Lights, Camera, Action! Selling US movie locations

Expedition Cruises
By Neal Baldwin
Home » Lights, Camera, Action! Selling US movie locations

If you’re an actor, the old adage is that you’ve never really made it until you crack the US. And the same could be said for being a travel agent!

But how do you really put your holiday suggestions up in lights? The answer could well be by capitalising on a destination’s star appeal.

Since lockdown, clients have rediscovered a love of the movies (after all, who didn’t watch everything on Netflix?), and there’s certainly plenty of cinema heritage right across the 50 states. So ‘Lights, Camera, and Action’… let’s get selling.

Hooray for Hollywood

When it comes to movie-themed holidays, top choice has to be Los Angeles. Around every corner in the City of Angels there’s an aspiring star and the next great script waiting to be discovered.

It’s also one of the few cities where UK tour operators have specifically themed film offerings.  Gold Medal is a good example and has a host of options, each available as bookable add-ons. For a solid introduction to Hollywood, it’s Celebrity Homes Tour is a winner. As well as visiting the swish neighbourhoods and addresses of the biggest A-listers, stops include the Hollywood sign, TCL Chinese Theatre, the Hollywood Walk of Fame and Sunset Strip. A trip to Rodeo Drive for a spot of Pretty Women-style shopping is also on the menu.

Movie fans will also love the studio tours available – both Warner Bros and Universal have visitor experiences that explore 100 years of storytelling, with the chance to explore the backlots and enjoy interactive theme park fun from the likes of Harry Potter, Despicable Me, Avengers, Jurassic World and Kung Fu Panda.

Alternatively, it’s well worth getting out and about in the city for lesser-known but iconic movie locations. For example, Venice High School, the Los Angeles River and Leo Carrillo State Beach all feature heavily in Grease, while the iconic Bradbury Building in South Broadway starred in both Blade Runner and The Artist. For hundreds more, the Los Angeles Tourism & Convention Board has great movie information on its Discover Los Angeles website.

Packs a punch

Philadelphia is a serious heavyweight contender when it comes to movie heritage.

The east coast city is one of the most ‘walkable’ in all of the US and is perfect for a stay of three or so days, making it a great two-centre choice with the likes of New York (try Kuoni for options). Its compact heart is great news since visitors keen to learn about the nation’s history can hit all the major attractions – such as the Liberty Bell, Museum of the American Revolution and UNESCO-listed Independence Hall (where the US Constitution was signed by the Founding Fathers) – in one go.

For star appeal, the obvious next stop is the Philadelphia Museum of Art for a run up the 72 ‘Balboa Steps’ and to snap a pic in front of the Rocky statue, plus a visit to diner Pat’s King of Steaks, where the famous Philly cheesesteak sandwich was invented over 80 years ago.

Philly has plenty of other big-name movies to claim as its own too, most notable is eponymous AIDS drama Philadelphia, starring Tom Hanks. The movie is often overlooked today, but won two Oscars and played a significant part in advancing LGBT rights.

Elsewhere, 1958 sci-fi horror The Blob has a special place in the heart of locals. Each year, the weekend-long Blobfest celebrates the starring role the beautiful Colonial Theatre plays in the movie, with several screenings of the film and a recreation of the unforgettable scene where crowds flee the monster.

Philly native M. Night Shyamalan also shoots all his films in the city (most notable The Sixth Sense). Other big successes set in Philadelphia include Marley and Me, Trading Places, Silver Linings Playbook and Invincible.

Wind in your hair

Think American cinema, think road movie.

While the majority of films in the genre typically involve criminals on the run (and end in death or disaster), there’s something to be said for putting your cares aside and hitting the open road.

For guests looking to throw of their shackles, Thelma and Louise is a fine starting point. The movie depicts a mythical Route 66 journey from Arkansas to the Grand Canyon, though it was filmed predominantly in the deserts of California and Utah. No matter, you get the drift and there are plenty of operators with self-drive and escorted tour availability for guests in search of gritty mountain scenery and wide open skies, including American Holidays and Bon Voyage.

With Route 66 the choice, be sure to highlight notable silver screen highlights on America’s most famous highway. These include Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument, Arizona (the hitchhiker LSD scene in Easy Rider); Taos Gorge Bridge over the Rio Grande, New Mexico (the wedding in Natural Born Killers), Flagstaff, Arizona (Little Miss Sunshine) and Tulsa, Oklahoma (location of hit 80s classic The Outsiders).

On the up

Heading south can offer both a relaxing and enthralling holiday. The Peach State of Georgia is steeped in history, playing a key role in the US Civil War and, later, the civil rights movement. It also boasts incredible scenery including majestic mountains and pristine forests along with a delightfully diverse mix of architecture, from shiny skyscrapers and antebellum mansions.

Such is the state’s homespun charm that it has become a firm Hollywood favourite. Changes in tax laws over recent years also have made it extra attractive for movie-makers, which has resulted in a host of big-name shoots.

Virgin Holidays is one of many UK operators offering breaks to the state, and its options include Savannah, perhaps the prettiest town on Georgia’s 100-mile seafront. It’s also famous as home to Forest Gump, most particularly the poignant bench scene.

Further afield, much of Will Smith’s action movie Gemini Man was shot in the small town of Glennville. In Atlanta, clients should make a beeline for the city’s Marriott Marquis hotel. Its giant atrium has featured in Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Spider-Man: Homecoming and Flight. A stop at the Jackson Street Bridge is also recommended, given its iconic place in hit zombie series The Walking Dead.

Bay City rolling

Being just up the coast from Hollywood certainly hasn’t hurt San Francisco when it comes to movie appeal. The picturesque city is easily one of the most recognisable from its countless big-screen appearances over the decades.

The great news for visitors is that many of the biggest attractions are the best-known locations. Alcatraz Island (Escape from Alcatraz, The Rock) is a must-do for its prison history, along with sights such as the Golden Gate Bridge, hippy haven Haight-Ashbury, Fisherman’s Wharf (Dr Doolittle, The Princess Diaries) and Alamo Square, with its historic pastel-painted houses (Mrs Doubtfire).

Best bet for movie buffs is to send them out to explore. The historic Castro district is the heart of San Francisco’s LGBT community, and fascinating guided tours can be booked locally. The area is featured heavily in the story of campaigner Harvey Milk (Milk). Also, clients should not miss the many car chase locations from Steve McQueen’s classic Bullitt.