20 Science Fiction Movie Locations Every Nerd Photographer Should Visit

Extraterrestrial planets and dystopic locations create a fascinating atmosphere in science fiction movies. Many of these backgrounds are the products of CGI, but some sci-fi movies are shot at locations you can actually visit. If you’re a photographer who likes sci-fi, then you should definitely visit these locations. Besides being beautiful to photograph, they will make you relive some of the classic (and not-so-classic) science fiction movies.

Even if you’re not into sci-fi, many of these locations are worth a visit. After all, they were selected as movie backgrounds for a reason.

Star Trek
Since its beginning in 1966, Star Trek has become the number one science fiction television franchise. There have been several Star Trek television series and also a large number of movies throughout the years. To get a sense of the impressive dedication of ‘Trekkies’ (Star Trek fans), you only have to look at the detail for Star Trek entries on Wikipedia. The following locations have undoubtedly been visited by a number of hardcore fans.

1. San Rafael Swell, Utah – Vulcan, Star Trek (2009)
The San Rafael Swell is a giant dome-shaped structure of sandstone, shale, and limestone that was pushed up millions of years ago. The erosion by flash floods has further molded the area into a beautiful landscape of canyons, gorges and buttes.

star trek vulcan san rafael swell utah

Afternoon Sun by Zach Dischner

In the most recent reboot of Star Trek, the San Rafael Swell was used as a background for the planet Vulcan, the planet of Spock and other Vulcans come from. In the movie, the planet is destroyed by Romulans to avenge the destruction of their own home planet. As added bonuses, Galaxy Quest (1999) has also been shot here, and part of the swell resembles the planet Mars.

star trek vulcan san rafael swell utah

San Rafael Reef, UT by Don Graham

2. Vasquez Rocks Natural Area Park, Los Angeles, CA – Star Trek (several years)
Vasquez Rocks was named after the California bandit Tiburcio Vásquez, who used these rocks as a place to hide from the law enforcement. It’s located north of Los Angeles and its impressive rock formations are the result of rapid erosion and activity along the San Andreas Fault.

Star Trek Vasquez Rocks Natural Area Park

Vasquez Rocks by Rennett Stowe

Vasquez Rocks is important to science fiction history because it’s where Captain Kirk fought with a Gorn in the Arena episode of Star Trek: The Original Series. (Coincidentally, that fight has also been nominated as ‘The Worst Fight Scene Ever.’) Since then, the location has represented a large number of different planets in the Star Trek series. Most recently, Vasquez Rocks was used as the planet Vulcan in Star Trek (2009).

Star Trek Vasquez Rocks Natural Area Park

Vasquez Rocks by Konrad Summers

3. Griffith Observatory, Los Angeles, CA – The Terminator (1984)
The Griffith Observatory is a beautiful building on top of Mount Hollywood, overlooking Downtown Los Angeles and the Pacific Ocean. The Observatory is dedicated to make science, and specifically astronomy, accessible to the public.

Terminator Griffith Observatory, Los Angeles

Griffith Observatory, Los Angeles by Pedro Szekely

The Observatory is featured in many movies, but for Sci-Fi fans it’s most famous as the place where Arnold Schwarzenegger arrives as the first Terminator on a mission to assassinate Sarah Connor. Just as in the movie, the view from the Griffith Observatory at night is spectacular.

Terminator Griffith Observatory, Los Angeles

Griffith Observatory with the 5D by Graham

4. Lake Powell, Arizona – Planet of the Apes (1968)

planet of the apes lake powell

Fast by photophilde

In Planet of the Apes a crew of astronauts crashes onto a planet that is dominated by a highly developed society of apes. The desert scenes in the movie were shot in and around Lake Powell, an awesome man-made reservoir on the Colorado river. The new version of Planet of the Apes (2001) also used Lake Powell as a filming location.

planet of the apes lake powell

Lake Powell by Wolfgang Staudt

Star Wars
Star Wars—the other large science fiction franchise—has been shot in exotic locations all over the world. This is perhaps not so surprising when you consider the extreme differences between the planets in the Star Wars galaxy.

5. Chott el Jerid, Tunisia – Tatooine, Star Wars: A New Hope (1977)

sci fi locations Chott el-Jerid, Lars Homestead (Star Wars)

Chott el-Jerid, Lars Homestead (Star Wars) by Stefan Krasowski

Tatooine, the home planet of Luke Skywalker and Anakin Skywalker, plays an important role in the entire Star Wars saga. The real world equivalent of Tatooine is Chott el Jerid, a dry salt lake in the south-west of Tunisia. This dry and destitute location perfectly resembles a desert planet. Other Tatooine locations in Tunisia are Djerba, Matmata and Tozeur.

Sci fi locations tunisia star wars

Salt Mausoleum by Dennis Jarvis

6. Tikal National Park, Guatemala – Rebel Base, Star Wars: A New Hope (1977)
In the middle of a tropical rainforest, this ancient temple complex was an important location of the Maya civilization. The buildings are over 2,500 years old, but you can still admire their splendor today.

sci fi locations star wars guatemala

Tikal Sunrise by Adam Baker

Tikal National Park also figured as the the Massassi Outpost on the fourth moon of Yavin, where the Rebel Alliance located their base. Here, the Alliance planned their successful attack of the Death Star.

sci fi locations star wars guatemala

Tikal, Guatemala by Pedro Szekely

7. Finse, Norway – Hoth, Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
The opening sequence of The Empire Strikes Back—in which Luke Skywalker rides his Tauntaun, gets ambushed and stuck in a blizzard—takes place on the ice planet Hoth. On Hoth, the Rebel Alliance has stationed their Echo Base and it’s where a major battle between the Alliance and the Empire takes place. The filming location of Hoth was the Hardangerjøkulen Glacier at Finse, Norway. Finse is located about 2,5 hours away from Bergen by train.

star wars finse norway

Finse Norway by zen whisk

8. Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, California – Endor, Star Wars: Return of The Jedi (1983)
Who doesn’t remember the cute Ewoks that inhabit the forest moon Endor in the Return of the Jedi? In the movie, the second Death Star orbits Endor and the Empire has an outpost on the moon that holds a shield generator protecting the Death Star. The Rebel Alliance, with the help of the Ewoks, tries to dismantle this shield.

sci fi locations star wars endor

Hiker and redwoods (Sequoia sempervirens) on Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park Boy Scout Tree Trail by Miguel Vieira

One of the characteristics of Endor are the large monster trees that make everything, not just the Ewoks, look small. In real life, these trees are the Redwood groves in Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park. The trees look great in photos and the park as a whole is an excellent place to hike.

sci fi locations star wars endor

Bigleaf maple (Acer macrophyllum) on Jedediah Smith Redwoods Mill Creek Trail by Miguel Vieira

9. Arecibo Observatory, Puerto Rico – Contact (1997)
In the movie Contact, based on a Carl Sagan book, the scientist Eleanor Arroway is looking for extraterrestrial life at the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico. She’s part of the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) program that scans for possible radio transmissions from outer space. Appropriately, the Arecibo Observatory is (also) used for this purpose by the SETI@home project.

Even if you’re not into the science, the Observatory still looks incredible.

Contact Arecibo Observatory, Puerto Rico

10. Devils Tower, Wyoming – Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
Devils Tower really stands out in every photo due to its incredible rise of 1,267 feet. In 1906, Devils Tower was declared the first national monument by Theodore Roosevelt. The location became even more popular in 1977 when it featured in Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind. In the movie, Devils Tower plays an important role as the site for an encounter with aliens.

close encounters of the third kind devil's tower wyoming

Devil’s Tower at sunrise by B D

close encounters of the third kind devil's tower wyoming

Devil’s Tower by B D

11. Eastern State Penitentiary, Philadelphia – 12 Monkeys (1995)
In 12 Monkeys, the convicted criminal James Cole (Bruce Willis) has to travel back in time to trace back the outbreak of a virus. For large parts of the movie, James Cole is in an insane asylum, shot at the Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia. This former, sinister-looking prison has a rich history——for example, Al Capone was incarcerated here and you can still visit his cell——and is the ideal setting for a chaotic, mental hospital.

12 monkeys eastern state penitentiary philadelphia

Eastern State Penitentiary by Sakeeb Sabakka

12 monkeys eastern state penitentiary philadelphia

Nowhere Fast by Justin Wolfe

12. Badlands, South Dakota – Starship Troopers (1997)
The Badlands in South Dakota figure as the home planet of the Arachnids, Klendathu, in Paul Verhoeven’s Starship Troopers. The old Native American hunting grounds make for a beautiful background of an alien planet, to which infantry is deployed to take out the “Bugs”.

starship troopers badlands

These are the Badlands, South Dakota by Joel Hernandez

starship troopers badlands

Skies of Much Oblige by Seth Anderson

13. Kona, Hawaii – Waterworld (1995)
Technically, the main location of Kevin Kostner’s Waterworld is the ocean, as in the movie humanity has been forced to live on the water because of the rising sea level. When land is finally found, however, it’s Hawaii’s Big Island. Moreover, on Hawaii it’s easy to imagine what a world with only water would look like.

waterworld kona hawaii

Sunset on New Earth by Steve Jurvetson

waterworld kona hawaii

Swimming with Turtles by Steve Jurvetson

14. Johannesburg, South Africa – District 9 (2009)
In District 9, the classic aliens-arrive-on-earth story is given a twist, when the aliens, or “prawns” as they’re derogatorily called, are confined into a ghetto outside of Johannesburg by the government. The movie references back to South Africa’s past system of apartheid, but also could be seen as a metaphor for the treatment of other vulnerable minorities. The filming location of District 9 was an actual impoverished neighborhood in Soweto, Johannesburg.

District 9 Johannesburg South Africa

East Johannesburg by Chris Eason

District 9 Johannesburg South Africa

johannesburg by Nico Roets

15. Seaside, Florida – The Truman Show (1998)
In the Truman Show, Jim Carrey’s character lives, unbeknownst to him, in the constructed reality of a television show. Seahaven, the perfect town in the movie, is actually Seaside, Florida. Although Seaside is probably not nearly as immaculate as fictional Seahaven, it’s is still quite a picturesque town.

truman show seaside florida

The future’s so white, I had to wear shades by Pat David

truman show seaside florida

Braving Warm Waters at Seaside by Donncha O Caoimh

16. Toronto City Hall, Canada – Resident Evil: Apocalypse (2004)
Although Toronto City Hall looks unique and impressive enough to feature as any type of building in a movie, in Resident Evil: Apocalypse the building also figures as a city hall (but this time for Raccoon City). In Resident Evil, the City Hall is nuked, along with the entire city. Fortunately, the actual City Hall is still there and is ideal for photos with an ominous atmosphere.

resident evil toronto city hall

Toronto City Hall 2 by Robert Taylor

resident evil toronto city hall

Toronto City Hall by Benson Kua

17. Frank Lloyd Wright Ennis House, Los Angeles, CA – Blade Runner (1982)
Blade Runner is a dark and futuristic science fiction movie in which Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) is tasked to eliminate cyborg “replicants.” The CEO of the corporation that fabricates the cyborgs lives in the Ennis House, designed by Frank Loyd Wright. Throughout the movie the motifs of the Ennis House return, for instance in Rick’s apartment. The building itself is incredibly photogenic, but so is its view.

bladerunner frank loyd wright ennis house

FLW. by Sarah Le Clerc

bladerunner frank loyd wright ennis house

Ennis House by Ennis House

Another famous LA landmark in Blade Runner is the Bradbury Building. The final fight scenes in the movie take place in the courtyard of this building.

bladerunner bradbury building staircase

Bradbury Building, Los Angeles Historic Core by Craig Dietrich

18. Battersea Power Station, London, UK – Nineteen Eighty-Four (1984)
Battersea Power Station, on the river Thames, used to be a coal-fired power station and is the largest brick building in Europe. The Power Station, both impressive and menacing, has become a cultural icon over the years. It was pictured on the front of a Pink Floyd album, appeared in a Beatles’ movie, and many other movies and television shows since. In the sci-fi movie Nineteen Eighty-Four, the Battersea Power Station was used as the Victory Mansions, the apartment complex in which Winston Smith lives. The building is still a great subject to practice your distopic photography.

1984 Battersea Power Station

Battersea Power Station, London by Lies Thru a Lens

1984 Battersea Power Station

Battersea Power Station by William Warby

19. Samalayuca, Chihuahua, Mexico – Dune (1984)
Large parts of the movie Dune take place on the desert planet Arrakis, where the valuable “spice” melange can be found. The few inhabitants of this planet are the Fremen and giant sandworms. If you’d like to have a similar experience (without the Fremen, melange or worms), you can visit Dune’s filming location Samalayuca, Mexico with, unsurprisingly, plenty of dunes.

Dune Samalayuca Mexico

Dunas by Felix Garcia

20. North Carolina – The Hunger Games (2012)
If you’re wondering where the first Hunger Games movie was shot, the answer is pretty much all over the state of North Carolina. For instance, Charlotte was used as the Capitol of Panem; in Hildebran, an old (ghost) mill town, the scenes of District 12 where shot; and many scenes in the Arena took place in Pisgah National Forest in the Appalachian Mountains. As the movie shows, North Carolina has many beautiful locations.

hunger games north carolina

Pisgah Ray by D B

hunger games north carolina

IceSheathesRay by D B




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11 Comments on "20 Science Fiction Movie Locations Every Nerd Photographer Should Visit"

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Jay Long
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Very good information on each site, and beautiful images to accompany.

Laura from Ld Nature Photography
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What a fun post. I enjoyed seeing all the pictures and imagining the scenes from each movie. I guess I’m a true nerd photographer!

vavu
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nice pics

Keith Reynolds
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Great list! Beautiful photographs! One small nitpicky thing though. It’s not “the” Devils Tower. It’s just “Devils Tower.”

DF
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Awesome, amazing pictures. 🙂

sohail
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Thanks for this wonderful post and pictures ! It has been very useful. I wish that you’ll carry on sharing your wisdom with us. oshialnazish form http://www.pho2grapher.com

Mike Davis
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Wonderful pictures, I guess I’m a nerd I recognized many of these spots.

Pierre Pichot
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Great article, I’m currently planning a trip to UK, the Battersea Power Station is now on my todo list!

Mohammed Tsado
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I appreaciate this wonderful world Beautiful photographs!,thanks.

Marcell Grozavesti
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some other pictures of the battersea power station at night here: http://www.marcellgrozavesti.com/2014/08/battersea-power-station.html

Juan Martin
Guest

Excellent post! I’ve rally enjoyed it.

I have another location. Plaza España, Sevilla from Star Wars Episode II
http://www.jmartincphoto.com/#!/index/G0000Av6KNU1nU0U/I000066HKcvevAeM

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