Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Joe Raedle/Getty Images

12 Abandoned Movie Sets You Can Actually Visit

Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Although movie productions often film scenes on location, sometimes a real-life location doesn’t offer all of the right places that are called for in the script. So they build it! But taking that set back down isn’t always a top priority. Whether it’s because the property owner wants to keep the space intact for tourism purposes or because it’s simply cheaper to leave the set behind instead of cleaning it up, there are pieces of cinematic history in every corner of the world. Here are 12 of them.

1. THE AFRICAN QUEEN (1951)

Although the cargo ship, originally named “The Livingston,” was built in 1912 for the East Africa British Railways company, director John Huston spotted the vessel on the Ruki River in the Democratic Republic of Congo and wanted to give it the titular role in his Oscar-winning film, The African Queen. After the film grew in popularity, a San Francisco businessman bought the ship—now renamed after the movie—and transported it to the United States to attract tourists and movie fans. Throughout the decades, the steamboat changed hands a few times before finding its way to an attorney based in Florida in 1982, who owned (and sailed) it until his death in 2001.

In 2012, Suzanne and Lance Holmquist leased “The African Queen” and completely restored it with a new interior steel-hull frame and replacement boiler, but kept its rustic and worn-out charm. The ship now offers daily tours and dinner cruises on the Port Largo Canal.

2. A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS (1964)

Located in the middle of the Tabernas Desert in Almeria, Spain, you’ll find a large abandoned Western frontier that was the shooting location for Sergio Leone’s The Man With No Name Trilogy: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly; A Fistful of Dollars; and Once Upon A Time in the West. The movie set featured Old Mexico-style churches, a saloon, and a hangman’s noose in its public square, and was used for many other Spaghetti westerns in the 1960s and ’70s. Since the genre’s decline in popularity, the movie set has since been abandoned, but fans still flock to what has become known as Fort Bravo/Texas Hollywood.

3. POPEYE (1980) 

In 1979, Paramount Pictures and Disney co-produced Popeye with Robin Williams as the titular sailor man and Shelley Duvall as his main squeeze Olive Oyl. The live-action musical was filmed in Malta, where director Robert Altman and his crew spent seven months building a full-scale Sweethaven on the island’s coast, then another seven months shooting the film. When production wrapped, the Sweethaven set remained in Malta and was converted into Popeye Village, which is now a family resort.

4. FULL METAL JACKET (1987)

Stanley Kubrick hated to travel, even if a film’s script dictated it. Which meant he had to get extra creative on occasion. Case in point: Full Metal Jacket, which required the director to transform the East London borough of Newham into Vietnam. Thousands of palm trees and plastic tropical plants were imported from Spain and Hong Kong to re-dress the abandoned Beckton Gas Works manufacturing plant in London into the bombed out movie set of the ruins of Huế in Vietnam. Beckton Gas Works is still standing and a popular tourist attraction with Stanley Kubrick fans.

5. SCHINDLER’S LIST (1993)

While a majority of Schindler’s List was filmed at the true story’s actual locations in Poland, a replica of Kraków-Płaszów was the only movie set built, which is located in Liban Quarry, about four miles away from Kraków. The film’s production team built barracks, watchtowers, and a road leading into the Nazi labor and concentration camp from the original blueprints and plans. A replica of Amon Goeth’s (Ralph Fiennes) villa was also built above the labor camp site.

6. THE FUGITIVE (1993)

At the beginning of The Fugitive, Dr. Richard Kimble narrowly escapes from a prison transport bus that collides with a speeding freight train. The debris from the iconic scene is still located near the Smoky Mountain Railroad in Dillsboro, North Carolina. The collision scene alone cost a whopping $1.5 million and was filmed in only one take. The remains of the bus and train were abandoned after production wrapped because it was cheaper to simply leave them behind rather than clean it up. Today, it’s one of the many points of interest on the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad’s Tuckasegee River Excursion.

7. THE LORD OF THE RINGS (2001-2003) AND THE HOBBIT (2012-2014)

Located in Matamata, New Zealand, Peter Jackson picked an area of farmland as the filmsite for Hobbiton and The Shire for his The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Construction on building Hobbit Holes, gardens, a double arch bridge, and a small mill began in early 1999 before shooting started at the end of the year. When the first film in the trilogy became a runaway success, tourists and J.R.R. Tolkien fans began to flock to the movie set, despite it being abandoned after production wrapped a year earlier.

When Warner Bros. announced that Peter Jackson would make a film adaptation of The Hobbit, a permanent and operational Hobbiton was rebuilt at the same location in Matamata for production in 2011. Once filming wrapped, the Hobbiton set was turned over to the farmland’s owners, who included a detailed replica of the interiors of the movie sets that were filmed at Wellington Stone Street Studios. Additionally, The Shires Rest Cafe and The Green Dragon Inn bar are included as part of the two-hour guided tours of the movie set.

8. BIG FISH (2003)

The fictional town of Spectre, Alabama in Tim Burton’s Big Fish was an elaborate movie set built on the Alabama River near the city of Montgomery. During the course of Big Fish, the town of Spectre increasingly gets more rundown with wear and tear through the decades, as the character of Edward Bloom (played by both Ewan McGregor and Albert Finney) returns to it throughout his life. Some of the set’s buildings and storefronts have now collapsed from decay, exposing Styrofoam trees and moss. The movie set is located on private property, but $3 can get you access inside.

9. PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: THE CURSE OF THE BLACK PEARL (2003)

Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl was mainly filmed on location at Wallilabou Anchorage on the main island of St. Vincent on the Caribbean Sea. Disney built elaborate pirate ships, replica cannons, and authentic period docks and marketplaces for the 2003 sequel. Production abandoned a majority of the movie sets on Wallilabou Anchorage, turning it into a very popular tourist attraction.

10. THE HILLS HAVE EYES (2006)

Director Alexandre Aja’s 2006 remake of Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes was filmed on location in Morocco. Gas Haven, a 1950s-style gas station, was built specifically for the horror movie, but was abandoned once production wrapped. It remains in the province of Souss-Massa-Draa, about 20 minutes outside of Ouarzazate, so feel free to visit the deserted movie set (but watch out for crazy mutants).

11. THE HUNGER GAMES (2012)

While The Hunger Games takes place in a post-apocalyptic America, Henry River Mill Village in Burke County, North Carolina was used to film the very poor District 12. The small village was home to North Carolina’s once-thriving textile industry during the early 20th century, but has since become a ghost town due to the sharp decline in manufacturing in the state. It found new life as District 12 in 2011, as The Hunger Games production team re-fashioned Henry River Mill Village’s buildings, storefronts, and abandoned homes to match the film’s tone. Henry River Mill Village is located on private property, but there are tours and photo opportunities available.

12. ZERO DARK THIRTY (2012)

The war-torn backdrop featured in Zero Dark Thirty was not entirely filmed on location in Afghanistan; some of it was shot at the Blue Cloud Movie Ranch in Santa Clarita Valley, California. The movie set remains unused, but the film’s props—such as a downed helicopter—are still scattered around. The owners of the ranch call it, “an Afghanistan-town set that is so real the U.S. military uses it for training purposes.”

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Zach Hyman, HBO
10 Bizarre Sesame Street Fan Theories
Zach Hyman, HBO
Zach Hyman, HBO

Sesame Street has been on the air for almost 50 years, but there’s still so much we don’t know about this beloved children’s show. What kind of bird is Big Bird? What’s the deal with Mr. Noodle? And how do you actually get to Sesame Street? Fans have filled in these gaps with frequently amusing—and sometimes bizarre—theories about how the cheerful neighborhood ticks. Read them at your own risk, because they’ll probably ruin the Count for you.

1. THE THEME SONG CONTAINS SECRET INSTRUCTIONS.

According to a Reddit theory, the Sesame Street theme song isn’t just catchy—it’s code. The lyrics spell out how to get to Sesame Street quite literally, giving listeners clues on how to access this fantasy land. It must be a sunny day (as the repeated line goes), you must bring a broom (“sweeping the clouds away”), and you have to give Oscar the Grouch the password (“everything’s a-ok”) to gain entrance. Make sure to memorize all the steps before you attempt.

2. SESAME STREET IS A REHAB CENTER FOR MONSTERS.

Sesame Street is populated with the stuff of nightmares. There’s a gigantic bird, a mean green guy who hides in the trash, and an actual vampire. These things should be scary, and some fans contend that they used to be. But then the creatures moved to Sesame Street, a rehabilitation area for formerly frightening monsters. In this community, monsters can’t roam outside the perimeters (“neighborhood”) as they recover. They must learn to educate children instead of eating them—and find a more harmless snack to fuel their hunger. Hence Cookie Monster’s fixation with baked goods.

3. BIG BIRD IS AN EXTINCT MOA.

Big Bird is a rare breed. He’s eight feet tall and while he can’t really fly, he can rollerskate. So what kind of bird is he? Big Bird’s species has been a matter of contention since Sesame Street began: Big Bird insists he’s a lark, while Oscar thinks he’s more of a homing pigeon. But there’s convincing evidence that Big Bird is an extinct moa. The moa were 10 species of flightless birds who lived in New Zealand. They had long necks and stout torsos, and reached up to 12 feet in height. Scientists claim they died off hundreds of years ago, but could one be living on Sesame Street? It makes sense, especially considering his best friend looks a lot like a woolly mammoth.

4. OSCAR’S TRASH CAN IS A TARDIS.

Oscar’s home doesn’t seem very big. But as The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland revealed, his trash can holds much more than moldy banana peels. The Grouch has chandeliers and even an interdimensional portal down there! There’s only one logical explanation for this outrageously spacious trash can: It’s a Doctor Who-style TARDIS.

5. IT’S ALL A RIFF ON PLATO.

Dust off your copy of The Republic, because this is about to get philosophical. Plato has a famous allegory about a cave, one that explains enlightenment through actual sunlight. He describes a prisoner who steps out of the cave and into the sun, realizing his entire understanding of the world is wrong. When he returns to the cave to educate his fellow prisoners, they don’t believe him, because the information is too overwhelming and contradictory to what they know. The lesson is that education is a gradual learning process, one where pupils must move through the cave themselves, putting pieces together along the way. And what better guide is there than a merry kids’ show?

According to one Reddit theory, Sesame Street builds on Plato’s teachings by presenting a utopia where all kinds of creatures live together in harmony. There’s no racism or suffocating gender roles, just another sunny (see what they did there?) day in the neighborhood. Sesame Street shows the audience what an enlightened society looks like through simple songs and silly jokes, spoon-feeding Plato’s “cave dwellers” knowledge at an early age.

6. MR. NOODLE IS IN HELL.

Can a grown man really enjoy taking orders from a squeaky red puppet? And why does Mr. Noodle live outside a window in Elmo’s house anyway? According to this hilariously bleak theory, no, Mr. Noodle does not like dancing for Elmo, but he has to, because he’s in hell. Think about it: He’s seemingly trapped in a surreal place where he can’t talk, but he has to do whatever a fuzzy monster named Elmo says. Definitely sounds like hell.

7. ELMO IS ANIMAL’S SON.

Okay, so remember when Animal chases a shrieking woman out of the college auditorium in The Muppets Take Manhattan? (If you don't, see above.) One fan thinks Animal had a fling with this lady, which produced Elmo. While the two might have similar coloring, this theory completely ignores Elmo’s dad Louie, who appears in many Sesame Street episodes. But maybe Animal is a distant cousin.

8. COOKIE MONSTER HAS AN EATING DISORDER.

Cookie Monster loves to cram chocolate chip treats into his mouth. But as eagle-eyed viewers have observed, he doesn’t really eat the cookies so much as chew them into messy crumbs that fly in every direction. This could indicate Cookie Monster has a chewing and spitting eating disorder, meaning he doesn’t actually consume food—he just chews and spits it out. There’s a more detailed (and dark) diagnosis of Cookie Monster’s symptoms here.

9. THE COUNT EATS CHILDREN.

Can a vampire really get his kicks from counting to five? One of the craziest Sesame Street fan theories posits that the Count lures kids to their death with his number games. That’s why the cast of children on Sesame Street changes so frequently—the Count eats them all after teaching them to add. The adult cast, meanwhile, stays pretty much the same, implying the grown-ups are either under a vampiric spell or looking the other way as the Count does his thing.

10. THE COUNT IS ALSO A PIMP.

Alright, this is just a Dave Chappelle joke. But the Count does have a cape.

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iStock
17 Things to Know About René Descartes
iStock
iStock

The French polymath René Descartes (1596-1650) lived after the Renaissance, but he personified that age's interest in mathematics, philosophy, art, and the nature of humanity. He made numerous discoveries and argued for ideas that people continue to grapple with. (His dualist distinction between mind and the brain, for example, continues to be debated by psychologists.) Get to know him better!

1. NOBODY CALLED HIM RENÉ.

Descartes went by a nickname and often introduced himself as “Poitevin” and signed letters as “du Perron.” Sometimes, he went so far to call himself the “Lord of Perron.” That’s because he had inherited a farm from his mother’s family in Poitou, in western France.

2. SCHOOL MADE HIM FEEL DUMBER.

From the age of 11 to 18, Descartes attended one of the best schools in Europe, the Jesuit College of Henry IV in La Flèche, France. In his later work Discourse on the Method, Descartes wrote that, upon leaving school, “I found myself involved in so many doubts and errors, that I was convinced I had advanced no farther in all my attempts at learning, than the discovery at every turn of my own ignorance."

3. HIS DAD WANTED HIM TO BE A LAWYER.

Descartes’s family was chock-full of lawyers, and the budding intellectual was expected to join them. He studied law at the University of Poitiers and even came home with a law degree in 1616. But he never entered the practice. In 1618, a 22-year-old Descartes enlisted as a mercenary in the Dutch States Army instead. There, he would study military engineering and become fascinated with math and physics.

4. HE CHANGED CAREER PATHS THANKS TO A SERIES OF DREAMS.

In 1618, the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, Ferdinand II, attempted to impose Catholicism on anybody living within his domain. The result of this policy would be the Thirty Years' War. It would also prompt Descartes, a Catholic, to switch allegiances to a Bavarian army fighting for the Catholic side. But on his travels, he stopped in the town of Ulm. There, on the night of November 10, he had three dreams that convinced him to change his life’s path. “Descartes took from them the message that he should set out to reform all knowledge,” philosopher Gary Hatfield writes in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

5. HE COULD BE EASILY DISTRACTED BY BRIGHT AND SHINY OBJECTS.

In 1628, Descartes moved to the Netherlands and spent nine months doggedly working on a theory of metaphysics. Then he got distracted. In 1629, a number of false suns—called parhelia, or “sun dogs”—were seen near Rome. Descartes put his beloved metaphysics treatise on the back burner and devoted his time to explaining the phenomenon. It was a lucky distraction: It led to his work The World, or Treatise on Light.

6. HE LAID THE GROUNDWORK FOR ANALYTIC GEOMETRY ...

In 1637, Descartes published his groundbreaking Discourse on the Method, where he took the revolutionary step of describing lines through mathematical equations. According to Hatfield, “[Descartes] considered his algebraic techniques to provide a powerful alternative to actual compass-and-ruler constructions when the latter became too intricate.” You might have encountered his system in high school algebra: They’re called Cartesian coordinates.

7. ... AND THE REST OF WESTERN PHILOSOPHY.

Everybody knows Descartes for his phrase Cogito, ergo sum (which originally appeared in French as "Je pense, donc je suis"), or "I think, therefore I am." The concept appeared in many of his texts. To understand what it means, some context is helpful: At the time, many philosophers claimed that truth was acquired through sense impressions. Descartes disagreed. He argued that our senses are unreliable. An ill person can hallucinate. An amputee can feel phantom limb pain. People are regularly deceived by their own eyes, dreams, and imaginations. Descartes, however, realized that his argument opened a door for "radical doubt": That is, what was stopping people from doubting the existence of, well, everything? The cogito argument is his remedy: Even if you doubt the existence of everything, you cannot doubt the existence of your own mind—because doubting indicates thinking, and thinking indicates existing. Descartes argued that self-evident truths like this—and not the senses—must be the foundation of philosophical investigations.

8. HE'S THE REASON YOUR MATH TEACHER MAKES YOU CHECK YOUR WORK.

Descartes was obsessed with certainty. In his book Rules for the Direction of the Mind, “he sought to generalize the methods of mathematics so as to provide a route to clear knowledge of everything that human beings can know,” Hatfield writes. His advice included this classic chestnut: To solve a big problem, break it up into small, easy-to-understand parts—and check each step often.

9. HE LIKED TO HIDE.

Descartes had a motto, which he took from Ovid: “Who lives well hidden, lives well.” When he moved to the Netherlands, he regularly changed apartments and deliberately kept his address a secret. Some say it's because he simply desired privacy for his philosophical work, or that he was avoiding his disapproving family. In his book titled Descartes, philosopher A. C. Grayling makes another suggestion: "Descartes was a spy."

10. HE WASN'T AFRAID OF CRITICS. IN FACT, HE RE-PUBLISHED THEM.

When Descartes was revising his Meditations on First Philosophy [PDF], he planned to send the manuscript to “the 20 or 30 most learned theologians” for criticism—a sort of proto-peer review. He collected seven objections and published them in the work. (Descartes, of course, had the last word: He responded to each criticism.)

11. HE COULD THROW SHADE WITH THE BEST OF THEM.

In the 1640s, Descartes’s pupil and friend Henricus Regius published a broadsheet that distorted Descartes’s theory of the mind. (Which, put briefly, posits that the material body and immaterial mind are separate and distinct.) The two men had a falling out, and Descartes wrote a rebuttal with a barbed title that refused to even acknowledge Regius’s manifesto by name: It was simply called “Comments on a Certain Broadsheet.”

12. HE NEVER BELIEVED MONKEYS COULD TALK.

There’s a “fun fact” parading around that suggests Descartes believed monkeys and apes could talk. He believed no such thing. According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Descartes denied that animals were even conscious, let alone capable of speech. The factoid comes from a misreading of a letter Descartes had written in 1646, in which he attributed the belief to “savages.”

13. HE TOTALLY HAD THE HOTS FOR CROSS-EYED WOMEN.

In a letter to Queen Christina of Sweden, Descartes explained that he had a cross-eyed playmate as a child. “I loved a girl of my own age ... who was slightly cross-eyed; by which means, the impression made in my brain when I looked at her wandering eyes was joined so much to that which also occurred when the passion of love moved me, that for a long time afterward, in seeing cross-eyed women, I felt more inclined to love them than others.”

14. WHEN HE MET BLAISE PASCAL, THEY GOT INTO AN ARGUMENT ... ABOUT VACUUMS.

In 1647, a 51-year-old Descartes visited the 24-year-old prodigy and physicist Blaise Pascal. Their meeting quickly devolved into a heated argument over the concept of a vacuum—that is, the idea that air pressure could ever be reduced to zero. (Descartes said it was impossible; Pascal disagreed.) Later, Descartes wrote a letter that, depending on your translation, said that Pascal had “too much vacuum in his head.”

15. HIS WORK WAS BANNED BY THE CATHOLIC CHURCH.

Back in the late 1630s, the theologian Gisbert Voetius had convinced the academic senate of the University of Utrecht to condemn the philosopher’s work. (Descartes was Catholic, but his suggestion that the universe began as a “chaotic soup of particles in motion,” in Hatfield's words, was contrary to orthodox theology.) In the 1660s, his works were placed on the church’s Index of Prohibited Books.

16. HE REGULARLY SLEPT UNTIL NOON (AND TRYING TO BREAK THE HABIT MIGHT HAVE KILLED HIM).

Descartes was not a morning person. He often snoozed 12 hours a night, from midnight until lunchtime. In fact, he worked in bed. (Sleep, he wisely wrote, was a time of “nourishment for the brain.”) But according to the Journal of Historical Neuroscience, he may have had a sleep disorder that helped end his life. A year before his death, Descartes had moved to Stockholm to take a job tutoring Queen Christina, a devoted early-riser who forced Descartes to change his sleep schedule. Some believe the resulting sleep deprivation weakened his immune system and eventually killed him.

17. HIS SKELETON HAS TRAVELED FAR AND WIDE.

Descartes died in Stockholm in 1650 and was buried outside the city. Sixteen years later, his corpse was exhumed and taken to Paris. During the French Revolution, his bones were moved to an Egyptian sarcophagus at the Museum of French Monuments. Decades later, when plans were made to rebury Descartes in an abbey, officials discovered that most of his bones—including his skull—were missing. Shortly after, a Swedish scientist discovered a newspaper advertisement attempting to sell the polymath’s noggin [PDF]. Today, his head is in a collection at the Musée de l’Homme in Paris.

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