Think you recognise that film location? Think again. Filmmakers have a long history of using classic “small town USA” locations for their imagined communities or substituting other cities to stand in for more famous (and expensive) locals – often with a bit of digital trickery on the side.
If you’ve ever seen a movie about the Wild West, then you’re familiar with Kanab. Hollywood discovered the small town just north of the Arizona border way back in 1924 and classic films like Stagecoach, Union Pacific, Buffalo Bill and Fort Apache were all filmed here, as well as the TV series The Long Ranger and Gunsmoke. It’s the quintessential cowboy town and enthusiastically embraces its movie heritage with memorabilia displayed just about everywhere and even a Kanab Walk of Fame.
Wilmington, North Carolina
This coastal city of less than 100,000 people is sometimes referred to as “Wilmywood” in recognition of the 300 or so films and TV series that have been shot here. Frank Capra started the trend in 1983 when he filmed part of Firestarter in the town and since then movies as diverse as Weekend at Bernie’s, Cape Fear and The Jackal have all made use of the mild climate, ocean views and picturesque scenery. There’s a good chance that your kids (or grandkids) were fans of the 90s teen series Dawson’s Creek, which was also filmed in the town.
It’s a bit of a Hollywood secret, but the Canadian city of Vancouver is used as a stand in for lots of American cities, from New York to San Francisco and everywhere in between. Production costs are much lower than in the United States and directors have found that the city and its surrounds can pass for plenty of places south of the border. Jackie Chan’s Rumble in the Bronx, the Scary Movie series, Juno, I, Robot and Rise of the Planet of the Apes are just a few you might recognise.
Everyone has heard of Brooklyn and the Bronx in New York City, but how about Astoria? This small Queens neighbourhood frequently stands in for its more famous cousins in some of the most iconic gangster movies of all time. Goodfellas, A Bronx Tale and Serpico were all filmed here and you can have a drink or a meal at one of the real establishments that feature in the movies.
Want a top-notch European location without the hefty price tag? Then head to Budapest. The eastern European capital has stood in for Moscow, Munich and Buenos Aires in all sorts of films. While undeniably beautiful, Budapest’s skyline and monuments aren’t as recognisable as many European cities so it is easier for filmmakers to be elusive about the destination. The city has starred in A Good Day to Die Hard, Evita, The Raven and Underworld.
When filmmakers want a generic Asian backdrop, they are increasingly turning to the Taiwanese capital of Taipei. Traditionally, cities like Bangkok or Hong Kong would be used but savvy filmgoers are becoming familiar with what these cities look like so it is harder to pretend. Local boy Ang Lee shot his Oscar winning Life of Pi here as well as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Expect to see many more films featuring Taipei – Martin Scorsese is shooting there right now.
This article first appeared on Over60.