Top 10 movies that feature UNESCO World Heritage Sites

UNESCO World Heritage Movies Spectre

Nothing says silver screen like a UNESCO World Heritage Site, right? Sounds like a documentary movie you’ll be forced to watch when the substitute teacher walks in. Some of the most popular and acclaimed Hollywood movies have scenes set at these important locations. These places are old, beautiful and have some of the most unique visual characteristics in the world so of course they attract the attention of directors and producers.

007 Spectre in Mexico City


During the opening scene of the James Bond movie, Spectre, the Mexico City Historic Center was “blown to bits” during a Day of the Dead parade. Virtually, of course. This UNESCO World Heritage Site was not harmed during the making of the movie. Previous to the Bond film, there wasn’t actually a Day of the Dead parade held here. There is now though.

Banks of the Seine, France in The Da Vinci Code


Paris’ the Louvre Museum, on the banks of the Seine, was a key character in The Da Vinci Code starring Tom Hanks. This mystery-thriller centers on ‘The Last Supper’ in the Louvre as investigators piece together who killed a museum curator, which leads to the painting’s relation to the Holy Grail. You can have this unique experience yourself by going on the Da Vinci Code tour at the Louvre.

The Motorcycle Diaries in Machu Picchu, Peru


Two young dudes on a journey through South America are forced to take things slower than expected. They end up on a journey of the self, and much of that self-exploration is found at Machu Picchu. The movie is as introspective as it is beautiful and one of these dudes is Che Guevara, leader of the Cuban Revolution. The movie is based off of the diary kept while on this journey.

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade in Petra, Jordan


Who can forget that iconic scene at the end of this movie, when Sean Connery turns to his “son” Harrison Ford, and retorts, “We named the dog Indiana.” That scene was filmed in front of the iconic Siq, the main entrance to Petra. That movie alone put the ancient city on the map for many people.

Slumdog Millionaire at the Taj Mahal


As the story unfolds, the UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Taj Mahal, makes a brief cameo as we learn that the protagonist, Jamal, is working as an illegal tour guide there. The experience gives him some vital life lessons, and helps to enable him to be a successful game show contestant.

National Lampoon’s Vacation at the Grand Canyon


In probably the most hilarious scene shot at a UNESCO site, Chevy Chase inadvertently steals money from a hotel cash register outside the Grand Canyon, then attempts to quickly gather his family (who are trying to enjoy the view) to make a quick getaway.

Tomb Raider in Angkor Thom, Siem Riep, Cambodia

Lara Croft’s adventure takes her to Bayon Temple within Angkor Thom on her quest to find the fate of her father. The cast and crew completely filled the only two hotels in Siem Riep at the time of filming. The good news is that the $10,000 a day that was charged to the Cambodian authorities went back into the preservation of the temples there. And in bars in Siem Riep, you can actually have a Tomb Raider cocktail.

The Gladiator in Ksar of Ait-Ben-Haddou, Morocco

Morocco Ksar is a UNESCO World Heritage site in Ait-Ben-Haddou that was the backdrop to a key scene in The Gladiator, starring Russell Crowe. Maximus Decimus Meridius is forced into slavery after he has buried his family, and the scene in which he transitions to slave is filmed at the site. He is sold to a gladiator trainer and his journey as a warrior begins. This site is protected by the Moroccan government.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens in Skellig Michael, Ireland

The breathtaking location of Skellig Michael is just off the coast of Ireland. It is where Luke Skywalker has been in hiding for years, and where young protégée Rhea, finds him. Much of the movie is filmed here, as Rhea takes lessons from Luke and attempts to bring him back to help fight the First Order. When scouting the location, Lucasfilm reps first told residents they were doing a documentary film so as not to create too much stir.

Lord of the Rings Tongariro National Park, New Zealand


Tongariro National Park was the UNESCO site filmed as the location of Mordor, the home of the Dark Lord Sauron in Lord of the Rings. The area’s jagged volcanic rock near New Zealand’s Lake Taupo is about 330 kilometers south of Auckland. Thankfully, the production crew took great care to preserve the sensitive ecological environment of the park. However, conservations efforts continue as the site has become wildly popular with fans of the movie.

Due to the immense popularity of The Force Awakens, and the Lord of the Rings, it comes as no surprise that these sites of seen a huge surge in visitors. All of this attention threatens to over load the status of some of these UNESCO sites. In order to help preserve the integrity of these ancient and beautiful locations, each and every visitor must use good sustainability practices, or not bother to visit these sites at all.

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