the hills) have sung for a thousand years are really quite nice, the hills themselves are the real main character of the film's opening. Gorgeous, green, alpine landscapes fill in behind the earliest notes of music and establish a mood as sweeping and rapturous as one could hope for. Do you know where these opening shots were filmed?
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This is the Salzkammergut Lake District of Austria -- a region filled with scenic resorts and idyllic pastures like these. The lake-dotted alpine territory extends to the east of the city of Salzberg. Check out another view of Salzkammergut on the next page.
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Many of the shots appearing at the outset of The Sound of Music are of these mountains and grassy hilltops. While in this case, the real Austria represents the Austria of the story, many movies taking place in supposedly real-life locales are shot in environments completely different from the ones they're supposed to represent -- even landscapes on the opposite side of the globe. For example, do you know which jungle adventure shot scenes in Tennessee?
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This is Cane Creek Falls -- a site within Tennessee's Fall Creek Falls State Park. Disney's 1994 live-action adaptation of The Jungle Book, which is supposed to take place in the rain forests of India, actually included scenes filmed right here at Fall Creek Falls, in the southeastern United States. Next: Do you know which popular Civil War drama never shot a single frame inside the state where it was set?
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In a scene from Gone with the Wind (1939), Scarlett O'Hara (Vivien Leigh) walks among the hundreds of wounded Confederate soldiers lying in wait for medical attention in the streets of Atlanta. Though Margaret Mitchell's tale of love and hardship in the time of the Civil War is cherished by many, the film adaptation is not renowned for its historical accuracy or authenticity. In fact, the Atlanta that appears in the movie is not Atlanta at all, but mostly a group of sets at Selznick International Studios in Hollywood.
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Hold on, hold on -- the orcs aren't mounting a full-scale invasion just yet. In fact, it looks like these phlegmatic fellows are just in the middle of a relaxing coffee break. This orcish warrior troop is shown in between shoots taking place in Epping Forest, England. Though the landscapes J.R.R. Tolkien dreamed up for his Lord of the Rings trilogy are pure fantasy, most people agree that the natural stretches of one southern country have played the part quite well in a series of recent films. Do you know the location of the real-life Middle Earth?
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When New Zealander Peter Jackson set out to adapt Tolkien's mythical masterpiece for the big screen, he must have considered himself lucky that his home country was such an astounding fit for the war-torn realm of Middle Earth. One wonders how daily life feels in such a place. The misty uplands around this farm in Mangaroa, New Zealand, must give even chores like mending fences and sheering sheep something of the sense of a magic-infused quest against evil.
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The rocky features of New Zealand's natural terrain can be seen throughout Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy, as orcs, elves, wizards and dwarves scamper and gallop toward victory over the breathtaking lands. Next, we'll look at a film from the 1960s that seems shot in a truly otherworldly desert zone.
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Planet of the Apes (1968) begins with the crash landing of an Earthling spaceship on a strange and decidedly unfriendly planet. As Charlton Heston and his fellow astronauts paddle to safety from the sinking wreckage of their capsule, they find themselves in the midst of an arid wasteland, much like a person in the 1960s might have expected the surface of Mars or a foreign moon to look. But it turns out this weird planet is actually just a lake region in the American Southwest -- do you know which one?
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Recreational boating is popular at Lake Powell, at the border of Arizona and Utah, where the opening scenes of Planet of the Apes were shot. Why does this waterway appear so unnatural to our eyes? Probably because it is unnatural, and wholly so! Lake Powell is a manmade reservoir that was flooded by the Glen Canyon Dam, which was completed in 1963. Check out the next image to see another famous location from the same movie.
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Those familiar with the shocking surprise at the end of Planet of the Apes will recognize this beach as the place where Charlton Heston's mind is officially blown. As dry and uniformly beige as the rest of the movie's desolate landscapes, Zuma Beach in Southern California provides the perfect backdrop for a perhaps unexpected but still thoroughly depressing finale. One can guess that at least once a day a tourist falls to his or her knees in this very sand to reenact Charlton Heston's famously cantankerous reaction -- which must look rather odd to any onlooker who hasn't seen the film. Next, well chase a location from a superhero film released in 2012.
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Assault rifle-toting thugs make up the army of the ruthless, rasping villain Bane in The Dark Knight Rises (2012). Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy has featured several American cities as stand-ins for the embattled burg of Gotham City, including Chicago, Ill., Newark, N.J., and Pittsburgh, Pa. But fans of the caped crusader will also remember that, like both of the previous films helmed by Nolan, The Dark Knight Rises features one extended detour that takes place outside of Gotham. Do you know the location of Bruce Wayne's exile in the final Nolan film?
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This is Mehrangarh Fort in Jodhpur, Rajasthan, India. The Mehrangarh Fort is a centuries-old stronghold founded by the 15th-century Indian ruler Rao Jodha. In one rousing and memorable scene from The Dark Knight Rises, Christian Bale's Bruce Wayne emerges from a shaft at the foot of this elevated fortress before heading out to claim his destiny. Next, you'll see a famous apartment building in New York City.
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This apartment building in Central Park West, Manhattan, is known as The Dakota, and it has been considered a landmark in New York for decades. Celebrities from Judy Garland to Connie Chung have lived within -- it was also the site of John Lennon's tragic assassination in 1980. But on top of all this real-life history, The Dakota has been immortalized in film. Do you know which 1968 horror movie made this stately tower the home base of a sadistic cult of devil-worshipers?
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John Cassavetes (right) and Mia Farrow (center) play a young married couple who are new to the infamous building in Rosemary's Baby (1968). While these two are just looking for a nice apartment, their friendly but eccentric neighbors are in the market for something as well: a mother for the Satan-spawn they intend to bring into the world and worship. The moral of the story: When on the hunt for a new apartment, it might be best to start with a short-term lease.
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