There’s something about movies that can make you obsessed with a place. But not just any movie, and not just any place. As we drew up our list, we had some arguments—favorites like The English Patient and Casablanca didn’t survive the cut—but mostly we had fun. We discovered new movies, and we learned how easy it is to make silver screen dreams come true.
25) Whale Rider
New Zealand | 2003
Keisha Castle-Hughes got an Oscar nod, but the real star was New Zealand. The film—which follows Pai, a Maori girl seeking acceptance in her tribe—provides an intimate look at Maori tradition, as well as breathtaking views of the little-visited Eastland region.
Your Turn: Whale Rider was filmed in Whangara, 10 hours from Auckland by car. With just 30 full-time residents, the Maori village wasn’t prepared for the hordes of fans. The land is private, so book a guided visit through the Gisborne Visitor Information Office, 20 miles south (011-64/6-868-6139, gisbornenz.com). For $33, Hone Taumaunu—one of the film’s cultural advisers—leads a two-hour tour: Walk on the beach where Pai’s namesake landed 1,000 years ago, see the house where the movie was shot, and learn about the Ngati Konohi people. Goway.com sells a Whale Rider package starting at $2,519. It includes flights from L.A., a 12-day car rental, 11 nights’ hotel, tours, and shows (800/387-8850, goway.com).
24) The Beach
Thailand | 2000
It’s the story of backpackers searching for paradise—they think they find it, but utopia goes all Lord of the Flies on them before too long.
Your Turn: Richard (Leonardo DiCaprio) starts at backpacker central, Bangkok’s Khao San Road. But the footage was shot on the island of Phuket. The characters stay at On On Hotel, a 1929 colonial inn (011-66/76-211-154, from $5). To find “The Beach,” head to the island of Phi Phi Don, then take a $7 boat trip to uninhabited Phi Phi Leh. The cove of Ao Maya isn’t cut off from the sea entirely—the filmmakers spackled over the gap with a digital cliff—but it is gorgeous, its waters teeming with fish…and tour boats. (The lagoon that inspired Alex Garland’s novel is in the Gulf of Thailand, on the isle of Ko Mae Ko, in the Ang Thong Marine Park. Day tours leave from Ko Samui for $45.)
Istanbul | 1964
A gang of thieves—including Maximilian Schell and Melina Mercouri—scampers across Istanbul’s rooftops as the Bosporus shimmers below. They skulk around the marble-and-mosaic Topkapi palace. They attend a grease-wrestling tournament. Do they get away with the crime? The ending, like Istanbul itself, is worth discovering.
Your Turn: The palace, behind the 1,500-year-old Ayasofya, is a repository of Ottoman riches (011-90/212-512-0480, $8). The jewel-encrusted Topkapi Dagger—which the thieves covet—remains securely on display in its Treasury (another $7). Anyone looking to emulate Schell and the gang would be wise to watch another film set in Istanbul: Midnight Express. The prison that it made infamous, minutes east from the Palace, is now a luxurious Four Seasons Hotel. From January 3 to March 31, the rates drop from $320 to $210 (Tevkifhane Sokak No. 1, 011-90/212-638-8200, fourseasons.com).
22) A Little Romance
Paris, Verona, Venice | 1979
Long before Diane Lane was Unfaithful, she starred in A Little Romance, the story of two teens determined to seal their love with a kiss under Venice’s Bridge of Sighs.
Your Turn: Lauren (Lane) and Daniel (Thelonious Bernard) meet at the Vaux-le-Vicomte chateau, 30 miles southeast of Paris (April–October, $15, train from Gare de Lyon to Melun then a taxi, $25). Their first date begins outside the Louvre, at the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel. Longchamp racetrack is in the Bois de Boulogne. Take an overnight train to Verona from the Gare de Paris-Bercy (raileurope.com, France/Italy rail pass $259). Juliet’s house—and its famous balcony—is southeast of Piazza delle Erbe (Via Cappello 23, $4). The train from Verona to Venice takes an hour and a half (use your rail pass). Hop on Vaporetto 1 or 82 down the Grand Canal to Piazza San Marco ($6). At sunset, with the bells of the campanile tolling, hire a gondola to go to the Bridge of Sighs ($92 for 50 minutes). Make out like teenagers.
21) South Pacific
French Polynesia | 1958
South Pacific’s previous incarnations won two Pulitzers (in 1948 for fiction and in 1950 for drama), and the movie was a monster hit. But its most lasting achievement was the image rehabilitation of the Pacific, site of some of World War II’s nastiest battles.
Your Turn: James A. Michener wrote the book on which the movie was based while stationed in Vanuatu, but the script describes the setting generically as “two islands in the South Pacific.” A few clues—a French-born male lead and a U.S. military base in sight of a spectacular mountain—sound like French Polynesia, although most of the film was shot in the North Pacific, in Hawaii. From Kauai’s main town of Lihue, take Highway 56 north about 40 miles to Lumahai Beach—it’s where Mitzi Gaynor tried to wash that man right out of her hair. Beware of riptides. For $101, Hawaii Movie Tours leads five-hour trips to famous locations from South Pacific and other movies shot on the island, such as Six Days, Seven Nights (800/628-8432, hawaiimovietour.com).