Watching films set in the city or country you’re visiting is one of the BEST ways to get excited about your trip! Sure, there’s the booking of accommodation, flights and activities, the packing, etc. etc. But sometimes organising everything is more stressful than fun. So, if you’re planning a trip to Barcelona in Spain, one of the most popular cities in Europe right now, here are a few films set in Barcelona you should watch.
I’d like to say there are lots of awesome, wanderlust-inducing films shot in Barcelona featuring tonnes of historic landmarks and cool restaurants. But that would be a huge lie. While Barcelona is a heavily-touristed city, it’s lacking in the international film world. And while I recommend watching as many films set in Barcelona as possible both before and after your trip (for those inevitable post-holiday blues), there’s probably only two or three you should really make the effort to watch. But that’s okay! More choice is good, right?
So here are some films shot in Barcelona, Spain to inspire your trip there…
Top Films set in Barcelona
1. La Bandera (1935) dir. Julien Duvivier
Language: French Run time: 96m 80% Rotten Tomatoes
I’m starting with a bit of a wildcard, I know. But that’s only because I write all of these lists in chronological order! If you happen to be a fan of old, classic cinema then there is no better film set in Barcelona for you to watch. La Bandera is a drama about a French man who commits murder in Paris and flees to Barcelona where he joins the Spanish Foreign Legion. Of course, it’s not long before the birds come home to roost.
So many films of this time were shot almost entirely in studios where the lighting/sound could be better controlled. Plus, the cameras were ridonkulously heavy (do people still say ridonkulous…?). But shooting actually took place on location in Barcelona for this film! And in Morocco! As a filming locations geek, I find that pretty dope.
2. The Bilingual Lover (1993) dir. Vicente Aranda
Language: Spanish, Catalan Run time: 113m N/A Rotten Tomatoes
Annnnd we’re just skipping ahead 60 years because apparently not a lot of films were shot in Barcelona during those decades. Well, they were, but many are quite obscure and hard to track down. Still playing wildcards, The Bilingual Lover didn’t get much of an international release and that’s probably due to the fact it’s a bit weird. But it is a very good film and Javier Bardem has a supporting role.
The Bilingual Lover is a ‘grotesque satire’ following the life of Juan Marés and his relationships in 1970s Barcelona. The film is about the oppression of Catalan culture and identity at this time, specifically linguistics. The entire film was shot on location in Barcelona. Two other notable films directed by Vicente Aranda include The Girl With the Golden Panties (1980) and If They Tell You I Fell (1989) which are films adapted from books by the same author that penned The Bilingual Lover‘s source material.
3. Barcelona (1994) dir. Whit Stillman
Language: English Run time: 101m 82% Rotten Tomatoes
The first English language film on the list! This vastly underrated indie follows two cousins eye-rolling-ly called Ted and Fred. Ted is a salesman who works in Barcelona in the 1980s and is joined later by Fred as he is assigned a job in Barcelona by the US Navy.
The two cousins have an ongoing rivalry from childhood that continues throughout their time in the city while they try to hold onto their jobs and date as many women as possible, naturally. Barcelona is considered to be the second film in a so-called trilogy of films directed by Whit Stillman preceded by Metropolitan (1990) and followed by The Last Days of Disco (1998).
4. All About My Mother (1999) dir. Pedro Almodóvar
Language: Spanish, Catalan, English Run time: 104m 98% Rotten Tomatoes
If you’re new here, then you need to know about my undying love for the life and work of the Spanish auteur Pedro Almodóvar. Quite simply, his work is always a balls-to-the-wall, jubilant celebration of sex, despair and life.
While most of his films are set and shot in his hometown of Madrid, All About My Mother takes place in a few different Spanish locations, one of which is Barcelona. After tragically losing her son, Manuela quits her job and travels to Barcelona where she searches for her son’s estranged father who is actually a Transgender woman named Lola who has AIDS.
If you’re not aware of Almodóvar’s body of work then this plot might sound a bit, erm, full-on. But the film was partially shot in Barcelona and even features a shot of La Sagrada Familia!
5. Food of Love (2002) dir. Ventura Pons
Language: English Run time: 112m 46% Rotten Tomatoes
If you’re a fan of British actors, classical music, gay themes and a convoluted plot… Then you might like Food of Love. But otherwise, I wouldn’t really recommend this film to most people. Young Paul is hired as a music page-turner by a talented pianist (and his agent/lover) for his concert tour. The pianist attempts to seduce young Paul (as does his agent/lover) but his plans are thwarted by Paul’s overbearing mother.
Barcelona is one of the locations on the concert tour, so the film is set in Barcelona. A little bit. But Granada in Southern Spain and New York are also featured so it’s not totally set in Barcelona. You might find it a bit hard to find this film, too. I’m really selling it well, aren’t I?
6. The Spanish Apartment/Pot Luck (2003) dir. Cédric Klapisch
Language: French, Spanish, English, Catalan, Danish, German, Italian Run time: 122m 76% Rotten Tomatoes
I really, really want to see this film and I can’t believe I haven’t yet! It’s the quintessential study abroad film, so I’ve heard. And apparently, the UK title is Pot Luck but that’s a truly awful title and I’ve only ever seen it referred to as The Spanish Apartment so I’m going to call it that.
The Spanish Apartment follows a group of students on the Erasmus programme studying Economics in Barcelona for one year. The main character, Xavier, is french but the rest of the students in his titular ‘apartment’ are from all over the world (hence the array of languages spoken in this film). Xavier’s girlfriend is played by the ever-charming Audrey Tatou (of Amélie (2002) fame) so that’s a good a reason as any to watch this film.
The Spanish Apartment is one of the best wanderlust-inducing films set in Barcelona, I’m sure of it.
7. The Cheetah Girls 2 (2006) dir. Kenny Ortega
Language: English Run time: 97m N/A Rotten Tomatoes
I think every girl born in the 1990s has at least one movie from their tween years that they’d still watch today given the opportunity. And it more than likely features their favourite child star, hopping on a plane to an exciting city we could only DREAM of visiting at age 11. I’m talking about The Lizzie McGuire Movie (2003) with Lizzie in Rome, What a Girl Wants (2003) with Amanda Bynes in London and Mary-Kate and Ashley basically anywhere. For me, it was when they went to Australia in Our Lips Are Sealed (2000).
For a small minority of us, I’m sure The Cheetah Girls 2 and their jaunt to Barcelona is up there too. The four Cheetah Girls strike gold when the band is accepted to perform at a music festival in Barcelona. It’s a musical-film featuring the talents of Disney channel royalty Raven-Symoné and it’s the eighth-highest rated Disney channel movie of all time. I mean, I wouldn’t really recommend you watch it now unless you’re a 12-year-old girl. But those tween travel movies, man. They hit you in the feels.
8. Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008) dir. Woody Allen
Language: English, Spanish Run time: 97m 81% Rotten Tomatoes
If all you really want out of a film set in Barcelona is a pure travelogue with some semblance of a plot stringing together notable landmarks in Barcelona, then look no further than Vicky Cristina Barcelona.
The titular characters, friends Vicky (Rebecca Hall) and Cristina (Scarlett Johansson), head to Barcelona to stay with relatives for the summer. Vicky is about to marry a plain, boring man and is studying for a masters in Catalan identity (because that’s totally a thing). Cristina is an aspiring actress who continually makes mistakes in her romantic life. They meet the irresistably Spanish Juan-Antonio (Javier Bardem) who whisks them away briefly to Oviedo in Northern Spain before exploring every tourist haunt in Barcelona. They visit La Sagrada Familia, La Pedrera, Parc Guell, Tibidabo Amusement Park, I could go on…
To be honest, I’m a complete sucker for Woody Allen’s ‘Ode to Europe’ films like Midnight in Paris (2011) and To Rome with Love (2012) so I think Vicky Cristina Barcelona is the perfect film to watch before a trip to Barcelona. Matter of fact, I did watch it several times before my trip there in 2013 and I wrote an entire blog post detailing the Vicky Cristina Barcelona filming locations if you fancy checking that out.
9. Biutiful (2010) dir. Alejandro González Iñárritu
Language: Spanish, Chinese, Wolof Run time: 147m 66% Rotten Tomatoes
I’m not gonna lie, Biutiful is a really bloody depressing film. Not wanderlust-inspiring at all. And now I’ve warned you, I’ll tell you what the film is about.
Javier Bardem portrays Uxbal, a poor man who lives in Barcelona with his two children. His parents are dead, he is separated from his addict wife who is a sex worker, his brother is a wealthy asshole and his job is finding work for illegal immigrants. Oh, and he is diagnosed with terminal prostate cancer. And that’s only the half of it.
I do usually like Alejandro González Iñárritu’s work. His debut feature film Amores Perros (2000) was nothing short of a masterpiece but Biutiful layers on the misery a little too thick. But hey, you might like watching depressing social realism, who am I to judge?
10. Barcelona: A Love Untold (2016) dir. Olivia Lamasan
Language: Filipino Run time: 130m N/A Rotten Tomatoes
I’m only recently discovering that there are so many Filipino romantic films that have been released in the last ten years. So many in fact that they’re practically a stand-alone genre. You learn something new every day, am I right? And a lot of them are directed by women, too, which is pretty awesome! Gotta have more films with a female gaze.
One of those films is Barcelona: A Love Untold, a film that won Best Picture in the 2017 Filipino version of the Oscars! I believe it was on Netflix for a while but it isn’t anymore, at least not on UK Netflix. Ely is a determined young man trying to balance a job, studying for a masters degree and getting over a girl while living in Barcelona. Mia is a young woman who moves to Spain in search of a fresh start after a series of mistakes back home. The pair attempt to move on from the past with each other but the course of true love never did run smooth.
I’m already hooked!
11. Ibiza (2018) dir. Alex Richanbach
Language: English Run time: 94m 67% Rotten Tomatoes
Now, I know what you’re thinking. Surely if this film is called Ibiza then it’s probably not set in Barcelona, but on the Spanish island of Ibiza. And yes, I can totally see why you would think that but it’s actually set in both places.
Community’s Gillian Jacobs stars as Harper, a PR rep living in New York who is sent to Barcelona by her boss to win a new client. Her friends, Nikki and Leah, insist on tagging along. While clubbing in Barcelona one night, Harper meets a super-gorgeous DJ (who is obviously played by the super-gorgeous Richard Madden) who she becomes smitten with and follows to Ibiza for one crazy night.
Yeah, it’s not the most gripping storyline ever. It’s the kind of Netflix film that’s a bit feel-good and you can still follow the plot even if you’ve been on your phone for half the film. But Richard Madden is a big pull here (did I mention he keeps his Scottish accent??). And even though the film doesn’t really feature much of Barcelona, it might still bring the #holidayvibes. Especially if you’re travelling with your girlfriends!
Other films set in Barcelona: Long Vacations of 36 (1976), If They Tell You I Fell (1989), Caresses (1998), Why Not Me? (1999), The Last Seduction II (1999), The Shanghai Spell (2002), In The City (2003), Inconscientes (2004)
And those are some of the top films set in Barcelona! Have you watched any of these films or would you add any to the list? Let me know in the comments below!