Once the director calls out, “That’s a wrap!”—the props go off to museums, auction houses, private collections, and studio warehouses—but what about the actual sets themselves?
It may surprise you, but demolition is the most common fate for movie set builds. In other cases, sets are repurposed or recycled. If they are from a particularly iconic film, the sets may rest eternal on the film studio’s back lot. Occasionally, sets are bought by eccentric actors, prop houses, or simply abandoned.
Sets are often built quickly, using the least expensive materials possible. Set designers know the bare minimum they need to put in for the sets to appear real on film.
For instance, Ron Howard’s 2000 “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” was used in a few holiday events and factored into the Back Lot tours for a few months, but by April 2020, it was fully demo-ed. Though the impressive-looking set used whimsical architecture, 1,938 candy canes, and enough artificial snow to cover nine football fields, the sets were not built to withstand the hot sun and much of the paint had faded.
Even more notoriously, MGM torched the village from the 1930s “King Kong” to film the burning of Atlanta and make room for the plantation set in the already-over-budget “Gone with the Wind.”
Not only is it painful from a sentimental perspective when you think of all the hard work that went into creating these sets, but a large film set can create 225 tons of scrap metal and nearly 50 tons of construction debris, so hopefully filmmakers will pursue alternate ends for their sets as we advance toward a less wasteful society.
Reserved, Repurposed, or Recycled
Productions big and small typically demolish their sets, but films that fail to budget may have no choice but to try reselling or repurposing some or all of it. Conversely, high-end blockbuster films may have sets that were designed to come apart and go into storage.
The film set for the “Friends” television show, for example, was recreated for the reunion 17 years after wrap, though it wasn’t easy to track down every piece. Though they had to rebuild the Central Perk set, which had been modified so much that it couldn’t be relocated, the actors’ apartments were largely intact. Where they couldn’t precisely replicate the set, they used flowers to mask it, causing art director Greg Grande to joke, “Who died?”
Other examples of repurposed sets include: the “War of the Worlds” plane crash set (reused in “Scary Movie 4” and a Rihanna music video); the Nazi submarine from “Das Boot” (reused—and broken in—“Raiders of the Lost Ark”); the “Dark City” sets reused in “The Matrix”; and the original “Phantom of the Opera” theatre borrowed for a new “Muppets” movie.
Studio Back Lots
Studio tours are a fun experience for movie buffs, offering fans a chance to see some of their favorite and carefully-preserved sets. For instance, Warner Bros houses sets from TV shows like “Friends,” “The Big Bang Theory,” and “Ellen,” as well as movies like “Harry Potter” and the batcave from “Batman.”
Universal Studios’ back lot tour includes sets from “Back II the Future,” “Jurassic Park,” “Pirates of the Caribbean,” “Apollo 13,” “Transformers,” “Jaws,” “Psycho,” and “Gremlins.”
Abandoned (and Beloved by Tourists)
Sometimes, at the request of the property owner or due to budgetary concerns, film sets are simply left behind. One of the most famous examples is the 12-acre set from “The Hobbit” and “Lord of the Rings” franchises still standing in Matamata, New Zealand. Tim Burton’s fictional town of Spectre from “Big Fish” is sitting on an island in the middle of a river in Alabama, looking as purposefully dilapidated as it did when first built in 2003.
In Tunisia, the “Star Wars” planet of Tatooine—repurposed as Mos Espa in “The Mandalorian” and “Book of Boba Fett”—remains a popular tourist attraction when it’s not used in filming. Similarly, Belfast tour operators offer to take fans to a number of “Game of Thrones” film sets, including Winterfell, the crypts, an archery range, and the Old Castle Ward where Bran was pushed out the window.
After starring in the infamous 1980 film “Heaven’s Gate,” Jeff Bridges leaped at the chance to acquire the cabin, “Hogs Ranch” whore house, and barn from the set. The hand-hewn logs were disassembled, numbered, driven 200 miles south to his ranch, and rebuilt. The bullet holes are still in the log cabin.
Lastly, you can also find set pieces at a salvage and rental facility. At Movie Prop Rentals’ warehouse, we not only have tens of thousands of props available for purchase or rent, but we also have sets for Wild West movies, space thrillers, Ancient Egyptian adventures, and more. If we don’t have it in stock already, we can create it for you in our 3D print and foam fabrication studio next door. Contact Movie Prop Rentals for a free quote on movie set builds to determine how to make your Hollywood dreams come true.