The Oscars are missing a trick, according to the director of movie tourism consultants Film Quest, Stefan Roesch.

Dwindling viewer numbers and connection to the Hollywood red carpet event has led the Academy of Motion Pictures to flirt with the idea of new categories such as "Best Popular Film" or even "Best Superhero Movie" in an effort of stay relevant.

"An Oscar for best location would really be a popular choice," says Roesch, who has seen how landmarks and locations have equal billing for moviegoers as the stars line up for best actor and actress this year.

Tourists are drawn to locations they recognise on the big screen, and now increasingly in television.


The Joker, which lead the pack with 11 nominations, has also inspired a localised tourism boom in the New York Bronx. Over 30 people a day turn up to a filming location on Shakespeare Ave to dance down the concrete staircase, following in the footsteps of Joaquin Phoenix.

The Joker Stairs: New York's Bronx has seen an uptick in dancing tourists. Photo / Supplied
The Joker Stairs: New York's Bronx has seen an uptick in dancing tourists. Photo / Supplied

Predicting which location will find fame after appearing in a film is as hard to predict as winners for the Best Picture category. More often than not film locations turn out to be flops, disappointing both filmgoers and local tourism operators who hope that having films set in their destination is a sure way to share in the Oscar gold.

One of the locations Film Quest helped consult on for the Narnia movies was a place called Flock Hill in Canterbury. "It was a stunning location with boulder fields, but the movies failed to deliver the same kind of hype that the Lord of the Rings had previously," says Roesch.

Then he describes the film locations that "end up on the cutting room floor." He worked with clients including the tourism boards of Ireland and Northern Ireland who looked to cash in on the hype surrounding the blockbuster movie Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Several large-scale scenes were filmed across the country in Counties Donegal and Kerry. However, while Kerry's iconic Skellig Michael island found fame on the big screen, the Donegal scenes were cut from the movie.

Great discussions on future film tourism opportunities around 'Mulan' with the Waitaki District Council. Just to think that the hashtag #mulan has been used over 2,5 billion times is simply mind-boggling.

Posted by FilmQuest on Monday, 27 January 2020

"It's just not predictable and you never know exactly what will end up in the movie," he explains. Like everything in the entertainment industry, it's a big gamble. But it's a gamble with big rewards.

One of Film Quest's current clients is the Waitaki District Council, which is the location for the upcoming live-action Disney movie Mulan.

"It's all about being prepared," says Roesch. "Over 2.4 billion people have shared the hashtag #mulan on social media, worldwide. If just one per cent of those people turn up, it would be a big deal for local tourism."

There's a lot to get ready, in what is a beautiful but remote part of the South Island. Just in case.


Film tourism booms have not always been welcome. Maya Bay on Ko Phi Phi Leh was put in the spotlight by a young, topless Leonardo DiCaprio in the 2000 movie The Beach. Last year, and 19 years on, the beach was closed to tourists indefinitely as it began attracting over 5000 people a day, damaging the ecology.

Tourism is now an important consideration for Hollywood location scouting and the burden of local authorities to manage the resulting visitors responsibly.

While New Zealand's Lord of the Rings effect is fading and many locations are either seeing a downturn or are not accessible to the public, Roesch says film locations wax and wane in popularity, just like the movies.

"If Amazon's TV series has the right constellation for film tourism, it could put a lot of New Zealand film locations back on the map."

Local tourism operators and councils need to be ready.

The Oscars for Film Locations

Location scouting is a skill that might not be recognised at the Oscars, but the Location Managers' Guild do have their own awards. The LMGI awards, held in September, have already cast their votes on the most filmic locations in the world.


New Zealand has more than its fair share of nominations and awards.

Recognising locations that provide instant time warps for period dramas, to otherworldly landscapes that are the setting of Sci-fi blockbusters, here are last year's most filmic locations:

Outstanding locations in a contemporary feature:
Ben Piltz, David Campbell-Bell took the award for globe-trotting Mission Impossible Fallout, which visited Paris and London, as well as New Zealand's Fiordland.

Outstanding locations in a period feature

Horacio Rodriquez de Zamacona won the award for his work on Roma, which revisited parts of Mexico City of the 1970s and Alfonso Cauron's childhood

Outstanding location for a period TV series


Jonas Spokas won the award with HBO's Chernobyl, finding period Soviet power plants and industrial towns in Ignalia, Lithuania.

Outstanding Film Commission
Film Otago Southland was recognised for its world-class locations and accessibility to blockbuster-scale film projects.