Bratislava, Slovakia – Granted, Slovakia is not as popular a shooting location as its neighbours. When coming to Central Europe, foreign production teams usually choose the Czech Republic or Hungary over little Slovakia. The country nonetheless has a lot to offer, and location scouts seem to be increasingly aware of it: countless superb Medieval castles, picturesque landscapes, incredible mountain peak views, as well as a widespread and well-established filmmaking culture dating back to Czechoslovakia’s golden cinema age.
From 1920’s German expressionist movies to contemporary Hollywood thrillers, from fantasy to horror films and historical dramas, it’s safe to say that, despite the relatively low number of foreign movies shot in Slovakia, their diversity is a testament to the wide array of cinematic experiences the country can offer. Here’s our top 10!
Let’s start with one of our childhood favourites. Directed by Rob Cohen (The Fast and The Furious, xXx), DragonHeart is a medieval fantasy adventure movie starring Dennis Quaid, David Thewlis, Julie Christie, Pete Postlethwaite and featuring Sean Connery’s voice for Draco the dragon. Nominated for the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects, it was filmed during 6 months in some of Slovakia’s most beautiful castles (Spiš, Čachtice, Strečno), and many other picturesque locations (Dreveník, Tomášovský výhľad). In other words, a great introduction to Slovakia’s iconic landscapes.
Rumour has it Liam Neeson was originally cast in the lead role, but the studio thought he wasn’t credible enough to play an action hero. Oh, the error…
Directed by F.W. Murnau and written by Henrik Galeen, Nosferatu is a cult horror vampire movie and one of German expressionism’s most accomplished masterpieces. An unauthorized adaptation of British writer Bram Stoker’s classic Dracula (1897), it was sued by the author’s heirs when it was released and was banned in several countries, including Sweden, due to excessive horror.
Set in Transylvania and partly filmed in Germany, shooting locations in Slovakia include the Orava castle (Count Orlok’s residence), the Vrátna Valley, the Váh River, Starhrad and landscapes from the High Tatras.
An absolute classic silent movie any cinema buff should watch.
The Peacemaker (1997)
Directed by Mimi Leder, The Peacemaker is a pretty mainstream action movie starring George Clooney and Nicole Kidman as a U.S. Army officer and civilian woman trying to track down Russian nuclear weapons before it falls in the hands of terrorists. As we said, a pretty common intrigue, and not particularly memorable if it weren’t for the Slovak background.
Shot in many different locations around the globe, including Macedonia and the U.S., several scenes were shot in Bratislava (National Theatre, St. Martin’s Cathedral), which fills in for both Vienna and Manhattan, as well as in Čremošné (near Žilina).
Fun fact: The Peacemaker was the first film released by DreamWorks.
Directed by Jon Avnet, this TV miniseries tells the story of the 1943 Warsaw ghetto uprising, when Jewish freedom fighters stood up to Nazi oppression. Starring primarily American actors in the main roles (Jon Voigt, Donald Sutherland, David Schwimmer, Hank Azaria, Leelee Sobieski), its score is the last credited project of French composer Maurice Jarre (Lawrence of Arabia, Doctor Zhivago).
Despite being set in Warsaw, most of the scenes were shot in Bratislava and in Innsbruck, Austria.
Red Sparrow (2018)
Released earlier this year, Red Sparrow is a glamorous American spy thriller on a Russian intelligence officer, played by Jennifer Lawrence, sent to make contact with a CIA operative in an attempt to hunt down a mole. Directed by Francis Lawrence (no relation with the actress, although they also worked together on Hunger Games), its cast also includes Joel Edgerton, Matthias Schoenaerts, Charlotte Rampling, Ciaran Hinds and Jeremy Irons.
Mainly shot in Hungary, this “preposterously entertaining” sexpionage story, as The New York Times called it, also includes scenes in Slovakia’s capital city.
The Man Who Lies (1968)
The Man Who Lies (L’homme qui ment, in its original title) is a French-Czechoslovak production and a revealing example of both countries’ bustling cinema scenes in the mid-1960’s.
Directed by Alain Robbe-Grillet and starring famous French actor Jean-Louis Trintignant, who won the Silver Bear for Best Actor at the International Film Festival in Berlin, it tells the story of a man hiding from German soldiers in a small town filled with sexual vibes (it is partly French, after all). Set in an unspecified European country during World War II, it was shot in several locations in Slovakia.
Behind Enemy Lines (2001)
First feature film of Irish director John Moore, Behind Enemy Lines is a war movie set during the Bosnian war in the mid-1990’s. It tells the story of a U.S. Air Force Captain shot down in northern Bosnia and his attempt to survive in hostile territory. Despite a poor critical reception, it enjoyed a comfortable box-office success and was followed by a number of sequels.
Many scenes were shot in Slovakia’s countryside and in studios in Bratislava.
The casting choice is one of the most (and maybe only) noteworthy elements of this movie: in the lead role, Owen Wilson gives a surprisingly credible performance. His character is actually loosely based on the story of a real Air Force officer, who eventually filed a lawsuit against 20th Century Fox, apparently unhappy with the inaccurate depiction of his fictionalized character. The cast also includes Gene Hackman and Gabriel Macht (better known today as Harvey Specter in Suits).
Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979)
Directed by Werner Herzog, Nosferatu the Vampyre is a West German horror movie and a remake of Murnau’s 1922 aforementioned version. Acclaimed by critics and movie-goers alike, it stars Klaus Kinski in the main role, as well as French actress Isabelle Adjani and Bruno Ganz.
It was shot in Bavaria, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic and in Slovakia, primarily in the High Tatras mountainous region. As if to compensate for the original silent version, this adaptation is available in both German and English, due to the studios’ desire to reach a wider audience – although Herzog deemed the German version more authentic.
This British-American fantasy movie, directed by Stefen Fangmeier and based on the novel by Christopher Paolini, tells the story of a farm boy discovering a dragon’s egg and his subsequent adventures. Young actor Ed Speleers impersonates the hero of this good-natured movie (he’ll later play in TV series Downtown Abbey and James Bobin’s 2016 Alice Through the Looking Glass), alongside Jeremy Irons, Robert Carlyle, John Malkovich and Rachel Weisz’s voice.
Shot in Hungary and Northern Slovakia, what the film may lack in intrigue or characters’ depth, it makes up for thanks to stunning landscapes and visual beauty.
The Last Legion (2007)
Let’s end this list with a rather peculiar film: The Last Legion, directed by Doug Lefler and based on a popular Italian historical novel by Valerio Massimo Manfredi, is an adventure movie set in the Vth century A.D. It mixes elements from the fall of the Roman Empire and the legends of King Arthur. Yes, it’s quite an oddity and, frankly, wouldn’t make any list if it weren’t for its Slovak setting.
Shot in Tunisia and Eastern Slovakia, it was poorly received by critics and the audience alike. We’ll let the BBC movie critic give you a general idea: “fitfully enjoyable action mixes with consistently cheesy dialogue, in a rambling throwback that becomes less compelling as it moves further from history and closer to fantasy and over-familiar legend”.
But… it’s not every day that you get to watch Colin Firth fighting in Slovak castles alongside a Bollywood star.