8 Scenic Movies Where Nature Is the Star

Aerial view of the lush green hills of the Scottish Highlands over the Glenfinnan viaduct with the Jacobite Steam Train passing over it under a blue sky with white clouds
The Scottish Highlands and the Glenfinnan Viaduct featured prominently in three Harry Potter movies.

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Have you ever watched a movie set in a gorgeous locale and wondered where it was filmed? While some movies are made entirely on elaborate soundstages or through impressive CGI, there are many filmed exclusively at picturesque locations. From the mountains of New Zealand to the beaches of Thailand, some of the most iconic movies are packed with impressive natural landscapes.

Here are eight scenic movies where nature is the star.

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The Lord of the Rings (New Zealand)

View of snowcapped Mt. Ngauruhoe volcano under a blue and orange sky at sunset in Tongariro National Park, North Island, New Zealand

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"The Lord of the Rings" and "Hobbit" movies were primarily filmed in New Zealand. While these movies (the first was released in 2001) relied heavily on special effects, the amazing natural beauty of New Zealand allowed much of the scenery to be filmed without digital enhancements.

The most stunning natural settings featured in the films took place in New Zealand's national parks. The Mount Ngauruhoe volcano on the North Island served as Mount Doom in the films.  Mount Sunday, on the South Island, was the setting for Edoras, the capital city of Rohan.

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Motorcycle Diaries (South America)

View of the mountains and ruins of Machu Picchu covered in lush green plants under thick clouds with a bit of blue sky

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The 2004 film "The Motorcycle Diaries" portrays Argentinean guerrilla fighter Che Guevara's journey through Latin America. Long before the movie was made, intrepid travelers from around the world had followed the route of Guevara and his friend Alberto Granado.

The film visits many of the most famous and scenic natural destinations in South America. These locations include the starkly beautiful landscapes of Patagonia, the high deserts of Chile, and the Amazon River. A powerful scene in the film depicts the pairs' arrival at Machu Picchu in Peru.

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Harry Potter (Scottish Highlands)

View from above Loch Sheil, surrounded by mountains with green lawn in the foreground under a blue sky with white clouds

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The Harry Potter franchise (which began in 2001) is another blockbuster that features incredible scenery that actually exists. Many of the panoramas and landscape shots were filmed in Scotland, arguably one of the most naturally beautiful regions in Europe.

The lochs of the Fort William area, which sit in the shadow of Ben Nevis (Scotland's tallest mountain), featured heavily in several Potter films. Loch Shiel serves as the Great Lake, and also the Black Lake, in the Harry Potter movies. Many of the panoramas of the lands surrounding Potter's Hogwarts School were filmed in the stunning Glencoe area. The famous Hogwarts Express (the Jacobite Steam Train) can be seen traveling across the Glenfinnan Viaduct.

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The Constant Gardener (Lake Turkana, Kenya)

Tan colored African huts in the foreground along the blue-green waters of Lake Turkana under a clear, blue sky

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This film, based on John le Carre's novel of the same name, was released in 2005 and shot on location in Kenya and Sudan. Much of the film is set in and around Nairobi. However, the Lake Turkana region in northern Kenya is the setting for some of the movie's most memorable scenes.

Turkana is a huge lake in the northern part of the Great Rift Valley. The lake itself, called the largest permanent desert lake in the world, features unique arid landscapes. The lake and its environs were designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the late 1990s. Much of Turkana is protected as part of a network of national parks: Sibiloi National Park, Central Island National Park, and South Island National Park. Herds of mammals use the lake for water and hundreds of exotic bird species live near the shores or stop by during their annual migrations.

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The Beach (Krabi, Thailand)

The crystal clear aqua blue waters of Maya Bay surrounded by massive boulders covered with lush green plants under a blue sky with white clouds

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The Beach, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, was shot on location in Thailand. Released in 2000, and based on the Alex Garland book of the same name, much of the story takes place on Koh Phi Phi Le, a Thai island in the popular Krabi province. The lush jungles, fine sands, blue lagoons, and unique limestone formations seen on the island are often equated with tropical paradise.

The titular beach made its own headlines, first when its sand dunes were altered during filming, angering environmentalists and drawing lawsuits. A few years later, the Indian Ocean tsunami devastated the island in 2004. Due to damage to the ecosystem, the island's Maya Bay, which was featured considerably in the film, has been closed to tourists since 2018.

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The Hunter (Tasmania)

View from the top of Mount Wellington covered partially in white snow and rocks with a single tree under a sunny blue sky with a few white clouds

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This understated thriller, released in 2011, was set in one of the world's most beautiful places. Filmed on the Australian island of Tasmania, "The Hunter" features Willem Dafoe as a mercenary hired to locate and extract the DNA from the last remaining Tasmanian tiger. The impressive acting and writing are often overshadowed by the film's unique landscapes.

The Upper Florentine Valley, where some of the filming took place, is covered with old-growth forests. Some of the film's most scenic outdoor locations were filmed at the lake and wetland-filled Central Plateau Conservation Area, a protected part of Tasmania. The movie’s memorable mountain and blizzard scenes were filmed at the top of Mount Wellington.

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City of Ghosts (Cambodia)

Aerial view of Bokor Hill Station, an abandoned church surrounded by lush green trees and plants on top of a hill inside of Preah Monivong National Park under a blue sky with light clouds

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Released in 2002, the City of Ghosts is an indie film made in Cambodia. Much of the movie was shot in and around Phnom Penh before the city’s landscapes were drastically changed by a construction boom.

Nature lovers will enjoy the beautiful seaside scene that was set in the underdeveloped beach town of Kep and by the film's climactic scenes, which take place in the colonial-era ruins of Bokor Hill Station. The abandoned buildings of the hill station sit inside Preah Monivong National Park, a protected area which is often referred to as Bokor National Park.

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The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency (Botswana)

Aerial view of Okavango Delta, an integration of deep blue canals, tree covered island, and marshland

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This HBO series didn't appear in cinemas, but certainly deserves mention because of the way Botswana, the country in which it is set, was portrayed. The entire series, based on Alexander McCall Smith's novels of the same name, was filmed in Botswana.

Filming took place in the quaint capital city, Gaborone, and in natural destinations like the Kalahari Desert and Okavango Delta. Safari scenes were filmed in the unique marshlands of the Okavango Delta. The Kalahari Desert also features prominently, as it is the location where each of the stories begin.