6 Fictional Places You Didn't Know Actually Existed

Part of what makes fantasy and sci-fi appealing is that it's not just a bunch of characters -- it's a whole world. One you want to live in. And while that's not possible, you can come pretty close, because it turns out a lot of these fantasy settings were based on real places.
6 Fictional Places You Didn't Know Actually Existed

Part of what makes fantasy and sci-fi appealing is that it's not just a bunch of characters -- it's a whole world. One you want to live in.

That's true even if it's an objectively bad place -- Gotham City looks like a shithole, but who wouldn't trade their current life with a chance to go there and fight supercriminals with Batman? Of course, that's part of the frustration, too -- we'll never actually see the Shire or Mordor firsthand. But you can come pretty close, because it turns out a lot of these fantasy settings were based on real places. For instance ...

Middle Earth from The Lord of the Rings

The Fictional Setting:

Of course, Middle Earth from The Lord of the Rings isn't just one setting. There are storybook forests and blackened volcanoes and menacing towers. All of it is pretty fantastic, like Isengard, with its tower and surrounding circular stronghold:


From the air it looks exactly like some dude got hit in the eye with a dart.

The Real Thing:

Birmingham Mail

Actually, it's more like a dude in a skirt with a hard-on.

As it turns out, Middle Earth - that is, the Shire, the forests, Isengard, even freaking Mordor -- all came from author J.R.R. Tolkien's surroundings growing up in and around the city of Birmingham, England. Seriously. The above image is what the University of Birmingham looked like back when Tolkien was in town.

OK, so what about Mordor? That charred, ruined country is pure fantasy, right?

The Thain's Book

Or Illinois.

Well, just northwest of Birmingham was an area called the Black Country, so called because it had been marred with pollution from all the coal mines, iron foundries and steel mills dotting its landscape thanks to the Industrial Revolution. The air was so dense with smog and dust and ore that the whole place looked like Godzilla's shithouse, all the time:

Revolutionary Players

There's definitely a troll under that big wheel on the left.

So, when it came time for Tolkien to create a homeland for the most evil being in his fantasy world, he just channeled the Black Country into his writing, renaming it "Mordor" because that sounded less like a racist old debutante's description of Africa.

For a while, Tolkien lived with his aunt in a section of Birmingham called Edgbaston -- an area that was known for having two very distinct towers in it:

Oosoom, Pigsonthewing

Of course, nearly all the orcs have moved off to London by now.

Those are the Edgbaston Waterworks Tower and Perrott's Folly. The former would even periodically billow smoke out into the air, as if fantasy siege engines were being constructed deep in the earth beneath it (or as if steam were coming out of a waterworks tower).

At another point in his childhood, Tolkien lived in Sarehole (a hamlet right outside of Birmingham). It provided much of the inspiration for what eventually became the Shire. It even was said to have large tunnels running beneath it that could've easily been the basis for Bag End, Bilbo's home (and incidentally also the name of Tolkien's aunt's farm in the area). Sarehole and nearby Moseley Bog look ... well ... look like something out of The Lord of the Rings:

The Green Scene Blog

There's one Ringwraith stalking about, but he's pretty old and overweight.


Batman's Arkham Asylum

The Fictional Setting:

Statistically, about 7 percent of Cracked readers have this game on pause right now.

Arkham Asylum is one of those places that could only exist in a comic book universe, the sprawling insane asylum/haunted house where supervillains are imprisoned after being caught by Batman.

The Real Thing:


You'd be kind of disappointed to go here and not be murdered by ghosts.

Danvers State Hospital in Massachusetts.

Arkham is of course well-known for both its creepy atmosphere and its atrocious security, which make it kind of a shitty asylum. Even without the costumed villainy lurking inside, Arkham Asylum is pretty over the top. Its looming structures and labyrinthine hallways lean heavily toward the macabre, almost to the point of absurdity.

On the plus side, real estate nearby is super cheap.

It's like a caricature of a haunted house, pulled straight from a turn of the century horror story. That's because it is literally from a turn of the century horror story, specifically from the work of H.P. Lovecraft's stories set in Arkham, Massachusetts, which included (along with cosmic insanity beasts) Arkham Sanitarium. But the sanitarium in Lovecraft's writing was based on a real place: Danvers State Hospital in Massachusetts.


So yes, to the horror of comic book fans everywhere, Gotham City appears to be located in New England.

And true to its representation in D.C. Comics, Danvers comes off as a stereotypical haunted house, with such standard fixtures as ominous tunnels that, by the way, make a great video game setting.

Agency Scoop

Don't just stand there, man -- press "X"!

Look familiar?

We would not go down there without a batarang.

It's a vast complex of shadows, arched doorways and exposed brick. It would be a cliche, if it weren't real:


It's like someone designed the perfect hallway for monster ambushes.

And how about the over-the-top, spooky patient rooms tucked away in the Arkham Asylum video game:

Sa Aine w COUFFER/ MAITENANT BE HAiS rocksteady:

No way a real building is going to top that, right?


Yeah, Danvers' decaying patient quarters are now, without question, home to the shrieking spirits of the damned:


Dear Lord, it's nearly as terrible as a nice college dormitory.


Silent Hill

Welcome to Silent Hill

The Fictional Setting:


The haunted town of Silent Hill, as seen in the series of video games and movies. Population: Abandoned buildings and an ever-present, spooky mist.

The Real Place:

Weird Palace

Beware of Pyramid Head.

Those are pictures of the unassuming town of Centralia, Pennsylvania, which at one point was a nice enough place to live, with a population of over 1,000 residents.

Weird Palace

If you count all the unburied skulls, it's three times larger today.

Then the strip mine beneath Centralia caught fire, and the residents were evacuated by the order of Governor Dick Thornburgh (it is unclear whether this took place before or after he was punched in the face by Holly McClane in front of Nakatomi Plaza). The fire is still burning ... five decades later.

The massive, smoldering hellblaze has opened up sinkholes, steam pits and carbon monoxide vents all over the town. Just like Silent Hill, Centralia is burning from the inside out, as if it were sitting directly over the gates of hell. This place is literally opening up like the streets of New York at the end of Ghostbusters.

Asphalt Films, Youtube

As for the abandoned buildings, they've certainly got that:


Rent: One crowbar.

The similarities aren't coincidental. While the Silent Hill movie was in production, the filmmakers actually visited Centralia for inspiration, which seems obvious when you compare photos of the actual church in Centralia with stills of the Spookhouse Chapel of Barbed Wire Rape from the film:

Rick Rotondo

You don't really find any pictures from inside this building.

So if for some reason you want to visit Silent Hill in real life, you totally can. We'll wait in the car.

The Canyon City from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

The Fictional Setting:

When you try to remember a setting from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, we're betting you come up with two: "That cliff they drove the tank off of" and "That weird hidden city carved into the rock face where they found the grail."

"There was definitely a boat, too. Or a submarine. Maybe both?"

It is cool, but also looks kind of fake. Who would take the trouble to carve a whole hidden city into a remote canyon?

The Real Place:


That city is completely real, and it is called Petra.

In the film, the grail is stashed in an ancient temple deep within the Middle Eastern desert in "The Canyon of the Crescent Moon."

Referred to in earlier drafts of the script as "The Desert of the Frowny Face."

Surely that has to be a matte painting (which, to our younger readers, is a thing they used to do in the days before a director could just beat his dick against a computer until it shit out alien landscapes). But it was modeled after the narrow canyon that leads through the ancient Jordanian town of Petra:


It was once the capital city of the ancient Nabataeans, who were apparently so far ahead of their time they carved their buildings directly into the stone for what we're assuming was a safeguard against nuclear war (today we known that you can forgo all that stonecutting nonsense and invest in refrigerators).

Bernard Gagnon
Bernard Gagnon

If it were wired for FIOS, this would be the ideal supervillain lair.

The city remains perhaps the single most jaw-dropping surviving masterpiece of rock-cut architecture on the planet, boasting a theater, a monastery, numerous tombs and, at the end of a narrow passage, Al Khazneh: the treasury.

David Bjorgen, Graham Racher

Yep. It's a friggin' bank.

The Emerald Bamboo Forests from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

The Fictional Setting:

Here's another one from the "only setting from the movie you can immediately remember" category -- the bizarre forest where the martial artists from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon had their sword fight atop flimsy yet impossibly tall trees:

"How the hell did we even get up here?"

The Real Place:

Bamboo forests like that can be found around the world, and they're actually more striking than what you saw in the movie. Here's Arashiyama, a forest outside of Kyoto, Japan:

All Japan Tours

Before you can walk down this pathway, you are literally required to fight whoever is with you.

Of course, Crouching Tiger wasn't the first movie to realize what an awesome setting bamboo forests would be for karate fights -- they turn up in House of Flying Daggers and the 1993 epic poem/anime expose on supernatural rapists Ninja Scroll. The consensus seems to be that the more bamboo you stick into a sword fight, the more likely it is to be awesome.

Seventy-eight of the script's 94 pages are totally blank except for the words "More bamboo."

When you see them in real life, it isn't hard to understand why filmmakers feel so inclined to toss in a bunch of sword-fighting ninjas, because chances are you're already imagining that yourself.

Bernard Gagnon

Looks like Mother Nature's compensating for something.

A particularly stunning example is China's Shunan Bamboo Sea, which stretches over an area covering more than 500 hills:

China Travel Depot

Without question, each one of those hills is like a Pez dispenser full of samurai warriors. There are several more examples all over the Eastern hemisphere, each picturesque landscape just begging for a decades-old blood feud to be settled among their branches.


The soil here is fertilized with fallen legends.


Several Locations in Pixar's Up and Cars

The Fictional Setting:

For starters, check out Paradise Falls from Up:

The Real Place:

It's pretty much a photograph (with some artistic license) of Venezuela's Angel Falls:


Number 3 on Cracked's list of "Best Things to Ride a Barrel Off Of."

Holy crap, the real thing looks more like CGI than the animated movie.

Pixar films love to reference and tie in to one another, but as a general rule they keep references to the real world at a minimum (surprising, we know, that a studio would want to keep its movie about a green Cyclops with the voice of a Jewish comedian separate from reality). However, when the real world does show up, it's pretty spot on.

Even the house of main character Carl was based on a real place, although Pixar refuses to reveal the identity of the inspirational location. However, Internet sleuthing has narrowed it down to this house in the greater Oakland area, and we have to admit, it's pretty freaking close:


The fact that it's raised up has nothing to do with flying and everything to do with flood insurance premiums.

But all that is beans compared to the town in Cars. The history of Radiator Springs and its struggle with the tourism industry was directly inspired by the real-life town of Amboy, California, but the physical locations in the movie were taken from places all over the Western United States. And by "taken" we mean directly copied.

Clinton Steeds

Guess which one is a great place to buy meth.

The left photo is Ramone's body shop from the film. The right is the U-Drop Inn in Shamrock, Texas. Then there's the Cozy Cone Motel:

Motto: No leg room!

Which is clearly based off the Wigwam Motel in Arizona:

Wigwam Motel

If we know our road motels, at least a third of those wigwams are active crime scenes.

There's even a subtle reference to a famous billboard for the Jack Rabbit Trading Post, also in Arizona (on the right there):

Honestly, it seems like Pixar just drove along Route 66 and put all the most interesting sights in the movie.


Even the speedway at the beginning of the film was based off of the Bristol Motor Speedway in Tennessee:

Auto Racing Sport

Now somebody take us to that volcano island fortress Syndrome had in The Incredibles.

Jacopo della Quercia is the proud author of "Go @#$% Yourself!" - An Ungentlemanly Disagreement, by Filippo Argenti and "The Sound of Laughter" in Wordplague's The Four Humors. David is a freelance writer and aspiring screenwriter, follow him on Twitter or check him out over at Film School Rejects.

For more fiction that became reality, check out 7 Real World Heists That Put 'Ocean's 11' to Shame and 5 Real Bank Heists Ripped Right Out of the Movies.

And stop by LinkSTORM to learn where the hobbits are.

And don't forget to follow us on Facebook and Twitter to get sexy, sexy jokes sent straight to your news feed.

Do you have an idea in mind that would make a great article? Then sign up for our writers workshop! Do you possess expert skills in image creation and manipulation? Mediocre? Even rudimentary? Are you frightened by MS Paint and simply have a funny idea? You can create an infographic and you could be on the front page of Cracked.com tomorrow!

Scroll down for the next article
Forgot Password?