Perhaps the most famous thing about the MCU, other than the many characters that it has pulled from the comics it takes its name from, is that most of these films shoot almost entirely in Atlanta on a wide array of soundstages. Those soundstages certainly have some advantages, including their adaptability to various circumstances, and the way that actors can fairly seamlessly be integrated into VFX.
Sometimes, though, a real location is the best way to go, even if it has to be CGI enhanced afterward. The MCU doesn’t use practical locations all that often, but these are seven examples of times when it did to great effect
Xandar Plaza, Guardians of the Galaxy
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The original Guardians of the Galaxy is among the most skillful in the entire MCU when it comes to the use of CGI. While there are plenty of built sets and copious use of CGI, though, director James Gunn also understands when it makes sense to use a real location.
That’s exactly what he chose to do for the first time that most of the Guardians meet and fight over the orb that Quill has already stolen once. It’s a really solid piece of action, and takes full advantage of the Liege-Guillemins Railway Station in Belgium, which is where the fight was filmed. It’s the ideal stand-in for Xandar’s capital.
Pier 13, Captain America: The First Avenger
Although the opening scenes of Captain America: The First Avenger are set in New York, the most prominent location that you can actually visit is actually in the U.K. The Titanic Hotel in Liverpool, England, is where Steve Rogers chases down a HYDRA agent shortly after becoming the super soldier version of himself.
The hotel functions as the exteriors, and offers the right sort of historic setting to make the scene feel appropriately period set. The First Avenger remains a bit of an outlier in the MCU, and its period aesthetics are part of the reason that the movie feels so distinct.
Exeter College, Doctor Strange
In spite of its primary New York setting, perhaps the single coolest shooting location in Doctor Strange is Exeter College, where the MCU villain Kaecilius conjures a spell designed to contact Dormammu so that he can get revenge on the ancient one.
That summoning takes place in the chapel at Exeter College, a beautiful space that you should able to visit the next time you make your way to London. And, because the space wasn’t doubling for anything else, you should be able to recognize large swaths of it whenever you get the chance to check it out yourself.
Tower City Center, The Avengers
You wouldn’t think that the setting for one of the key sequences in The Avengers would have been shot in Cleveland, but that’s exactly the case. Tower City Center in Cleveland doubled for Loki’s platform in Germany during a key scene when Loki delivers a speech about how much humanity loves to be ruled.
It’s a great speech, and one that gives Captain America a shining moment when he finally arrives on the scene. If you ever visit Tower City Center, you’ll likely notice that they left much of the location unchanged. It’s a pretty beautiful location, which may explain why they chose to use it in the first place.
Warrior Falls, Black Panther
Of all the films in the MCU to date, perhaps none of them feels more grounded in a specific place than Black Panther. Perhaps the film’s coolest set is Warrior Falls, the location where T’Challa earns his right to be crowned king, and then eventually loses to Killmonger.
Although the close-ups of the battle were all filmed on sets, the establishing shots of the waterfalls were actually filmed at Iguazu Falls in South America. The beauty of those falls is just one of the many ways in which Wakanda comes alive, and the fact that a version of these falls exists in the real world feels almost too good to be true.
Old Royal Navy College, Thor: The Dark World
Most people don’t remember Thor: The Dark World all that fondly, but the film’s climactic sequence, which features a battle through portals across dimensions, is genuinely riveting.
Part of the reason that the sequence works so well, though, is that the battle between Thor and the Dark Elf Malekith took place at the Old Royal Navy College in London. This sequence gives the climax a sense of place that many Marvel climaxes lack, in part because they were filmed almost entirely in front of some sort of colored screen.
HYRDA Research Base, Avengers: Age of Ultron
The opening sequence if Age of Ultron is among the high points of the entire film, and one of the reasons for the sequence’s success is its real-world location. As we see the Avengers once again working together to raid a HYDRA base that resembles a castle in their search for the Chitauri Scepter and the Mind Infinity Stone, we’re instantly reminded of the chemistry they built as a unit in the first movie.
As it turns out, that sequence was filmed at Fort Bard (or Forte di Bard) in Bard, Italy, which is currently the home to the Museum of the Alps. Although the fort was only used for the exteriors, it gives the sequence a grounded, realistic feeling.