Since the early 1990’s, world-famous directors and first-class production teams have flocked to Prague, drawn by the breath-taking beauty and iconic architectural landmarks of the Czech Republic’s capital city and the presence of low-cost yet highly-qualified local staff.
During the last three decades, Prague, and the Czech Republic as a whole, has been the witness, provided the background for and, sometimes, played a central part in numerous foreign productions. From Amadeus to Casino Royale, Les Misérables to The Illusionist, here’s our top 10!
Czech director Miloš Forman’s movie on Mozart’s life told through the eyes of rival composer Salieri was acclaimed all around the world and won no less than eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actor in a Leading Role and Best Director. Although most of the story is supposed to be set in Vienna, the movie was mainly shot in Prague, a few years before the fall of communism.
The choice of Prague was no mere coincidence. A prominent figure of the Czech New Wave in the 1960’s, Miloš Forman fled the country in 1968 after the crushing of the Prague Spring. The Czechoslovak secret police therefore kept the production and shooting of Amadeus under close watch. But Mozart himself had a special bond with the Czech city, where his Don Giovanni opera premiered. The movie’s scene was actually shot at the same place as the 1787 premiere: the Estates Theatre. Last but not least, Prague’s relatively low level of development made it, back then, a more appropriate location to recreate 18th century Vienna.
Fun fact: did you know that David Bowie was considered to play Mozart and that Mick Jagger auditioned for the part?
Directed by Rob Cohen (DragonHeart, The Fast and The Furious), xXx was one of the first lead roles for Vin Diesel: his character, Xander Cage, an extreme sports athlete, is on a mission to chase down a super-villain and rogue officer from the Czech secret service, played by New Zealand actor of Hungarian descent Marton Csokas.
Many scenes of the movie were shot in Prague (the bad guy, Yorgi, appears, in all modesty, to be living in Prague Castle) and the city’s surroundings. Whether you like that kind of action-filled and adrenaline-driven movie or not, you’ll be forced to admit that it perfectly highlights Prague’s delightful charms.
The Bourne Identity (2002)
The same year as xXx, Prague provided an important part of the background for the first episode of Jason Bourne’s revengeful quest: The Bourne Identity, a classic in its own genre. Roger Ebert sums it up pretty eloquently: “a skilful action movie about a plot that exists only to support a skilful action movie”.
Shot in many other European locations, including Paris, some of the Prague scenes are the ones supposed to be set in Zurich, Switzerland. If you pay attention, you’ll be able to see Matt Damon sleeping in the park on Kampa Island or walking next to Prague’s Main Train Station.
Fun fact: Brad Pitt turned down the role to play, alongside Robert Redford, in Spy Game… another spy movie partly shot in Prague.
The Trial (1993)
Directed by David Jones and written by Harold Pinter, The Trial is an adaptation of one of Kafka’s most famous books. Although it pales in comparison to Orson Welles’ 1962 version, this little-known movie is nonetheless an interesting oddity you should most definitely take the time to watch.
Did we mention it was with Kyle MacLachlan, Antony Hopkins and Jason Robards?
Les Misérables (1998)
Directed by Danish director Billie August, this adaptation of Victor Hugo’s classic was shot mainly in Prague, filling in for Paris, as well as elsewhere in the Czech Republic, including the cities of Kutná Hora, Zatec and Vrbno.
Watching Liam Neeson, Uma Thurman, Geoffrey Rush and Claire Danes interpreting the French poet’s iconic characters in post-communist Czech Republic is, in itself, worth it.
Mission: Impossible (1996)
This might be the most famous of all. And for a good reason. Brian de Palma’s cult movie was the first big production to shoot in Prague in the mid-90’s. The opening scenes in the historic centre are also some of the most memorable: Join Voight running on the (surprisingly empty) Charles bridge, Tom Cruise near Old Town Square during the famous aquarium restaurant explosion, etc. Other noteworthy shooting locations include the Hotel Evropa on Wenceslas Square and the National Museum.
Ethan Hunt came back to Prague for the fourth episode: MI: Ghost Protocol (2011), although this time in a more incognito fashion, with an action scene shot near Smichov’s train station and beautiful shots of Prague Castle which fills in for… the Kremlin.
The Illusionist (2006)
Written and directed by Neil Berger, supported by an incredible score by Phillip Glass, The Illusionist tells the story of a magician, played by Edward Norton, trying to win over the love of a higher-class women and possible future princess of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in turn-of-the-century Vienna.
It was, however, mainly shot in Prague, including in the Divadlo na Vinohradech (used as the venue where the main character performs his magic tricks), and in other Czech locations like Český Krumlov and Konopiště castle, in less than 50 days. Released the same year as other magicians’ movies, including Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige, The Illusionist sadly didn’t get the attention it deserved.
Casino Royale (2006)
Although Casino Royale was shot in many different locations around the globe, Prague played an instrumental part in Daniel Craig’s first appearance as 007. The opening sequence, shot in Karlin’s Danube House, is only one of many examples.
Miami International Airport? That’s actually a mix of Prague’s Vaclav Havel airport and the Czech Ministry of Transport. The Strahov Monastery fills in for the U.K. House of Commons, while the scenes supposed to take place in Montenegro were really filmed in the Czech cities of Karlovy Vary and Loket.
First Jason Bourne, then Ethan Hunt, and now James Bond! Looks like Prague is the place to come if you’re aspiring to become a super-spy.
Second feature film of director Steven Soderbergh after Sex, Lies and Videotape, Kafka is an adaptation of Kafka’s novel The Castle. Starring Jeremy Irons in the lead role, this movie remains relatively unknown compared to the director’s later work.
All Prague-lovers will, however, undoubtingly enjoy this (mostly) black and white movie’s visual beauty and the incredible shots of Prague’s landmark sites, like the Charles bridge or Prague castle. Some scenes were also shot in the Barrandov studios.
The famous saga starring Kate Beckinsale as a half-vampire, half-femme fatale has a few scenes shot in several locations in the Czech Republic: in the city of Prague – for some car chases for instance – in the Barrandov studios and in other Czech cities.
For those who were lucky enough to visit České Budějovice, you’ll probably recognize the Hluboká castle being used as the Eastern Coven’s hideout. One can only admire the talent needed to turn this fairy-tale looking aristocratic residence into a gloomy vampire’s lare.
If you want to stay tuned to all the most recent news about Prague’s cinema scene and learn about the movies currently shooting in the city, be sure to visit The Prague Reporter.