On Location

9 of Our Favorite Cinematic Escapes

Barry Lyndon
Barry Lyndon — Stanley Kubrick, 1975

Movies can take you where you’ve never been. On the eve of the Oscars, we list nine classic films that made us most curious about the locations where they take place.

There’s a whole big world out there, and chances are, before you saw any of it in person, you saw it in a movie. With the Academy Awards this weekend, we wanted to list some films that made huge impressions on us through their locations. Impressions that weren’t always positive. In these films, the portrayal of a place could be flattering, or it could be filled with darkness and hostility. It doesn’t matter. The more foreign the circumstances, the more powerful the intrigue. The more complicated the relationship between character and setting, the more relatable it can be. Just look at ol’ Barry Lyndon up there. He looks miserable. But the paint color in that room would look perfect in our kitchen.

Below, a list of nine destinations and the films that made us most curious about them. Nine, because it’s less than ten, which is five too many movies to be nominated for Best Picture. Quit watering down the big award, Academy!


Blow-Up — Michelangelo Antonioni, 1966

Blow Up

Blow-Up uses the peak of swinging ’60s London as its backdrop, but spends its running time subverting the styles of the era. The film’s story of a jaded fashion photographer who isn’t sure if his camera lens has witnessed a murder or prevented one (or if there was even a murder at all) is an existential landmark: things are how we perceive them, and we’re all unreliable narrators in our own reality. Still, despite the paranoia and malaise that hangs on every scene, London in the mod-heavy mid-sixties looked like a pretty good time, even if our protagonist somehow found himself bored by a rare Yardbirds concert that featured both Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck on guitar.


The Third Man — Carol Reed, 1949

Third man

If The Third Man was your only exposure to Europe, you’d think the entire continent was comprised of shadowy doorways on narrow streets and late-night rendezvous at empty cafés — and you’d be enamored. The 1949 picture is a true noir, and despite the darkness inherent in that genre, the film uses post-war, allied-occupied Vienna to introduce the exact mix of romance and intrigue that most of us hope to find in every European vacation we take. From Orson Welles’s ferris wheel speech, to the thrilling subterranean chase sequence, to all those dutch angles, The Third Man is filled with iconic moments that continue to influence filmmaking… and our impressions of the Austrian capital.

Los Angeles

Less Than Zero — Marek Kanievska, 1987

Less Tha Zero

Aside from some vintage James Spader and Robert Downey Jr.’s heartbreaking performance as a doomed drug addict, Less Than Zero isn’t a particularly good movie — especially considering the nihilistic realism of the excellent source material (Bret Easton Ellis’s debut novel of the same name) — but it does have an incredible sense of place. The film is a time capsule of ostentatious wealth and privileged youth in 1980s Los Angeles, with all the questionable design and sartorial choices that entails. The action largely takes place over the winter holiday break, allowing for the combination of postmodern architecture and white plastic Christmas trees. Superficial, yet satisfying.


The 400 Blows — François Truffaut, 1959

400 Blows

In a nice bit of synergy with our parent company, one of the plot lines of The 400 Blows deals with a mischievous son who steals his father’s beloved Michelin Guide. The 1959 François Truffaut picture practically reinvented the coming-of-age film with its honest and unsentimental portrayal of a 14-year-old boy testing life’s boundaries in a big city. The city, in this case, is Paris, and the child experiences it the way children often do: running around corners and streaking down steps, bounding in and out of doorways, wreaking minor havoc in alleys and schoolyards, and imagining grand plans for the future in tiny attic bedrooms — all under the watchful eye of the Eiffel Tower.


The Last Picture Show — Peter Bogdanovich, 1971

Last Picture Show

One-stoplight towns in the American midwest bring to mind images of a Rockwellian existence where everything is simple and true. The allure is powerful, and 1971’s The Last Picture Show (filmed in Archer City, Texas) should be required viewing for anyone who is considering fleeing the city for a slower day-to-day in the country. Not because the film shatters any illusions, but because of the balance with which it both celebrates and condemns rural, small-town life. In these towns, the picture suggests, each real experience is more meaningful because each real opportunity is more infrequent — and your next one is less likely to come along than a tumbleweed down main street.


Fitzcarraldo — Werner Herzog, 1982


The centerpiece of Fitzcarraldo is a 300-ton steam ship being hauled over a mountain in Peru’s Amazon basin. To accomplish this special effect, director Werner Herzog simply hauled a 300-ton steam ship over a mountain in Peru’s Amazon basin. If you couldn’t have guessed, the making of this West German classic is almost as interesting as the film itself, from the manic unpredictability of star Klaus Kinski to the rudimentary methods used to move the massive boat. Through it all, the unspoiled beauty and unforgiving realities of the Peruvian rainforest are on full display — the travel equivalent of the greater the risk, the greater the reward.


He Got Game — Spike Lee, 1998

He Got Game

Each frame in a Spike Lee joint practically drips with detail. In his breakout film, Do the Right Thing, you can almost feel the midsummer Brooklyn heat as it bounces off of brownstone steps and oozes out of pizzeria ovens. In He Got Game, he trades a burning Bed-Stuy for an oversaturated Coney Island as he follows a high school basketball phenom trying to keep his head on straight while he decides which college to attend. Safe to say that no one has ever shot Brooklyn or basketball with such a loving eye, and it’s hard to walk away from the film not wanting to go practice turn-around jumpers at your local playground or take a romantic ride on Coney’s famous Wonder Wheel.


Barry Lyndon — Stanley Kubrick, 1975

Barry Lyndon

Before he acquired the style and title of Barry Lyndon, Redmond Barry’s story, as we join it, begins in Ireland, where duels seem to be as common as the country’s rolling fields of green. Barry’s travels take him throughout Europe, but director Stanley Kubrick shot much of the film in Ireland (before an apparent IRA threat chased him to England). Barry Lyndon is a highlight of Kubrick’s filmography, showcasing masterfully detailed art direction and production design, and some feats of low-light cinematography that have rarely been equaled. Castles, country houses, palaces, and pubs — misfortune and disaster will not befall you in Ireland the same way they did poor Redmond.


I Am Cuba — Mikhail Kalatozov, 1964

I Am Cuba

News broke earlier this year that Criterion will release a fully restored 4k version of I Am Cuba, monumental news for fans of the film, which remains one of the most technically ambitious and innovative ever made. Telling the story of the Cuban Revolution from the point of view of regular citizens, the film was intended as propaganda for Castro and communism, but it transcended those meager goals and became a cinematic landmark — a celebration of the people and places of Havana and the Cuban countryside, saying as much about personal freedom, independence, and community than about the consequences of runaway capitalism and colonialism.

We’re not currently featuring hotels in Cuba, for reasons the film is not unfamiliar with, but as I Am Cuba is arguably the greatest movie ever produced in the Caribbean, it feels appropriate to expand the scope.


Mark Fedeli is the hotel marketing and editorial director for Tablet and Michelin Guide. He’s been with Tablet since 2006, and he thinks you should subscribe to our newsletter.