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Iconic Movie Locations From the Arab World

posted on: Apr 3, 2021

By: Dani Meyer/Arab America Contributing Writer

It’s safe to say that movies have become a staple part of society. Maybe you’ve seen a movie and thought – hey! That place looks familiar! There are a number of iconic movies filmed in the Arab world! From sandy adventure pictures to science fiction blockbuster, its regions can serve as anything from a lavish set piece of a futuristic city to the dunes of another planet. Here is a list of iconic movie locations throughout the Arab world – and the movies that were filmed there!

1. Aït Benhaddou, Morocco

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There have been a number of movies filmed in or near the town of Aït Benhaddou, located between the Sahara and Marrakech. Aït Benhaddou has been a location for filming Western movies since 1951, when Orson Wells shot “Othello”. Since then, the town has been used as a location in multiple movies, including “The Mummy” and “Gladiator”. This is not the only movie location in Morocco – almost all regions in Morocco have been used for various movie filming locations.

2. Essaouira, Morocco

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Speaking of Moroccan film locations, the town of Essaouira is also a prime filming location. Located in Western Morocco, Essaouira is known as the “windy city”. You may recognize it from “John Wick” or “Alexander”.

3. Wadi Rum, Jordan

Perhaps the most famous of all Arab movie locations, Wadi Rum has been featured in a number of hit movies. You may recognize it from “Star Wars Episode IX” (and Rogue One), the live-action version of Aladdin, or even “The Martian”! With its vast and otherworldly desert landscape, it is no surprise that the deserts of Wadi Rum are an incredible popular filming destination for filmmakers from all genres.

4. Petra, Jordan

Petra is iconic all on its own – but it also has been featured in a number of movies. It was “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” that featured Petra.

5. Dubai, UAE

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In recent years, the United Arab Emirates have become a go-to destination for filmmakers. Dubai has beautiful scenery and modern buildings that make it perfect for movies such as “Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol” and “Star Trek Beyond”. In fact, the fourth Mission Impossible film featured Tom Cruise scaling the Burj Khalifa, the highest building in the world. He actually scaled parts of the building without a stunt double. Check out the video below to see how it was done! Downtown Dubai also was the perfect landscape for a futuristic city in “Star Trek Beyond”. While the filmmakers edited some parts to make the city look more futuristic, much of the architecture seen in the movie already exists in Dubai.

6. Matmata, Tunisia

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We’ve already mentioned Star Wars in this list, but they’ve filmed in many places all over the Arab world! The city of Matmata in Tunisia sets the stage as Anakin Skywalker’s home planet of Tatooine. “Star Wars: A New Hope” also featured Matmata as Luke Skywalker’s home before he left on his adventures. The entire economy of Matmata is based on film crews, and most of the people who live in Matmata work in Hollywood in some capacity – whether it be craftsmen, stunt doubles, or extras.

7. Abu Dhabi, UAE

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Abu Dhabi became the perfect location to shoot the scenes on Jakku in “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”. The Rub’ al Khali desert was transformed with a huge set building, including an entire marketplace. Abu Dhabi also set the stage for the seventh Fast & Furious movie: this film showcases some of the most iconic buildings in Abu Dhabi, and includes the infamous stunt portraying a jump between the Etihad Towers.

8. Giza, Egypt

The Transformers films featured the heroes traveling to Egypt in the second movie of the series. The film featured plenty of time with iconic monuments, such as the Sphinx, which was blown up – only in the movie!

9. Tangier, Morocco

We’ve already featured two locations in Morocco, but this one is definitely worth mentioning. The city of Tangier was used as a stand-in for Mombasa in Kenya during an iconic scene in “Inception”.

10. Amman, Jordan

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While Wadi Rum and Petra are fairly recognizable locations, you might not know that “The Hurt Locker” was filmed in Amman. In this film, the city of Amman was a stand-in for Iraq. The director had wanted to shoot directly in Iraq, but had trouble guaranteeing the safety of the production team. Instead, they chose to film in Amman, and other areas of Jordan close to the Iraqi border.

Did you know about these iconic filming locations? Or maybe you know another movie location in the Arab world – let us know in the comments!

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