Apocalypse Now movie cover Movie Locations Guide

Where was Apocalypse Now filmed?

1979

About Apocalypse Now

Apocalypse Now is a cinematic masterpiece filmed in 1979 by famed director Francis Ford Coppola. With an all-star cast that included such well-renowned actors as Marlon Brando, Robert Duvall, Martin Sheen, and Dennis Hopper, this movie was bound to be both a critical and commercial success.

The film opens with U.S. Army Special Forces Colonel Walter E. Kurtz (Marlon Brando), now totally insane, embroiled in a war against the NVA and PLAF forces. He has undertaken guerrilla warfare without seeking permission from the appropriate authorities. Kurtz is in charge of a set of troops who revere him as a type of God.

MACV-SOG operative Captain Benjamin L. Willard (Martin Sheen) is suffering from severe burnout. His presence is requested in Nha Trang where he is tasked with bringing an end to Kurtz’s reign. Without much emotion attached to his task, Willard boards a river patrol boat under the command of Chief Petty Officer Phillips (Albert Hall). Also on the river patrol boat are Lance (Sam Bottoms), Chef (Frederic Forrest), and Mr. Clean (Laurence Fishburne) who are tasked with helping Willard reach Kurtz’s post.

Thinking he is in charge of the PBR (river boat patrol), Willard repeatedly steps on toes as the Chief makes it his priority to maintain the team’s own goals over Willard’s. As they travel upriver at a slow pace, Willard shares vital details about his mission in an attempt to gain the Chief’s support. Willard carefully reads through Kurtz’s dossier and uncovers a vital sacrifice Kurtz chose to make during the middle of his career. Kurtz chose to leave a high-ranking Pentagon position to devote himself to special forces even though this move meant he would never rise above the rank of colonel.

The PBR reaches a remote posting, and Willard and Lance try to uncover information about what they can expect to find as they continue upriver. They are given a dispatch bag that includes both personal letters and official mail. At the outpost, Willard is not able to find an officer in charge and issues the order to the Chief to continue pushing forward. From the dispatch, Willard receives the news that another operative, Special Forces Captain Richard Colby (Scott Glenn) was also sent on this same mission and has instead become a follower of Kurtz.

While feeling the effects of LSD, Lantz discharges a smoke grenade that draws the attention of the enemy. Bullets are soon flying, and Mr. Clean is hit and killed. Further along the journey, Chief becomes impaled when the Montagnards throw a spear at him. He tries to kill Willard by thrusting the spear point on his own chest into him. He dies from his injuries.

The PBR finally discovers Kurtz’ post, an old Angkor Empire temple facility that is now full of Montagnards, corpses, and cut off heads. Willard instructs Chef that if he and Lance do not return that he is to launch an airstrike. Back at the camp, Willard is tied up and placed before Kurtz in the dark temple. Kurtz murders Chef, thus preventing the airstrike from occurring.

In the evening, the Montagnards slaughter a water buffalo in a religious ceremony. During this time, Willard takes a machete to Kurtz, delivering fatal blows. As the life leaves Kurtz’ body, he repeats, “…the horror…the horror…” before he finally dies. All living at the outpost, Willard is noticed leaving and taking with him Kurtz’ writings. They bow to him. Willard and Lance board the boat and sail back down the Nung River.

City Locations

Napa, Napa County, California; Baler, Baler Bay, Iba, La Romana, Luzon, Metro Manila, Pagsanjan, and Pagsanjan River

Location Types

American, Beach/Oceanview, Cabins, House, NatureScapes

Location Styles

Americana/Anywhere America, Beachfront, Boat Style

Apocalypse Now Locations

Apocalypse Now is believed to be loosely based on Joseph Conrad’s highly acclaimed Heart of Darkness. The movie’s trajectory proceeds along the river connecting South Vietnam to Cambodia. Though Conrad’s novel was dedicated to life in the Congo in the 1800s, the film instead applies its focus to the Vietnam War. Apocalypse Now received many different awards at the Palme d’Or and the Cannes Film Festival prior to its US release on August 15th, 1979.

Today, this film has been called one of the most influential films of all time. The movie was honored with eight Academy Award nominations and was awarded Oscars for Best Cinematography and Best Sound. The famed film critic Roger Ebert rated Apocalypse Now as of the top ten films ever made, and the United States National Film Registry decreed that the movie was so historically significant that it must be preserved for all time.

Primarily filmed in Baler, one of the main Philippine islands, the Apocalypse Now production was plagued by tremendous hardship, pain, and struggle. Some of the footage for this much-loved classic took place in a studio or the stadium at Napa High. The majority of the filming was done in Luzon or other regions of the Philippines for a more authentic feel to the jungle footage and river scenes. If it is among your goals to visit Apocalypse Now locations, you’ll find our list of some of the most memorable scenes to be quite helpful.

Fun Fact:

Francis Ford Coppola captured more than 1.5 million feet of footage for Apocalypse Now. The opening scene was constructed from film shoots that was originally cut and placed in the garbage. The scene was set to The Doors’ single “The End,” an ironic fact since The End is featured at the beginning of the film.

The introduction to a drunk Willard in his hotel room scene in Apocalypse Now

Film set in Iba, Luzon, Philippines

In an unusual and iconic move, this Apocalypse Now film scene opens to the tune of The Doors’ “The End.” The jungle landscape is under attack and flashbacks provide our first glimpse of Willard, drunk and emotionally spent in a Saigon hotel room, tying together the atrocities of war with a dark song that speaks of the end at the very beginning. Willard tells us that, “Everyone gets everything he wants. I wanted a mission, and for my sins, they gave me one. Brought it up to me like room service. It was a real choice mission, and when it was over, I never wanted another.”

Unfortunately, the original Apocalypse Now film set for this scene was destroyed when Hurricane Olga devastated Luzon. Today, public transportation allows for visits to the site where much of Apocalypse now was filmed. Iba can be reached via Jeep or train following LRT1.

The opening helicopter attack scene in Apocalypse Now

Baler, Luzon, Philippines

The film opens with a helicopter strike on a small village on the Filipino island of Luzon. The footage was shot in Baler. The helicopters used for this opening sequence where an attack was launched to the backdrop of the Wagnerian classic Ride of the Valkyries were given for use in the film by President Marcos.

There is no dialogue in this powerful footage. Instead, the soundtrack provides all of the speaking needed to convey the emotion of this scene.

Travelling to Baler from Manila is best achieved via SCTEX at the La Paz, Tarlac toll gate.

The napalm strike on the surfer’s beach scene in Apocalypse Now

Baler Bay, Luzon, Philippines

The filming location of Apocalypse Now’s napalm strike on the surfing beach is one of the most striking sequences of the film. The attack was initiated and overseen by Colonel Gilgore who remarks in one of the most well-known lines from the film, “I like the smell of napalm in the morning. It smells like... victory."

One of the best places in the region in which to do some surfing, Baler Bay is located approximately 120 miles from Manila and can be accessed via bus; however, it is an arduous seven-hour trip.

The arrival at Kurtz’ compound scene in Apocalypse Now

Magdapio River, Pagsanjan

Often ranked among the best scenes in Apocalypse Now, fans rave about the footage that shows Willard and his team’s arrival at Kurtz’ compound. Horrified by the carnage that surrounds him, Willard is first greeted by an American journalist who is one of Kurtz’ most devoted fans. Willard is then introduced to Kurtz himself who informs him, “You’re an errand boy, sent by grocery clerks, to collect a bill.”

The location of Kurtz’ compound is approximately a 90-minute drive from Manila. If travelling here to view this movie location, it’s well worth your time to make a trip to see the spot that was once home to the iconic Do Long bridge.

The murder of Chef scene in Apocalypse Now

Magdapio River, Pagsanjan

Upon meeting Kurtz, Chef takes a negative view of the Colonel, believing he is not only mentally ill but also evil. Instructed by Willard to call an air strike should he be harmed or killed by Kurtz, Chef attempts to fulfill his orders but is murdered then beheaded. Kurtz, who has decorated himself with war paint, tosses Chef’s head at Willard, where it lands in his lap.

Prior to this death, Chef shares these words in a profanity-laced speech about Kurtz, “This Colonel guy? He's wacko, man! He's worse than crazy. He's evil. It's f***in' pagan idolatry. Look around you. S***! He's loco...I ain't afraid of all them f***in' skulls and altars and s***. I used to think if I died in an evil place, then my soul wouldn't be able to make it to Heaven. But now? F***! I mean, I don't care where it goes, as long as it ain't here. So whaddya wanna do? I'll kill the f***.”

To reach Pagsanjan, experts recommend travelling along the South Expressway, turning left at Calamba, then right where you will note a sign indicating you have arrived at your destination. Transport is also available via bus and boat; however, these journeys are best left to the very adventurous.

The death of Kurtz scene in Apocalypse Now

Magdapio River, Pagsanjan

Shot at the same Apocalypse Now filming location as the murder of Chef, the death of Kurtz is a particularly traumatic scene. Willard attacks Kurtz with a machete, inflicting a wound that will claim his life. As the scene fades to black, Kurtz repeatedly utters the phrase, “…The horror…the horror…” These same words are ironically featured in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, tying the novella into the film.

Conclusion

Perhaps the Apocalypse Now quotation that best summarizes this movie production is this statement made by Colonel Kurtz himself, “It’s impossible for words to describe what is necessary to those who do not know what horror means. Horror. Horror has a face, and you must make a friend of horror. Horror and moral terror are your friends. If they are not, then they are enemies to be feared.”

Poignant, gut-wrenching, haunting, and heartbreaking are all words that can describe the masterpiece known as Apocalypse Now. The film traverses through some of the most scenic regions of the Philippines and also includes footage taken right in the heart of California’s Napa Valley. A rigorous shoot that culminated in heart attacks, illness, and unimaginable mental fatigue, the end result of all of this suffering is a tremendous film that will stand the test of time.

Consider yourself one of Apocalypse Now’s biggest fans? Why not plan a trip to check out the most popular Apocalypse Now locations to check out the sites where your favorite scenes occurred?