Ten Memorable Movies Set in the Desert

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It’s the dry heat, or so they say. Barren, desolate landscapes have been a popular Hollywood location for decades. Everything from classic films likeĀ Gunga Din, to not-so classics like The Mummy, have chosen some of the world’s most infertile places to stage their adventures. Despite the arid appearance, deserts can add much to the filmmaking experience. Picturesque vistas of rolling sand dunes translate well to the big screen. The remote venue can serve as an excellent metaphor for loneliness and isolation. And the oppressive temperatures and unforgiving terrain make great obstacles for characters to overcome. Wastelands got it all! Here are ten desert movies that stand out from the pack.


Stargate (1994)
Dir. Roland Emmerich

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The movie that started a massive TV franchise introduced the galaxy-jumping ring called a “Stargate.” The original Jack O’Neil and Daniel Jackson wormhole to a desert planet to do battle with the alien king Ra. It’s a bit campy, but the premise is interesting.


Gerry (2002)
Dir. Gus Van Sant

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If nothing else, this film warns against the perils of not carrying a compass when hiking in the desert. It’s slow moving with sparse dialogue, but the impact of its conclusion is quite powerful. What would any of us do in a similar situation?


Them (1954)
Dir. Gordan Douglas

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Giant radioactive ants. It doesn’t get much wilder than that. One of many “nuclear monster” movies from the period, Them might be the best. The effects don’t hold up by today’s standards, but the story and direction are still credible.


Dir. Coen Bros.

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The Coen Brothers’ comic caper is set against the backdrop of a cactus-filled trailer park in rural Arizona. Nic Cage and Holly Hunter deliver the goods playing a mismatched couple enjoying their “salad days” together. All that’s missing is a bouncing baby boy. Stealing one sounds about right.


Walkabout (1971)
Dir. Nicolas Roeg

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After their daddy whacks himself, a teenage girl and her little brother are left to wander through the treacherous Australian outback with no food or water. What ensues is a haunting journey of self-discovery filled with stunning imagery.


Aladdin (1992)
Dir. Ron Clements and John Musker

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Disney’s animated extravaganza retells the tale of Aladdin and his magic lamp. It’s got a Genie, Sultans, magic carpets, ornate palaces and Princess Jasmine who, for a cartoon chick, is pretty smokin’. It’s one of the Mouse’s better offerings.


Dir. Anthony Minghella

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Normally, sweeping tragic romances are trite and boring. However, in the hands of a skilled director like Anthony Minghella, they can be quite impressive. The beauty of The English Patient is that no one escapes its gripping story unscathed. It also features some of the best desert cinematography ever put to film.


Dir. George Miller

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If any flick was perfect for the barren expanse of Australia, it would be this post-apocalyptic action classic. Mad Max and his ragtag band of gas station attendants go head-to-head with Lord Humungus and his gang of leather clad murderers. After nearly thirty years, it still kicks ass.


Dir. Steven Spielberg

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When it comes to pure adventure few movies compare to this one. Icons Spielberg, Lucas and Ford teamed together to create a lasting tale chock full of action, intrigue, romance and fun. The desert was the only place Raiders could exist.


Dir. David Lean

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The definition of epic. One of the greatest and most beautiful films ever made, Lawrence documents the remarkable life of British Army officer T.E. Lawrence, who served in the Middle East during World War I. The cast is a veritable who’s who of legendary actors, including Peter O’ Toole, Omar Sharif and Alec Guinness.

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