I think if more people watched just a couple of these films set in Scotland, the country would be completely overrun with tourists in the way that Iceland is. I’ve visited so little of Scotland but I know it’s an indescribably stunning place. I’ve been watching a lot of Outlander recently so naturally, I’m obsessed.
For now, I’ll have to be satisfied pouring over all the TV shows and films set in Scotland. But luckily, there are some fantastic films set all over Scotland from Aberdeenshire to the Outer Hebrides including period dramas and great contemporary films.
So, if you’re planning a big trip to Scotland and you want to travel around the lowlands, highlands and some of the islands (hey, that rhymes) then you have to watch some of these Scotland-based, travel-inspiring films. Let’s check out some of the best films set in Scotland that will definitely inspire you to book a trip there!
Please note: I’ve also written a blog post about the top films set in Edinburgh to watch before visiting and another post on independent films set in Glasgow. So if you’re looking for films set in those two cities, I’ve not included them here because there would be a lot of overlap. This post is mainly about the countryside, highlands and other places in Scotland.
Top Films set in Scotland
1. The 39 Steps (1935) dir. Alfred Hitchcock
Language: English Run time: 86m 96% Rotten Tomatoes
This list of the best films set in Scotland is off to a great start with one of the best British films EVER! The 39 Steps is a gripping thriller directed by the master of suspense himself, Alfred Hitchcock just before he moved to America at the end of the 1930s.
Classic actor Robert Donat plays Richard Hannay who is swept up in a plot to steal British military information. When a woman is stabbed in front of him in his London apartment clutching a map of the Scottish Highlands, he must find out the truth before the assassins find him.
He boards a Flying Scotsman train from London and travels to Alt-na-Shellach in the area of Killin and the train makes a brief stop on the Forth Bridge, too. Hitchcock shot the film primarily at Welwyn Studios but also utilised the real-life locations of the Forth Bridge and Glen Coe. It’s a truly great film.
2. The Edge of the World (1937) dir. Michael Powell
Language: English Run time: 81m 100% Rotten Tomatoes
It’s surprising how many classic films shot on location in somewhere as unpredictable weather-wise as Scotland. The Edge of the World was Michael Powell’s first big film project and his last before working with his directing partner Emeric Pressburger.
The film is loosely based on the evacuation of the Scottish archipelago of St Kilda, particularly the largest island of Hirta. Powell was fascinated by the depopulation of remote Scottish islands as more and more younger generations moved away for better opportunities. Powell wasn’t able to film on St Kilda but instead shot on Foula in the Shetland Islands.
It was a real expedition for the crew to shoot somewhere like this is 1937 and they had to live there for a few months. Clearly, the struggle was worth it though because the film feels very faithful to the remoteness of these Scottish islands and their wild landscapes.
3. I Know Where I’m Going! (1945) dir. Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger
Languages: English, Gaelic Run time: 88m 100% Rotten Tomatoes
Powell obviously loved his experience filming in Scotland because he returned six years later with his new directing partner to shoot I Know Where I’m Going! on the Isle of Mull. And you’ll notice from the film’s rotten tomatoes score, it was yet another perfect masterpiece.
I Know Where I’m Going! follows Joan Webster, a head-strong English woman travelling from Manchester to marry a wealthy older man on the fictional Isle of Kiloran. She is stranded on the Isle of Mull due to bad weather conditions and is unable to make the last leg of her trip. During her time on the Isle of Mull, she visited the real-life Moy Castle. It’s a fantastic film and features a great female lead.
4. Whisky Galore! (1949) dir. Alexander Mackendrick
Language: English Run time: 82m 100% Rotten Tomatoes
Whisky Galore! is now known as one of Ealing Comedies’ best films but its production was riddled with problems including bad weather, an ever-expanding budget and many disagreements between the producers. But despite the problems, it’s renowned as a classic British comedy.
Shot on the island of Barra in the Outer Hebrides, Whisky Galore! is based on a true story set on the fictional island of Todday. Wartime means rationing, and the island has run out of whisky (oh heck!). During a heavy storm, the S.S. Cabinet Minister is shipwrecked off the coast of Todday and when two citizens row out to the wreckage they learn it’s carrying 50,000 cases of whisky. Naturally, the locals do whatever it takes to keep the whisky despite Customs and Excise on their backs.
5. Brigadoon (1954) dir. Vincente Minnelli
Language: English Run time: 108m 85% Rotten Tomatoes
Brigadoon is a colour-by-numbers studio production and was shot on a soundstage at MGM. Vincente Minnelli, the director, did want to shoot on location in Scotland but found the weather too unpredictable. I find it quite hilarious that low-budget British productions managed to shoot on remote islands in the Outer Hebrides but it was too much for Hollywood. The lead, Gene Kelly, also made the trip out to Scotland and agreed the climate was too ‘unpredictable.’ So they opted for a cosy studio-shot film instead. Though I think the budget was a factor, too.
Brigadoon follows Gene Kelly’s Tommy Albright and Van John’s Jeff Douglas as Americans on a hunting trip in Scotland. They stumble on a place called Brigadoon, an enchanted village that rises out of the Scotch mist for just one day every hundred years. Of course, Tommy falls in love with a girl from Brigadoon which complicates things.
6. Ring of Bright Water (1969) dir. Jack Couffer
Language: English Run time: 107m 83% Rotten Tomatoes
I almost didn’t include Ring of Bright Water on my list of films set in Scotland because I thought it might be too obscure. But if there’s any way you can find Ring of Bright Water and you’re planning a trip to Scotland, definitely make the effort!
Ring of Bright Water is a fictional story based on an autobiography by a Scottish naturalist and author. It is about a Londoner who happens to pass a pet shop and becomes smitten by an otter in the display window. After realising he cannot keep an otter in his London apartment, the pair up sticks to the west coast of Scotland. Filming took place in Ellenabeich on the Isle of Seil.
It’s just a simple story of one man’s love for an otter, what’s so hard to understand about that?
7. The Wicker Man (1973) dir. Robin Hardy
Language: English Run time: 87m 88% Rotten Tomatoes
Before I watched The Wicker Man I thought it was a super-scary horror film but it’s actually much more multi-faceted than that. It’s creepy, sure, but it’s also a bit of a mystery drama and I just love all the folklore and superstitions that make The Wicker Man the utterly bonkers British classic it is.
Neil Howie, a Police Sergeant and practising Christian, is instructed to investigate a case on the fictional island of ‘Summerisle’ as a girl has gone missing. However, once he arrives on the island he discovers that not only has no one heard about the girl, but they all practice a strange form of Celtic paganism which includes very unorthodox rituals.
The film shot in many towns in western Scotland including The Storr and Quiraing on the Isle of Skye, Culzean Castle in Ayrshire, Burrowhead and other places on the Isle of Whithorn, Plockton in Ross-shire and Gatehouse of Fleet, Newton Stewart, Kirkcudbright and Creetown which are all in Galloway.
8. Local Hero (1983) dir. Bill Forsyth
Language: English Run time: 111m 100% Rotten Tomatoes
I feel a bit annoyed with myself that I’d never heard of Local Hero before writing this list of films set in Scotland. Firstly, because it has a perfect score on Rotten Tomatoes and even if you don’t like film aggregators, that’s got to stand for something. And it features a lot of fantastic Scottish filming locations!
Local Hero is about a man who works for an American oil company. The oil company sends him to the fictional town of Ferness (why are all these towns/islands fictional?!) to go about purchasing the town and land for his oil company.
I couldn’t even begin to list all of the towns, villages and regions that Local Hero used as filming locations. Okay, I will list a few, but there are tonnes! They shot in many towns in Aberdeenshire, Arisaig, Ben Nevis Distillery in Fort William, Loch Eil, Lochaber, Lochailort, Loch Tarff and Moidart. I’m sure there are many more!
9. Highlander (1986) dir. Russel Mulcahy
Language: English Run time: 116m 69% Rotten Tomatoes
Before I became obsessed with the TV show Outlander, I think I got it confused with the 1986 film Highlander and the two are very different. Actually, there is a bit of time-hopping in both!
Highlander follows an (almost) immortal warrior named Connor MacLeod AKA Highlander. After initially training to be a fighter in 1536s Scotland, Connor is still alive and kicking in 1985. But now he’s living it up in NYC as an antique salesman. He can only be killed via decapitation and the other immortal warriors want to kill off each other in order to gain the ability and knowledge to enslave the human race. Yeah, it’s a bit farfetched but the infamous ‘there can only be one’ tagline along with its random storyline have helped Highlander obtain a cult following and a sizeable franchise.
Highlander shot a good deal of scenes in Scotland. Some of their filming locations include the famous Eilean Donan Castle, Glen Coe, Trotternish Ridge, Loch Shiel, Rannoch Moor and The Storr on the Isle of Skye.
10. Braveheart (1995) dir. Mel Gibson
Language: English Run time: 178m 77% Rotten Tomatoes
I’ve never seen Braveheart. I know, I know, so many people say it’s their favourite film and it’s a must-watch. Maybe I’ll watch it eventually but it really doesn’t look like my kind of film at all. I don’t tend to like Mel Gibson films, I really dislike films which are all WAR WAR WAR and, erm, that run time… Bit long, isn’t it?
But Braveheart is possibly one of the most famous films set in Scotland so it had to make the list. The year is 1280 and King Edward I has successfully invaded and conquered Scotland after the death of Scottish King Alexander III. Years later, a young William Wallace with his pal Robert the Bruce led the Scots to the First War of Scottish Independence. There’s no denying it’s an epic film that tells a pretty epic, historic story.
Some of Braveheart was shot in Scotland but the main battle scenes were filmed in Ireland. How dare they.
11. Rob Roy (1995) dir. Michael Caton-Jones
Language: English Run time: 139m 73% Rotten Tomatoes
1995 was a good year for Scottish, historical epics apparently! Rob Roy, starring Liam Neeson, is set around 400 years later than Braveheart in the early 1700s. Rob Roy is Chief of Clan MacGregor and in an attempt to feed his clansmen, he falls into debt and misfortune. Declared an outlaw by James Graham, the Marquess of Montrose, he must clear his name and regain his honour.
To be honest, films like this that have a really heavy convoluted plot really put me off. I’m lazy and I just want a film that’s easy to follow, you know? But Rob Roy does have some redeeming qualities. The film shot entirely on location in the Scottish Highlands including Glen Coe, Glen Nevis, Glen Tarbert, Loch Leven, Loch Morar, Castle Tioram and Drummond Castle.
12. Loch Ness (1996) dir. John Henderson
Language: English Run time: 101m N/A Rotten Tomatoes
Loch Ness is somewhere I’m itching to visit but I suppose watching the film Loch Ness will have to do for now.
Loch Ness follows Dr John Dempsey, an American zoologist who became a laughing stock when he attempted to prove the existence of Sasquatch. When he is asked to prove the existence of the Loch Ness Monster he reluctantly agrees for the money. The film used the small fishing village of Lower Diabaig for shots of the village, though the real Loch Ness was used for some scenes.
13. Harry Potter Film Series (2001-2011) dir. Chris Columbus, Alfonso Cuarón, Mike Newell, David Yates
Language: English 8 Films 77-90% Rotten Tomatoes
Okay, I wasn’t sure I should really include the Harry Potter film franchise on this list of films set in Scotland. However, since Hogwarts School and the village of Hogsmeade are technically supposed to be situated in Scotland, I’m making an executive decision to include them.
For those of you younger than 12 years old or if you’ve actively opted-out of pop culture for the last 20 years: The Harry Potter films are about an orphaned boy who discovers he is a wizard on his 11th birthday. He attends a wizarding school and learns magic, makes friends and reluctantly faces his dark past. That’s a super brief overview but you get the gist!
All eight Harry Potter films feature some filming in Scotland, I believe. The most famous/visited Harry Potter filming location in Scotland is the Glenfinnan Viaduct that the Hogwarts Express train travels over near Fort William. But there are tonnes of others too like Clachaig Gully and Torren Lochan in Glen Coe, Corrour train station and Rannoch Moor.
14. Stone of Destiny (2008) dir. Charles Martin Smith
Language: English Run time: 96m 53% Rotten Tomatoes
Even though I’m English, I do kinda love stories where the Scots win over the English. Let’s face it, we’ve been really crappy to the Scots throughout history and we’re still holding them back now. Stone of Destiny is based on the true-life story set in the 1950s. A group of Scottish Nationalists grow tired of England’s hold over Scotland and want to complete a symbolic mission to retrieve the Stone of Scone AKA the Stone of Destiny from Westminster Abbey to Scotland where it belongs.
The stone is believed by many to be the Stone of Jacob (from the Book of Genesis) and was used to crown many Scottish Kings until 1296 where it was stolen by King Edward I (this king comes up a lot in films set in Scotland, he seems like an absolute arse, to put it lightly).
15. Centurion (2010) dir. Neil Marshall
Languages: English, Gaelic Run time: 97m 61% Rotten tomatoes
Again, I’m really not a fan of these battle/old-timey warrior films so forgive me if I don’t seem enthused about them. A lot of battles have happened in Scotland, unfortunately. Which means a lot of films have been made about them.
Centurion is about a super old battle in approximately 150AD between the Roman Empire and the Celtic Picts in the Scottish Highlands. The Romans were having a pretty hard time conquering the locals in the north to rule over Britannia completely. Centurion shot in several locations around England and Scotland, particularly Badenoch in Strathspey and the Glenfeshie Estate in Cairngorms National Park.
16. Brave (2012) dir. Mark Andrews & Brenda Chapman
Language: English Run time: 93m 78% Rotten Tomatoes
Brave has the unfortunate reputation of being one of the lesser Pixar films, but I still love it so much. I think the voice actors, epic visuals and score make up for the slightly disappointing/nonsensical plot. And it stars a badass ginger girl who doesn’t want to be tied down by a man, so this film is very relatable in my opinion.
Simply set in ‘Medieval Scotland’, Princess Merida of Clan Dunbroch is due to be wed. Unhappy with the arrangement, Merida runs off into the woodland where she discovers the home of a wise old witch. She asks for a spell to change her fate, though the result isn’t exactly what she had in mind.
Would you believe Brave wasn’t actually shot in Scotland? It’s an animated film, that would be pretty impossible. And I don’t think Brave is set anywhere in Scotland in particular. But it’s still got all the wanderlust-inspiring elements and you should make your kids watch Brave to inspire a love of Scotland.
17. Shell (2012) dir. Scott Graham
Language: English Run time: 90m 90% Rotten Tomatoes
Most Scottish indie films seem to be set in a rundown neighbourhood in the big cities like Glasgow and Edinburgh, but Shell is one of the few that focuses on rural life in present-day Scotland.
Shell is a young girl living at a remote petrol station in the Scottish Highlands with her father. It’s a quiet film, more of a character-based film that plot-based and the location plays a big role in regards to the circumstances the characters find themselves in. The garage was purpose-built for the film overlooking Beinn Ghobhlach near Badcaul and Little Loch Broom. The closing credits footage was shot in nearby Fain.
18. Skyfall (2012) dir. Sam Mendes
Language: English Run time: 143m 92% Rotten Tomatoes
Of course, not all of Skyfall is set or filmed in Scotland but it’s the most notable James Bond film that has. Aside from Dr No (1962), Skyfall is my favourite James Bond film and part of the reason is that the locations are so good! The Bond filming locations are always amazing though, aren’t they?
In the final act of Skyfall, James Bond returns to his childhood home ‘Skyfall’ in Scotland with M to set traps for bad guy Silva. The location of the home was supposed to be Duntrune Castle in Argyll, but that was scrapped just after filming began. Instead, the landscape scenes were shot in Glen Coe and the house was built by the production team in Surrey.
Glen Coe is bloody gorgeous though, probably why about half the films on this list shot in Glen Coe!
19. Macbeth (2015) dir. Justin Kurzel
Language: English Run time: 113m 80% Rotten Tomatoes
I have to admit, I’m not a huge fan of this film version of Macbeth and part of the reason is the casting of Marion Cotillard as Lady Macbeth. I understand it must be incredibly difficult for someone who doesn’t speak English as a first language to learn Shakespearean English, let alone a Scottish accent on top. But if you can’t play the role, you can’t play the role…
My irrational disliking of Marion Cotillard’s Lady Macbeth aside, Macbeth is a good film, if a bit underwhelming and unnecessary. Though I quite like the story of Macbeth and it’s definitely one of my favourite plays. If you don’t know the plot, Macbeth receives a prophecy from three witches that he will become king. Desperate to make the prophecy come true (with a nudge from his off-kilter wife), he kills King Duncan which sends Macbeth on a downward spiral into madness. Again, like my synopsis of the Harry Potter series, that’s a very simplified version.
The 2015 film version of Macbeth mainly shot on location in England which is a bit disappointing. However, the very cinematic landscape of Quiraing on the Isle of Skye was used.
20. Edie (2017) dir. Simon Hunter
Language: English Run time: 102m 63% Rotten Tomatoes
Edie isn’t just a fantastic film set in Scotland, it’s just a great travel-inspiring film full stop. If I ever do a list of the best hike/trekking films then Edie would be on it.
Edie, played by Sheila Hancock, is a sour woman in her 80s. Her daughter Nancy doesn’t believe Edie can cope after her husband’s death and wants to move her into a retirement home. Yearning to take back control of her life, Edie decides to take a long-overdue hiking trip in the Scottish Highlands that her controlling husband wouldn’t allow her to take when he was alive. Edie was shot on Suilven mountain just west of Sutherland. The actress Sheila Hancock actually completed the trek and claims to be the oldest person to have done so, too.
21. Outlaw King (2018) dir. David Mackenzie
Language: English Run time: 121m 63% Rotten Tomatoes
Netflix spent a whopping $120 million on Outlaw King which seems absolutely insane. The ‘Outlaw King’ refers to Robert the Bruce so the film is set in a similar time period to Braveheart.
Chris Pine stars as Robert I, a nobleman who rebels against King Edward I of England. His rebellion starts slowly at first but reaches a climax at the Battle of Loudoun Hill in 1307. Outlaw King shot on location in Scotland and England and there’s an absolutely ridiculous amount of filming locations in Scotland. Some of the most notable include Linlithgow Palace, Doune Castle, Dunfermline Abbey and Glasgow Cathedral. But there are so, so many others.
22. Mary, Queen of Scots (2018) dir. Josie Rourke
Language: English Run time: 125m 63% Rotten Tomatoes
And finally, if you’re planning a trip to Scotland you must know a little something about Mary, Queen of Scots. There are more than a few films about Mary knockin’ about. But my personal fave is the most recent, 2018’s Mary, Queen of Scots.
The wonderful Saoirse Ronan plays Mary while her cousin Queen Elizabeth I is portrayed by Margot Robbie. In 1591, Mary returns home to Scotland after the death of her husband in France where she poses a threat to her cousin’s throne. The film follows their rivalry playing on the fact that Mary is charming, younger and fertile and Elizabeth is a cold, childless shrew with her looks diminished by smallpox scars.
A lot of film critics had tonal issues with Mary, Queen of Scots but I really enjoyed the film. And it features some fantastic Scottish landscapes with filming locations like Blackness Castle in West Lothian, Aviemore in the Cairngorms National Park and Glen Coe. Everyone seems to love Glen Coe, eh?
Other films set in Scotland: Mary, Queen of Scots (1971), The Bruce (1996), A Shot at Glory (2000), Dog Soldiers (2002), Doomsday (2008), The Eagle (2011), Whisky Galore! (2016)
And those are the best films set in Scotland that will inspire you to book a trip! Are you planning a trip to Scotland? Or have you watched any of these films? Let me know in the comments below!