7 mins

World cinema: 24 films to take you on a journey around the globe

Discover the world from comfort of your home, with movie classics, blockbusters and underrated independent films showcasing the world's most cinematic destinations...

City Palace, Udaipur (Shutterstock)

1. Australia in… Walkabout (1971)

The heat streams upwards off the Outback in this hallucinatory haze of a film, about two lost siblings ferried back to civilisation by a passing Aboriginal boy as he undergoes the titular ritual away from his tribe.

Director Nicolas Roeg makes the very most of his chosen locations – taking him from Alice Springs down to the Flinders Ranges – making this a truly widescreen tale of innocence lost.

Where to watch it: Stream on Amazon Prime or the BFI Player

2. Japan in… Lost In Translation (2003)

It’s time to leave the hotel bar - even if that bar is on the 52nd floor of the Park Hyatt Tokyo - as there’s only one way to experience Japan’s extreme culture clash of neon fervour and traditional stillness: to dive right into it, as unlikely pals Bob and Charlotte do here.

Take the edge off the full sensory assault of the arcades and karaoke bars by hitting the Kyoto shrines, such as the Nanzen-ji and Heian Jingu visited here.

Where to watch it: Stream on Netflix now

3. Jaipur and Udaipur in... Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2011)

Rajasthan isn’t exactly the retiring type, unlike the characters in this movie. The car-horn battering, cow-dodging, phone-hustling joys of Jaipur are on show for this massive sleeper hit.

It was filmed largely in the sensory overloading streets of the ‘Pink City’ - taking in the flower markets, the Panna Meena ka Kund stepwell and Jantar Mantar observatory –  then jumping south for a tonal shift to the impressive lakes and palaces of Udaipur. 

Where to watch it: Rent or buy from Amazon Prime

4. Jordan in... Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

“Aqaba is over there. It’s only a matter of going.” Never a truer word, old chap, although it’s even easier for Jordanian travellers to get there than it was for TE Lawrence.

The spectrally atmospheric Wadi Rum is now a familiar ‘otherworldly’ location in cinema, seen in The Martian and the most recent Star Wars and Alien movies, but is at its best playing itself in David Lean’s epic biopic.

Where to watch it: Rent or buy on Amazon Prime

5. Peru in... Motorcycle Diaries (2004)

Che Guevara’s literary account of his formative travels around South America inspired many a revolutionary.

The movie on the other hand inspired many travellers to visit South America, boosting numbers to Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Venezuela, but particularly Peru’s Inca Trail and bucket list regular Machu Picchu.

Where to watch it: Stream now on All4

6. Vienna in… Before Sunrise (1995)

Travel plans are made to be broken. This romantic ode to in-the-moment inspiration sees (young, gorgeous, articulate) strangers Jesse and Celine agree to hop off the train at Vienna and spend the night touring and talking their way around the Austrian capital.

They parade the Danube, hang in cafes and kiss atop the 19th century Wiener Riesenrad ferris wheel, which is surely what it was made for.

Where to watch it: Rent or buy on Amazon Prime or the BFI Player

7. Paris in... Amélie (2001)

The love-scorched Montmartre of Amélie Poulain received a frosty reception with Parisian locals, who resented its digitally cleaned up streets.

For visitors however, it perfectly captured the romantic charm of the city, sending a huge influx of fans up its knee-creakingly steep locations: the century-old splendour of the Sacré-Cœur Basilica and its grounds, to clandestine spots like the Studio 28 cinema.

Where to watch it: Rent or buy on Amazon Prime

8. The Pacific Crest Trail in... Wild (2014)

A juggernaut trek like 1,750km of The Pacific Crest Trail can either make you or break you… or maybe a little of both.

That’s certainly the case with Cheryl Strayed, who tramps away at her feelings of guilt and failure as she sets out from California into Oregon and then up to Washington.

Watching at home, you’ll be Googling walking boots - and maybe duct tape, too – long before Cheryl crosses the Bridge of the Gods over the Columbia River.

Where to watch it: Stream on Netflix

9. Hong Kong in... Chungking Express (1994)

Hong Kong’s been home to myriad kung fu flicks and ‘bullet ballets’, but none of them caught the irresistible energy quite like this thoughtful off-kilter rom-com.

Two separate stories take place between the alleys threading through Kowloon Harbour’s tower blocks and the neon bustle of the island’s Central district, turning the Central-Mid Levels stairway – the world’s longest outdoor covered escalator no less – into an icon.

Where to watch it: Buy Chungking Express through the Criterion Channel

10. Rome in... ​La Dolce Vita (1960)

“I really like Rome,” grumps Marcello Mastroianni’s jaded hack. “It’s like a peaceful jungle.”

La Dolce Vita set the image of the Italy’s capital of cool in ancient concrete - all cigarettes, energy and paparazzi - even though some of its icons were actually recreated at the nearby Cinecittà Studio.

There were a few key exceptions, though visitors looking to emulate Anita Ekberg’s very real moonlit waft into the Trevi Fountain will quickly meet another Roman icon: a grumpy policeman.  

Where to watch it: Stream on Amazon Prime or the BFI Player

11. Hawaii in... The Descendants (2011)

A world away from the endless surfing cliches and with barely a lei in sight, The Descendants still revels in The Aloha State’s legendary laid-back attitude, its spectacular green scenery and the beaches of Honolulu and Kauai islands.

George Clooney stars as a flip flop-wearing husband and father having the worst week of his life, albeit in some of the planet’s most-lusted after locales.

Where to watch it: Rent or buy on Amazon Prime

12. Camino de Santiago in... The Way (2011)

The Camino de Santiago attracts many people - even President Jed Bartlet.

The West Wing's Martin Sheen plays a grieving dad who sets out to complete the famed pilgrimage that his son never finished, getting to know his fellow walkers on the way.

Those who haven’t trekked ‘The Way’ before can get a taste for Galicia on scree, and those who’ve already had their ‘pilgrimage passport’ stamped can spot which bits were shot out of sequence.

Where to watch it: Rent or buy on Amazon Prime

13. Morocco in... The English Patient (1996)

It’s where Indiana Jones threatened to blow the Ark of the Covenant back to God and where R2D2 got droid-napped by Jawas.

But the Sidi Bouhlel Canyon - a jagged rock valley in Tunisia’s east – was best used as the scenic entrance to the Cave of Swimmers in The English Patient, where Tunisia doubled for half of North Africa.

Travellers who go on this favourite Tunisian side-tour will not only see one of cinema’s classic natural film sets, but can also spy the impressively isolated Sidi Bouhlel mausoleum that sits on the canyon’s rim.

Where to watch it: Rent or buy on Amazon Prime

14. China in... Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

Many people came away from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon determined to learn kung fu. Travellers came away from the martial arts fantasy flick with a trip to China at the forefront of their mind.

Anhui Province would be the best place to start looking for the real sets, as it contains not only the 900-year-old Hongcunzhen village (seen at the start of the movie) but also the UNESCO-listed misty Huangshan Mountains.

Where to watch it: Stream on Starzplay via Amazon Prime

15. New Zealand in... Hunt For The Wilderpeople (2016)

Yeah, we know the Lord of the Rings has New Zealand covered for unbelievable Kiwi destinations.

However, this charming comedy about an unruly orphan teen who heads off into the bush with his grumpy ‘Uncle’ Hec doesn’t need any CGI adornment.

The North Island’s celebrated Volcanic Plateau provides most of Wilderpeople’s lush, green filming locations. It is, as Hec points out, “majestical”.

Where to watch it: Stream on Amazon Prime

16. Thailand in… The Beach (2000)

If you’re going to stand in for the most mythical beach paradise in South-East Asia, you’ve got a lot to live up to.

Luckily, Ko Phi Phi Leh’s sheltered Maya Bay – with a little digital and (more controversially) landscaping help more than did that – although at some expense to itself.

The sheer number of visitors that flocked to the Phi Phi Archipelago in search of this limestone-flanked pearl meant that the beach had to be closed. Now, a ticketing system has been put in place to manage the crowds.

Where to watch it: Rent or buy on Amazon Prime

17. Chicago in… Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986)

“Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” Good advice, that.

Poor Chicago usually doubles for gangster-blighted metropolises, so it’s great to see it getting the recognition it deserves, as truant Ferris Bueller explores the Sears Tower, Wrigley Field, the Art Institute of Chicago.

And, of course, gatecrashing the strudel-flavoured Von Steuben Day Parade. Worth pulling a sickie for.

Where to watch it: Stream on Netflix

18. Mexico in... Y Tu Mama También (2001)

A road trip through rural Mexico sounds like a grand travel adventure, especially when it climaxes (in many senses) at the hard-to-reach Cacaluta Bay in Oaxaca’s Bahías de Huatulco.

Here, it's used to represented the promised - and entirely fictitious - ‘Heaven's Mouth’ beach. Real or fake, we wouldn’t suggest going with a pair of testosterone-addled teenagers.

Where to watch it: Buy the DVD on Amazon

19. Iran in... About Elly (2009)

Understandably swept up in the architectural drama of Isfahan and the romance of Shiraz, travellers often forget about Iran’s Caspian coastline, which provides the backdrop to director Asghar Farhadi's acclaimed drama of suspicion and betrayal.

The diverse Mazandaran Province doesn’t just boast sand, though. Visitors can find forests, plains and mountains, including Mount Damavand - Asia’s highest volcano at 5km tall.

Where to watch it: Rent or buy on Amazon Prime

20. Madrid in... Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (1988)

Director Pedro Almodóvar’s love of his adoptive home town is written all over his movies, though he rarely hits the tourist spots, preferring domestic touches such as street corners and airports.

The latter is the setting for the climax of Almodóvar’s breakthrough movie, and viewers can take in the Gran Vía skyline – complete with the towering Telefónica building, the director’s former workplace – from the lead character’s flat on Calle de Montalbán.

Where to watch it: Rent or buy on Amazon Prime

21. The Amazon Basin in... Fitzcarraldo (1982)

We’ve all made the mistake of overpacking, but spare a thought for Fitzcarraldo, who attempts to manually haul a 320,000kg steamship over a steep Peruvian Amazon hill.

Incredibly, the filmmakers behind the biopic actually tried to recreate this, with legendarily difficult results: the wreckage of the steamer used in the film is still rusting away in the dense jungle that lies 3,200km upstream from the splendidly inaccessible city of Iquitos.

Your trip down the Amazon River into the jungle – the Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve is a conservation site for indigenous tribes as well as for puma, jaguar and tapir – should be a lot easier.

Where to watch it: Stream on BFI Player

22. Peloponnese, Greece in... Before Midnight (2013)

From the cobblestones and 11th century churches of Platsa to the seaside town and pier at Kardamili – the Messinia region is the postcard Peloponnese.

That's probably why Before Midnight used it for the final part of the ‘Before’ trilogy. A deceptively quiet location choice for one of the most rawest marital blow ups in cinema history.

Where to watch it: Rent or buy on Amazon Prime

23. Reykjavik in... 101 Reykjavik (2001)

Looking for a cold, otherworldly landscape to shoot your epic fantasy in? Then congratulations, you’re in Iceland, alongside the likes of Game of Thrones, Alien, Bond and Batman.

But we prefer this charming homegrown indie film, trawling through the capital’s downtown and occasionally the lofty splendours beyond it.

Where to watch it: Rent or buy on Amazon Prime

24. Kenya in... Out of Africa (1985)

It takes a lot to outshine Robert Redford and Meryl Streep’s mega-wattage on screen, but Kenya’s landscapes do it with ease in this biopic of Karen Blixen’s time in the Ngong Hills outside of Nairobi.

Sometimes though, the real thing just isn’t enough. Travellers wanting to see the Kenya they fell in love with in the film would have to head three-and-a-half hours east to Chyulu Hills National Park, where they can spot the Big 5 and have Maasai experiences. 

Where to watch it: Stream on Netflix

Related Articles