Budapest is Hungary’s capital city as well as being the go-to destination in Central Europe for nightlife, cheap eats and festering in huge, toasty public baths with approx 150 strangers. Set on the mighty River Danube which splits ‘Buda’ from ‘Pest’, the ruin bars, Jewish Quarter and ultra-gorgeous architecture make Budapest a lively, cool place to visit. And I have some suitably cool films set in Budapest, Hungary to recommend to you! These great movies set in Budapest are perfect viewing if you’re planning a trip or you’ve already visited Budapest and want to reminisce, like me.
My last (and only) visit to Budapest was in March 2013 with my University’s Drama Society and it was unseasonably snowy. The spring markets selling flower pots and traditional Hungarian lángos may as well have been stocked with mulled wine and Christmas tree decorations. Regardless, the relaxed vibe, the quirky ruin pubs with their extensive beer selections and, yes, how affordable everything is really won me over and I’d love to revisit Budapest in warmer weather.
Most of the best films set in Budapest are from the last 25 years, in my opinion. Which is great for us potential visitors, because we can watch these movies and really imagine we’re there because the scenery won’t have changed too much!
Top Films set in Budapest
1. Sunshine (1999) dir. István Szabó
Languages: English, French Run time: 180m 74% Rotten Tomatoes
I love including films on my lists that give some historical context about a place. Sunshine stars Ralph Fiennes and Rachel Weisz in an epic film spanning five generations of one Hungarian-Jewish family. The timeframe covers the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the 1956 revolution which, I don’t know about you, I am clueless about.
I call it an epic film because that run time is pretty lengthy, and it takes a good film to keep my concentration for that long. But if you’re already planning to visit Hungary, you might find it all really fascinating. The film shot in cities around Europe including other amazing capitals like Berlin, Paris and Vienna. But most was filmed in Budapest, and the family estate’s address is Bokréta Street 15.
2. Kontroll (2003) dir. Nimród Antal
Language: Hungarian Run time: 105m 82% Rotten Tomatoes
Sorry to say that there aren’t many Hungarian-language films set in Budapest on this list. But the ones I have included are genuinely fantastic movies.
Kontroll is a crime drama with some comedic elements thrown in. Bulcsú is a ticket inspector for Budapest’s metro (which you may use during your trip to Budapest!) who sleeps on the train platforms and never goes overground. The film follows Bulcsú’s interactions with his team, a rival ticket inspector, a woman riding the train in a bear costume and potentially… a murderer!
Kontroll literally shot in Budapest’s underground metro system which I imagine involved lots of late-night shoots when the services weren’t actually running. So when you do ride the metro throughout the city, you’ll also be using a Budapest filming location!
3. Transporter 3 (2008) dir. Olivier Megaton
Languages: English, French Run time: 104m 39% Rotten Tomatoes
Let’s take a hard 180° swerve from “genuinely fantastic movies” to Transporter 3. I’ve not seen it. But let’s be honest, the general consensus is that it ain’t that good. But when you get an urge to watch a dumb, silly action movie (and we all get them!) why not watch one that is partially set in Budapest?
I’m sure even if you haven’t watched Transporter and Transporter 2, the story isn’t too hard to follow. Our main man Jason Statham plays Frank Martin, a stupid dude that runs a business delivering packages without question. Which sounds like he’s a high-class drug mule to me. Frank and a young lady are kidnapped in France, have explosives strapped to them, and are forced to deliver a package to Budapest.
The Transporter series is known for being a country-hopping franchise and the third/final instalment is no different. The action jumps from Marseille in France to Budapest then, to Bucharest in Romania and Odesa in Ukraine.
4. Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (2011) dir. Brad Bird
Language: English Run time: 133m 93% Rotten Tomatoes
I ummed and ahhed about putting Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol on this list because the film opens in Budapest for a hot minute then the action is immediately taken elsewhere for the rest of the movie. But man, it’s such a great movie, right? I can’t think of another film series that has made a strong comeback like Mission: Impossible has. I would take any excuse to watch Ghost Protocol again, no matter how much the Burj Khalifa scene freaks me out. If you know, you know.
An IMF Agent is killed in Budapest and his file with Russian nuclear codes is stolen. Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt is given the mission (which he chose to accept, we assume) to find out who has taken the codes by infiltrating the Kremlin in Moscow. But when there is an explosion inside the Kremlin and IMF is blamed, Ethan and his team must clear their company’s name.
So, not much of Ghost Protocol takes place in Budapest. But again, I’ll take any excuse to rewatch this film and so should you.
5. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011) dir. Tomas Alfredson
Language: English Run time: 127m 83% Rotten Tomatoes
Personally, I don’t see why Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy was so well-reviewed. It had all the components of being a great film: cream of British acting talent, a period film adapted from a John le Carré novel, stunning aesthetics. Maybe that’s why people think it’s amazing; because it’s wrapped up in a way that makes it so difficult to see it in a bad light. I just think there’s no reason for it to be as dull as it is.
Nevertheless, it’s still better than Transporter 3 and much more of the film takes place in Budapest. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is set during the Cold War, so Hungary at this time was behind the Iron Curtain. A British Intelligence Agent travels to Budapest to meet with a Hungarian Army General who wants to defect. The agent discovers there is a Soviet mole high up in the British secret service. George Smiley, played by Gary Oldman, is yanked out of retirement to help find out exactly who.
There are lots of gorgeous shots of Budapest in this movie, as well as London and Istanbul. Fisherman’s Bastion, the Hungarian Parliament building, Nyugati (Western) Railway Station, Keleti (Eastern) Railway Station and Párizsi Udvar Hotel are all filming locations.
6. White God (2014) dir. Kornél Mundruczó
Language: Hungarian Run time: 121m 88% Rotten Tomatoes
I actually watched White God when it came out in cinemas, and it must be one of the most prolific Hungarian films of the last ten years. Also one of the weirdest and hardest ones to watch, and I definitely have no plans to review this film any time soon. I’m making a really good case for White God here, aren’t I?
Set and shot entirely in Budapest, the film focuses on 13-year-old Lili who befriends a mutt called Hagen. She quickly becomes emotionally attached to the dog as she is about to move in with her father who she barely knows. In order to keep the dog, Lili’s father must pay the Hungarian Government a huge ‘mongrel’ tax so instead, he offers to buy Lili a purebred dog. The rest of the film is about Lili attempting to keep Hagen by any means necessary.
Who doesn’t love a good dog movie? White God was praised for its treatment of animals (around 250 dogs!) as the vast majority were sourced from shelters or the streets and most were adopted afterwards. Definitely watch this film if you’re a dog lover!
7. Spy (2015) dir. Paul Feig
Language: English Run time: 120m 95% Rotten Tomatoes
One of the most surprising, brilliant comedies of the 2010s is also a movie set in Budapest (partially)! I love that it’s a relatively ‘male-dominated’ subgenre (spy films) starring the phenomenal Melissa McCarthy and Jude Law as her partner-in-stopping-crime, Bradley Fine. She plays Susan Cooper, a desk-bound CIA agent who is pulled into the field when Fine needs her help taking down an arms dealer.
Susan heads to Budapest with her mark on a private jet and the latter half of the film takes place there. Spy is also a great film to watch if you’re visiting other parts of Hungary, too. Tihany Abbey makes an appearance and Lake Balaton features as itself and Varna in Bulgaria. There are tonnes of filming locations all over Budapest including ones we’ve not seen before in this list of films like the Hungarian State Opera House and Budapest Whale entertainment centre.
8. Red Sparrow (2018) dir. Francis Lawrence
Language: English Run time: 140m 45% Rotten Tomatoes
Yet another 180° swerve, this time from a fantastic female-led spy movie to a much, much lesser one. But both have lots of scenes in Budapest, Hungary! Red Sparrow was director Francis Lawrence and actress Jennifer Lawrence’s post-Hunger Games collaboration. Jennifer Lawrence plays Dominika Egorova, a ballerina who suffers a devastating injury that destroys her career. She is recruited to join a Russian Intelligence Agency, specifically a division where operatives use their sexuality to gain leverage, power and information.
Her first assignment after graduating from spy school is in Budapest and the rest of the film is shot there. To be fair to the film, I think it’s visually stunning and shows off the city better than most other films set in Budapest on this list. A few ultra-luxurious cafes are featured as filming locations including Book Café – Lotz Terem and New York Café which are both very fancy places that I have most definitely not visited.
9. Budapest (2018) dir. Xavier Gens
Language: French Run time: 102m N/A Rotten Tomatoes
This next film is a Netflix original movie that they describe as ‘raunchy’ and a ‘late-night comedy’. So I think I’m safe in assuming this is like France and Hungary’s answer to The Hangover movies.
Budapest is about two highly educated, successful best friends (who are French, by the way, this is a French film) who decide to leave their boring corporate jobs and become bachelor party planners in Budapest. I love this premise because Budapest has become THE destination for stag and hen dos, as we call them in the UK. So this fully leans into the stereotype and I love it. Expect lots of silly humour, naked girls and f*cked up shenanigans. Basically, just a good time.
10. Sunset (2018) dir. László Nemes
Language: Hungarian Run time: 144m 60% Rotten Tomatoes
László Nemes, the director of Sunset, won an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film at the 2015 Oscars with Son of Saul. And it was his debut feature film! Sadly, his follow up doesn’t quite live up to its predecessor. But Sunset is still one of the best period films set in Budapest and there aren’t too many of those knocking about.
Set in 1913, Irisz Leiter arrives in Budapest hoping to work in a hat store that used to be owned by her parents. She embarks on a path of discovery, about herself and her city, just before her world and her country’s world falls into turmoil.
The pre-WWI period is a fascinating era to shine a light on and Nemes shot the entire film in Hungary, mainly Budapest itself. I just love period films that focus on a slightly obscure part of history and don’t rehash events and characters that have been done to death in film over and over again.
11. Bloodshot (2020) dir. David S. F. Wilson
Language: English Run time: 109m 30% Rotten Tomatoes
If Transporter 3 isn’t enough to fulfil your dumb action film needs, then you’re in for a treat, my friend. I have another dumb action film recommendation for you. Yes, another one! How about the brooding acting talents of Vin Diesel in Bloodshot?
Diesel plays Ray, a soldier who is kidnapped and killed by some mercenaries. Thanks to a company that works with cybernetic technology, he is brought back to life as an ‘enhanced’ version of himself. Which is a premise never before seen in the history of cinema (*sarcasm sign*). He is sent on a mission to track down the leader of the mercenaries and one of the places this job leads him to is Budapest.
Yeah, it’s obvious I have not seen this film. At the time of writing, the movie has only just come out and thanks to the Coronavirus pandemic and not being a great film, Bloodshot has not done very well at the box office. May it live on in bad action movie heaven for eternity.
12. Black Widow (2020) dir. Cate Shortland
Language: English Run time: TBA Rotten Tomatoes TBA
Again, at the time of writing, we are neck-deep in the throws of the Coronavirus pandemic and Marvel’s latest release Black Widow has been postponed until November 2020. So, I don’t know a lot about this film! But I’m including it because Budapest is a known filming location and there’s every reason to believe that part of Black Widow is set there too. And I’m also super excited to watch this film when it’s finally released! I love Black Widow as a character and there are some amazing actors in this movie.
Set just after the events of Captain America: Civil War (2016), Black Widow AKA Natasha Romanoff has to deal with unresolved history relating to her family, her past life as a spy and a dangerous conspiracy. And that’s all we really know so far, but fingers crossed Budapest actually features as Budapest and not as a stand-in for a different Central/Eastern European city.
Other films set in Budapest: Before the Bat’s Flight is Done (1989), An American Rhapsody (2001), Underworld (2003), Gemini Man (2019)
And those are some of the best films set in Budapest to watch before your trip! Have you watched any of these films or would you add any to the list? Let me know in the comments below!