The Joy of Sets: what are your favorite/least favorite movie/TV sets?

Some movies and occasionally TV shows have a set that just really leaps out at you because it’s so great or so not-great or so just memorable. What are some that come to mind? This is preferably for movies and TV shows that had a budget. (Ed Wood’s movies were dreck, but you try building a spaceship interior/cemetery/president’s office/laboratory for $62.12 [well, okay, you’d probably still do a better job].)

My vote for greatest sets include:

Gone With the Wind and Dr. Zhivago- a tie for “best before & after a war” mansion sets. Tara after Sherman’s officers and a few thousand of their nearest and dearest friends hold a party there is fantastic- the broken mirrors, the rain(?) stained wallpaper, the general decay of a house that used to have a dozen maids that’s now down to two ex-slaves and some spoiled ex-heiresses not accustomed to housework (and really what’s the point anyway?) is just breathtaking. The house of Yuri Zhivago’s foster parents/in-laws in Dr. Zhivago is similarly great from the upper middle (or lower upper) class opulence of turn-of-the-century Russian society to the post “this house can accomodate 30 more people” disrepair and then outright destruction (burning the staircase bannister for fuel) that makes it into a ruin. I’ve wondered with both movies if they used the same sets for before/after, deliberately ruining them for the after obviously, or if they were separate sets altogether using the same plans- any idea?

Gone With the Wind also gets a “worst set” award. Scarlett’s over-the-top robber baron era mansion in Atlanta is believable (in fact nowhere near as opulent or obnoxious as some of the homes popping up on 5th Avenue and in Newport were so I can accept that (though the parrots are a bit overkill), but Twelve Oaks (much of which was painted glass overlays and didn’t actually exist) was just waaaaaaay too much to suspend disbelief. It wasn’t a southern planter’s mansion but an Old World Palace; I doubt you’d have even found a place that ostentatious and enormous in the richest families in metro NYC/Philadelphia/Boston at the time and I don’t even think Sherman’s army would have had the time to burn something that huge to the ground.

Other sets I always really liked or disliked:


Kim Novak’s shop in Bell Book & Candle was a really cool set, especially the decorations, including the hoops suspended from the ceiling to make a Christmas tree.

Titanic was, of course, breathtaking- worth seeing the movie for far more than the plot.

Really bad:

ANYTHING that’s computer graphic. I wish producers from George Lucas would grasp the fact that in most cases digital animation does not yet look real; the miniatures from the original Star Wars look far more impressive than most of the ships and interior scenes on Coruscant looked a quarter century in real years/two centuries in computer-technology years later.


I once made a comment about the Ponderosa on Bonanza being incredibly well decorated for a family of three middle aged men and an aging man whose wives die 45 minutes after he meets them. I always loved that house when I was a kid, and in a small-world coincidence learned in that thread that Doper Manatee’s grandmother-in-law was the set decorator.

I loved the interior and exterior sets of the Southfork Ranch on Dallas and it was also that odd TV house with a floorplan that actually made sense. It was obviously home to a super rich family, yet at the same time very comfortable and “homey” seeming rather than a nouveau riche “Look what we got!” feel, the type you could believe Jock and Miss Ellie building.

While I accept that sitcoms, especially those filmed before a studio audience, have severe limitations and thus must have “interesting” floor plans (there have been threads about this), even taking this into account the worst sets on TV shows all seem to belong to Garry Marshall shows. Happy Days and Laverne & Shirley had sets that looked like exactly what they were- sound studios with concrete floors and flimsy hastily thrown together walls. Sometimes when there are sets that only exist in that episode (i.e. not the Cunningham home or L&S’s apartment which are more stationary) you can actually see the walls wobble when a door is slammed- it’s totally high school theater department quality.

Designing Women- If I walked into Sugarbakers looking for a designer for anything I’d take one look at that enormous room, claim I was “looking for Nguyen’s Vietnamese Pizza place, must have the address wrong” and walk out. It’s an abysmal cross between a whorehouse and a televangelist set, and it’s also odd that even in the late 1980s they wouldn’t have computers, there were no private offices, and their Louis XIV desks were always perfectly neat and organized. I think the whole agency was a money laundering front for a Miami cocaine cartel and therefore they didn’t have to do anything but sit around and gab all day.

Enough from me- which ones do you like or not like?

Serenity from “Firefly”.

How many star ships are built as two big, continuous sets? How many have all the personal touches? None, I say. None!


I thought that many of the city-scapes from the Lord of the Rings trilogy were fantastic - and many of them were miniatures (Minas Tirith, Helm’s Deep, etc.) or at least partly life-sized (Hobbiton). In terms of more “intimate” designs, I really loved the Norse/Celtic influenced architecture of the buildings in Edoras.

Serenity in Firefly is quite good. Very personal, and you really get a strong feel for how the ship is put together, a rarity for science fiction. Very good.

I’ll submit the sets from the movie A Series of Unfortunate Events- probably the best thing about the movie, but jaw-droppingly creative, in-depth, well-planned, and well-executed sets. Spectacular. Got an Oscar nomination for that, too.

The sets for the whole movie are mediocre, but the fight scene in West Side Story (the movie) is imposing, terrifying, and brilliant. I mean the scene in the rail yard, under the overpass, where Mercutio (or whoever) dies. Huge, imposing roof, completely saturated with color. Gorgeous.

50s musicals reminds me: Guys & Dolls- okay, while I know this movie isn’t supposed to be Les Mis with its escape through the sewers scenes, and while nobody really wants to see raw sewage (and of course alligators) in the NYC sewers, it’s kind of stretching belief that you could eat off these floors and that it’s not only brightly lit but has all those colorful pipes and things on the roof. They didn’t need to go all-the-way realistic, but just a bit more reminder that you’re in a sewer might have helped.

Best movie set: the first one that occurs to me (there may be others of course) is the set for Jerry Lewis’s The Ladies Man. This is the best pic I could find, but the set alone is worth watching the movie for.

Worst TV set: anything made during the 60s and 70s, with those flat painted walls and the 12 sources of studio lights. See Mission: Impossible, for example.

Deadwood had the best set on television, by a huge margin.

The Sopranos’ house feels absolutely like a house and not a set. It always looked and felt like the place where those characters lived.

Best TV sets? I’ll have to go with the Enterprise-D from ST:TNG. It felt like you were looking at the interior of a huge, classy flagship of a spacefaring people. When you have potted plants (I think I remember a few) in the corridors, you’re not just boldly going where no one has gone before…you’re doing it in style.

Compare that to some other Trek ships, which used similar (or even merely redressed) sets. At least “NX-01” looked like it was supposed to be small, cramped, and primitive. Voyager just looked like it had the soul sucked out of it. Palatial corridors of a grand saucer section quickly became a rats nest of steel.

Anyway, before I rant too (much) more…

For best movie set? The Cheyanne Mountain War Room in Wargames. C’mon, honestly, that’s probably the one room most people here imagine when they think about WWIII. Beyond iconic. Legendary.

That’s what I was going to say. I remember once when Tony was going through the mail, there was a free AOL disk in there. I love those little realistic touches.

Not so big on the flash, but the set for 12 Angry Men was great. The mileage they got out of a room, table, chairs, a fan, and some windows was just great.

Hitchcock’s Rear Window.

I can’t tell if it was a set, a specially-constructed lot or a highly-modified location shot, but the Little Italy scenes from Godfather II were jaw-dropping. It felt like they were filmed in 1910 New York.

Absolutely. When the kids arrived at Count Olaf’s house, I leaned over to my husband at the theatre and asked, “Can we live there?”
I thought this thread was about boxed sets of DVDs. This is more interesting.

I just watched The Changeling again last week. I love big old houses, and the one they used was perfect. It helped that the movie was shot so well. When George C. Scott uncovered the door to the attic room, he was in a really small, cramped space. Hard to figure where the camera was – there wasn’t any room for one. The dusty, cobwebby attic room looked just right too.

I also loved the set for the movie version of Streetcar Named Desire and for A Catered Affair, a kitchen sink movie with Bette Davis. Poverty is hard to get right, but they did it.

Farmhouses are hard to get right too, but they did a good job with Field of Dreams and Country. Farm kitchens have cluttered kitchen counters, shoes by the door, coats hanging on hooks, useful items are out where you can get to them, not stored away.

That’s my pet peeve with houses in westerns – they’re much too neat. Those places didn’t have closets – there should be stuff everywhere.

The house in Deathtrap.

Oh I loved that house, especially the windmill. Throw in a 20 something shirtless gay Christopher Reeve walking around in it and that’s closing in on heaven.

Elizabeth Montgomery and Hal Holbrook starred in the 1978 miniseries THE AWAKENING LAND that I’ve praised many times on these boards and others. It reruns occasionally on cable but it’s never been released on video, which is odd- it has a cult following and I’m one of many who’d buy it the second it came onto DVD. It’s a 7 hour or so tale based on a trilogy of novels of Conrad Richter about the marriage of Sayward [pronounced to rhyme with ‘scared’] Luckett, a “woodsie” girl [i.e. flatland hillbillies] who marries “Bay State” lawyer [with a mysterious past that drove him to the wilderness] Portius Wheeler and spans about 30 years from the late 18th century to probably the 1820s. In the first section, Sayward’s father takes his family to the frontiers of Ohio when it is nothing but a neverending forest with Indians and a white trading post; by the 1820s the Indians are gone and all of the forest has been cleared into farms and a thriving town, and the reason it’s mentioned here is that the sets are remarkable.

In the first episode Sayward’s father builds a one room log cabin with a loft and a sole window made from a greased “marryin’ paper”. Over the next two episodes Sayward marries, has many children (7 in the miniseries, 11 in the books) and the family’s fortunes steadily increase as her husband becomes a judge [and inherits a fortune from an aunt] and Sayward’s original farm rises constantly in value as it goes from wilderness land to city lots (as you can probably tell just from this, we’re not talking North & South or some Fabio miniseries). As the family and the fortunes grow they remain in the same house, but in the miniseries as in real life you see the house constantly change: rooms are added on (every time you see the place it seems to have another wing), the rooms are whitewashed, spinning wheels and rocking chairs are added to the furnishings, the wood trenchers and pewter mugs are replaced with china dishes and glasses and the original crude furnishings with manufactured items (including a funny sideplot about Sayward’s first experience in an “off the floor bed”) and the family’s clothing goes from durable homespun to store-bought.
The credits state that it was filmed in part at New Salem Historic Site near Petersburg (and Springfield) Illinois, which adds to the authenticity. Evidently they learned from the curators there and the set designers clearly did their homework and had the cooperation of the producers as it’s one of the few (pre-HBO) miniseries that really transports you to a time and place.

Not relevant for this thread, but another great part of the authenticity is the incredibly detailed and accurate use of dialect, from Sayward’s woodsie sayings to Portius’s upscale Bostonian speech. The dialect coach was, surprisingly, dancer Marge Campion.

The interior of the space station in 2001: A Space Odyssey. I love the mod chairs in the lounge area and the slightly concave floor.


Ah, Sampiro. Were you a woman I would make you part of my harem once i am God-King. As it is, I promise that I will not have you executed for no good reason, and even if you lead an assassination attempt, your death will be quick and painless.

I always liked the Steadmans’ house on thirtysomething. It felt like a place that real people actually lived in, as opposed to the usual tv domicile that could be constructed only if tesseracts were involved.