The 9 Largest Movie Sets in the History of Film, Explained

Ben-Hur (1959)

In Hollywood and the movie business, big film budgets mean big sets and on this list of the biggest movies sets of all-time, we see production and set design elevated to a grand scale. From Titanic and The Ten Commandments to Batman and Fast & Furious 6, we’ve included the most massive and expansive of the big movie sets in this list. 

Famous film directors like Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, and Cecil B. DeMille have directed on some of the biggest movie sets of all time, many of them with budgets that spiraled out of control and way beyond what anybody expected. Take a look at these big movie sets and prepare to be amazed by the lengths to which filmmakers and movie studios will go in the pursuit of memorable motion pictures!

1. Ben-Hur (1959)

Ben-Hur (1959)

William Wyler had 1,000 workers carve away at a rock quarry to create the arena that was designed based on a Jerusalem circus. More than 40,000 pounds of lumber were used to construct the set, which was populated by around 10,000 extras. The scene alone cost $8 million in today’s money.

2. The Hobbit (2012)

The Hobbit (2012)

If we’re going to make a list of the biggest movie sets, then Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit needs to be on this list. While the country of New Zealand is certainly featured prominently in both The Hobbit trilogy and The Lord of the Rings trilogy, the 522,720 square foot Hobbiton certainly stands out. As a matter of fact, the set has become a popular tourist attraction in New Zealand.

3. The Ten Commandments (1923)

The Ten Commandments (1923)

In 1923, filmmaker Cecil B. DeMille oversaw the construction of the most expensive film in history up to that point: the epic The Ten Commandments. When filming was completed, DeMille ordered that the entire set be dismantled and buried. It laid forgotten for around 90 years when, in 2012, a group of archaeologists began searching for the remains of the set. They unearthed at least twenty plaster Sphinx heads that weighed 300 pounds eachWithout special effects, the crew had to actually create the monumental statues that would appear on film, contributing to the exorbitant budget of The Ten Commandments. The film cost at least $1.4 million, which is about $21 million in contemporary costs.

4. It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)

It's a Wonderful Life (1946)

This Frank Capra classic that has since become a Christmas tradition featured a four acre set that was assembled in three parts. Originally designed by art director Max Ree for the 1931 epic film Cimarron, the set featured a main street that stretched three city blocks (300 yards), complete with 75 stores and buildings and a residential neighborhood. Capra also had a working bank and a center parkway added to the set, including 20 full grown oak trees. Pigeons, cats, and dogs were allowed to roam the massive set in order to make the set feel more natural.

5. Rear Window (1954)

Rear Window (1954)

As anyone who has seen Alfred Hitchcock’s suspense classic knows, the entire apartment building courtyard was the largest set at Paramount Studios and made careful use of natural sounds and music drifting across the building courtyard.

6. Fast & Furious 6 (2013)

Fast & Furious 6 (2013)

The never-ending runway at the end of Fast & Furious 6 was all kinds of huge. While the 26 mile-long runway got a lot of attention, the actual marvel comes in the construction of the plane. Director Justin Lin had a 30 foot high, 75 foot long, and 50 foot wide replica of a fuselage complete with wheels constructed for filming.

Also constructed was a full-scale build of the central fuselage with wings, engines, a nose that could be set on fire, and a tail of the plane with a ramp to allow the cars to drive in and out. To complete the scene more than 200 crew members and more than 350 visual effects artists were involved.

7. Stalingrad (2013)

Stalingrad (2013)

Stalingrad blows away many other military films with the construction of a massive war-torn city. Nearly $4 million was spent to create the gloomy set for the film, which centers on the bloody clash for the city during the early-’40s.

8. The Goonies (1985)

The Goonies (1985)

One-Eyed Willie’s massive ship, which took two months to construct, was concealed from the young cast so that director Richard Donner could film their initial wonderment during the first take. However, this backfired when the youngsters let out a series of curse words that would have bumped the PG-rated movie several notches up the ratings scale. The ship was constructed on Stage 16, one of the largest sound stages in America.

9. Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

David Lean’s nearly four hour epic features one of the most elaborate (at the time) battle sequences. Set in a make-shift town in a dried river bed in southern Spain that doubled for the middle of a desert, it consisted of more than 300 buildings and was meticulously based on the town of Aqaba as it appeared in 1917.

Star Peter O’Toole was nearly killed when he fell from his camel in this scene but fortunately, the camel stood over the actor and prevented the extras’ horses from trampling him.