When I found out I would be traveling to Jordan with Bestway Tours & Safaris on a Cinematic and Cultural Tour… you can imagine my excitement. After all, I’ve recently decided to focus my blog on film and movie locations you can visit while traveling. To say I love movies is a bit of an understatement. I’m not the biggest movie fan I know, but I can certainly hold my own.
As promised, Jordan delivers on all counts – it is stunningly beautiful, and it’s easy to see why so many directors and location scouts have fallen in love with the landscape as a setting for powerful stories. Even more, Jordan has been an important country for several major characters that have gotten screen time over the years.
Feast your eyes on these: some of the most iconic movies, set in one of the most beautiful countries I’ve ever seen.
Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
I’ll admit it: I’ve never made it through the 228-minute behemoth that is Lawrence of Arabia. This is mostly because up until a few years ago, I was a bit of a snob about long movies, and had only seen clips as forced upon me in the various film classes I’ve taken. Even I cannot fail to acknowledge that Lawrence of Arabia exceeds the title of being “Classic” and is truly one of The Greats (meteoritic gives it a 100% rating).
Similar to later movies on this list, the struggled for Middle Eastern independence and the Arab revolution is set against the backdrop of Jordan’s most stark landscapes: Wadi Rum (also featured on Lawrence’s own Seven Pillars of Wisdom book), the deserts of El Jafr and Jebel Tubeiq, and Maan near Petra.
Don’t be like me: don’t put off committing to see Lawrence of Arabia for yet another year. Set aside a night when you’re caught up on Game of Thrones and Silicon Valley and lay this foundation for your understanding of both great movies, and great movies filmed in Jordan.
Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade (1989)
If only this had been the last Indiana Jones, we might have ended on such an epic note that few trilogies would have been able to compete for decades to come. Instead, let’s pretend Hollywood isn’t continuing to bastardize and propagate other films with the namesake character, and just say it: this is a classic movie you should go watch now. I don’t care if you’ve never seen it or watched it yesterday; go on – I’ll wait.
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade is also the movie that put Petra on the map of the collective conscious of ravenous Western audiences looking for the ultimate adventure destination. In fact, most of us still aren’t aware that The Treasury (that really cool building) is just one of dozens of buildings and sites in the historic Nabatean city, but I’m aware, and I’m here to remind you.
In real life, Petra is nothing like what you’d expect. It’s a breathtaking collection of architectural and natural wonders that is bigger, wider, and more impressive than you can imagine. Go see it for your Indiana Jones moment, stay and explore because you may never go back again (though you’ll want to).
As with many movies on this list, I was late to the game on Prometheus. I had heard good murmurs from friends, but didn’t actually see it until 2013. Now, both the nerdy outer space alien storyline and the awesome film-making in a cool country high on my list of personal faves.
Though you’d have a hard time recognizing Jordan if you didn’t know the movie was filmed there, Director Ridley Scott had a vision for the stark rock formations and wide sandy expanses of Wadi Rum. The visual effects team certainly went to work transforming the red and orange tones into moody indigo, but the elements are still there. You won’t feel like you’re standing on planet LV223, but you can get a sense for it.
Queen of the Desert (2015)
I rearranged this list into chronological order because I knew if I left Queen of the Desert at the top where I originally put it, I might get distracted and never get to the other movies on the list.
I watched Queen of the Desert on the plane to Amman, and was blown away that it had slipped past my radar. To be fair, I have never been a big fan of Nicole Kidman (and the movie scores abysmally on critic and audience ratings with scathing reviews), but her portrayal of Gertrude Bell has sparked a passionate interest for me. Now I’ve read a biography of Bell, and she was so much more impressive than the movie portrays.
Anyway, when it comes to experiencing Jordan through this film, I personally fell in love with the historical context the movie provides – most people called Bell both “Queen of the Desert” and “Shaper of Nations” for her influential role in drawing the international borders in the region. It might be difficult to pull up the exact film locations (Petra definitely, and a few other anonymous desert scenes), but it’s hard to escape the sense of place you’ll experience watching Queen of the Desert.
The Martian (2015)
With a list of two classics, one space-nerdy, and one biopic of a woman I have a historical crush on, you might dismiss when I say that The Martian is my favorite movie on the list. Maybe I’ve just had a subconscious love of movies filmed in Jordan.
Filmed primarily in Wadi Rum and set primarily on Mars, The Martian hits all the right tones for both mass appeal – well-adapted from the book of the same name, director Ridley Scott (!!!) helms the film to successfully blend drama, science, humor, and ethics against a stunning backdrop.
Visiting Wadi Rum, I actually saw several of the filming and production locations; the driver of my 4×4 tour pointed them out and I (understandably) geeked out. It’s not hard to picture Wadi Rum as Mars because they map so closely together, but it’s a little more pleasant for those of us who visit (and sleep in plush tents) than astronaut Watney during his stay on the red planet.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2017)
Released after I first published this post, I had to come back and add Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Filmed in some pretty amazing locations around the world, my favorite by far is the chapter in Jedha, worship and pilgrimage site of Jedi and those who believe in the Force. It’s very clearly Wadi Rum – and it underscores how many amazing space/sci-fi movies see the otherworldliness of this destination.
While Jedha meets an unfortunate end in Rogue One, there are some beautiful, sweeping views of Wadi Rum to appreciate whether you’ve visited Jordan or are still dreaming of it.
Bonus: Theeb (2014)
Some people love foreign language films; personally, I get distracted by the subtitles in most occasions. That said, Theeb is one of the few films that die-hard film and die-hard Jordan fans should unite over. For what it’s worth, the movie has earned 97% on Rotten Tomatoes, and critics raved about it.
Also nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the 2016 Academy Awards, Theeb is set in the same era as Queen of the Desert and Lawrence of Arabia. Set against the stark background of Jordan’s driest regions and starring/casting/employing Jordanians and Bedouin, the movie gives stunning insight into what life in Jordan is like.
If you’ve ever dreamed of visiting Jordan to see the places where some of these movies were filmed or took place, do it – do it NOW! You can book a 10-day trip with Bestway Tours & Safaris through the whole country. Book with them using code JOC16/VS and you’ll receive $100 off the cost of your trip.
- Lawrence of Arabia – Sources: Howard Terpning, Wikipedia, Deep Focus Review
- Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade – Copyright: Drew Struzan, Paramount Pictures
- Prometheus – Copyright: 20th Century Fox
- Queen of the Desert – Copyright: Atlas Distribution Company
- The Martian – Copyright: 20th Century Fox
- Rogue One: A Star Wars Story – Copyright: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, Lucasfilm
- Theeb – Copyright: MAD Solutions