12 Abandoned Movie Sets You Can Actually Visit
Although movie productions often film scenes on location, sometimes a real-life location doesn’t offer all of the right places that are called for in the script. So they build it! But taking that set back down isn’t always a top priority. Whether it’s because the property owner wants to keep the space intact for tourism purposes or because it’s simply cheaper to leave the set behind instead of cleaning it up, there are pieces of cinematic history in every corner of the world. Here are 12 of them.
1. THE AFRICAN QUEEN (1951)
Although the cargo ship, originally named “The Livingston,” was built in 1912 for the East Africa British Railways company, director John Huston spotted the vessel on the Ruki River in the Democratic Republic of Congo and wanted to give it the titular role in his Oscar-winning film, The African Queen. After the film grew in popularity, a San Francisco businessman bought the ship—now renamed after the movie—and transported it to the United States to attract tourists and movie fans. Throughout the decades, the steamboat changed hands a few times before finding its way to an attorney based in Florida in 1982, who owned (and sailed) it until his death in 2001.
In 2012, Suzanne and Lance Holmquist leased “The African Queen” and completely restored it with a new interior steel-hull frame and replacement boiler, but kept its rustic and worn-out charm. The ship now offers daily tours and dinner cruises on the Port Largo Canal.
2. A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS (1964)
Located in the middle of the Tabernas Desert in Almeria, Spain, you’ll find a large abandoned Western frontier that was the shooting location for Sergio Leone’s The Man With No Name Trilogy: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly; A Fistful of Dollars; and Once Upon A Time in the West. The movie set featured Old Mexico-style churches, a saloon, and a hangman’s noose in its public square, and was used for many other Spaghetti westerns in the 1960s and ’70s. Since the genre’s decline in popularity, the movie set has since been abandoned, but fans still flock to what has become known as Fort Bravo/Texas Hollywood.
3. POPEYE (1980)
In 1979, Paramount Pictures and Disney co-produced Popeye with Robin Williams as the titular sailor man and Shelley Duvall as his main squeeze Olive Oyl. The live-action musical was filmed in Malta, where director Robert Altman and his crew spent seven months building a full-scale Sweethaven on the island’s coast, then another seven months shooting the film. When production wrapped, the Sweethaven set remained in Malta and was converted into Popeye Village, which is now a family resort.
4. FULL METAL JACKET (1987)
Stanley Kubrick hated to travel, even if a film’s script dictated it. Which meant he had to get extra creative on occasion. Case in point: Full Metal Jacket, which required the director to transform the East London borough of Newham into Vietnam. Thousands of palm trees and plastic tropical plants were imported from Spain and Hong Kong to re-dress the abandoned Beckton Gas Works manufacturing plant in London into the bombed out movie set of the ruins of Huế in Vietnam. Beckton Gas Works is still standing and a popular tourist attraction with Stanley Kubrick fans.
5. SCHINDLER’S LIST (1993)
While a majority of Schindler’s List was filmed at the true story’s actual locations in Poland, a replica of Kraków-Płaszów was the only movie set built, which is located in Liban Quarry, about four miles away from Kraków. The film’s production team built barracks, watchtowers, and a road leading into the Nazi labor and concentration camp from the original blueprints and plans. A replica of Amon Goeth’s (Ralph Fiennes) villa was also built above the labor camp site.
6. THE FUGITIVE (1993)
At the beginning of The Fugitive, Dr. Richard Kimble narrowly escapes from a prison transport bus that collides with a speeding freight train. The debris from the iconic scene is still located near the Smoky Mountain Railroad in Dillsboro, North Carolina. The collision scene alone cost a whopping $1.5 million and was filmed in only one take. The remains of the bus and train were abandoned after production wrapped because it was cheaper to simply leave them behind rather than clean it up. Today, it’s one of the many points of interest on the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad’s Tuckasegee River Excursion.
7. THE LORD OF THE RINGS (2001-2003) AND THE HOBBIT (2012-2014)
Located in Matamata, New Zealand, Peter Jackson picked an area of farmland as the filmsite for Hobbiton and The Shire for his The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Construction on building Hobbit Holes, gardens, a double arch bridge, and a small mill began in early 1999 before shooting started at the end of the year. When the first film in the trilogy became a runaway success, tourists and J.R.R. Tolkien fans began to flock to the movie set, despite it being abandoned after production wrapped a year earlier.
When Warner Bros. announced that Peter Jackson would make a film adaptation of The Hobbit, a permanent and operational Hobbiton was rebuilt at the same location in Matamata for production in 2011. Once filming wrapped, the Hobbiton set was turned over to the farmland’s owners, who included a detailed replica of the interiors of the movie sets that were filmed at Wellington Stone Street Studios. Additionally, The Shires Rest Cafe and The Green Dragon Inn bar are included as part of the two-hour guided tours of the movie set.
8. BIG FISH (2003)
The fictional town of Spectre, Alabama in Tim Burton’s Big Fish was an elaborate movie set built on the Alabama River near the city of Montgomery. During the course of Big Fish, the town of Spectre increasingly gets more rundown with wear and tear through the decades, as the character of Edward Bloom (played by both Ewan McGregor and Albert Finney) returns to it throughout his life. Some of the set’s buildings and storefronts have now collapsed from decay, exposing Styrofoam trees and moss. The movie set is located on private property, but $3 can get you access inside.
9. PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: THE CURSE OF THE BLACK PEARL (2003)
Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl was mainly filmed on location at Wallilabou Anchorage on the main island of St. Vincent on the Caribbean Sea. Disney built elaborate pirate ships, replica cannons, and authentic period docks and marketplaces for the 2003 sequel. Production abandoned a majority of the movie sets on Wallilabou Anchorage, turning it into a very popular tourist attraction.
10. THE HILLS HAVE EYES (2006)
Director Alexandre Aja’s 2006 remake of Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes was filmed on location in Morocco. Gas Haven, a 1950s-style gas station, was built specifically for the horror movie, but was abandoned once production wrapped. It remains in the province of Souss-Massa-Draa, about 20 minutes outside of Ouarzazate, so feel free to visit the deserted movie set (but watch out for crazy mutants).
11. THE HUNGER GAMES (2012)
While The Hunger Games takes place in a post-apocalyptic America, Henry River Mill Village in Burke County, North Carolina was used to film the very poor District 12. The small village was home to North Carolina’s once-thriving textile industry during the early 20th century, but has since become a ghost town due to the sharp decline in manufacturing in the state. It found new life as District 12 in 2011, as The Hunger Games production team re-fashioned Henry River Mill Village’s buildings, storefronts, and abandoned homes to match the film’s tone. Henry River Mill Village is located on private property, but there are tours and photo opportunities available.
12. ZERO DARK THIRTY (2012)
The war-torn backdrop featured in Zero Dark Thirty was not entirely filmed on location in Afghanistan; some of it was shot at the Blue Cloud Movie Ranch in Santa Clarita Valley, California. The movie set remains unused, but the film’s props—such as a downed helicopter—are still scattered around. The owners of the ranch call it, “an Afghanistan-town set that is so real the U.S. military uses it for training purposes.”