For like 90 percent of all movie locations, the most interesting thing that happened or will happen there is that someone once shot a movie in that place (unless you think "Rob Lowe had sex with the catering lady on this backlot" counts as interesting). In fact, most directors have to work really hard to make regular places look cool and intriguing. And we said "most" because other times, the real story behind the location is so crazy and fascinating that it completely dwarfs anything that a coked-up Hollywood screenwriter could come up with. For instance ...
#5. Skyfall -- The Abandoned City Is Real, and More Evil Than a Bond Villain
As part of a continuing effort to make the lair of every James Bond villain as ridiculous as possible, the bad guy in Skyfall operates out of an abandoned city on an island, complete with crumbling buildings and objects eerily left behind. Why is it abandoned? Why would a master hacker live there? Because it's a movie, and because shut up. This is also the place where the villain shoots and kills a girl who has a glass of scotch on her head.
"What a waste of good scotch." -James Bo... wait, he actually says that in the movie.
But while the close-ups were shot on a set, you're seeing a very real place in the distant shots: the Japanese island of Gunkanjima, which once housed over 5,000 people, and now houses zero.
Engineering and Technology Magazine
In 2011, it got recognized as that year's Japanese city with the fewest public gropings (only five incidents).
The city served as a coal mining base for almost a hundred years. In the 19th century, Mitsubishi (before they started making cars for Jackie Chan) used to run boats from Nagasaki to the island so workers could dig coal, until they realized that they could save a lot of money by just putting the miners and their families in concrete blocks on the island itself. Some 5,250 miners squeezed onto a 16-acre island, making it the most densely populated independent place on Earth, ever -- the equivalent of placing the entire world's population in Maine.
But without the seasonal joy of the McLobster.
So what happened? Did a bomb go off there or something? Nope: In 1974, the coal ran out and Mitsubishi left, telling the now jobless employees that they would be hired on the mainland on a first come, first served basis. Entire families rushed out, leaving toys on the floor and cups of coffee on the table. Within two months, the entire place was empty.
This woman forgot her torso.
Seems like a place worth visiting and preserving, right? Korea disagrees: They're trying to keep it off the U.N.'s World Heritage Site list, on account of the small fact that during World War II, Gunkanjima used slave labor. And not just Korean prisoners -- some Japanese nationals were forced to work the mines, too, and were punished if they tried to escape. Besides being tortured and starved, some were sent to clear the rubble in Nagasaki... right after the bombs dropped.
See, the executives at Mitsubishi weren't just corrupt. They were straight-up Bond villains.
#4. The Dark Knight Rises -- ... Into a Cursed Indian Citadel
Warner Bros. Pictures
In The Dark Knight Rises, Batman spends a good chunk of the movie trapped at the bottom of a prison pit where Bane left him. You might remember the bizarre tessellating staircases on the walls, which seem right out of Inception.
Warner Bros. Pictures
"Unfortunately, the stairs are under repair, so the only way up is a flimsy rope."
Later, Batman Batmans the shit out of that pit, climbing out and finding himself in the desert, outside a fort.
Warner Bros. Pictures
"And now, friends, a little Bat-present to remember me by ... *Ffffpt*"
The prison scenes were shot on a set (hence the fantastic TV reception), but the walls/stairs are based on a real structure outside Jaipur, India:
If you invert the Great Pyramid and put it here, the Earth opens.
This place is called Chand Baori, was built in the ninth century, and has 3,500 steps across 13 stories. Remember how the prisoners liked to chant while Batman was trying to climb out of the pit? Well, so did the real priests who lived there as they descended the steps toward water, sending vibrations through the stairs.
Alternatively, the chanters were graphic designers who mocked up the structure using Java.
Meanwhile, the fort above the pit was an actual on-location shoot outside Mehrangarh Fort in Jodhpur, India. Check it out -- there's even a real stone circle where the pit's outer lip was in the movie:
Batman sealed it with the other guys inside to protect his secret identity.
The tale behind Mehrangarh Fort is even crazier than Bane's origin story -- when its builder, Jodha of Mandore, began its construction, he discovered that the so-called "Mountain of Birds" under it had a Lord of the Birds: a hermit named Cheeria Nathji. Jodha said "that's nice" and kicked the man out, and the hermit cursed the fort with the most terrifying affliction he could think of: "May your citadel ever suffer a scarcity of water!"
"In ... in the desert, yes. Look, I'm not good under pressure."
To lift the curse, Jodha ended up building the hermit a house, putting a temple in the fort, and, just to be extra sure, burying a guy alive in the fort's foundations. One of the villagers around the construction site actually volunteered to get buried (presumably under the impression that Jodha meant "in so much ass that you'll be sore for a week") and Jodha repaid him by bequeathing an estate to his family. In fact, his descendants still live there. So, yes, there is a guy trapped under the city, only he's been there for 500 years.
Today, the fort's an open tourist destination, and one company even operates a ziplining course around it, thus allowing you to create your own deleted scene from The Dark Knight Rises.
For an extra thousand rupees, they'll break your back and trap you underground for six months.
#3. 12 Monkeys -- The Mental Asylum Is a "Haunted" Prison
Despite being a movie partly set in a dystopian future where most of humanity has been ravaged by a virus, probably the most disturbing scenes in 12 Monkeys are the ones set in a present-day mental asylum. Bruce Willis' character, a time traveler from the year 2035, gets thrown into the asylum for, well, telling people he's a time traveler from the year 2035.
A bleak and terrifying future where Bruce Willis loses all of his hair.
What could be worse than being trapped in that place along with hordes of crazies, Brad Pitt's inane babbling, and the specific horror of public domain cartoons? Well, how about being trapped in the actual 19th century prison where those scenes were shot?
Terry Gilliam actually had to make the place look less like a Terry Gilliam movie.
That's the Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia. By some accounts, it was the world's first penitentiary, and it was built in 1829 in an effort to begin treating prisoners more humanely. Of course, at the time, "treating prisoners more humanely" meant not letting them talk, forcing them to wear hoods whenever they were outside their cells, and forbidding any type of human interaction. Silence was absolutely enforced throughout the facility, and prisoners were kept completely isolated from the outside world and each other, so naturally many of them came in as delinquents and came out insane (if they came out at all).
Some probably still sit in there, wondering how the Civil War turned out.
Unsurprisingly, there are now claims that the place is haunted as all fuck, with disembodied laughter being heard in some cells, probably just to spite the ghost guards. Even in the 20th century, when the prison became overcrowded and the silence rules were dropped, prisoners couldn't wait to get out of that creepy place. In 12 Monkeys, there's an escape attempt, but it ends pretty quickly -- in real life, Eastern State Penitentiary saw dozens of successful escapes. The biggest one was in 1945, when a dozen inmates successfully dug a tunnel from the prison to the outside:
Except one who turned up in Albuquerque.
The brains behind the operation, bank robber "Slick Willie" Sutton, was caught just two blocks away. Most of the others were recaptured and/or shot. And then one of the fugitives, James Grace, came by a week later, ringing the penitentiary's doorbell. He was kind of hungry and wanted to know if his cell was still vacant. See, Brad Pitt, that's a real crazy person.