Budapest, Hungary – Along with the Czech Republic, Hungary is one of the top destinations for foreign production crews in Central and Eastern Europe and its capital Budapest has served as the backdrop for dozens of top movies shot in the country.
It’s not a coincidence: a strong cinema tradition; high quality of equipment, infrastructure and crew; state-of-the-art studios, like the Origo Film and the Korda studios (used for the TV series The Borgias, for instance); varied and picturesque landscapes, some of them within reach of Hungary’s capital city; and, of course, Budapest itself, one of Europe’s most stunning cities, with architectural wonders, iconic buildings and colourful façades able to “impersonate” many other cities from the past, present and future.
No wonder Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049 was partly filmed there. Ah, and a 25% tax rebate on production costs introduced in 2008 might also be a reason for its growing appeal.
Here’s our top 10 best movies every shot in Budapest and Hungary.
Directed by Dutch filmmaker Menno Meyjes (writer of The Colour Purple, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade), Max is a fictional drama, set after World War I, exploring the friendship between Max Rothman, a Jewish art dealer, and an aspiring young artist, Adolf Hitler. Starring John Cusack, Noah Taylor and Leelee Sobieski in the main roles, the movie was shot in both the Netherlands and Hungary.
Unsurprisingly, critics expressed mixed feelings about the movie’s controversial intrigue: rewriting history to see what might have happened if Hitler had been a more successful artist. “To ponder Hitler’s early years with the knowledge of his later ones is to understand how life can play cosmic tricks with tragic results”, writes Robert Ebert. And we agree: although it’s far from faultless, it provides an interesting personal and ideological analysis of Hitler and the Third Reich’s artistic background.
For many, this was a risky cinematic endeavour, and finding money to see it through proved difficult. Rumour has it John Cusack didn’t take any salary for his part and Steven Spielberg considered financing the movie, before backing out by fear it might dishonour the memory of Holocaust survivors.
A Good Day to Die Hard (2013)
The fifth episode of the Die Hard series has many scenes shot in Budapest, filling in for Moscow. The production team also filmed some scenes in Budapest’s studios and traveled outside of the city, including to a racing circuit in Mogyoród used for most of the car stunts.
Despite its noteworthy setting, this movie doesn’t portray the John McLane we grew to love over the years, fighting Hans Gruber in Nakatomi Plaza with his muscles, wit and sarcastic come-backs. A Good Day to Die Hard is an over-the-top action movie based on a largely incoherent and convenient intrigue. It’s the first Die Hard movie to take place outside of the U.S., and that should tell you something: John McLane is no international super-spy like Ethan Hunt or Jason Bourne, but an iconoclastic hardened American cop. No more, no less. Bringing him all the way to Budapest – sorry, Moscow – already doesn’t seem like a good fit.
Still, it beautifully highlights the cinematic potential of Hungary’s capital city and is a must-see for all Budapest lovers.
Bel Ami (2012)
An adaptation of French author Guy de Maupassant’s 1885 classic, Bel Ami chronicles the story of a young ambitious man seeking to improve his financial and social status through deceit, manipulation and seduction. Filmed in the U.K. and Hungary, it stars Robert Pattison in the lead role, as well as Uma Thurman and Kristin Scott Thomas. Considered a grave offense to the original novel by many, it might however be a relatively entertaining introduction to 19th century Paris’ social casts and power plays.
Starring Dwayne Johnson, aka The Rock as Zeus’ son, Hercules is a big-budget Hollywood reinterpretation of the Greek myth directed by Brett Ratner (Rush Hour, Red Dragon, X-Men: The Last Stand). The story was, however, more directly based on Steve Moore’s graphic novel “Hercules: The Thracian Wars”. Turns out Moore didn’t want his name to be associated with this (apparently unsatisfactory) adaptation of his work.
Despite poor reviews and being released the same year as another Hercules movie (The Legend of Hercules), it fared better than expected with movie-goers around the world. Many scenes were shot in Hungary, which provides a surprisingly appropriate background for one of Greek mythology’s most famous demi-god’s stunts: like many other movies shot in Hungary, Hercules had shootings both in the Origo studios and on location, in Páty and Kiskunlacháza, near Budapest.
47 Ronin (2013)
Set in 18th century Japan, 47 Ronin tells the story of a group of samurai seeking to avenge the death of their former master. The directorial debut (and only feature film to date) of Carl Rinsch, it was poorly received by film critics and movie-goers, in the U.S. and Japan alike – despite high expectations.
This version is already the seventh adaptation of this historical epic story (but the first Hollywood version). The casting of star actors like Keanu Reeves or Hiroyuki Sanada obviously didn’t manage to attract a wider audience. However, we couldn’t miss the opportunity of including an American-made Japanese samurai epic shot in Hungary’s landscapes and Budapest studios.
Spy Game (2001)
Directed by Tony Scott, Spy Game is an espionage thriller starring Robert Redford and Brad Pitt as two CIA agents, the former impersonating the latter’s recruiter/trainer/mentor/friend/maybe not-so-friend. Arguably one of the most famous movies ever shot in Hungary, it was filmed in many different locations around the world (U.K., Lebanon, Germany, Hong Kong, Israel, Canada, Czech Republic), as well as in Budapest (doubling as Berlin) and Tököl.
Supported by great acting performances, an ingenious script and skilful editing, Spy Game is one of our favourite spy movies. Even if you don’t agree, you have to acknowledge that it has a specific and unique charm. Brad Pitt turned down the main role of The Bourne Identity to work on this movie with Tony Scott, whom he met on the set of True Romance in 1993 (two years after working with the other Scott brother in Thelma & Louise).
The Martian (2015)
Talking about Ridley. Based on a novel by Andy Weir, The Martian tells the story of an astronaut stranded on Mars after his team left him for dead and his struggle to survive. Directed by Ridley Scott, starring an impressive set of actors including Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Kirsten Wiig, Jeff Daniels, Sean Bean, Kate Mara and Chiwetel Ejiofor, it was nominated for several Academy Awards (Best Lead Actor, Best Motion Picture, Best Writing) and was, overall, well received.
Although partly shot in the U.S. (California, Texas) and in Wadi Rum, Jordan, it includes many scenes shot in Hungary. This is the case, for instance, of the interiors of NASA’s headquarters. The buildings of the movie’s NASA HQ and the Chinese space centre are actually both located in Budapest, a few minutes away from each other. Shooting also took place in the Korda Filmpark and in Etyek, 30 km from Budapest.
Fun fact: Matt Damon came back to Hungary a few months later to learn horse archery with one of the country’s most renowned experts. Don’t worry, no spoilers here: it wasn’t for The Martian, but for his next, upcoming movie: The Great Wall.
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011)
Based on a 1974 John le Carré novel, itself inspired by the Cambridge Five real events, Tinker, Taylor, Soldier, Spy is an elaborate espionage movie about a mole hunt in the MI6 at the height of the Cold War. Directed by Swedish director Tomas Alfredson, its cast could hardly be more appealing: Gary Oldman, John Hurt, Mark Strong, Ciaran Hinds, Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom Hardy… and John le Carré, who appears as a drunk guest during a Christmas party.
Many scenes were filmed in Budapest, like Mark Strong’s Hungarian café scene set in the Paris Court arcade (in the novel, this takes place in Czechoslovakia). We can also see him at Budapest’s Western railway station (which also appears in Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol). Many other landmarks are featured in the movie, including the Hungarian Parliament building and the Fisherman’s bastion.
Another spy story out of so many other espionage movies, but in a slightly different genre and with the benefit of having been partly shot in Hungary: Spy is an action-comedy spy film starring Melissa McCarthy (Sookie, for all you Gilmore Girls fans) as a deskbound C.I.A. analyst who volunteers to infiltrate an arms dealer’s operations and, well, save the world from global destruction.
Directed and written by Paul Feig (Bridesmaids, The Heat), supported by other talented actors (Jude Law, Jason Statham, Rose Byrne), it was shot in Budapest for both interiors (including the iconic Art Nouveau Four Season’s Gresham Palace) and exteriors (filling in for both Rome and Paris), as well as in Tihany and the picturesque landscapes of Lake Balaton.
Directed by Steven Spielberg, Munich is a dark historical thriller based on a true story: the murder of eleven Israeli athletes during the 1972 Munich Olympic Games and retaliation operation of the Israeli government, code-named “Wrath of God”. Nominated for 5 Academy Awards (including Best Picture and Best Director), supported by a great score by John Williams and performed by an all-star cast (Eric Bana, Daniel Craig, Ciaran Hinds, Mathieu Kassovitz, Geoffrey Rush, Michael Lonsdale, Mathieu Amalric), Munich received an overall good reception despite drawing criticism for its handling of this highly divisive historical event.
It was shot in many different locations around the world. But if you look closely, you’ll notice that most of the Munich scenes were actually shot in Budapest’s city centre.
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