Permission to shoot? Granted…

With restrictions starting to ease in the UAE, the local film industry is beginning to take off again.

Dubai Film and TV Commission (DFTC), the agency responsible for issuing filming permits, had stopped providing them due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Now, DFTC has now announced plans to resume its services.

Those wishing to obtain a film permit will, of course, have to satisfy a long list of health security requirements, but this is an important milestone on the road to recovery.

To celebrate, we’re taking a look at some of the amazing cinematic works that have used the UAE as a backdrop.

Star Trek Beyond (2016)

When the location scouts were searching for a futuristic cityscape to set the third installment of this sci-fi reboot saga, Dubai must have stuck out immediately. Its Tomorrowland architecture, fast cars, smart city credentials and Metro stations that look straight outta 3020 make it the perfect candidate for offering a glimpse of what’s to come. So much so, that while many of the scenes were digitally enhanced, we recognised countless locations.

JLT, DIFC and the Burj Khalifa all star alongside the cast’s own big names, including Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Simon Pegg, Karl Urban, Zoe Saldana, Idris Elba and Anton Yelchin. Off station, life isn’t so rosy for the crew of the Starship Enterprise, who are attacked by an aggressive race of space lizards (shhh) and have to escape an inhospitable alien world. Should have stayed in Dubai…

Independence Day: Resurgence (2016)

This sequel to the hugely popular 2001 movie starring Will Smith, didn’t hit quite as well with the critics, but it is absolutely watchable if you let yourself embrace the cheesiness of it all. As you might expect from a film that puts humanity on the brink of annihilation, there’s not a lot of happy imagery for planet Earth – Dubai’s big moment comes in the form of the Burj Khalifa being up-ended and used to shish kebab a section of London’s South Bank. Those aliens really did us dirty.

Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (2011)

Five out of five sweaty palms for the stunts in this, the fourth Mission Impossible movie. The MI gang are in Dubai to intercept the sale of some launch codes and prevent nuclear war, culminating in an incredible free-climbing Burj Khalia scene that more than makes up for the sprinkling of artistic license used in the film’s geography of Dubai. Still, you’re a more tolerant human than us if you can watch Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) run directly out of DIFC and into some unspecified Old Dubai souk, without commenting loudly on the incredulity of it all.

Dune (2020)


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Come on down, the spice is right. Set to hit the big screen in December this year, Dune is director Denis Villeneuve’s interpretation of the classic Frank Herbert science fiction novel of the same name, and serves as a reboot to the popular 1984 movie. This time around, the cast is headed up by Josh Brolin, Rebecca Ferguson, Timothée Chalamet and Jason Momoa. The story follows Paul Atreides (Chalamet), a young man thrust into a power struggle on a distant planet, where two houses battle for control of the galaxy’s most precious resource, a ‘spice’ called Melange. The main location for the action is the desert planet of Arrakis. *Abu Dhabi enters stage left with much deserty swagger*.

6 Underground (2019)

There’s some pretty simple box-office arithmetic that goes into putting Michael Bay and Ryan Reynolds together. You know you’re going to get epic cinematography backed up by frantic action scenes and sassy dialogue, delivered with trademark Reynolds panache, which neatly sums up this particular high energy, super fun Netflix movie. And a lot of it was filmed right here in Abu Dhabi – so much of it, in fact, that Michael Bay was able to create this amazing compilation of shots as a stunning little side project (above). Gosh, aren’t we pretty.

Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens (2015)

We always knew the force was strong with AUH, but did you know the planet of Jakku – where we first meet Rey (Daisy Ridley), the central protagonist of the final Star Wars Trilogy – is actually Abu Dhabi? Or at least that’s where those scenes were filmed. Star Wars is one of the biggest movie franchises of all time, so having your location immortalised as part of the saga is a pretty big deal. Abu Dhabi actually gets a name check in the movie too, during a conversation with companion Finn (John Boyega), Rey refers to a location called ‘Liwa Outpost’. A kestral run we can plug into our sat nav, and make in less than 12 parsecs. A message to the creators of Disney+ series, The Mandalorian, if you’re looking for a location to shoot Season Two, we can totally see Baby Yoda lifting an X-Wing out of the mangroves.

Mission Impossible Fallout (2018)

OK, forgive us, this is a bit of a cop-out. Despite the movie racking up more destinations than a gap-year student with a trust fund, there’s only one scene filmed here in the UAE. And they used CGI to make it look like Paris. It’s during Ethan Hunt’s (Tom Cruise) ill-fated lightning-besieged HALO (high altitude, low opening) parachute jump. As an interesting bit of background, it took Cruise 106 jumps to get those precious few moments of screen time.

Furious 7 (2015)

Love them or hate them, Fast and Furious movies are a big deal at the box office. And the seventh installment of the franchise, Furious 7, takes some of its road rage out on the cinematic streets of our capital. In one of the most physics-defying scenes from a series known for playing fast and loose with the laws of nature, Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker) and Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) take a Lykan Hypersport car and jump between the Jumeirah at Etihad Towers. Twice. This movie was sadly Paul Walker’s last, as he tragically passed away during filming. Impressive CGI rendering was used to fill in his final scenes to make for an emotional farewell.  

Race 3 (2018)

Race 3 was not the first and certainly won’t be the last of the big-budget Indian movies shot in Abu Dhabi. This explosive action flick has a cast list that includes Bollywood legends Salman Khan, Anil Kapoor and Bobby Deol. The story follows an uncle and nephew team, embroiled in the arms trade. They battle with ferocious competitors, betrayals and a dream to return to India safely. The movie was shot in six different locations in the capital, including Emirates Palace, W Abu Dhabi – Yas Island (at the time known as Yas Viceroy), the St Regis Abu Dhabi, the ADNEC, Emirates Steel and Liwa.

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Misfits (2020?)


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This film is fixing to drop sometime this year. Probably. We don’t know much about it, other than a rough outline of the plot (gold heist goes awry – don’t they always?) and that it stars Pierce Brosnan, Jamie Chung and Tim Roth. We also know that the movie is set in the Middle East, that they’ve been filming at several spots the UAE, and that Abu Dhabi was selected as ‘the primary shoot’ location.

Images: Unsplash