If you recently saw Denis Villeneuve’s Dune, then you may think the fictional planet of Arrakis looks a bit familiar. That’s because it’s actually a popular filming location in the country of Jordan. Dune is just one of many movies filmed in the country, specifically in Wadi Rum.
How many do you think you know about already? Before I get into the list of movies, here’s more about the location:
- What is Wadi Rum?
- Where is Wadi Rum?
- What movies filmed in Wadi Rum?
- Can you visit Wadi Rum?
- How to Visit Wadi Rum
What is Wadi Rum?
Wadi Rum is a 183,352 acre [74,000-hectare] protected area and nature preserve in the country of Jordan. I’ve heard it called the “Valley of the Moon.” Some say it does not have the drama of Petra, in Wadi Musa. However, its nevertheless dramatic rock formations of sandstone and granite and its wide-open sandy plains have made it an iconic filming location. And one of my favorite places to be when I visit Jordan.
Where is Wadi Rum?
It is in the Southern region of Jordan; not far from the border of Saudi Arabia and the top of the Gulf of Aqaba which leads to the Red Sea. By car driving from Amman, it could take you anywhere between 4 and 5.5 hours to get there.
What movies filmed in Wadi Rum?
Arrakis is described in Frank Herbert’s book as “an inhospitable and sparsely populated desert wasteland.” Wadi Rum, in contrast, is estimated to have been home to human beings with evidence of culture and language for as long as 12,000 years.
Like the planet where so much of Dune takes place, Wadi Rum is more than what’s visible at surface level. There’s a drama and a passion, that is ideal as a backdrop for stories of the struggle to survive and thrive. Oftentimes, against all odds.
According to Looper and their article about the making of the movie:
Production Designer Patrice Vermette told The New York Times, “There is this thing that hits you — you’re humbled by the magnitude. It was a spiritually amazing experience just to be there.” Adding on to that, star Jason Momoa told Visit Jordan, “Going to Jordan was a monumental moment in my life. I’ve never seen a desert like that. I’m a rock climber, I’ve never seen rocks like that.”
The Martian (2015)
If you’ve been, you may think this is one of the most obvious filming locations in cinema history. It is a character in and of itself. Matt Damon’s acting in the film is superb but Wadi Rum just is Mars! Or what we believe Mars must look like since it’s been called “Mars on Earth.” As a filming location, it completely transports you into the story.
I’ve read that Matt Damon was on location for only 8 days in Wadi Rum in 2014. The crew must have been very efficient! Jordan’s Royal Automobile Museum, in Amman, now exhibits one of the rovers used during filming.
Director Ridley Scott’s sci-fi drama took 4 years to produce and had a budget of over $120 million. Wadi Rum’s iconic landscapes are a significant character in the film even though it uses more than 1000 CGI shots. Scott was once quoted as saying that green screens were only used 6 times during filming. However, his color grading of the film significantly changes the appearance of Wadi Rum so that it differs dramatically from the look and feel it has in other movies in this list.
Transformers – Revenge of the Fallen (2009)
When the film’s storyline would have you believe you’re seeing Egypt, you’re actually looking at Wadi Rum. Additional filming in Jordan took place at Petra and Al Salt.
Rogue One: Star Wars (2016)
In the case of this film, Wadi Rum is the set for the desert moon of Jedha where there’s a walled city on a hill. It’s not as obvious that it is Wadi Rum and so it’s easier to miss than in say, The Martian.
Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker (2019)
The second Star Wars movie to be filmed in Wadi Rum is also the one in which Jordan is really the only notable location outside that of the actual studios for the movie. Production actually had to be rushed and cut-out figures were used in the end as stand-in objects to be replaced later in post-production.
Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
If you’ve sat through this entire movie more than once in your lifetime, you deserve a medal. Its locations often steal a show that can otherwise be slow and plodding. And which has been widely criticized for its portrayal of Arabic people. Peter O’Toole portrays British Lieutenant T.E. Lawrence in a non-factual story about events that took place during World War I. Wadi Rum is used to depict locations ranging from Syria to Sinai which were supplemented by filming in Morocco, and later Spain.
Before The Martian, Lawrence of Arabia was one of the most well-known movies to ever be filmed in Wadi Rum. At Petra, you can find merchandise promoting the movie for sale in addition to some for Indiana Jones; which was filmed there, not in Wadi Rum as is sometimes claimed in other guides or blog posts.
Aladdin (2019), The Last Days on Mars (2013), Red Planet (2000), Mission to Mars (2000), and Passion in the Desert (2014)
Did I miss any? Do you know of more movies filmed in Wadi Rum?
Can you visit Wadi Rum?
Yes, you can! It is a year-round destination. I visited in October. And it wasn’t too hot or too cold. I was very comfortable in a long sleeve shirt and pants from REI. I’ve read that visiting in Spring allows you to see the desert come alive with plants, wildflowers, and baby goats which belong to the native Bedouin herds.
How to Visit Wadi Rum
I had the privilege of visiting Wadi Rum during my Jordan extension after a tour through Egypt with Abercrombie & Kent USA. Our quick visit included tea with a Bedouin family and time spent climbing some of the dunes and rock formations. It was the ability to get to know the Bedouin families, that I enjoyed most.
We also viewed some of the 20,000 + petroglyphs and inscriptions, mostly Thamudic, that can be found on the rocks. They are part of why Wadi Rum is a protected UNESCO World Heritage site, ‘critical for the study and understanding of the evolution of aesthetics, writing, and literacy’ where more than 150 archaeological sites have been discovered.