The Hollywood Sights of Iceland
Batman and James Bond have at least one thing in common: Both have been filmed at the foot of Svínafellsjökull Glacier.
Another fun fact: The “Arrowhead Mountain” from Game of Thrones is locally known as Kirkjufell. You can climb it.
Iceland has in the past decade emerged as a major (filming) location for Hollywood, a development which has been somewhat aided by the Icelandic Government's handsome reimbursement scheme for film productions to lure major movie studios to the country.
Thank you, Walter Mitty!
Ben Stiller, the director of the 2013 blockbuster “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”, was among the first to discover Iceland has an all-around location. Scenes set to be in Afghanistan were filmed on the desolated Breiðamerkursandur and the film even uses the Vatnajökull Glacier to represent Greenland’s ice cap.
The scene in which the titular character, Walter Mitty, skateboards on a winding road into a valley is shot in Seyðisfjörður in East Iceland. Later in the film, Walter visits a large waterfall in Nepal filmed at Skógafoss, an easily accessible waterfall in South Iceland.
Few films travel the length of Walter Mitty, but the film showed Hollywood the extent of possibilities in Iceland. Director Christopher Nolan, who filmed both “Batman Begins” (2005) and “Interstellar” (2014) in southern Iceland, says Iceland is “one of the few places in the world where you can get two or three very different, extreme looks, within the space of a couple of miles.”
Ennis, Alaska is not a real place
Iceland's landscape is not the only attraction. The government-funded Film in Iceland lures big projects with a 35% refund on production costs regardless of topic: a small town in Iceland might as well represent a cold place somewhere. True Detective, Season 4, is set in the state of Alaska, high above the Arctic Circle, in a town named Ennis. In reality, Ennis does not exist.
Dalvík, the northern seaside community known for whale watching, was turned into the fictional Alaskan settlement where Jody Foster and Kali Reis play Detectives Liz and Evangeline. In southern Iceland, scenes were film at RVK Studios, the 'film village' on Reykjavík's outskirts.
The eight-episode crime drama is the largest film project ever taking place in Iceland. Iceland's Minister of Culture called it "biggest foreign investment in the field of culture in Iceland's history."
Due to the budget benefits of being close to the capital, most film locations are in southern Iceland, where the Vatnajökull National Park ranks number one.
The Svínafellsjökull Glacier, just off Route 1 via a bumpy gravel road, first emerged as the “Hollywood” glacier ” after the opening scene of the James Bond film “Die Another Day”. The ice has since retreated and, while still impressive, the last documented production was for the second season of “Game of Thrones”.
“Game of Thrones” is, roughly speaking, ten percent Iceland. Iconic sights such as Dimmuborgir and Skógafoss serve as backdrops to the fictional world of fire and ice. After the picturesque Kirkjufell mountain was first featured on the show visitor numbers soared to the once-pristine place. It is now dubbed the most photographed mountain in Iceland.
This village is on Netflix
The success of Icelandic TV series, especially on Netflix, have casted remote towns and villages into the spotlight. The Siglufjörður-based crime drama “Trapped” boosted the tourist economy for the beautiful northern town and the 2021 dystopia “Katla” highlighted the proximity of Vík to Iceland’s most notorious volcano.
But few have benefited more than Húsavík. The town of 2,000 people on the northern coast, was at the center of “Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga” and had an Oscar-nominated theme song named after the town. Locals seized the opportunity and established the first-ever museum dedicated to the Eurovision Song Contest a year after the film premiered on Netflix. It’s next door to the JaJa DingDong restaurant!
Alien planets and apocalyptic Earth
The landscape of Iceland is often used to depict foreign planets and Ridley Scott’s prequel to the Alien franchise, “Prometheus”, was partly filmed in northern Iceland. The dramatic opening sequence was shot by Dettifoss waterfall, Europe’s biggest waterfall by volume, as an otherworldly scene in which an alien stands above the waterfall before falling into the waters below. Dettifoss is part of the Diamond Circle drive.
A more recent post-apocalyptic tale is the Netflix film “The Midnight Sky” directed by George Clooney who also stars as a lonely Arctic scientist. Clooney and his crew spent 15 days on top of the glacier Skálafellsjökull, an outlet of the mighty Vatnajökull in the southeast, for the atmospheric scenes. That’s a location to enjoy solely on screen.