When you think of movies filmed in the United Arab Emirates, we bet the first thing that comes to your mind is the iconic shot of Tom Cruise sitting on top of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai. Perhaps it’s images of the endless sands where we first meet Rey and BB8 in Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens in Abu Dhabi that your mind drums up. In fact, we bet you could name off the top of your head at least three mega movies shot in the UAE quite easily. But how many others are there? Here is a list of all the movies Hollywood filmed right here in the UAE.
Dune, the highly anticipated sci-fi epic starring Zendaya, Timothee Chalamet, Jason Momoa, Oscar Isaac, Josh Brolin, and Javier Bardem, was partly filmed in the sweeping sands of the Abu Dhabi desert, which doubled as the planet Arrakis (the majority of filming, however, took place in the red rock canyons of the Wadi Rum in Jordan). Filming commenced during the summer of 2019, and the actors had to wear rubber suits, which meant most shooting would happen in the wee hours of the night (although, as we all know from personal experience, that doesn’t help much). But this is only the first of a two-part series, so perhaps for the second one, production will decide it’s a better idea to shoot in January.
The Misfits, starring Pierce Brosnan as an architect caught in the middle of a heist, is set in the Middle East and was filmed predominantly in Abu Dhabi. Recently released in cinemas, it hasn’t been getting amazing reviews, but we’ll probably book our tickets anyway if just to see some familiar sites and a lot of gold bars.
Jackie Chan’s most recent action adventure utilizes the Dubai skyline for its futuristic backdrop for Vanguard, a spy thriller about an accountant threatened by an evil organization, who turns to a security guard (Chan) as his last hope for survival. Chan may have the moves, but we thought the main star of the movie was the Burj Khalifa, with special supporting performances given by the Dubai Mall and Downtown Dubai. There was even a little Arabic mixed in with the English and Cantonese.
Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens
As we previously mentioned, we meet the new heroine of the most recent Star Wars trilogy and her loyal droid on the desert planet Jakku, which was, of course, why the producers needed Abu Dhabi’s Liwa Desert. The planet of Tatooine (Skywalker’s home) was filmed in Tunisia, in case you were interested to know, in not only the original movie, but also in Star Wars Episode IX: Rise of Skywalker. For the Mandalorian, however, production crews stayed closer to home, filming in Death Valley in the United States.
Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol and Mission Impossible: Fallout
As the story goes, Cruise and his team were getting some shots around the Burj Khalifa for the fourth installment of Mission Impossible, when they realized the elevator wouldn’t go all the way to the top. So the megastar, naturally, decided to take a helicopter and subsequently pose just over half a mile above the ground without shoes or a harness. However, noting all the harnesses that were used on set while the actor – who insists on doing his own stunts – flew around the outside of the world’s tallest tower (not just by him, but by the stunt team inside as well), we are almost positive they would not have played so loose with his life as to not secure him to something while he smiled barefooted at the camera. Cruise returned to the UAE to film the sixth installment of the series, and we have it on good authority we will be seeing more of the UAE in the upcoming seventh movie.
The seventh installment of the high-speed Fast & Furious franchise had us on high octane, moving through Abu Dhabi’s Emirates Palace – where the majority of the filming happened – the Louvre, Yas Marina Circuit, and Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. However, nothing quite made our heart stop like that scene where Dom and Brian (played by Vin Diesel and the late, great Paul Walker) made a quick getaway by jumping their car between the two Etihad Towers.
The geopolitical thriller that earned George Clooney his first Academy Award, Syriana, was shot in several locations in the Middle East, with Dubai’s beautiful city and desert featuring prominently throughout the film. The western audience may not have noticed, but several shots of our beautiful metropolis were used interchangeably for other locations in the Middle East. It’s also one of Matt Damon’s more underrated performances.
Starring Ryan Reynolds, the funniest, most handsome man in the whole world, and our future husband (oh wait, did we say that out loud?), this action-packed Michael Bay film follows a group of six people (running around Abu Dhabi) who fake their own deaths so they can stage a coup to assassinate a dictator. Although Reynolds was applauded for his individual performance (obviously), and the 6 Underground action sequences scored high with fans, Netflix decided to cancel the sequel, which is too bad, because we were hoping to see his pretty face in Abu Dhabi again.
Star Trek: Beyond
Star Wars wasn’t the only intergalactic film franchise to bring our beautiful country to outer space. Star Trek Beyond also filmed on location in Dubai, using iconic shots to depict futuristic cities and planets in galaxies far, far away – oops, we mean to show where no man has gone before. Star Trek Beyond holds a special place in Trekkie hearts as it was dedicated to the actor, Anton Yelchin, who played the lovable Chekov in the reboot and died in a freak accident one month before the film’s release. It was also dedicated to Leonard Nimoy, the original Spok, who passed away during pre-production.
Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps
Yes, we know that Wall Street is in New York City, and to be honest, that is where the majority of Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps takes place. However, nobody does luxury like Dubai. There is one scene in particular where the actors are popping champagne and flashing hard cash with the elite of Dubai. Come to think of it, this movie is probably the reason everyone thinks we eat from golden bowls and drive Ferraris. (In case you’re wondering, most of us drive Range Rovers.)
One desert is as good as the next in Hollywood. Despite the fact that The Kingdom, starring Jennifer Garner, Jamie Foxx, and Chris Cooper, is set in Saudi Arabia, almost all of the filming took place here in the UAE. We aren’t complaining, but they don’t shoot in Canada and say it’s America. Oh wait, they do. Never mind.
War Machine is a satirical war film starring Brad Pitt, Topher Grace, Ben Kingsley, and Tilda Swinton. It’s a fictionalized version of a true story as told in Michael Hastings’ book, ‘The Operators: The Wild and Terrifying Inside Story of America’s War in Afghanistan’, based on US Army General, Stanley McChrystal. Abu Dhabi was transformed into Kabul and even a Palestinian border crossing while filming, and Ras Al Khaimah’s old neighborhood was the set for various Pakistani villages and a military camp.