If you’re a movie buff, you’ve probably thought about visiting the studio lots and glorious boulevards of Hollywood to experience movie-making magic firsthand. But Tinseltown isn’t the only place movies are filmed. Directors with big budgets travel all over the world to include authentic cities and landscapes in their productions, and one of the most popular destinations is the Kingdom of Jordan. Whether it’s for the gorgeous landscapes of its deserts or the generous collaboration efforts of its Royal Film Commission, many directors travel to this Middle Eastern country in search of filming locations for their productions. If you’re a movie buff headed to Jordan, here are a few famous film locales you might just recognize.
Lawrence of Arabia
Though director David Lean originally wanted to film the entirety of his 1962 epic in Jordan, high production costs and outbreaks of illness forced him to relocate to Spain, where he built elaborate sets to resemble the Middle Eastern towns and palaces. That said, the scenes that take place in Wadi Rum, the auburn desert where the famous British colonel T.E. Lawrence based during the Arab Revolt, are completely authentic. Those who travel through this dreamy landscape will immediately recognize its surreal sprawl from Lean’s film. Additionally, many of the desert’s locations have names inspired by the real-life T.E. Lawrence. The rock formation near the entrance, for instance, takes its title from Lawrence’s book, “the Seven Pillars of Wisdom.”
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
When the whip-wielding archaeologist-turned-adventurer searches for the Holy Grail inside an ancient temple during the climactic scenes of this third (and final — true movie buffs agree that the fourth movie doesn’t count) installment, Harrison Ford is actually on a studio set in England. The exterior shots of that temple, however, are of Al Khazneh, the treasury in Petra, Jordan. And if you assume that a simple shot of the building’s facade doesn’t warrant your interest, think again. The temple’s inclusion in the 1989 film practically put the city on the map, propelling its annual numbers of international tourists from a couple thousand to almost a million. In fact, the satirical Pan-Arabia Enquirer ran a story claiming that Petra had been renamed, “That Place From ‘Indiana Jones.’” While that story was fake, the building’s brilliance is real, so be sure to check it out if you’re exploring Petra.
Wadi Rum’s stark-red sand has attracted many filmmakers looking to replicate the arid landscapes of the fourth planet from the sun. The directors of “Mission to Mars,” “Red Planet,” and “the Last Days on Mars” all used Jordan’s breathtaking desert as their own versions of Mars, but the most recent to journey to the magnificent region was Ridley Scott, who filmed much of his 2015 sci-fi adaptation, “the Martian,” within Wadi Rum. Based on Andy Weir’s wildly popular novel, the film stars Matt Damon as Mark Watney, an astronaut presumed dead by his crew and left alone on the Red Planet to fight for survival. The spectacular landscape provides the perfect backdrop for Watney’s interstellar escapades, expertly capturing the film’s overtones of isolation and making the viewer simultaneously awestruck and terrified of the planet’s otherworldliness.
Speaking of otherworldliness, Mars isn’t the only planet Wadi Rum has imitated. In “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” fans of the franchise are introduced to Jedha, a small desert moon that’s home to one of the first civilizations to explore the nature of the Force. The filmmakers chose to film in the Middle East for more than just the incredible landscapes of Wadi Rum, though. Jedha is a holy site within the Star Wars universe, a place to which many make a pilgrimage in order to find spiritual guidance, so electing to film in a region so close to the Holy Land made thematic sense. In “Rogue One,” the Empire occupies the moon, a battle of religious strength is waged, and themes of the loss of faith and the prevalence of good over evil are embodied in Jordan’s awe-inspiring desert landscapes.
The Hurt Locker
Kathryn Bigelow’s 2008 thriller “the Hurt Locker” refused to flinch in its honest depiction of the psychological effects of 21st-century combat on soldiers. Nominated for nine Academy Awards, of which it won six (including Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Director), the film takes place in an Iraqi village that has suffered the impact of war and combat. Bigelow chose to shoot in Zizia, a Palestinian refugee camp just 25 minutes from the center of Amman. The locals were eager to help with the production of the film, offering to work as extras, and many residents even graduated up the filming ladder after starting out as production assistants. The result of this collaborative effort was one of the best war movies of all time.
Cover Photo by Jakob Owens