From Arrakis to Agrabah: Eight major films that have been shot in Jordan

We take a look at some films that have brought the kingdom's stunning landscapes to the big screen

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Last week, Jordan's Royal Film Commission released a video showing the crew of a South Korean thriller, Bargaining, arriving at Queen Alia International Airport.

It was a small but hopeful bit of news for the country's film industry, which – like most of its counterparts in the region and the wider world – has been heavily affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

“With the current global health situation, the return of such a big production filming in Jordan is proof that the country is ready and safe enough to open up for filming again," Mohannad Al-Bakri, the commission's managing director, said.

Special arrangements were made for the Bargaining crew to enter the country – and they had to undergo a quarantine period in a Amman hotel – but it was still a welcome sign of the industry picking up pace again.

Jordan is, and has long been, a favoured destination for filmmakers. And, between its jagged, bronze desertscapes and historic landmarks, it’s easy to see why, with Wadi Rum and Petra among its most popular filming sites.

So, with that in mind, we take a look at what to expect from Bargaining, as well as rounding up seven other films that made Jordan their backdrop.

1. ‘Bargaining’

A South Korean thriller based on real events, Bargaining tells the story of a National Intelligence Service agent and a diplomat, who work together to save a group of 23 South Koreans taken hostage in Afghanistan.

Filming was originally set to begin in Jordan in March, however, production was postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic.

It's not the first South Korean production to have been filmed in Jordan. The award-winning TV series Misaeng was shot in Amman, Wadi Rum and Petra, in 2014.

2. ‘Theeb’

Directed by Naji Abu Nowar, Theeb tells the story of a young Bedouin boy who embarks on a dangerous journey to guide a British officer across the desert.

Filming took place in three locations: Wadi Araba, south of the Dead Sea basin, Wadi Rum and in the Dabaa region of southern Jordan.

Theeb went on to represent Jordan at the 2016 Oscars and became the first Arab film to win at the Baftas, scooping the award for Outstanding Debut by a British Writer, Director or Producer that same year.

3. ‘Lawrence of Arabia’

It's no surprise that the classic 228-minute epic based on the life of T E Lawrence was shot in Wadi Rum. The British archaeologist and army officer fought real-life battles against Ottoman forces in what is now Jordan.

However, it is worth noting that Jordan, along with several other Arab countries, banned the 1962 film, feeling that it did not represent the region and its people well. Egypt was the only country in the region to allow it to be screened after Omar Sharif (who had his breakthrough English-language role in the film) convinced then-Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser to see it.

Peter O’Toole, who played the titular character, reportedly expressed his dislike of the film, saying in an interview: “I loathe it.”

4. ‘The Martian’ 

Matt Damon’s sci-fi survival film was almost entirely shot in Jordan, with Wadi Rum posing as the surface of Mars. Filming in the Unesco World Heritage Site lasted eight days.

Wadi Rum has been used to depict the red planet in a number of other films, including Mission to Mars and The Last Days on Mars. 

5. ‘Star Wars’

The red sands and stone giants of Wadi Rum have also made an appearance in a number of Star Wars films, including Rogue One and The Rise of Skywalker. 

In Rogue One, Wadi Rum served as the location of the desert moon Jedha, whereas in The Rise of Skywalker, it was used to portray the fictional planet of Pasaana.

6. ‘Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade’ 

Petra, the ancient capital of the Nabatean empire, has a starring role in the third Indiana Jones film. It is where the titular character, played by Harrison Ford, finds the elusive Holy Grail. Hewn into a sandstone cliff, the ancient city is an archaeological marvel. It was built in 400BC but the area around it had been inhabited as early as 7000BC.

7. 'Dune'

In Frank Herbert's 1965 novel, the fictional planet of Arrakis is an arid, desert landscape dominated by creatures called sandworms. In the 2020 film adaptation of his book, those sweeping deserts found a real-life home in the UAE and in Jordan.

The protagonist, Paul Atreides, is played by Academy Award nominee Timothee Chalamet, who earlier this year recounted his experiences filming in the region.

"It was really surreal," he said in an interview with Variety, about shooting a scene at dawn in Wadi Rum. "There are these Goliath landscapes, which you may imagine existing on planets in our universe, but not on Earth."

Dune is set to be released in December.

8. ‘Aladdin’

Guy Ritchie's 2019 live-action remake of the popular Disney animation was shot partly in Wadi Rum.

A number of notable landmarks around the desert appear in the film, including the rock bridge at Jebel Kharazeh and the Seven Pillars of Wisdom, which was where the scenes set in the Cave of Wonders were filmed.