8 places in Iceland you will recognize from famous movies
Iceland is famous for its iconic sceneries and unique geographical phenomena including glaciers, mountains, volcanoes, hot springs and barren wastelands. It is also easy to travel to from the US and Europe, has a developed economy and infrastructure, and everyone speaks English. This affords the big-budget movie producer some extraordinary opportunities. Icelandic scenery has played the part of the birth of the earth, the edge of the world, outer space or even Japan, as well as appearing as itself from time to time.
1. Svínafellsjökull - Batman begins
Svínafellsjökull is part of Vatnajökull, the biggest glacier in Europe
you will recognize it from...
Batman begins is Christopher Nolan's epic re-imagining of the origin of the Dark Knight. In the movie, this involves fighting an old man on a frozen lake in Tibet. In real life however, Tibet is politically unstable and also very far away. So Svínafellsjökull serves as a nice stand-in.
If you want to go there, it just so happens to be where Icelandic Mountainguides start their Blue Ice Experience tour. Just be careful not to fall through the ice. Or become a mentally unstable billionaire vigilante.
2. Jökulsárlón - James Bond, Lara Croft and James Bond again
Jökulsárlón is a glacial lagoon in the east of Iceland. It is known for its unique iceberg-speckled surface. It also might look familiar because you have seen countless faceless goons getting eviscerated there by various English secret agents.
a. 007 - James Bond, A view to a kill (1985)
The 14th in the series of movies about the immortal and impeccably dressed English secret agent James Bond. In this one, Roger Moore has to do something or other in Siberia. This involves, among other things, looking stylish, snowboarding down a hill and killing the population a small Siberian town. Because actual Siberians might take objection to this, it's much better to film all this in Iceland.
Die another day, the 20th movie in the series features Pierce Brosnan's 007 returning to Jökulsárlón. Since we know for a fact that 007 never runs out of ideas for new things to do, we have to assume he really liked the local cuisine. The movie features a consistent ice theme throughout, from where Bond's Korean arch-nemesis gets a makeover by encrusting his scull with diamonds (or “ice”), to the gigantic Ice castle on a frozen lake. It is therefore fitting that parts of the movie are shot in ICEland (get it?). (Incidentally, a large part of the movie's characters are also shot in iceland. Or blown up. Or stabbed). There is more than one scene in the movie set in iceland, so at random we chose the one with the car chases and explosions.
NOTE: The IMPOSSIBLE Ice Castle DOES NOT IN FACT EXIST.
Lara Croft, Tomb Raider (2001)
Not to be outdone by other posh English secret agents, Lara Croft has to retrieve a magical artifact from Siberia while wearing fabulous outfits. This involves riding dogsleds across the plains of Iceland. Interestingly enough, she is accompanied by her arch-nemesis Daniel Craig, who later played James Bond himself.
Dettifoss is the most powerful waterfall in Europe.
You will recognize it from...
Dettifoss served as the backdrop of the iconic opening scene of the movie, where a humanoid alien mysteriously takes their own life and falls into the waterfall. When director Ridley Scott had to pick a view to convey the feeling of other-worldliness and ancient power, and a quiet sense of impending doom, Dettifoss is where he went. We can't say we blame him.
Later in the movie the crew travels from their space ship to and from the alien base, driving across the barren alien wasteland that lies below Hekla, one of the most active volcanoes in the world, the last eruption having taken place as early as the year 2000.
The idea of filming space scenes in Iceland is not such a stretch of the imagination. Iceland's barren, uneven landscape has often been compared to the surface of the moon, to the point that when the Appollo 11 crew had to train for their mission, they used the lava fields of Askja to to it.
Game of Thrones (2012)is based on the books of the same name by George R. R. Martin. In the story which takes place in the fantasy land of Westeros, there is a no-man's-land north of “the wall”, which is pretty cold at the best of times and murderously cold at the worst of times. In reality, the kingdom is a representative democracy, and its name is Iceland. The weather is about the same.
(if you don't like the music just turn the sound off)
Everything that happens north of the wall is filmed in Iceland. The locations include Svínafellsjökull (the same one from Batman Begins), Skaftafell, Smyrlabjörg and Vík on Höfðabrekkuheiði. Basically, if you spit anywhere in Iceland, odds are you're hitting something that's been on TV. So that's good. Also, please don't go around spitting everywhere in Iceland. We consider it rude.
5. Krafla and Námafjall - Three of Life
Krafla is an active volcano in Iceland.
You will recognize it from...
Tree of life
Krafla and the area surrounding it is some of the most geothermally active in Iceland. It includes Krafla, an active volcano, Námafjall, a geothermal hotbed of steaming fumaroles and bubbling mud.
Official information is scarce, but it's likely the scenes shot in Iceland include these shots of a “young earth” - towards the end of the movie's epic opening scene which shows the formation of the universe, the earth, and the origin of life.
The idea of filming a “young earth” sequence in Iceland is understandable, since iceland is geologically relatively young (only 16-18 million years old) and home to some of the youngest land on planet earth, the island Surtsey.
If you want to go to Krafla, there are a number of tour companies that will take you there. It is in the North, so not easily accessible from the capital Reykjavík, it would have to part of a longer journey or an extended stay in the north of Iceland, presumably in Akureyri or Mývatn.
If you want to go to Surtsey.. you can't. Not unless you're a researcher. And even then only with permission, and only rarely. The island is protected in order to monitor and research how life colonizes new land.
6. The Reykjanes Penisula - Flags of our Fathers, Letters from Iwo Jima
The Reykjanes peninsula is part of the southwestern flatlands in Iceland. It is distinctive for its soft black sand beaches. While most sand in Iceland is black, due to its volcanic geology, Reykjanes is part of the only place in Iceland with any significant flat surfaces.
You will recognize it from...
Flags of our fathers (2006), Letters from Iwo Jima (2006)
A pair of movies by Clint Eastwood and nominated for, among others, 2 and 4 academy awards respectively. Both movies tell the story of the battle of Iwo Jima, one from the perspective of the American invaders and the other from the side of the Japanese defenders. Iwo Jima is also a volcanic island and as such its beaches are black. This made Reykjanes the perfect place to film the movies.
Keflavik airport is located in the peninsula of Reykjanes and it is easy to tour from Reykjavík.
Blue Lagoon - Hostel II
If you've heard anything about anything in Iceland, you've probably heard of the Blue Lagoon.
You will recognize it from... surprisingly, not the movie "Blue Lagoon" with Brooke Shields, but from...
Hostel II (2007)
The natural geothermal pool started in 1976 as a place to pour off excess water from a waterworks construction project. Gradually, the construction workers and passers-by started bathing there (despite the fact that raw geothermal water can vary in temperature and be extremely dangerous). Since then it's been renovated and turned into a luxurious spa resort, and the water temperature is moderated so it is perfectly safe.
Eli Roth's epic 'torture porn' (and sometimes verging on actual porn) is a splatter film about backpackers who get slowly and elaborately tortured to death for entertainment. We're almost certain that won't happen at the real blue lagoon though. It would make it hard for you to pay your bill.
The Blue Lagoon is about 40 minutes from Reykjavík, and 20 minutes from Keflavik airport, and there are regular busses from both locations. If you have a few hours' layover, chances are you can go to there while you wait. Beats sitting in the terminal and eating stale peanuts, if you ask us.
Snæfellsjökull - Journey to the center of the earth 3D
Snæfellsjökull is a glacier that sits atop a volcano on the western peninsula of Snæfellsnes.
You will recognize it from...
Journey to the Center of the Earth 3D (2008)
Journey to the Center of the Earth is a 3D sci-fi adventure based on Jules Verne's book of the same name. It stars Brendan Frasier and a talented young icelandic actress named Anita Briem. In the book, and consequently in the movie, Snæfellsjökull is the point of entry to a fantastical land at the earth's core.
While attempts to find a passage to the center of the earth remain inconclusive, you can certainly visit the beautiful glacier. It is one of the most popular locations to ride snowmobiles, and booking a tour is as easy as calling a tour operator.
If you really must defy nature by intruding under her rocky hide, you may want to look into the popular journey towards the center of the earth tour, which takes place at Þríhnjúkagígar with tour company Inside the Volcano.