With the theatrical release of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey just a few weeks away, New Zealand is more determined than ever to convince tourists that the country, where the movie was filmed, is a real-life version of Middle-Earth, the fantastical realm at the heart of J.R.R. Tolkien's narrative. Air New Zealand features a flight-safety video starring elves, hobbits, and wizards. A forty-foot statue of Gollum has been installed at the Wellington Airport. The country has even issued legal tender stamped with the visage of Ian McKellan's Gandalf. But as silly as such hype might seem, it seriously boosts the country's bottom line; in the wake of the three Lord of the Rings films, New Zealand's international tourism rates went up by 40 percent. But New Zealand is hardly the only country to cash in by indulging tourists' desires to "visit" places featured in beloved films or television shows:
1. The Lord of the Rings' Matamata, New Zealand
Though The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey has inspired renewed interest in New Zealand's "Middle-Earth," the country has been coasting on its Lord of the Rings fame for over a decade. An entire company, dubbed Hobbiton Movie Set Tours, is devoted to taking fans to Middle-Earth by offering trips to a recreated Hobbiton in Matamata, New Zealand, complete with Hobbit holes and a meal at the famed Green Dragon Inn.
2. Twilight's Forks, Washington
Forks, Washington — a town with a population of just 3,532 — got an unexpected tourism boost when author Stephenie Meyer decided to use it as the setting for her gloomy Twilight series after searching for the "rainiest locale in the U.S." The town's tourism office has embraced its unlikely fame, staging a yearly celebration for lead character Bella's birthday and promising visitors to its website that they might just "catch a glimpse of a vampire or werewolf" if they plan a trip to Forks.
3. Breaking Bad's Albuquerque, New Mexico
Few viewers would want to live the life of cancer-stricken meth baron Walter White, the lead character of AMC's Breaking Bad — but a guided tour of the series' Albuquerque locations, including "Walter White's house," "Saul Goodman's law office," and "Tuco's hideout" has turned out to be a massive, sell-out success for local operator ABQ Trolley. The city's Convention and Visitors Bureau stresses that Breaking Bad "is based on a fictional character and story," but that hasn't stopped it from capitalizing on fans' interest by offering its own self-guided tour.
4. Sex and the City's New York, New York
Plenty of films and TV shows are set in the Big Apple, but Sex and the City is the undisputed champion of NYC's film- and TV-inspired tours, with two adults-only tours a day taking would-be Carries and Samanthas to sites like "the bar owned by Steve and Aidan" and "the shop where Charlotte bought her 'Rabbit.'" The tour also, inevitably, includes breaks for both shopping and cupcakes.
5. Sherlock Holmes' 221b Baker Street, London, England
When Sir Arthur Conan Doyle published the first Sherlock Holmes story in 1887, he situated the detective's office at 221b Baker Street, knowing that the numbers on the real-life Baker Street in London didn't go that high. When the street was extended in the 1930s — as the famous detective was being introduced to a new generation in a series of film serials — the Abbey National Building Society, which moved into a block that included the address, was forced to hire a full-time secretary to respond to the letters addressed to Sherlock Holmes. A townhouse down the block was finally designated as 221b Baker Street in 2002, allowing fans to drop in on Holmes and Watson's bachelor pad and see relics from their "adventures."