1. Castle Rock and Derry, Maine

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Stephen King’s most famous (and most often used) fictional location is his version of Maine itself; in his novels and short stories, the state is a universe unto itself, full of thick-accented locals, plucky kids, and ancient, unknowable evil. King has a fondness for revisiting familiar places (his Dark Tower series is his version of a rug that really holds the room together), and of those places, perhaps none looms larger than Castle Rock, the prototypical small town that first popped up King’s novel The Dead Zone. The Rock (as it is affectionately known) would go on to appear in several more novels and short stories, and—a rabid dog and some explosions aside—it remains the archetypal setting for the Master Of Horror: homey, slightly comical, and prone to inexplicable outbreaks of horrific, and sometimes supernatural, violence. The only place that comes close to the Rock’s prominence is Derry, which debuted in King’s 1981 short story “The Bird And The Album” and was incorporated into his magnum opus IT; while IT ostensibly marked the small city’s violent ending, Derry still pops up regularly in King’s work, with its lush wildlife and clown-infested sewers. Where Castle Rock represents a kind of cockeyed ideal, Derry is its twisted, dark reflection, where adults turn blind eyes while children die. Both serve as fitting sites for great horror fiction. [Zack Handlen]

2. Shermer, Illinois

Like most of the unifying theories of the Star Wars universe, the fictional Chicago suburb of Shermer might’ve escaped the notice of moviegoers were it not for a rambling Kevin Smith monologue. Eagle-eyed viewers may have connected Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and The Breakfast Club through props and exteriors, but the notion that every John Hughes movie takes place in the same small town reached its widest audience through Smith’s 1999 religious comedy, Dogma. In that movie, the connective tissue of Smith’s filmography—catchphrase-slinging pot dealers Jay and Silent Bob—attempt to set up shop in Shermer. Because “movies are fuckin’ bullshit,” their personal Eldorado turns out to be an illusion, but the Shermer connection is real: The same year Dogma was released, Hughes confirmed that every character in all of his movies is from Shermer. “Del Griffith from Planes, Trains & Automobiles lives two doors down from [The Breakfast Club’s] John Bender. Ferris Bueller knew Samantha Baker from Sixteen Candles,” Hughes told Premiere. “For 15 years I’ve written my Shermer stories in prose, collecting its history.” That history was abruptly cut off by Hughes’ 2009 death, but it’s still splayed out across the screens of repertory houses and cable subscribers today: A North Shore suburb where you could spot the Griswolds’ Family Truckster, a house guarded by Kevin McCallister, and a high school attended by three separate incarnations of Molly Ringwald and Anthony Michael Hall. They’re all at home in Shermer, even if Jay and Silent Bob aren’t. [Erik Adams]

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3. Val Verde

It’s the 1980s, and trouble is brewing in Central America. It could be a civil war or an attempted coup or an extraterrestrial hunting human prey in the jungle. It doesn’t matter, because the place is always the same: Val Verde, a leafy Spanish-speaking dictatorship continually under threat from Communist rebels or a military takeover. Invented by screenwriter Steven E. De Souza for the sublime, steel-drum-scored Schwarzenegger cheesefest Commando, Val Verde became a staple of De Souza’s work, popping up as a convenient stand-in location in his scripts for Die Hard 2 and the largely forgotten TV series Supercarrier, and during his later foray into comics as the writer of a short-lived Sheena, Queen Of The Jungle monthly. (The writer pulled a similar move in his sole big-budget directing effort, Street Fighter, setting the movie in an Esperanto-speaking country located where Burma should be, and swapping out the United Nations for the similarly uniformed “Allied Nations.”) Outside of De Souza’s work, Val Verde has taken on a life of its own as a film and TV in-joke; though never stated in the movie, Val Verde is considered to be the canonical setting of Predator, and is specifically named in the movie’s tie-in novelization. [Ignatiy Vishnevetsky]

4. Santa Mira, California

Alien imposters. Invisible men. Malevolent mask-makers. The sleepy California community of Santa Mira has played host to all these horrors, and several others, since director Don Siegal and screenwriter Daniel Mainwaring first introduced it in 1956’s sci-fi classic Invasion Of The Body Snatchers. Modeled after the very real Mill Valley, California—where Jack Finney actually set his 1955 book The Body Snatchers, the film’s source material—Santa Mira is the platonic ideal of safe, clean, small-town America. That makes it, in turn, the perfect ground zero for a supernatural conspiracy, as the friendly facade provides an ideal smokescreen for insidious activities. No wonder other writers and filmmakers have appropriated the fictional locale; it’s appeared, or at least been mentioned, in no less than nine other sci-fi properties, many featuring “replaced” humans—the phantoms of Dean Koontz’s Phantoms, the robot henchmen of Halloween III: Season Of The Witch, the DNAliens of Ben 10: Alien Force. It’s a town fit only for pod people, or maybe for those willing to risk life, limb, and identity for a little breezy West Coast weather. [A.A. Dowd]

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5. Wessex

“A partly-real, partly dream-country” is how the great Thomas Hardy described the setting of all his major novels, including Far From The Madding Crowd, Jude The Obscure, and The Mayor Of Casterbridge. Wessex began as a fictionalized version of the rural county of Dorset, with Casterbridge as a stand-in for Hardy’s hometown, Dorchester; however, over the course of a dozen-plus novels and countless short stories and poems, it came to encompass most of Southwestern England. All of Wessex’s counties, towns, and landmarks have real-world counterparts, which were used as references for illustrations in later editions of the novels; Hardy’s contemporary Walter Tyndale even published a popular book of color prints, titled Wessex, depicting the settings of the novels. Wessex, however, is more than just a set of coded place names—it amounts to complete vision of 19th-century society and of the English landscape. The popularity of the novels contributed significantly to the idea of a distinct Southwestern identity. [Ignatiy Vishnevetsky]

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6. Equatorial Kundu

Aaron Sorkin’s The West Wing took the DC Comics approach to world events, playing out wars and diplomacy through fictional analogues of recognizable real-world places. Poor Equatorial Kundu was that universe’s locus for seemingly all of Africa’s problems—first introduced battling drug companies for inexpensive AIDS drugs, then seeing its honorable president (a stunning, understated Zakes Mokae) gunned down after a revolution, and then, two years later, undergoing a Rwanda-style genocide, with Martin Sheen’s President Bartlet eventually committing American ground troops in the sort of idealistically stirring gesture this fictional administration was so adept at. So it was surprising when, in a third-season episode of Sorkin’s The Newsroom, staff screw-up Neal uncovers (through some accidental treason) evidence of U.S. involvement in riots taking place in Equatorial Kundu. Except that The Newsroom is Marvel to TWW’s DC—things in Newsroom reality take place in the “real world.” While there was no follow up—suggesting nothing more than some Sorkin fan service—there was the tantalizing tease that both universes were colliding in a Crisis On Infinite Earths continuity mashup, suggesting that C.J. Cregg would take Will McAvoy down a peg or two, or that Danny Concannon would slouch into ACN and teach everyone some journalistic objectivity and professionalism. [Dennis Perkins]

7. Ruritania

Anthony Hope’s 1894 adventure novel The Prisoner Of Zenda—about political intrigue and mistaken identity in a fictional central European kingdom called Ruritania—was something of a pop-cultural juggernaut in the early 20th century, spawning decades of adaptations, parodies (most notably in Vladimir Nabokov’s Pale Fire), and knock-offs. In fact, Zenda spawned so many imitators that it produced a distinct literary genre, the Ruritanian romance, and by the time Evelyn Waugh wrote a deposed Ruritanian monarch into his satirical 1930 novel Vile Bodies, in-jokes about Ruritania had become a staple of literary humor. Unsurprisingly, the tiny fictional kingdom—known for its castles, forests, and political backstabbing—has remained a favorite of literary pastiche artists, popping up in everything from Nicholas Meyer’s The Seven-Per-Cent Solution to Alan Moore’s The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and figuring prominently in Warren Ellis’ steampunk graphic novel Aetheric Mechanics. Not coincidentally, The Seven-Per-Cent Solution, The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and Aetheric Mechanics all feature characters or elements from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories; Doyle himself had worked a throwaway reference to the country into one of his later Holmes stories. [Ignatiy Vishnevetsky]

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8. Nuevos Aires

Anyone who’s played developer Brendon Chung’s popular indie games is probably familiar with the seedy, politically unstable South American city of Nuevos Aires. The Blendo Games founder has been using the setting for years, from early modding experiments in his Barista series, to artillery-based strategy game Atom Zombie Smasher, to celebrated narrative adventures like Thirty Flights Of Loving. Chung’s characters are often ciphers, and his plots, full of lightly sketched action, consequences, and betrayals, resist unraveling. But through it all, Nuevos Aires beckons, whether you’re dropping bombs to wipe out a zombie plague or engaged in a high-speed chase through its neon-lit streets. Given that Chung’s games often reject standard plot structure and intentionally resist narrative clarity, it’s possible that the city, home to shadowy assassins and the pragmatically lethal Department Of Hearts & Minds, is a much more cohesive shared universe than it first appears. But without more of that connective tissue, Nuevos Aires must stand alone: a jazzy, surf-rock filled paradox, where criminals skulk through a blocky underbelly while totalitarian dictators drop life-saving bombs from above. [William Hughes]

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9. Ilium, New York

The fictional city of Ilium, New York, appears frequently in Kurt Vonnegut’s stories and novels, especially those written early in his career—when he was living in the town’s real-life inspiration, Schenectady. Ilium is where Billy Pilgrim of Slaughterhouse-Five (a veiled version of Vonnegut himself) hangs when he’s not unstuck in time, and it’s where the scientist characters inspired by Vonnegut’s brother Bernard work in Cat’s Cradle. Vonnegut worked as a technical writer for General Electric when he lived in Schenectady, and the character David Potter begins a job at its doppelganger, Ilium Works, in the excellent short story “Deer In The Works.” Both Vonnegut and his luckiest characters escaped it. [Josh Modell]

10. San Marcos

A sublimely silly highlight of Woody Allen’s early, just-for-laughs period, Bananas casts the writer-director as a typically Woodyish nebbish who ends up, through a string of misunderstandings, briefly serving as the president of a Latin American banana republic. Understanding, perhaps, that making light of an actual country in the throes of civil war and revolution would be of questionable taste, Allen simply invented the proxy nation of San Marcos. Since then, the name has popped up in a couple of television series, providing both The A Team and MacGyver with unstable, balmy backdrops. But it wasn’t until earlier this year that audiences were granted a return engagement to Woody’s version of the fictional locale: In its divisive fifth season, Archer included a story arc involving San Marcos; in a direct nod to Bananas, the plot culminates with rich ditz Cyril Figgis appointed president of the war-torn country. As far as unqualified supreme leaders go, that’s a serious downgrade. [A.A. Dowd]

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11. Patusan

In Joseph Conrad’s 1900 novel Lord Jim, the titular character, desperate to escape his past, finds himself in the nation of Patusan. A remote island only accessible by a river through the jungle, Patusan is “outside the sphere of [mankind’s] activities and of no earthly importance to anyone,” perfect for Jim to reinvent himself for a time. Its isolated and otherworldly reputation make it an ideal location for all manner of strange activities—a startling number of which seem to have involved Ernie Reyes Jr. The 1986 Disney series Sidekicks cast Reyes as a Patusan native and heir to the title of “The Last Electric Knight,” using martial arts to keep the streets of Los Angeles safe. 1993’s Surf Ninjas went one step further, taking Reyes and a ragtag group of misfits to save Patusan—now reimagined as a small Indonesian monarchy—from the grip of Leslie Nielsen’s Colonel Chi by way of surfboards and handheld gaming consoles. From Joseph Conrad to Ernie Reyes Jr., it’s a safe bet few fictional nations have experienced such tonal shifts in their existence. [Les Chappell]