5 Oscar-worthy movie tours for film fans
Wondering where top Academy Award-nominated films were made? We've rounded up five Oscar-inspired tours where you can catch a behind-the-scenes look at top movie locations and retrace the steps of your favorite characters. From Burbank, California, to Mumbai, India, here's where to plan a movie-inspired vacation.
Bollywood Film City Tour
Producing an average of 1,200 feature films per year, Mumbai is the mecca of the Indian film industry. And if you're a fan of the British, eight-time-Oscar winner "Slumdog Millionaire," Bollywood Filmcity Studios runs a Filmcity bus tour that whizzes through the teeming Goregaon East section of Mumbai, as a guide points out the film studios where it was shot, stars' homes and other landmarks. Star-struck dreamers partake in the two-hour Bollywood Dreams Tour, your close-up on post-production. Then, visitors are taken into a sound recording booth to pick a song, and lip sync it Karaoke-style while the guide records it on their cellphone. There's also an opportunity to read lines or dub the voices for the dialogue from major films. Enthusiasts should book the pricey, half-day Bollywood Studio Tour to SJ Studios sound stages, where a dozen permanent sets are in use 24 hours a day. And don't miss checking out the medieval jail where Jean Valjean's prison scene from the three-time Oscar-winning musical "Les Miserables" was shot.
Hobbiton and Weta Workshop Tours
New Zealand saw an estimated 40 percent lift in tourism after the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy. Whether it's an authentic aerial tour of Middle-earth done by Glacier Southern Lakes Helicopters or a Luxmore jetboat tour of the Upper Waiau River on the South Island, fans can follow in the footsteps of hairy feet almost everywhere. Aficionados begin on the North Island in Matamata, at the 1,250-acre Hobbiton, the built sets that include The Shire, hobbit holes and the Green Dragon Inn. A two-hour guided tour showcases shooting locations for the six Hobbit films that won 17 Academy Awards. If you're more of a filmmaker than a Hobbit fan, join the fascinating Weta Workshop Tour in Wellywood... err, Wellington. On the 45-minute guided tour, you'll meet some of the 230-person team responsible for designing and making all the physical armor, creatures and special make-up effects. Here, you can get a behind-the-scenes look at special effects by Weta Digital (three-time Oscar winner "Avatar" and Best Picture nominee "Mad Max: Fury Road" were shot there). Plus, the Weta Cave (the Hobbits' major retail emporium) is found here.
Universal Studios Hollywood
Universal City, California
On your next California getaway, head to Universal Studios Hollywood, a theme park with a movie pedigree that dates back to 1912. Universal's famous Backlot Tour has evolved into an entertaining, hour-long thrill ride. Between driving past the 60 backlot sets and soundstages still in use, the multimedia tram tour immerses you in movie magic with floods, train wrecks, a terrifying King Kong 360-degree 3-D attack, a new "Fast & Furious – Supercharged" car chase and a trip to Amityville to meet biting sharks from the three-time Oscar winner "Jaws." The tour is too much of a raucous romp to learn anything, so to brush up on your filmmaking knowledge, watch the Waterworld stunt show, the new Special Effects Show demonstrating visual and practical effects, and the Animal Actors – all included in your theme park ticket. Plus, this tour for visual learners is a really fun place to snap photos.
Warner Bros. Studio Tour Hollywood
Burbank is where movies go to get made. This easy-going small town is home to the Walt Disney Company, Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network and Yahoo! among many other content producers. In 1928, the four Warner brothers bought a 110-acre studio lot, making the Warner Bros. Studio Tour Hollywood the real deal for ages 8 and older. On the two-hour tram tour, see where "Argo" (a Best Picture Academy Award-recipient) and "Casablanca" (three-time Oscar winner) were filmed, ogle the fantasy vehicles from all the Batman films and ask all the how-to questions you want from knowledgeable guides. All the props, sets, and costumes on display are authentic. And you can't miss the new Stage 48, which is packed with memorabilia and exhibits that illustrate movie magic: the motion capture used to make Sandra Bullock weightless in "Gravity" (winner of seven Oscars); the layering of dialogue and audio tracks that made the silence of space so terrifying; and much more. Get your own photo or video shot while riding the Batpod in front of a green screen, where Gotham streets are later composited. Or, splurge on the six-hour VIP tour instead. Even better, base yourselves in Burbank at the stylish Hotel Amarano, where you may have to maintain a low-key cool around the Oscar nominees in house for their press junket.
Warner Bros. Studio Tour London
British production facilities are mostly off limits, but cinephiles can relish the artistry of all eight Harry Potter movies shot at Warner Bros. Studios in Leavesden, an area just outside of London that hosted "GoldenEye" and the multi-Oscar-nominated "Star Wars: Episode 1: The Phantom Menace" during production. In 2012, Warner Bros. reassembled many of the 588 wizarding sets, which had been kept with original props and costumes while J.K. Rowling wrote the series. The Hogwarts Bridge, audioguides, butterbeer and a sprawling gift shop keep fans under Harry's spell on a self-guided walking tour through the Great Hall and Dumbledore's office. Afterward, a visual effects setup allows fans to picture (and record) themselves playing Quidditch on a broomstick. To celebrate the 15th anniversary of "Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone" in 2016, there will be special screenings, newly opened sets and more interaction with filmmakers to understand how their magic wand works. Fans might catch live filmmaking nearby since this is one of the largest production facilities in Europe. And serious Harry Potter buffs might be interested to learn that that while the film franchise sold 450 million books, raked in $10 billion and garnered 12 Academy Award nominations, Harry Potter never won a single Oscar, leading an outcry among devotees to revisit the Academy's voting process.
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