To put out the first pieces of the world atlas of American cinema, it may be best to begin with a year that does very little strange – 2001. Here’s a hacked-together draft map of where the top twenty (US) box office hits are set. I care about narrative settings, not filming locations.

When it comes to US settings, there’s nothing particularly outlandish about 2001: plenty of NY-LA, with a dash of the midwest (although the “East Great Falls”-set American Pie movies are consciously anywheresville-suburban), with a couple other locations. As is usually the case, for all the population growth, there’s just not much happening in the south. The Pacific northwest isn’t represented, nor are Arizona-New Mexico and Alaska.

Internationally, 2001 was more or less in the normal distribution. Harry Potter in a fictionalised England – there’s pretty much always an England-set film in the top twenty. Princess Diaries in a Mediterranean-fictional Genovia/Monte Carlo – there’s almost always a western European setting, usually in France-Italy-Germany. The Mummy Returns in Egypt occupies the non-European setting for an action film. Lara Croft:Tomb Raider does some globe-trotting to take in Siberia, Cambodia, and England. The major outlier is Blackhawk Down in Mogadishu – Africa is usually desert or dense jungle, not urban (especially not on the Horn).

For fantastic locations, there’s “Ashlar” from Planet of the Apes (looking a lot like the US), animated places in Shrek and Monsters, Inc., and Floop’s Island in Spy Kids. Lord of the Ring’s Middle Earth is in New Zealand and the Jurassic Park sequel has its island off the coast of Costa Rica.

However, there are likely settings which I have missed. Make any changes, additions, or suggestions in comments, por favor.

Advertisements