Iceland in Movies and Filming Locations - Sci-Fi and Post-Apocalypse

The fact is that throughout its life in fiction Iceland has been the obscure reference more than anything else
January 28, 2019
Kári Gunnlaugsson

Filmmakers have been coming to Iceland since long before it became one of the hottest travel destinations in the world. Using its landscapes as a backdrop depicting different planets, ancient worlds, the post-apocalypse and, occasionally, the country itself.

Mr. Bond filming in Iceland

Back when James Bond sailed away inside the iceberg in the opening scene of A View To A Kill (1985) it was a moment in time for Icelandic cinemagoers seeing our own Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon even if it was supposed to be somewhere in Siberia. Mr. Bond came again to Jökulsárlón in Die Another Day (2002), this time however he was in Iceland although heavily CGIed and used more as an obscure reference than an actual location.

Icelandic filming locations and episodes set in Iceland

The fact is that throughout its life in fiction Iceland has been the obscure reference more than anything else, possibly starting with St. Brendan´s Voyage in the 6th century but more famously perhaps as the gateway to the center of the earth through Snæfellsjökull Glacier/Volcano in Jules Verne´s Journey To The Center of The Earth (1864). The cult series Twin Peaks has references to Iceland and last year the Netflix series Maniac had an episode set in Iceland which had pretty much nothing else to do with the country except for the name. Even the new series Titans has a scene where Rachel is watching Game of Thrones (partly shot in Iceland) and asks for anything but pineapple on her pizza probably an homage to our president´s famous comment that there should be a law against putting pineapple on pizza. Obscure references indeed.

South shore and the movie locations in Iceland

Then there is Iceland in Science Fiction. Ridley Scott came here to make his Alien-saga installment Prometheus, using the great Dettifoss waterfall and one of the volcanic valleys of the interior as backdrop. Tom Cruise came here to make Oblivion which has some very impressive shots from lake mývatn, the south shore and even using a volcanic crater as the ruins of a football stadium. The opening of Star Wars: Rogue One is also shot on the south coast using the vivid colour clash of green moss and black volcanic sand. For those who have been following Game of Thrones then basically everything north of The Wall is Iceland. Also Darren Aronofsky´s Noah is mostly shot in Iceland making good use of the prehistoric aura which can be found in so many parts of the country.

Dettifoss Waterfall
Dettifoss waterfall used in Prometheus

It is perhaps no wonder that in 1966 NASA chose the highlands of Iceland (deeming them the most lunar-like landscape they could find) as a testing ground for their equipment, and even took the astronauts to Iceland for some practicing exercises during that summer.

Then there are the odd ones out which are supposed to take place in every day modern Iceland. The Netflix series Sense8 has an Icelandic main character and quite a few scenes shot in Iceland. The Ben Stiller movie The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is probably the best example of this and gives us a great ride through Iceland showing the ring road, east iceland, national parks, black sands, and even using Icelandic backdrops for the scenes in Greenland and Nepal.

Stories floating around reykjavik filming locations

There are of course many stories floating around from the productions, such as Sean Penn showing up for his workout at the tiny local gym in Höfn, Russel Crowe duetting with Patti Smith in the bar at Kex hostel and Tom Cruise breaking up with Katie Holmes while in Iceland due to another woman, a man or an elf, who knows.

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