Oscar-worthy travel: 8 destinations every film buff needs to visit

As Meryl Streep, Daniel Kaluuya and Mary J. Blige ready themselves for this Sunday's Academy Awards ceremony, million...

Posted: Mar. 2, 2018 12:04 PM
Updated: Mar. 2, 2018 12:04 PM

As Meryl Streep, Daniel Kaluuya and Mary J. Blige ready themselves for this Sunday's Academy Awards ceremony, millions of movie fans are waiting to see who will take home those coveted gold statues.

Win or lose, the locations where those Best Picture nominees were filmed -- think North Carolina's Blue Ridge Mountains for Ebbing, Missouri; Sacramento for "Ladybird" -- may become as famous as the actors who starred in them.

But often, much of the magic is created in the studio. Fortunately, there are excellent museums and studio tours that allow film fans to get a taste of the magic that is the movies. Here are eight of our favorites.

The Making of Harry Potter, London, United Kingdom

Estimated to be worth $25 billion, author J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter franchise has sold 450 million books, produced eight films and, finally in 2017, won an Oscar for the costumes in the prequel "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them."

So it's no surprise that more than nine million Muggles have passed through the Leavesden studio where the original eight Harry Potter movies were filmed from 2000 through 2010. It's still so popular that guests usually book tickets three months in advance.

Throughout a decade of shooting at the studios 20 miles northwest of London, some 588 sets and accompanying props were stored for possible reshoots.

Warner Bros. bought the Leavesden facility in 2010, investing -110 million ($152 million) to make it one of the largest, most advanced studios in the world. The wildly popular studio tour debuted in 2012.

The 400-seat Great Hall at the "Warner Bros. Studio Tour London: The Making of Harry Potter" is so realistic that Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling said it made her feel like she was "walking inside" her own head. Other sets include part of Hogwarts Bridge and the intricate miniature Hogwarts Castle built by 86 artisans.

Dumbledore's office is still home to the Memory Closet filled with more than 800 hand-labeled vials, bookshelves of leather-bound astronomy tomes (actually old British phonebooks), and the fan-favorite Sword of Gryffindor.

Guests can enjoy a Butterbeer and mount a broomstick in front of an actual green screen and be immortalized on the Hogwarts Quidditch team.

Warner Bros. Studio Tour London: "The Making of Harry Potter," Studio Tour Drive, Leavesden WD25 7LR, United Kingdom; +44 345 084 0900

Bollywood Tours, Mumbai, India

Grossing more than $140 million in the US, "Slumdog Millionaire" won eight of its 10 Academy Award nominations with the story of how one young man escaped the slums of Mumbai by winning a game show.

But Mumbai is also where you'll find Bollywood, the world's largest movie producer. Like a fine wine, it defends its terroir: to qualify as a Bollywood movie, a film must be shot in Hindi by a Film City Mumbai team.

However, it takes more than good looks to get to Film City, a working complex of studios, backlots and outdoor sets in the teeming Goregaon East suburb.

First, reserve a seat on one of three Mumbai Film City tours: While the Mumbai Film City Tours bus that zooms past Bollywood landmarks, superfans may prefer the company's Live Shooting Tour, which stops at a working location where guests might spot actors Deepika Padukone or Shah Rukh Khan in front of the cameras. The Bollywood Dream tour explores post-production, sound effects and dubbing with a karaoke opportunity to gauge your star potential.

S.J. Studios welcomes B-town fans to several standing sets. Since films are shot MOS (without sync sound) and dubbed later, visitors may see a courtroom drama on one side of the stage while a dying man is operated on in the adjacent ER set. Take a selfie at the county jail used by the musical, "Les Mis-rables," or with one of their wax superstars.

Mumbai Film City Tours, Dadasaheb Phalke Chitranagri Main Gate, Goregaon (East), Mumbai, 400065, India; +91 77 38007224 or bookings@mumbaifilmcitytours.com

S.J.Studio Tours, Khairani Road, Ansa Industrial Estate, Chandivali, Andheri East, Sakinaka, Khairani Rd, Mumbai, Maharashtra 400072, India; +91-22-28561771/28562772

Barrandov Studio, Prague, Czech Republic

Founded in the 1930s to promote the budding Czech film industry, Barrandov Studios arrived on the Hollywood scene in 1985, when Milo- Forman won eight Academy Awards after making "Amadeus" there.

Today, powered by tax incentives and Prague's gorgeous Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque locations, more than 2,500 films have used the 13 sound stages spread across 1.7 million square feet.

Barrandov is unusual for having a world-class pool of technicians, carpenters and artisans specializing in historic productions. More than 500,000 costumes from every era include Daniel Craig's suits from his first James Bond star turn, the hit "Casino Royale;" and Oscar-winner Marion Cotillard's gowns from "La Vie en Rose."

The Filmpoint Center in the historic main building tests visitors' filmmaking knowledge with special effects displays, a set construction workshop and make-up room. In the stars' dressing room, clothes and props are available for selfies.

Even the Film Caf- is decorated like an 18th century drawing room from "Amadeus." With 10 friends, you can book a backstage tour to see workshops and hot sets.

For more about "Mission Impossible," "The Bourne Identity," "Van Helsing" and other Noir favorites, take the full-day Prague Cinematic tour to Barrandov Studio and the Karel Zeman Museum, which features innovations from major Czech films.

After that technical immersion, join a walking tour of 20 popular locations, then board Prague Boats for a look at the starring role the Vltava River has played in dozens of blockbusters.

Barrandov Studio, K---eneck-ho n-m. 322/5, 152 00 Praha 5 Hlubo-epy, Czech Republic; +420 267 071 122 or prohlidky@barrandov.cz

Museum of the Moving Image, New York City

This museum is a block from Kaufman Astoria Studios, where Oscar winners from Groucho Marx to Harrison Ford worked, and where "Orange is the New Black" and "Sesame Street" are shot.

The museum's mission is inspiration: Visitors can express themselves at 10 interactive stations by mashing up film scores, designing sound effects or experimenting with animation.

The museum's core exhibit brings technique into focus, followed by examples of where the real money is made -- licensed merchandise, video games, webisodes and more. After exploring the creative process of making, promoting and distributing any kind of moving image, visitors can buy a printout Flip Book of scenes done on the museum soundstage.

Fans of Jim Henson, creator of the iconic "Sesame Street" and "Muppets" characters, will swoon at the collection of nearly 500 sketches, designs, costumes, collectible merchandise and historic Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, Big Bird and Elmo puppets. Trekkies will be out of this world over the action figures, toys, housewares and fan zines from the "Star Trek" TV and film franchises.

Museum rarities include the dental plumper that gave Marlon Brando jowls in "The Godfather" films, for which he won a Best Actor Oscar -- though his makeup team was not even nominated.

Having undergone an expansion 30 years after its 1981 opening, the refreshed museum has an active Education Center that can host 50,000 school children and features a caf- and landscaped courtyard. It screens 500 movies, everything from world cinema to Oscar nominees, each year.

Museum of the Moving Image, 36-01 35 Avenue, Astoria, NY 11106, United States; +1 718 784-0077

Museo Nazionale del Cinema, Torino, Italy

Remember the 1990 Oscar winner "Cinema Paradiso" about a young boy who watches movies with the local projectionist and grows into a famous director?

In much the same way, the National Cinema Museum spotlights and preserves artifacts and masterworks of Italian cinema from inception to Paolo Sorrentino's Oscar winner "La Grande Bellezza" ("The Great Beauty") and beyond.

From the treasury of 1.8 million items, visitors will easily recognize Fellini posters, headshots of Sophia Loren and the music of brilliant composers such as Ennio Morricone, Oscar winner for "The Hateful Eight" and a nominee for five other scores.

The museum is dramatically located within the Mole Antonelliana, a late 1800s-era synagogue with a 550-foot-high marble dome used as a movie screen. The lobby full of reclining chairs has attracted almost nine million visitors since 2000.

Guests can ascend several levels, each full of memorabilia, set dressing and cinematic icons that alternately engage and wow fans, much in the same way as watching films. Travelers will appreciate that the museum's state of the art Cinema Massimo is one of the very few theaters in Italy showing current Oscar nominees in their original language.

Museo Nazionale del Cinema, Via Montebello, 20; 10124 Torino, Italy; +39 0118138560-561 or prenotazioni@museocinema.it

Cinema Museum, London

British censors used to label films "U" for universally acceptable, "A" for adults and children with them and "H" for horrific -- or too scary, violent or sexy for anyone under 16.

That never stopped Alfred Hitchcock -- director of 53 features and five-time Oscar nominee -- from famously saying, "Blondes make the best victims. They're like virgin snow that shows up the bloody footprints."

London's movie museum honors both greats and unknowns of British cinema at the Victorian-era Lambeth Workhouse, a poorhouse that in 1898 sheltered the nine-year-old Charlie Chaplin and his family.

Stacks of photographic images, theater furnishings, movie-themed teapots and equipment are carefully cataloged by founders Martin Humphries and Ronald Grant. (Grant is a former projectionist who has rescued many items from long gone picture palaces.)

Fun displays include tinted lobby cards that highlight the white makeup and dark lipstick on both genders to compensate for harsh lighting in silent films.

A passionate guide, Humphries will point out an usher's uniform with a "Children's Attendant" armband, a warning to the hundreds of children under 12 they supervised at adult-free screenings.

Admire the huge, antique projector bulbs and Vitaphone platters that were hand-synchronized to make sound for early talkies. (A vintage 16mm projection system is still used to show classic and contemporary cinema on weekends.)

Cinema Museum, 2 Dugard Way (off Renfrew Road), London SE11 4TH, United Kingdom.+44 20 7840 2200

The Hobbits of New Zealand

Thanks to the multi-billion-dollar "Lord of the Rings" and "The Hobbit" franchises, a respected Kiwi industry has grown into one of the largest filmmaking machines -- and tourism attractions -- in the world, with Oscar-winning director Sir Peter Jackson as front man.

Tolkienists start at the verdant Hobbiton Movie Set on a 1,250-acre sheep farm about two hours from Auckland. Enter one of the 44 hobbit-holes and explore Bag End, and don't forget to visit the reconstructed oak with its synthetic leaves. Then have a ginger beer at the Green Dragon Inn, where Bilbo Baggins met Gandalf and the Dwarves. Guides explain where Ringer scenes took place and which sets were redeveloped and made permanent for Hobbits.

Jackson's creative empire is in Wellington, or Wellywood, on the southern tip of the North Island. Having grown up enhancing his Super 8mm movies with effects, Jackson and partners used Weta Digital to design most of the 2,730 Oscar-winning practical and digital effects for the first Hobbit epics.

Weta Cave is the public's opportunity to deconstruct visual effects and understand just how much they contribute to films, video games and theme park rides.

Guided 45-minute tours showcase the fantastic props, weapons, armor and vehicles designed and made in house for "King Kong," "The Chronicles of Narnia" and the "Thunderbirds Are Go" series. Visitors can peek through windows to watch model makers, computer animators and compositors at work.

For a look at some of the 150 practical Middle-earth locations featuring New Zealand's remarkable scenery, lead your Fellowship to the South Island and join guided tours by foot, bus, boat, ferry and helicopter.

Hobbiton Movie Set Tour, 501 Buckland Road, Hinuera, Matamata 3472, New Zealand; *64 7 888-1505

Weta Workshop Tours, Corner Camperdown Rd & Weka St, Miramar, Wellington, New Zealand; +64 4 909-4000

The Hollywood Museum, Los Angeles

Just off Hollywood Boulevard in the original Max Factor cosmetics headquarters, the Hollywood Museum houses Rocky's boxing gloves, Jean Harlow's Packard, Hannibal Lecter's cell and Margaret O'Brien's Juvenile Academy Award - one of only 12 half-size Oscars ever awarded.

Would 225 countries tune in to the 2018 Academy Awards if it were not for Hollywood? Preserving myth as much as place, Los Angeles' hometown cinema museum is well worth a stop, especially for those old enough to recall the industry's more glamorous days.

Scripts, vintage posters, film clips and costumes worn by Elvis, Leo, Beyonc- and others add to displays about the history of the industry and Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Movie buffs and hairstylists will get a big kick out of the restored Max Factor dressing rooms, such as the Red Heads Room where Lucille Ball got her carrot top makeover and the Blonde Only Room where Marilyn Monroe and Jean Harlow were touched up.

The Hollywood Museum, 1660 N. Highland Ave. (at Hollywood Blvd.), Los Angeles, CA 90028, United States, +1 323 464-7776

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