Thor, Elvis and Joe Exotic in Aussiewood: 15 film and TV productions filming in Australia’s pandemic screen boom

The COVID cloud has had a silver screen lining for Australia: as dozens of Hollywood stars flock Down Under, business is booming like never before

As of February this year, there were over 40,000 Australians stranded overseas, desperate to return home. Meanwhile, Dylan Efron smoothly jetted into Sydney, marvelling on Instagram at the standard of room service in his quarantine hotel as he waited to help his brother and High School Musical star Zac produce the Netflix series Down To Earth.

He wasn’t the only celebrity whose travel permit was miraculously fast-tracked. While a country town’s worth of citizens waited in coronavirus-riddled hot spots with increasing incredulity, Christian Bale, Matt Damon, Julia Roberts, Idris Elba, Liam Neeson, Melissa McCarthy and many other stars had the red carpet rolled out for their arrival in Australia.

But the influx of cinema royalty did at least show that the cloud of coronavirus had a pretty spectacular silver screen lining Down Under. Dozens of major movie productions have fled the US west coast for the Aussie east coast, boosting the local economy to the estimated tune of $3billion and creating thousands of cast and crew jobs. Furiosa, George Miller’s Chris Hemsworth-starring prequel to Mad Max: Fury Road, alone will pump a cool $350million into the NSW treasury in 2022. Meanwhile, Marvel is rumoured to be ditching Atlanta to film in Sydney for the next five years.

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The timing couldn’t be better: the domestic industry has struggling, with too many films bombing at the box office both here and internationally. The Film Finance Corporation invested $1.35billion in local productions between 1988 and 2008 and made a paltry $274million in return, a payback of just 20 per cent over 20 years.

The share of total domestic box office receipts from locally produced pictures has more than halved in recent years. In 2018, of the 63 new Australian movies released here, only 16 made more than $100,000 and, of those, just six earned over $1million.

Here are 15 major film and TV productions that have made themselves at home in Aussiewood.

Thor Love and Thunder filming in Australia Chris Hemsworth Taika Waititi Tessa Thompson Russell Crowe Natalie Portman
‘Thor: Love and Thunder’ cast Chris Hemsworth, Tessa Thompson and Natalie Portman with director Taika Waititi at 2019 San Diego Comic Con. Credit: Albert L. Ortega/Getty Images

Thor: Love And Thunder starring Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Russell Crowe and more

Where: Sydney

Sydney is hosting Taika Waititi’s sequel to Thor: Ragnarok with Chris Hemsworth back as the titular hero, Natalie Portman appearing as Mighty Thor, Tessa Thompson as Valkyrie, Christian Bale as Gorr the God Butcher and Russell Crowe in a cameo appearance as Zeus. Centennial Park became New Asgard with other scenes shot at Fox Studios. Over 2,500 local jobs were created.

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Tom Hanks
Tom Hanks. CREDIT: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic.

Elvis starring Tom Hanks, Austin Butler, Dacre Montgomery and more

Where: Gold Coast

This production is perhaps most famous for the fact its star, Tom Hanks, and his wife, Rita Wilson, caught the coronavirus while filming in March 2020, becoming two of the first celebs to be diagnosed with COVID-19. But shooting resumed in September, with Baz Luhrmann transforming the Gold Coast into downtown Memphis. The biopic features a who’s who of Aussie cinema, including Richard Roxburgh, David Wenham, Dacre Montgomery, Luke Bracey and Xavier Samuel.

Tiger King spinoff show Joe Exotic Kate McKinnon Carole Baskins
Kate McKinnon. Credit: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

Joe Exotic starring Kate McKinnon, John Cameron Mitchell and more

Where: Queensland

SNL alumnus Kate McKinnon will play Carole Baskin in this Tiger King-spinoff drama with the working title Joe Exotic, one of at least three in production. Sadly, this isn’t the one where Nicolas Cage is attached to play the titular mulleted convict. Instead he’ll be brought to life by John Cameron Mitchell, perhaps best known as the Tony Award-winning writer of the musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch.

Liam Neeson
Liam Neeson. CREDIT: Samuel de Roman/WireImage.

Blacklight starring Liam Neeson

Where: Melbourne and Canberra

Neeson’s latest reluctant-everyman-vows-revenge thriller filmed in Melbourne last year, employing 500 locals. In an unlikely move, Canberra doubled for Washington D.C. in a night-time car chase choreographed by Mad Max stunt director Guy Norris. The 60-strong crew and hundreds of extras involved in the scene brought an estimated $1million in revenue to the city.

Anya Taylor-Joy
Anya Taylor-Joy. Credit: Jacopo Raule/Getty Images

Furiosa starring Anya Taylor-Joy and Chris Hemsworth

Where: New South Wales

Set to shoot next year at locations around Broken Hill, NSW, George Miller’s prequel to his outrageously successful Mad Max: Fury Road will create 850 jobs and become the most expensive movie ever shot in Australia. The Queen’s Gambit’s breakthrough star Anya Taylor-Joy takes over the role of the young title character, originally played by Charlize Theron, and Chris Hemsworth appears in an as yet unknown role. Miller will be praying for better weather than on the last instalment, which had to switch filming to Namibia after prolonged rain made the Aussie desert too green.

Hulk Hogan
Chris Hemsworth. CREDIT: Getty Images

Escape From Spiderhead starring Chris Hemsworth

Where: Gold Coast

This Netflix sci-fi thriller – also starring Chris Hemsworth – is about two convicts who agree to undergo mind-altering medical experiments in return for a shorter sentence. It began production on the Gold Coast last November, and it’s been reported that Hemsworth is negotiating for the next three films in his contract with the streaming giant to also be filmed in his native Australia.

Colin Farrell Thirteen Lives Tham Luang Thailand cave rescue movie Ron Howard
Colin Farrell. Credit: Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images

Thirteen Lives starring Colin Farrell, Joel Edgerton and Viggo Mortensen

Where: Gold Coast

Ron Howard is directing the incredible story of the 2018 Thai cave drama watched by the world, where a junior football team became trapped underground for 18 days by rising waters. Filming began in March 2021 on the Gold Coast, with Colin Farrell, Joel Edgerton and Viggo Mortensen playing the rescue team, after the Australian government committed $13million to the project.

Idris Elba. CREDIT: Image Press Agency / Alamy Stock Photo

Three Thousand Years Of Longing starring Idris Elba and Tilda Swinton

Where: Sydney

George Miller’s decidedly low-octane follow-up to Fury Road is a touching love story between Idris Elba and Tilda Swinton, filmed over 62 days in Sydney. Plans to shoot some scenes in Istanbul were shelved due to the pandemic. The veteran director has described the movie as “anti-Mad Max”, with plenty of interiors and dialogue. Still, a $60million budget suggests it won’t be that small in scale: Producer Doug Mitchell has described the sets as “some of the most spectacular I’ve ever seen”.

Simu Liu Marvel Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings
Simu Liu. Credit: George Pimentel/Getty Images for Disney Studios

Shang-Chi and The Legend Of The Ten Rings starring Simu Liu, Tony Leung and more

Where: Sydney

Marvel’s first Asian-led superhero movie started production in Sydney last February, only to hit pause for months due to the pandemic. Production resumed in late July, with aerial photos of sets of villages and compounds making the rounds online. The movie, starring Simu Liu as the titular hero alongside Tony Leung and Awkwafina, dropped a splashy trailer in April and will hit theatres in September.

George Clooney
George Clooney. Credit: David M. Benett/Dave Benett/Getty Images

Ticket To Paradise starring George Clooney and Julia Roberts

Where: Queensland

The Whitsunday Islands double as Bali for this George Clooney/Julia Roberts rom com about warring parents desperate to stop their daughter’s wedding. The project, also shooting on the Gold Coast, received $6.4million in government grants and is expected to bring $47million to the local economy.

Zac Efron filming movie Gold Australia outback
Zac Efron. Credit: Samir Hussein/WireImage

Gold starring Zac Efron

Where: South Australia

Zac Efron is on leading man duties for this Stan original picture about outback drifters unearthing the biggest gold nugget ever found. It’s produced and directed by Aussie actor Anthony Hayes, who also co-wrote the script and appears opposite Efron. “This is a timely tale about greed, humanity, what we’ve done to the world and where we are heading if we aren’t careful,” Hayes said.

Melissa McCarthy
Melissa McCarthy. CREDIT: Gabe Ginsberg/WireImage

Nine Perfect Strangers starring Nicole Kidman and Melissa McCarthy

Where: Northern Rivers, NSW

The adaptation of Big Little Lies author Liane Moriarty’s 2018 novel was filmed in an isolated production hub in Nicole Kidman’s property in NSW’s Northern Rivers late last year, delivering $100million to the local economy. Co-star Melissa McCarthy liked the experience so much, she’s stayed on to make her new Netflix workplace comedy, God’s Favorite Idiot, in the same area.

Paul Mescal
Paul Mescal attends the Virgin Media British Academy Television Award 2020 at Television Centre on July 31, 2020 in London, England. Credit: David M. Benett/Getty Images

Carmen starring Paul Mescal, Melissa Barrera and more

Where: New South Wales

Paul Mescal, the chain-sporting star of Normal People, replaced Jamie Dornan in this modern-day adaptation of the classic opera. Mescal stars opposite Melissa Barrera in the title role in Benjamin Millepied’s directorial debut, which took the cast to NSW locations including Sydney and the rural town of Breadalbane and wrapped in March.

Dwayne Johnson pictured in 2019. CREDIT: RB/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images

The Young Rock starring Dwayne Johnson

Where: Brisbane

Dwayne Johnson, the planet’s highest paid movie star, shifted production of his fictitious life story to Brisbane when LA studios shut up shop last year. He declared that the crew were “making this dream come true”, and the 11-episode NBC show was a critical and ratings hit.

Toni Collette in new Netflix drama Pieces Of Her
Toni Collette. Image: Rich Polk/Getty Images for IMDb

Pieces Of Her starring Toni Collette and David Wenham

Where: New South Wales

Blacktown-born actress Toni Collette leads this new Netflix series, an eight-episode psychological thriller that adapts the book by crime author Karin Slaughter. The show has been filming in various NSW locations, from the Blue Mountains to Surry Hills, and looks to deliver 400 local jobs and an estimated $58million to the state’s economy.

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