10 of the creepiest abandoned movie sets you can actually visit
From 'The Hills Have Eyes' to 'Gone Girl,' these forgotten sets bring smiles as well as goosebumps this Halloween season.
When the final "Cut!" is shouted by the director and the lights and cameras packed away, the elaborate film sets left behind are often quickly dismantled. In rare cases, however, whether due to budgetary constraints or a private agreement, the sets are left intact – offering fans a unique way to interact with Hollywood history beyond the silver screen.
Below are just a few abandoned sets spanning films across several decades that remain, at least in most cases, accessible to the daring and curious. While some are but a haunting shadow of their blockbuster days, others exude a dilapidated charm that, like the films they starred in, is nothing short of timeless.
Mos Espa Set from 'Star Wars: The Phantom Menace'
For the setting of the desert alien world of Tatooine in "Star Wars: The Phantom Menace," American director George Lucas chose to return to Tunisia, near the Sahara desert, for scenes involving Anakin Skywalker's home planet. The country had previously hosted Lucas and his crew during filming for the first entry in the original trilogy, 1977's "Star Wars: A New Hope."
While the prequel trilogy relied heavily on computer-generated environments, the producers chose to build actual sets in the desert landscape. At the urging of the Tunisian government, they then left behind the 20 buildings and its set pieces once filming was completed. Today, curious fans can visit the abandoned town of Mos Espa and scour the sun-baked huts that served as the childhood setting for the Jedi who would become Darth Vader. For some, this could even be the perfect place to pull off a "Star Wars"-themed wedding.
Will American director Rian Johnson and his Israeli producing partner Ram Bergman take advantage of these sets once more for the next trilogy in the series? We don't yet know, but clearly Tatooine on Earth is waiting for them should the pair choose to revisit the beloved alien world.
The town of Spectre from 'Big Fish'
For his 2003 fantasy drama "Big Fish," American director Tim Burton chose Jackson Lake Island, situated on the Alabama River, as the setting for the film's enchanting town of Spectre. Instead of CGI, Burton opted to build a small town complete with rows of homes, a church and numerous businesses. Once filming was complete, the entire set was left as is: a piece of Hollywood history that you can still visit today.
As you might expect, time has left Spectre looking more like a ghost town than the wonderfully colorful version represented on screen. Nonetheless, there's a certain charm that still permeates the natural setting that's worth visiting to experience. Those interested can pay a small fee to tour the set or even camp on the island overnight.
The gas station from 'The Hills Have Eyes'
While the vast majority of abandoned movie sets appear drastically different years removed from their time in the spotlight, the same cannot be said for the iconic gas station from the 2006 horror film "The Hills Have Eyes."
Based on the chilling 1977 original crafted by American director Wes Craven, this updated version tells the story of a family traveling through the New Mexico desert who stop and ask for directions at a dilapidated gas station. The attendant sends them along a shortcut through the hills, a piece of advice that turns out to have grave consequences.
Instead of shooting in the U.S., the producers decided to build a U.S.-themed gas station and diner on a remote location outside the sand-swept city of Ouarzazate, Morocco. The set is still there and, as shown in the video above, remains in a remarkable state of preservation – with American props from canned goods to sports team memorabilia adorning both the inside and outside of the building. It's so complete and unsettling, one almost expects a director to yell "Action!" at any moment.
Needless to say, if you enjoy being scared to pieces by horror films, this is one set visit you should add to your bucket list.
Hawthorne Plaza Mall from 'Gone Girl'
"Gone Girl," a 2014 thriller adapted for the silver screen by American director David Lynch and Arnon Milchan, a prolific Israeli producer, pushed audiences to the edge of their seats. One scene in particular, a visit by police to an abandoned mall, is fondly recalled by fans for raising the goosebumps.
The actual location was shot at the partially dead Hawthorne Plaza Mall in Hawthorne, California. Since its closure in 1999, the distressed remains of the once bustling shopping center have been featured in films like "Minority Report," "Rush Hour" and "The Fast and the Furious" franchise. While it's not legal to tour the ruins from within, fans of "Gone Girl" can still take a stroll around the crumbling ruins of its 40-acre footprint.
The Medieval village from 'Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters'
Located within the sprawling grounds of the Babelsberg Film Studio in Germany, the world's oldest large-scale film studio, sit the eerily beautiful remains of the Medieval-era village from the 2013 action-horror-comedy "Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters." The set, as well as other pieces of Hollywood history, can be visited as part of a studio tour. Films of note to have shot at Babelsberg include "V for Vendetta," starring Israeli-American Natalie Portman, the Marvel superhero film "Captain America: Civil War," and the psychological thriller "A Cure for Wellness."
The District 12 village from 'The Hunger Games'
If you've ever dreamed of visiting the District 12 village that Katniss Everdeen of "The Hunger Games" came from, the odds are ever in your favor.
The Henry River Mill Village, a North Carolina ghost town abandoned in 1987, doubled in 2012 as the post-apocalyptic District 12 during filming of the first movie in the "Hunger Games" trilogy. Highlights from the film include Mellark's Bakery and Katniss' home, one of 21 dilapidated workers cottages dating back to when Henry River was a flourishing textile town.
The entire 72 acre town was once for sale, but has since been taken over by local citizens who intend to create a "Henry River Mill Village Business District." Their goal is to not only capitalize on the ghost town's starring role alongside stars like Jennifer Lawrence and Liam Hemsworth, but also to educate tourists on the unique history of the region.
The Bus Scene from 'The Fugitive'
One of the most iconic moments from the 1993 thriller "The Fugitive" occurs when fugitive Richard Kimball, played by American actor Harrison Ford, leaps from a transport bus just as it's smashed by a freight train. As it turns out, that stunt not only involved an actual train and bus, but you can still visit their mangled remains today.
According to production notes, the train scene cost $1 million to film and was done in a single take. Once American director Andrew Davis had the scene in the can, the derailed train and pieces of the bus were left to the elements along a portion of the Smoky Mountain railroad outside Dillsboro, North Carolina. Those traveling along the excursion railroad can still glimpse these haunting, rusted pieces of Hollywood history.
The Spanish Mission from 'The Patriot'
A bridge in Cypress Gardens built for the 2000 historical drama 'The Patriot.' (Photo: Sara Dean / Flickr)
Cypress Gardens, a 170-acre preserve in South Carolina, encompasses gardens, an 80-acre blackwater cypress swamp and, if you know where to look, the remains of a pivotal scene from the 2000 historical epic "The Patriot."
The Spanish Mission, a custom-built set that included a ruined church and bridge, served as that base of operations for the fictional character of Benjamin Martin and his rebels in the film. When the production completed in 1999, these authentic-looking set pieces blended so beautifully with the environment, the decision was made to leave them.
That said, Cypress Gardens doesn't just attract fans of "The Patriot." The 2004 romantic drama "The Notebook," starring "Doctor Strange" actress Rachel McAdams and "Blade Runner 2049" star Ryan Gosling, also filmed its iconic lake scenes at the preserve.
The Viking village from 'Vikingr'
Back in 2010, Icelandic director Baltasar Kormákur was ready to embark on filming a new action-drama epic called "Vikingr." In anticipation, he even went ahead and ordered the construction of a realistic viking village located in the wilds of southeast Iceland. Unfortunately, despite a commitment from Universal in 2014 to back the film, funding issues have left the set today unused and left awaiting its moment in the spotlight.
History buffs or curious tourists can take advantage of this developmental limbo by paying a small fee to a farmer for complete access. Amidst the buildings and other features depicting viking life in the 9th century, there's even a dungeon you can explore under a false boulder. Just remember to bring your viking beard to complete the experience.
The Irish village from 'Ryan's Daughter'
For the 1970 romantic epic "Ryan's Daughter," set in an isolated region on the coast of Ireland, British director David Lean decided to create the mythical village of Kirrary from the ground up. While much of the set has since been reclaimed by nature, the stone schoolhouse – the site of several memorable scenes – has remained standing. Today, tourists still captivated by a film some critics have renamed "an overlooked masterpiece" can still visit these ruins, located outside the town of Dingle, and take in the gorgeous vistas of Ireland that surround them.
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