Willow movie cover Movie Locations Guide

Where was Willow filmed?

1988

About Willow

A long held dream by Star Wars creator, George Lucas, Willow was finally greenlit after almost a decade in 1988. Directed by all around legend Ron Howard, this fantasy adventure movie has a soft spot in the hearts of many of us, as well as launching Warwick Davis’ career after having masked roles in the Star Wars films.

The story revolves around a young sorcerer’s apprentice named Willow (Warwick Davis) who is an unlikely hero tasked with a quest to help bring down the evil Queen Bavmorda (Jean Marsh) and her forces. The tool that’ll bring down this terrible royal? A baby called Elora Danan (played interchangeably by twins Ruth and Kate Greenfield), found in the River Freen by Willow’s children.

It’s decided he is the one who must return this prophesied child back to the Daikini people who will know how to defeat the Queen. Along the way, Willow meets new friends and monsters, and fights numerous warriors, learning more and more about himself, and honing his craft.

His main alliance? A warrior called Madmartigan (Val Kilmer) whom he frees and who helps him get Elora to where she needs to go. Together, with the help of the cheeky and mischievous Brownies, Rool (Kevin Pollak) and Franjean (Rick Overton), this unlikely team endeavors to save the entire realm in their haphazard, but surprisingly effective way.

Chaos ensues and there are plenty of trials and tribulations that the gang must overcome before facing down against the Queen and her troops in a final all-or-nothing battle for the child. This film truly is a must-see for anyone who loves adventure fantasy films!

The end result is a heartwarming and easy-to-watch family film that has stood the test of time. Although Willow was not massively well-received when it was released, its growing fanbase is vocal and loyal. So much so, that Willow has now been remade and developed into a new Disney+ series, with Warwick Davis reprising his role!

City Locations

Dinorwic, Wales/ Milford, New Zealand

Location Types

Castles

Location Styles

Mountain Huts/Rustic

Willow Locations

Interestingly enough, Willow has a really international set of filming locations. The Willow production team traveled far and wide to help bring to life Lucas and Howard’s vision for the film, taking them to Wales, New Zealand, Ireland and California.

With so many different location styles used throughout Willow’s perilous quest, it was nearly impossible to film the entire movie in just one location. Many of the exterior scenes are shot on location, with the interiors either being purpose-built sets, or filmed at the iconic Elstree Studios. Even some of the extra landscape shots needed were filmed at George Lucas’ actual ranch in California – that’s right, his actual property is on film in this movie.

An interesting fact about the Willow filming locations is that for one scene, in particular, a landscape in China was the perfect match for the film, however, China wasn't allowing Western film crews at the time. Instead, George Lucas had it recreated on a green screen, so while the location definitely exists, the Willow production never stepped foot in China.

Here’s the bit you’re going to want to stop and read. There are definitely spoilers ahead. If you’ve seen Willow, or already had Willow spoiled for you, go ahead and read on. It’s been out since 1988, come on guys. Let’s dive in and discover the film shoot locations.

Queen Bavmorda questions her troops scene in Willow

Elstree Studios

Our key villain of the entire film is Queen Bavmorda. She strikes fear into the heart of the strongest man and no one should ever question her or disappoint her. So, when her troops come back from a mission to find and bring back Elora empty handed once more, her frustration can be seen.

“Why with my powers, with the strength of my army, can you not find one little child?”

We’ve all had to deal with incompetence in the workplace, but this seems a little extreme. For the interior shots of Queen Bavmorda’s castle, Nockmaar, the Willow production team had to return to what is now the Backlot of Elstree Studios in London and build it from scratch.

Elstree Studios is home to some of the biggest movies in the world, including The King’s Speech, Alfred Hitchcock’s movies, and many Star Wars films. Over the years, different parts have been demolished and rebuilt to keep up with demand, but it is still in action even now.

As it’s a working movie studio, you can’t just pop by for a tour, but there are many shows like Strictly Come Dancing and A League of Their Own that have free studio audience tickets that you can apply for.

There are plenty of bus routes that stop right outside and the Elstree and Borehamwood train station is a short walk away.

The sled scene in Willow

Cardrona Alpine Resort

Throughout the film, Elora either almost gets taken or indeed does get stolen away, with Willow, Madmartigan, and the gang having to get her back. One who succeeds in stealing her is Sorsha (Joanne Whalley), Queen Bavmorda’s daughter.

Having been spelled with some fairy love dust, Madmartigan professes his undying love for Sorsha while the group is trying to steal Elora back. Safe to say it doesn’t go well and the group flees down the mountainside on a sled.

As Madmartigan careens down the hillside, with Willow aboard the sled, he shouts: “You’re gonna get us killed!”

Madmartigan really isn’t the best driver of sleds, but somehow they seem to make it through the wilderness and out to safety!

For this snow-capped scene, the Willow production team headed to the South Island of New Zealand, specifically to the Cardrona Alpine Resort between Queenstown and Wanaka.

Super popular with winter sports enthusiasts and hikers in the summer, this area quickly became a tourist hotspot after opening in 1980. Obviously, it’s a lot more built up than it was in 1988, but you can now stay there and live your Willow winter fantasy!

You can visit there all year round depending on your sport of choice, but you’ll probably need to drive as there isn’t much transport available from neighboring Queenstown or Wanaka. While you’re there, there are plenty of restaurants, cafes and things to do.

The cart scene in Willow

Black Park, Iver Heath

Having yet another run-in with Bavmorda’s guards on the road, the gang has to fight them off while on a speeding cart that is quickly losing its wheels, with every bump and jolt. Willow tries to regain steering control while Madmartigan fights off a guard on the back of the cart.

Meanwhile, Rool has fallen in between the cart’s wooden frame, with Franjean having to help his buddy out. Seeing that there is a load of barrels on the back of the cart, held just by a rope, Franjean tries to get Rool to stop messing around and says:

“This isn’t funny, help me cut the rope.”

The pair successfully cut the rope and the barrels rocket off the back, taking out one of the guards who were going after Madmartigan.

The iconic cart Willow action scene takes place in Black Park, Iver Heath, Buckinghamshire, England. This country park is home to ten miles of trails, a high ropes adventure course and more.

You will need to drive to this Willow filming location as there isn’t a lot of transport, but it’s just off London’s M25 highway and has a huge parking lot.

Madmartigan vs General Kael scene in Willow

Dinorwic slate quarry in North Wales

It all boils down to the final fight scene. The two armies are battling outside of Nockmaar Castle with the victor controlling the outcome of the prophecy forever. The stakes couldn’t be higher.

In the melee, Madmartigan’s mentor and friend Airk (Gavan O'Herlihy) is facing off against the dreaded General Kael (Pat Roach). After some back and forth, Airk falls down. Madmartigan sees this and shouts his friend’s name.

Dying on the floor outside the castle, Airk tells Madmartigan, “Win this war for me.” A warrior until the very end.

This final battle scene and indeed all the exterior shots of Nockmaar Castle were filmed at Dinorwic slate quarry in North Wales, just outside Snowdonia National Park. This former slate quarry has been used for many films and is now home to a slate museum and an adventure park.

You can get a bus either from Llanberis or Caernarfon, but it is easier to drive and park up at one of the many trailheads in the area.

Nelwyn Festival scene in Willow

Brocket Hall, Lemsford

Towards the start of the film, we see Willow, our sorcerer in training, trying to dazzle the other residents of Nelwyn with his magic at a local festival. It’s safe to say that he has not been trained anywhere near enough.

Closing out his set, he says: “Now for my final amazing feat, I will make this entire pig disappear!”

He does indeed make the pig disappear, only for it to reappear instantly around the back of the table. Everyone laughs and leaves. Willow is left feeling like a failure. Not a good start for our soon to be hero.

The scenes set in the village of Nelwyn, are filmed at Brocket Hall, Lemsford, Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire, which is a Georgian house and estate. It’s now also home to a golfing resort with a very nice restaurant. So, you can actually stay and eat surrounded by Nelwyn!

As the estate is out in the countryside, driving is essential, but you can definitely make a weekend of it, exploring the grounds.

Meet Fin Raziel scene in Willow

Milford Sound, New Zealand

As a part of their quest, the group is told to find the enchantress Fin Raziel (Patricia Hayes), who’ll be instrumental in their success. Legend says she was to be found on an otherwise uninhabited island in the middle of a lake at the foot of Tir Asleen.

When our intrepid adventurers arrived there, they say that Raziel had in fact not only been banished here by Bavmorda but also turned into a possum. The Brownies sum up the meeting pretty well.

Rool: That's Raziel?

Franjean: I don't know, I expected something more grand, less...

Rool: Fuzzy.

Franjean: Fuzzy.

This beautiful scene was shot in one of the most outstanding natural spaces in the world, Milford Sound, New Zealand. The fjord lands surrounding Milford Sound are visited by thousands of people every year and are heralded for their beauty and tranquillity.

No wonder the Willow production team chose it for their uninhabited island surrounded by a lake! There is a bus from Queenstown to Milford Sound, as well as a local airport and numerous tour companies driving to this area. You can drive there, but if you can get public transport, it’s better for maintaining the natural surroundings.

Conclusion

So, despite being considered a flop in 1988 when it was released, Willow has found a home with new audiences ever since. It’s one of those pleasant and heartwarming films that you can watch with your family on a Sunday afternoon on the sofa. It doesn’t demand a whole lot of thinking, but you come away feeling uplifted and positive, and who doesn’t want that kind of movie in their life?

With an all-star cast and some of the most quotable lines on film, it’s no wonder that Willow fans are so passionate about this movie. Now, with the reboot TV series on the horizon, the wonderful world of Willow is about to be introduced to a whole new generation of fans, who’ll hopefully enjoy it as much as we all enjoy the original!