Films where the destination is the star

At times while watching films you'll notice the main character isn't human. You'll realise that the destination where the film is set is your hero (or villain), and the human characters have been eclipsed by it.

Here are 10 places that steal the show in films:

1. Petra, Jordan

They say that the forgotten city of Petra was concealed in the Jordanian mountains for thousands of years until its discovery in 1812 by Swiss explorer Johan Ludwig Burckhardt…and then again in 1989 by Steven Spielberg. Spielberg used Petra’s dramatic red sand stone temples and tombs as a key location for his blockbuster Indian Jones and the Last Crusade. Indy discovers the Holy Grail in Petra’s ‘treasury’, so whatever else you might think about Spielberg’s directing abilities, you can’t deny he has a great eye for detail.

2. Paris, France

It’s possible that, aside from American locations, Paris has been the setting for more films than any other city. The City of Light played host to the groundbreaking gangster film A Bout de Souffle (1960); the tragic love triangle of Jules et Jim (1962); the futuristic thriller Alphaville (1965); and the saccharine shenanigans of Amélie (2001). This kind of genre-hopping makes sense: there’s so much to see and do in Paris, with its glorious architecture, its sweeping avenues, and its wonderfully rich cultural life, that the city simply becomes all things to all people.

3. Tokyo, Japan

Those who have been to Tokyo recognise Sophia Coppola's translation of the city in Lost in Translation: bamboozling yet obvious, archaic yet futuristic, mysterious yet crass. Plus there’s all that neon and the wacky TV hosts and the food. Tokyo is a city that bludgeons the unwary, chewing them up and spitting them out before they know what’s hit them, and Lost In Translation is a beautifully succinct summary of the traveller’s experience.

4. Outback, Australia

Think of Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981) and what comes to mind: sandblasted rock? Road kill? Flat desert plains as far as the eye can see? Dry creek beds? No special effects were used to create that particular postapocalyptic environment because – minus the leather-clad berserk bikers and Mel Gibson – that’s exactly what you can expect to find around Broken Hill in remote New South Wales, where much of The Road Warrior was filmed. This is real outback territory, where men are men and sheep run for cover.

5. Dublin, Ireland

Shot entirely on location in north Dublin, The Commitments (1991), about a ragtag group of youths bringing soul to the masses, evokes the melancholy of that city. Drugs, factories, housing estates and the healing power of music are as much a part of Dublin’s fabric as are the standard romantic depictions of the city, and The Commitments doesn’t flinch in this regard. Trawling through the suburbs, the camera brings home the single-minded optimism – and the unfulfilled ambitions – that define the Irish dream.

6. Manhattan, USA

Woody Allen is perhaps Manhattan’s most famous mythologiser, recording its streets and people in a huge body of work that includes Annie Hall (1977), Manhattan (1979) and Hannah and Her Sisters (1986). There are loads of walking tours that can take you in and out of the nooks and crannies of Woody’s Manhattan: the delis; the bars; the Beekman Theatre; John’s Pizzeria; Elaine’s restaurant; the 59th St Bridge. Woody’s direction lovingly lingers on each location – encountering them in real life is almost exactly like the movie.

7. Angkor Wat, Cambodia

The 12th-century temples at Angkor Wat, or what remains of them, starred in the smash-hit actioner Tomb Raider (2001): their labyrinthine, decrepit mazes, shrines, platforms, alcoves and spires provided the perfect backdrop for Angelina Jolie’s gyrations as curvaceous archaeologist Lara Croft. In real life the majesty of this mystical location is even more overwhelming than in the movie, and you might be moved to ponder the fact that a far greater intelligence than even Hollywood was behind it all, some 900 years ago.

8. New Zealand

Peter Jackson’s mega successful Lord of the Rings trilogy (2001–03) really put New Zealand on the world stage. It’s no accident that the land of the Kiwi was chosen to portray the land of the hobbit: Jackson, a Kiwi himself, knew that places like Twizel and the south of the South Island, with their mountainous, rolling fields of green, would provide the perfect setting for Middle Earth. Of course, the locations were digitally enhanced for the final product, but there will still be enough similarity to provide kinky thrills for any LOTR fan.

9. Venice, Italy

Venice is undeniably beautiful but decidedly unsettling as well. Three very creepy films have used it as their setting: Death In Venice (1971), about a dying misanthrope driven mad by lust; Don’t Look Now (1974), about a man driven mad by his ability to foresee death; and The Comfort of Strangers (1991), about a sexually sadistic couple who were already mad. As you get lost in one of Venice’s mazelike alleyways or become gripped by the surreal sight of a city floating on water, then chances are you’ll think of at least one of these films.

10. Wadi Rum, Jordan

Not only is this where the epic Lawrence of Arabia (1962) was shot, but it’s where the real-life Lawrence led the famous ‘Arab Revolt’ campaign in 1917. As you explore Wadi Rum’s desert interior, marvelling at the moon-like landscapes, contemplating the ancient carved inscriptions and sipping tea with Bedouin locals, you might just give a whoop and a yell, Peter O’Toole style, and wish you had a fine Arab charger at your disposal rather than that boring old Jeep.

Like travel inspired by the movies? Check out travel editor Robert Reid's Atlanta to LA road trip, inspired by Due Date.