6 Popular Film Destinations in Africa

Last Updated on June 5, 2020

If we look closely, beyond the everyday grind that takes up most of our attention, we will realize one thing – that at the heart of it all, the world around us is beautiful. And nowhere is this more visible than in Africa.

Africa has one of the most breathtaking scenes in the world. From one end to the other, the continent is blessed with lush greenery, sand dunes, high mountains, sandy beaches and clement weather. On this backdrop, many filmmakers around the world have journeyed to tell their stories.

There are many film destinations in Africa but some countries are more popular than others. Here are the top 6 film destinations in Africa in no particular order.


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South Africa

Home to a thriving local film industry and some of the best film directors in the continent, South Africa is one of the top film destinations in Africa. Top filmmakers around the world troop to South Africa to shoot their films/projects, in part or in full.

Many locations in South Africa have seen a movie or two shot in them like Soweto (District 9 2009) and Sun City (Blended 2014). However, the two most popular film locations in South Africa are Cape Town and Johannesburg.

Tomb Raider (2018) shot on location in Cape Town, South Africa

Cape Town, located in the Western Cape of South Africa, has seen many foreign movies and television productions like Homeland (2011), Doomsday (2008), Lord of War (2005), Resident Evil: The Final Chapter (2016), Safe House (2012), The Giver (2014), Black Sails (2014), Maze Runner(2014), Tomb Raider (2018) and the Netflix series, Troy: Fall of a City (2018).

Many local and international films like Hotel Rwanda (2004) have been shot in Johannesburg. Johannesburg is also pretty popular for American and European productions. The city, enriched with Victorian Colonial and Edwardian Baroque architecture, is a good stand-in for many places in the US and Europe.

The need to shoot in South Africa can be traced to the fact that shooting a project in the US or the UK is expensive; sometimes three times more expensive than in South Africa.

Also, the South African Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) goes a step further by giving out generous 20% (capped at 50 Million Rand) filming incentives to production companies willing to shoot in the country.

Couple that with the availability of skilled workers and flexible locations, South Africa is the go-to place to shoot your film in Africa.

Black Sails (2014), on location – South Africa

Our favorite foreign movies shot in South Africa remain Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015), Eye in the Sky (2015), Hitman (2007), Hotel Rwanda (2004) and Blood Diamond (2006).

Morocco

We have written about Morocco before. What astounds us about Morocco is not just the myriad and great number of films that have been shot in the country – thus making it one of the top film destinations in Africa.

It’s the fact that Morocco has mastered the art of camouflage, passing for places like Tibet in Kundun (1997), Martin Scorsese’s tale of the 14th Dalai Lama and Somalia in Black Hawk Down (2001).

Morocco, one of the many locations where Game of Thrones was shot

Since 1919, Morocco has seen many foreign film productions. Some of the popular ones are

  • Tom Cruise’s Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation shot in Casablanca,
  • Oliver Stone’s Alexander (2004), Orson Welles’ film adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Othello (1951) and John Wick 3 (2019) shot in Essaouira,
  • Sex and the City 2 (2010) in Marrakech,
  • Lawrence of Arabia (1962), Gladiator (2000) and Game of Thrones in Ait Benhaddou and
  • Inception (2010) in Tangier.

Other movies shot in Morocco include The Jewel of the Nile (1985), Aquaman (2018), The Dictator (2012), The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003), Mamma Mia! (2008), War Dogs (2016), Men in Black: International (2019), Queen of the Desert (2015), Rendition (2007) and Rules of Engagement (2000).


Read: Why Morocco is One of the Top Film Destinations in Africa


Thanks to Morocco’s 20% tax rebate on foreign films, the number of foreign movies and television series shot in Morocco continue to rise every year, making it a top film destination in Africa.

According to the Moroccan Cinema Center (CCM), the total foreign production spend in Morocco grew from $32 million in 2017 to $50 million in 2018 to over $80 million in 2019.

The rebate, which has a yearly budget of about $11 million, grants foreign investors a 20% refund on qualifying expenses, provided that they spend at least 18 days shooting on location and have a production cost of at least $1 million. 

Prince of Persia – Behind the Scenes

Our favorite foreign films shot in Morocco are Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2010), The Mummy (1999), Babel (2006), American Sniper (2014), The Bourne Ultimatum (2007), Gladiator (2000), Kingdom of Heaven (2005) and Captain Phillips (2013).

Kenya

Many foreign films were shot in Kenya as far back as the 1950’s like Mogambo (1953) starring Ava Gardner and Clark Gable and King Solomon’s Mines in the 80’s.

However, many didn’t fall in love with Kenya as a film destination until the 1985 film, Out of Africa featuring Meryl Streep and Robert Redford.

Since then, Kenya has seen itself grow as a popular film destination in Africa with over 80 foreign films shot in the country.

Out of Africa (1985) Trailer starring Meryl Streep and Robert Redford

Out of Africa (1985) was shot in Ngong Hills, pushing the location to film-making limelight. Ngong Hills is about 22 kilometers southwest of Kenya’s capital, Nairobi.

Other popular film locations in Kenya include Loiyangalani near the coast of Lake Turkana where The Constant Gardener (2005) was shot, Hell’s Gate National Park where Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life (2003) was filmed, Nairobi where the Netflix series, Sense8 (2015) was shot and Baringo where Nowhere in Africa (2001) was shot.

Nowhere in Africa went on to win over 14 international awards, including the 2003 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language film.

Kenya is also a great destination for television wildlife productions. Many award winning wildlife series have been shot in Kenya by Discovery and BBC Natural History. BBC’s Big Cat Diary, shot in Maasai Mara, follows the lives of the predators there.

Some scenes in Sense8 were shot in Nairobi, Kenya

Kenya’s natural beauty, predictable weather and wildlife experience are the main incentives that draw filmmakers from around the world.

In addition, Kenya has a single-window system, a one-stop shop that allows foreign filmmakers to obtain and submit regulatory documents such as permits and licensing at a single location instead of having to visit different government agencies in different locations.

Our favorite foreign films shot in Kenya include Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls (1995), Going Bananas (1987), Out of Africa (1985) and Nowhere in Africa (2001).

Egypt

There’s just something exotic, mysterious and otherworldly about Egypt. From its ancient history and mythology to its stunning architecture and landscape, Egypt has appeared time and time again in many works of art including film. It’s no wonder that almost every film director worth his salt wants to shoot at least one movie in Egypt.

Egypt has had a long history with hosting foreign film and TV productions like

  • Michael Bay’s Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen shot in Luxor and at the Pyramids,
  • The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) shot at Karnak Temple in Luxor,
  • The Mummy (1999) shot in Luxor,
  • The Ten Commandments (1956) shot in Memphis,
  • Malcom X (1992) and
  • Fair Game (2010) shot in Cairo. Fair Game also stars Egyptian actor Hanaa Abdel Fattah

However, due to past incidents of unrest in Egypt and great competition from countries like Morocco, some projects have been known to opt for other locations as evident in Ridley Scott’s Exodus: Gods and Kings.

This has led to a slow decline of foreign film productions in Egypt. In trying to remedy the situation, the Egyptian authorities have established a series of financial incentives and a trade body to promote Egyptian films abroad and to attract more international productions into the country.

A scene from Death on The Nile (1978)

Our favorite films shot in Egypt include Malcolm X (1992), Cleopatra (1963), Death on the Nile (1978), The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) and Syriana (2005), produced by George Clooney.

Tunisia

Tunisia is another northern African country that has proven over the years to be a top film destination in Africa.

One of the most popular franchise in modern film-making, Star Wars, was shot in Tunisia. The original Star Wars was filmed in Tunisia in 1976. George Lucas had originally planned for scenes involving Tatooine, Luke Skywalker’s home, to be shot in the Philippines, but later changed his mind for Tataouine, a location in Tunisia.

Subsequently, other films in the series (The Phantom Menace in 1997, Attack of the Clones in 2000 and Revenge of the Sith in 2003) were all shot in the country.

Star Wars: The Phantom Menace trailer

Other famous movies filmed in Tunisia include Monty Python’s Life of Brian (1979), where Tunisia stood in for Israel, The English Patient (1996) shot in Tunis and The Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) set in Kairouan masquerading as Egypt’s Cairo. 1001 Nights (1990) and Black Gold (2011) were also shot in Tunisia.

Tunisia can attribute its success as a top film destination in Africa to many factors. Firstly, the variety of scenes found in the country like deserts, forests, beaches, mountains, industrial landscapes and souks are simply outstanding.

Secondly, getting permission for a foreign film production is pretty easy in Tunisia as it requires obtaining only one permit from the Ministry of Culture to cover the entire shoot. Also cast and crew members, who are US or EU citizens, are not required to have work visas before shooting in the country.

Thirdly, Tunisia has adequate infrastructure to cater to the film industry as well as locally skilled film workers to help in production.

Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Making

Our favorite foreign movies shot in Tunisia include the 1977 miniseries, Jesus of Nazareth, all the Star Wars movies and Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981).

Namibia

Mesmerizing, desolate and enthralling, the Namibian desert, located in the southern part of Africa, is a juxtaposition of emotions at first glance. On this backdrop, has many a movie been made.

Stanley Kubrick’s stunning opening scene in 2001: A Space Odyssey was shot in Spitzkoppe, Namibia. The 1968 movie went on to win four Oscar awards one of which was for Best Visual Effects.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) – Opening Scene

Namibia was also the film destination for the 2003 Beyond Borders starring Angelina Jolie and Clive Owen. The Hunters (1957), The Cell (2000), Flight of the Phoenix (2004), 10,000 BC (2008) and Gallowwalkers (2012) are all movies that were shot in the Namib Desert in Namibia

2015 saw the shooting of the box office film, Mad Max: Fury Road. The film was shot on location in Namibia for 100 days after rains cut short the film’s initial plan for the Australian desert outback.

Mad Max: Fury Road – Behind the scenes shoot (Namibia)

Namibia is a great film destination in Africa that happens to be politically stable. Its proximity to South Africa is also another plus. Additionally, Namibia has a very supportive film commission that helps out with local permits and logistics which intending filmmakers consider when looking for film locations in Africa.

Our favorite foreign films shot in Namibia include Dhoom 2 (2006), Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) and The Mummy (2017) starring Tom Cruise.

Conclusion

Africa as a film destination is growing in leaps and bounds every day as more and more productions move to the continent. We hope to see this collaboration yield tangible results like a more vibrant film industry across Africa.

Tell us in the comment section about other great film destinations in Africa that you know of.

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