15 films shot on at least three continents
Thanks to the magic of moviemaking, films can transport viewers anywhere imaginable—from fantastical new worlds in distant galaxies to your own backyard. Behind the scenes, though, it’s up to highly skilled film crews to pinpoint the very best filming locations to bring these stories to life on screen. Some movies require quite a bit of globetrotting, but how many notable films were actually shot across, say, three or more continents?
As you might have expected, many such films are action-packed blockbusters that follow heroes as they perform death-defying stunts across the globe. Others are ambitious sci-fi projects that bring exciting alien worlds to life by traversing otherworldly locations on our own planet. Of course, big-budget blockbusters aren’t the only movies with such global reach. Also included on this list are documentaries, which capture their subjects’ extraordinary lives by examining the international footprint they left behind.
So, did your favorite globetrotting movie make the cut? From “Lawrence of Arabia” to Denis Villeneuve’s “Dune,” here are 15 films that came to life across three or more continents.
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Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
- Director: David Lean
- IMDb user rating: 8.3
- Metascore: 100
- Runtime: 218 minutes
Based on the life of T.E. Lawrence and his 1926 book “The Seven Pillars of Wisdom,” “Lawrence of Arabia” stars Peter O’Toole as the iconic English officer who united Arab tribes against the Ottoman Turks during World War I. The film went on to win seven Oscars, including Best Picture, and the epic is often praised as one of the most influential movies ever made.
Although “Lawrence of Arabia” was originally meant to be filmed entirely in Jordan, many of its desert scenes were also shot in Morocco and Spain. The Spanish city of Seville stood in for the diverse cities of Cairo, Jerusalem, and Damascus, while the infamous Tafas Massacre was filmed in Ouarzazate, Morocco—despite the real event taking place in Syria. The movie was also filmed at London’s St. Paul’s Cathedral and at California’s Imperial Sand Dunes Recreation Area.
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The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)
- Director: Lewis Gilbert
- IMDb user rating: 7.0
- Metascore: 55
- Runtime: 125 minutes
In this James Bond installment, the iconic British spy played by Roger Moore teams up with Soviet agent Anya Amasova (Barbara Bach) to stop the evil Karl Stromberg’s (Curt Jurgens) plot to destroy New York City and create a breakaway civilization under the sea. As the title would suggest, things grow even more complicated when Bond and Anya’s shaky Cold War alliance suddenly turns romantic.
Like any Bond film, “The Spy Who Loved Me” chases its hero around the globe, necessitating a worldwide shoot. However, one could argue that this film was particularly ambitious—it was shot at Pinewood Studios in England, with on-location shoots across Italy, Egypt, Switzerland, Scotland, and Canada. To top it off, the movie’s underwater scenes were filmed at Coral Harbor in the Bahamas.
Sans Soleil (1983)
- Director: Chris Marker
- IMDb user rating: 7.8
- Metascore: data not available
- Runtime: 100 minutes
In this experimental French film, director Chris Marker edits footage collected from countries across the globe into a collage-like narrative. The end result features a female narrator (Florence Delay in the French version) recounting a cameraman’s reflections on how human memory alters our perceptions of time and history.
Often described as a travelogue or cinematic essay, “Sans Soleil” combines footage of everyday life in Iceland, Paris, San Francisco, Guinea-Bissau, Cape Verde, and Tokyo. The film is particularly indebted to Japan, incorporating various clips from Japanese movies and TV series. San Francisco is also particularly significant, as Marker cited Alfred Hitchock’s “Vertigo” as an influence in his work and even includes clips from Hitchcock’s masterpiece in his film.
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)
- Director: Steven Spielberg
- IMDb user rating: 8.2
- Metascore: 65
- Runtime: 127 minutes
Steven Spielberg brought the original “Indiana Jones” trilogy to an end with 1989’s “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.” In the film, Harrison Ford’s daring, titular archaeologist sets out to rescue his estranged father Henry Jones (Sean Connery), who disappeared while hunting for the Holy Grail. Along the way, he’s forced to take on Hitler’s Nazis in the months leading up to World War II.
England’s Elstree Studios stood in for many locations in the film, including the Venetian catacombs and Jones’ friend Walter Donovan’s apartment. Meanwhile, thousand-year-old carved buildings in Petra, Jordan, stood as the exterior of the Grail’s temple, while the Jones family home was actually a house in Antonito, Colorado. Although Spielberg and his crew originally planned to film scenes in the cliff dwellings of Colorado’s Mesa Verde Park, local Hopi Indians objected due to the site’s sacred history.
Malcolm X (1992)
- Director: Spike Lee
- IMDb user rating: 7.7
- Metascore: 73
- Runtime: 202 minutes
“Malcolm X” is Spike Lee’s tribute to the life of the legendary Black activist, played by Denzel Washington. Inspired by Alex Haley’s 1965 biography, it tracks Malcolm X’s life from childhood to his eventual assassination in 1965. Along the way, Lee dramatizes key events in the civil rights leader’s life, from his incarceration to his conversion to Islam.
Notably, “Malcolm X” became the first American movie and first nondocumentary to receive permission to film in the Saudi Arabian city of Mecca, which prohibits non-Muslims from entering. Various locations around New York City stood in for the Boston of Malcolm X’s youth. Meanwhile, scenes of his lectures were shot at Columbia University, and his first date with future wife Betty Shabazz, played by Angela Bassett, were filmed at the American Museum of Natural History. Filming in Cairo depicted the activist finding his way within various holy sites around the globe. Finally, the “Malcolm X” epilogue was filmed in Johannesburg, where Nelson Mandela makes a cameo appearance to teach students about the late activist’s legacy.
- Director: Ridley Scott
- IMDb user rating: 8.5
- Metascore: 67
- Runtime: 155 minutes
Russell Crowe stars in “Gladiator” as the Roman general Maximus Decimus, who is betrayed and nearly murdered when the emperor’s scheming son Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix) murders his father and Maximus’ entire family to seize the throne. Sold into slavery, Maximus trains as a gladiator to seek revenge against the corrupt new emperor.
The film’s opening battle scenes in the forests of first-century Germany actually came to life in the Bourne Woods near Surrey, England. Ancient Rome was recreated in Fort Ricasoli, Malta, complete with a 52-foot high replica of the Colosseum. Scenes of Maximus’ enslavement and gladiatorial training primarily took place in Morocco, near the Atlas Mountains.
Winged Migration (2001)
- Directors: Jacques Perrin, Jacques Cluzaud, Michel Debats
- IMDb user rating: 7.9
- Metascore: 82
- Runtime: 89 minutes
This Oscar-nominated documentary delves deep into the trials and tribulations of bird migration. Making the film was a tall order, even by documentary standards—it was filmed on all seven continents between July 1997 and the spring of 2001. Utilizing in-flight cameras, viewers appear to glide through the sky alongside a wide variety of birds, from swans and seagulls to penguins and cranes.
Given the film’s wide breadth of bird subjects, it’s no surprise that naming all the filming locations is also a tall order. However, notable spots visited within the film include Hokkaido, Japan; Calvados, France; Kagbeni, Nepal; and Nahuel Huapi, Argentina.
Mamma Mia! (2008)
- Director: Phyllida Lloyd
- IMDb user rating: 6.4
- Metascore: 51
- Runtime: 108 minutes
Who knew that an ABBA jukebox musical would become a cultural phenomenon in its own right? Based on the stage show of the same name, “Mamma Mia!” follows young bride-to-be Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) as she invites three men from her mother’s (Meryl Streep) past to her wedding in hopes of finally meeting her real father. Naturally, chaos ensues.
“Mamma Mia!” unfolds in Greece, all around the island that hosts Donna’s villa. In real life, most outdoor scenes were filmed on the Greek island of Skopelos, as well as the seaside settlement of Damouchari, Greece. Most of the film’s interior scenes were filmed at England’s Pinewood Studios, where Donna’s villa was constructed in full. In the opening scene, Bill (Stellan Skarsgård) is also shown dashing through Marrakech, Morocco, on his way to Sophie’s wedding.
- Director: Steven Soderbergh
- IMDb user rating: 6.8
- Metascore: 70
- Runtime: 106 minutes
Years before the world found itself faced with a real, life-altering pandemic, Stephen Soderbergh brought those fears to life in his 2011 film “Contagion.” Starring Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Jude Law, and a host of other stars, the drama tracks a dangerous airborne disease’s devastating global impact, as government officials and scientists around the world race to find a cure.
Filming began in Hong Kong, where the character of Beth (Gwyneth Paltrow) first contracts the mysterious virus. Key filming locations within the city included the Jumbo Floating Restaurant, repurposed as a casino; the Princess Margaret Hospital; and Hong Kong International Airport. The majority of filming took place in Chicago, which also doubled as Beth’s Minneapolis suburb. Later, Soderbergh shot scenes involving the exterior of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, with additional photography in London, Dublin, and Geneva.
- Director: Ron Fricke
- IMDb user rating: 8.4
- Metascore: 65
- Runtime: 102 minutes
A philosophical travelogue, “Samsara” was shot over the course of five years in nearly 100 locations across five continents. It’s one of only a handful of films to be shot in 70mm film over the last several decades. According to the official description, the film “transports us to sacred grounds, disaster zones, industrial sites, and natural wonders.” In the filmmakers’ words, the film “subverts our expectations of a traditional documentary, instead encouraging our own inner interpretations inspired by images and music that infuses the ancient with the modern.”
Naturally, there are simply too many locations in “Samsara” to name, from the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans to the opulence of France’s Palace of Versailles.
The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
- Director: Christopher Nolan
- IMDb user rating: 8.4
- Metascore: 78
- Runtime: 164 minutes
The final installment in Christopher Nolan’s “Batman” trilogy picks up eight years after the events of “The Dark Knight.” When ruthless terrorist Bane (Tom Hardy) and cunning con artist Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) emerge, Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) is drawn out of retirement into one final battle to save Gotham City.
Wollaton Hall in Nottingham, England, stood in as Wayne’s family home, Wayne Manor. Scenes of Wayne’s prison escape were brought to life at the Mehra Fort in Jodhpur, India. Pittsburgh played a sizable role in filming for “Dark Knight Rises”—most notably, the scene of Bane taking a Gotham Rogues football game hostage was filmed at Heinz Field, featuring over 11,000 extras and real members of the NFL’s Pittsburgh Steelers.
- Director: Ridley Scott
- IMDb user rating: 7.0
- Metascore: 64
- Runtime: 124 minutes
In this quasi-prequel to Ridley Scott’s “Alien,” a far-flung clue about humanity’s origins leads a space crew to a strange new planet. But as they dig deeper into this new world’s mythology, a series of hidden dangers turns their expedition into a fight for survival. Among the star-studded cast of “Prometheus” includes Michael Fassbender, Charlize Theron, Idris Elba, Noomi Rapace, and Guy Pearce.
The film’s opening scene of a humanoid alien watching a departing spacecraft was shot at the famous Dettifoss waterfall in Iceland. Scott later said that Iceland was chosen as a filming location due to its “rough,” “Jurassic-like” qualities. Next up, scenes of the crew discovering their ancient star map were shot at the Old Man of Storr on Scotland’s Isle of Skye. Elsewhere, the mountains of the Wadi Rum nature preserve in Jordan stood in for the alien planet’s rocky backdrop.
Only Lovers Left Alive (2013)
- Director: Jim Jarmusch
- IMDb user rating: 7.2
- Metascore: 79
- Runtime: 123 minutes
“Only Lovers Left Alive” stars Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton as Adam and Eve, two centuries-old vampire lovers contemplating their place in the modern world. A club scene was filmed in Hamburg, Germany, while Eve’s old apartment was based in Tangier, Morocco. However, the crux of the film takes place in Adam’s dilapidated Victorian home.
In real life, the home is called the Whitney Mansion and is based in Detroit’s Brush Park neighborhood. In an interview, director Jim Jarmusch noted his affection for the Motor City, noting that as a child he had regarded it as “almost mythological, the Paris of the Midwest.” He also praised its “post-industrial visual feeling.”
Mission: Impossible - Fallout (2018)
- Director: Christopher McQuarrie
- IMDb user rating: 7.7
- Metascore: 86
- Runtime: 147 minutes
“Mission: Impossible - Fallout” marks the sixth entry in the popular “Mission Impossible” action franchise. In this installment, Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and his team rush to stop arms dealer John Lark (Henry Cavill) and a terrorist group called the Apostles from carrying out nuclear attacks.
Like any “Mission Impossible” film, “Fallout” finds Tom Cruise and company pulling off death-defying stunts all over the world. The scene in which Cruise leaps from a C-17 plane was shot near Abu Dhabi, while most of the helicopter scenes were filmed in Queenstown, New Zealand. Much of “Fallout” also took place in Paris, in locations such as the Arc de Triomphe and Le Grand Palais.
The movie was temporarily shut down in London when Cruise broke his ankle filming a chase sequence at St. Paul’s Cathedral and Blackfriars Bridge, causing production to suspend for seven weeks.
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- Director: Denis Villeneuve
- IMDb user rating: 8.0
- Metascore: 74
- Runtime: 155 minutes
Denis Villeneuve’s vision of Frank Herbert’s bestselling archeo-futurist novel was long anticipated by fans of the book. But, like “Top Gun: Maverick,” the movie suffered production and release delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The plot of a duke’s son (Timothée Chalamet) leaving his lush home world for a long-oppressed desert planet containing the most precious commodity in the universe was notoriously too sweeping for David Lynch’s much-maligned 1984 version, which was mostly shot in the deserts of Mexico. So Villeneuve, as a condition of taking on “Dune,” split the story into two feature films.
Jordan’s Wadi Rum village, the Liwa Oasis of the United Arab Emirates in the Middle East, as well as the fjords of Norway and the forests of Canada all provide different backdrops in the first installment. Villeneuve weaves them together to depict the Nordic planet of Caladan and the Messiah-awaiting desert planet Arrakis.