Over the past few years, Iceland has been very prominantly featured in pop culture, film and television especially. And we want to point out where.
The country’s exposure, ranging from beautiful fjords to the mountains, has been the main backdrop for a number of projects. Some you may have noticed, some you may have not.
Let’s go over a few known titles, featuring Iceland in an almost starring role, just over the past five years.
Ridley Scott’s wildly divisive precursor to Alien was mostly shot on sound stages, but it boasted a tremendous majesty in most exteriors. Iceland had the key role of doubling for the alien planet LV-223, in most parts. The film was shot near the volcano Hekla and in Rangárvallasýsla.
While most of Scott’s fans still argue over the film’s merit or purpose, most would agree that the striking design, the cinematography and especially the landscape is what stood out. The opening scene, where an alien figure plant life on an unnamed, primortial planet, was shot next to Dettifoss, the breathtaking, almost painting-like water falls near the Vatnajökull National Park.
Iceland’s barren sands and untouched nature probably play a role in why big Hollywood productions are so drawn to it, most notably when it comes to fantasy or sci-fi, which brings us to our next film.
Doubling for post-apocalyptic USA, the Tom Cruise sci-fi vehicle took – at that time – an unprecedented advantage of the country’s volcanic landscapes. Filmed extensively in exteriors, the crew traveled to Jarlhettur, Hrossaborg and near to the ever popular Dettifoss and Vatnajökull.
The film itself did not do much favors for Cruise, turning in underwhelming results, recieving mixed reviews at best. We doubt the actor has a lot of fond memories while shooting the film here during the early summer 2012. Famously, Katie Holmes bolted on him while Oblivion was being filmed. The last photo of them together was taken in downtown Reykjavík.
Cruise bounced back eventually, though, earing good will from fans in his following film, Edge of Tomorrow, which was actually another sci-fi actioner… that sorta bomed as well.
THOR: THE DARK WORLD (2013)
As a fantasy, a Thor film hits pretty close to home, despite being an extremely loose take on Norse mythology. But locals have most been familiar with the god of thunder and his mighty hammer. In Thor: The Dark World, the lead hero battles evil black elves (no, really) and at one point travels to their home planet of Svartalfheim.
Some shots were picked up outside Reykjavík, close to Bláfjöll (Blue Mountains) on the way to Hveragerði, but the crucial sequence in question was filmed near Skógarfoss.
A pretty good scene, actually. And probably one of the darker ones. Contrary to the films subtitle, this is mostly fluffy stuff. But fun. And we sort of envy the locals who got to work on it.
THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY (2013)
Ben Stiller is a big fan of Iceland, as becomes quickly appearent in the second film adaptation of James Thurber’s 1939 short story The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. Stiller starred in and directed the movie and even though the title character doesn’t stay very long in Iceland, the country doubles for not only a fantasy version of itself, but serves as the location for both Greenland and Afghanistan as well.
Walter Mitty was filmed all over, from (deep breath) Stykkishólmur, Höfn, Berekseyri, Nesjavallavegur and Fjarðarheiði to Seyðisfjörður, Borgarnes, Skógarfoss and Breiðamerkursandur, to name just a few places (and Eyjafjallajökull even has a cameo, sort of…). Stiller supposedly travels to the Himalayas but in fact he is near the roots of Vatnajökull. Oh, the trickery of movies.
An understandably polarizing film, Noah makes full use of Iceland’s wide landscape, and director Darren Aronofsky lets the country take center stage in his big budget bible epic. Noah features an impressive cast and was filmed over a period of four weeks, at Djúpavatnsleið, Sandvíkurklof, Lambhagatjörn, Sandvík, Raufarhólshellir, Mývatn, Hamragarðaheiði, Svartiskógur and a few other spots. Noah stills as the record holder of most Icelandic locations for a foreign production.
Just like with Prometheus, there’s no denying the beauty on screen (and Aronofsky’s take on this story is beyond audacious), but the end result is a love-hate type of thing.
Iceland has been especially well sought after for important alien planets in these recent blockbuster films. With Interstellar, respected filmmaker Christopher Nolan made Svínafellsjökull the backdrop of some intense, cool scenes. Forged by harsh winters and angry volcanic forces, this setting is truly cinematic. The same can be said for many other locations in Iceland, which is why the country’s become a go-to destination for a slew of sci-fi directors.
This wasn’t Nolans first outing here, though. He shot key portions of Batman Begins on glaciers as well.
ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY (2016)
Technically, this isn’t the first Star Wars film shot here, seeing as the filmmakers of the previous illstallment, The Force Awakens, shot some (unused) scenes. Needless to say, Rogue One really makes a distinctive use of the mountains at Hjörleifshöfði and Mýrdalssandur, breathing life into the pretty but dour planet of Lah’mu.
Both actually serve one of the better opening sequences of any film in this franchise.
FAST AND FURIOUS 8 (2017)
Think “Mad Max on Ice” and then you get a pretty clear idea about the crazy climax of the latest Fast & Furious installment, which tries to think Icelanders into thinking lake Mývatn is supposed to be located in Russia. The residents near Akranes also got a pretty good show when the production flew in a slew of muscle cars and blew a lot of them up. Fortunately the set piece made for some dumb, fun entertainment. The production went mostly smoothly, but some intense weather did lead to a piece of production equipment blowing away, tragically killing a horse.
TRANSFORMERS: THE LAST KNIGHT (2017)
This bememoth picture was filmed all over the world, England, Scotland, Cuba, the US and making room for the final scenes to be heavily shot in Iceland, grabbing mountains of Landmannalaugar to both show its glory and blow alot of stuff up, as per usual in Hollywood blockbusters. But all big productions aren’t all that explosion-heavy, and not only film units travel over this far up north, and that brings us to a special mention.
JUSTICE LEAGUE (2017)
At the time of writing, Justice League is the most expensive film ever to film here. An important moment in the film shows Bruce Wayne travelling to Iceland (filmed in and around Djúpavík) to recruit Aquaman. This would be the third time a Batman-centered film is shot in Iceland, but the first time the country gets to double as itself.
GAME OF THRONES (2011-2018)
People unfamiliar with Iceland probably won’t be surprised to learn that it represents the wild, snow-covered regions North of the Seven Kingdoms. For six consecutive years, the north of The Wall is actually the Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon, with Svínafellsjökull filling also in from time to time. And let’s not forget Þjórsárdalur and the “Settlement Era Viking Lodge” – the location of one of the greatest massacre and most elaborate scene of the series.