Spain is at the top of my ‘to return to ASAP’ list. I’ve visited Barcelona and spent a couple of weeks in the southern region of Andalucía but there’s so much more to see. I’d love to visit the Game of Thrones filming locations in near Seville and San Sebastian, spend some time living in Madrid brushing up on my extremely patchy Spanish and, of course, walking the Camino de Santiago de Compostela is on my bucket list. For now, watching all of these amazing films set in Spain will have to suffice!
And if you’ve returned from a trip to Spain, are planning a trip to Spain or simply want to imagine lying on a beach drinking sangria or eating tapas in your traditional white villa watching the sunset via the medium of cinema… I’ve carefully chosen some fantastic films that will make you want to visit Spain for sure! I can’t make your Spanish dreams a reality but I can put them into 2D.
All of the films listed are hugely enjoyable watches, cover different regions of Spain and feature phenomenal filming locations, so I think they’re the best films set in Spain to inspire you to visit!
I’ve already written a post on the best films set in Barcelona and another post on the best films set in Madrid is coming soon, so you won’t see many films set in either city on this list. You’ve still got a lot of film recommendations to get through, my friend! Best grab a bottle of Rioja and get cracking.
Top Films set in Spain
1. Welcome, Mr Marshall! (1953) dir. Luis García Berlanga
Language: Spanish Run time: 95m N/A Rotten Tomatoes
Though modern, 21st-century films are unsurprisingly more popular and wanderlust-inspiring to most viewers, I like to offer a few recommendations for the classic film fan. So my the first film on my list of incredible films set in Spain is Welcome, Mr Marshall!
The political climate pre-1908s in Spain was rough. General Franco was a vicious dictator from 1939 until his death in 1975. And just as Hollywood did when the Hays Code was introduced in 1930, Spanish filmmakers used comedy and satire to portray their true messages.
Welcome, Mr Marshall! is set in a small Spanish village and the townsfolk are preparing to host some American Diplomats. The Spaniards attempt to present Spanish culture in a stereotypical way that the Americans would expect of them (Flamenco dancing, Matador costumes, etc.). At the same time, they consider what the Americans will be like when they arrive based on hearsay and assumptions. The film shot scenes in Guadalix de la Sierra, a small country town in the region of Madrid and as well as in a studio.
11 Top Films set in Madrid to Watch Before Your Trip
2. The Executioner (1963) dir. Luis García Berlanga
Language: Spanish Run time: 90m N/A Rotten Tomatoes
Ten years after Welcome, Mr Marshall!, Luis García Berlanga directed another masterpiece of Spanish cinema, this time filming in Madrid as well as the Balearic Island of Mallorca.
José Luis Rodríguez is an undertaker whose father-in-law is an executioner. When he retires, José reluctantly takes over his wife’s family business. I’ll admit that giving people the death sentence, even in a lovely locale like Palma de Mallorca, doesn’t scream holiday vibes. But like the first film, The Executioner is a black comedy commenting on the political state of affairs and was even referred to as a communist film at the time. The leader of the communist party at the time, Julián Grimau, was literally executed by the Franco regime the year this film was released so it wasn’t much of a stretch…
So, think of The Executioner as less of an ‘execution’ film and more of a ‘f*ck the establishment’ film and maybe that Tinto de verano cocktail will go down better.
3. The Spirit of the Beehive (1973) dir. Víctor Erice
Language: Spanish Run time: 97m 96% Rotten Tomatoes
Are you getting bored of me calling every movie on this list of films set in Spain a masterpiece? Well, I hope the word hasn’t lost its substance because I really mean it this time. Promise. The Spirit of the Beehive appears on ‘The Best of World Cinema’ lists on the reg’.
I’m also going to sound like a broken record because The Spirit of the Beehive also includes lots of symbolism and messages about the Franco dictatorship. But since it’s a slightly newer film, in colour, it might be more relatable and I do think it’s a super important part of Spain’s history to know more about. It’s set in 1940 and focuses on a young girl’s obsession with the 1931 film Frankenstein as well as her everyday life at school and with her family.
As a film fan, I do absolutely adore films that explore a child’s love of cinema, like in Cinema Paradiso (1988). The Spirit of the Beehive is set in an unnamed village on the Castilian Plateau in the centre of Spain. The aesthetics in this film are b-e-a-utiful and the child actors are so good. I fully recommend giving this film a chance.
4. Law of Desire (1987) dir. Pedro Almodóvar
Language: Spanish Run time: 102m 100% Rotten Tomatoes
It didn’t take us long to reach our first film set in Spain directed by the one, the only, Pedro Almodóvar. A punk rocker, a maverick, an uncaged, vivacious, homosexual Madrileño with big hair and big themes. He is mi amor and my favourite filmmaker of all time.
Almodóvar came of age in precisely the right era for his vision to flourish in Spanish cinema. He was a hugely instrumental cog in the wheel of La Movida Madrileña: a counter-cultural movement at the end of Franco’s reign in the late 1970s/early 1980s where artistic expression was synonymous with anarchy.
I have six Pedro Almodóvar films on this list. Yes, six. It’s my list, I make up the rules here. Though most of Almodóvar’s films are set in Madrid, I’ve chosen six of his other films that focus on other beautiful parts of Spain. Law of Desire is set in the gorgeous, historic Andalucían port city of Cadíz and features locations like Faro De Trafalgar Lighthouse and Jerez De La Frontera. It follows a love triangle between film director Pablo, his young lover Juan and transgender sister Tina. It’s his first film to really focus on non-heteronormative relationships and certainly not his last.
Law of Desire has amazingly favourable reviews and is quintessential Almodóvar viewing. Also features a young, fit Antonio Banderas. You’re welcome!
5. Land and Freedom (1995) dir. Ken Loach
Languages: English, Spanish, Catalan Run time: 109m 77% Rotten Tomatoes
Our first English language film set in Spain! And it’s directed by none other than that British barrel-of-laughs, Ken Loach. His film, Land and Freedom, may seem like a jump from his usual downbeat commentary on UK social issues since it’s set in Catalonia, but it’s not much of a leap at all.
Land and Freedom is set in 1937 at the height of the Spanish Civil War. Unemployed member of the British Communist Party, David Carr played by Ian Hart, decides to head to Catalonia to fight with other foreign troops against the Franco regime. I promise you, this is one of Ken Loach’s most optimistic films.
Filming locations include the storybook-esque walled, medieval city of Mirambel which sits beside the Cantavieja River in the Aragorn region, which is really close to Catalonia. Doesn’t the name ‘Mirambel’ sound like it’s been yanked straight out of a Disney movie?!
6. Mission: Impossible 2 (2000) dir. John Woo
Language: English Run time: 123m 57% Rotten Tomatoes
So, I’m cheating a *little* bit with this movie, as so little is actually shot in Spain. But I needed a few more popular movies to flesh out the most obscure Spanish ones, so here we are. Also, Mission: Impossible 2 is categorically not a good movie, so this isn’t a recommendation as much as it is a proceed with caution.
Regardless, Mission: Impossible 2 sees IMF agent Ethan Hunt (the incomparable Tom Cruise) battle evil pharmaceutical dudes who are releasing a deadly virus in order to profit from selling the cure.* M: I-2 is mostly set in the USA and Australia, but there is a short scene set in Seville early on in the movie. Before Hunt can properly begin his impossible mission, he is tasked with recruiting a professional thief living in Andalucía’s largest city. If you like mindless, easy-to-watch action movies then this is a film for you!
*I’m currently writing this during the COVID-19 pandemic so this storyline feels a bit close to home!
7. Sexy Beast (2000) dir. Jonathan Glazer
Language: English Run time: 88m 86% Rotten Tomatoes
Is there a character so utterly detestable than an Englishman with too much money retiring to a villa in Spain to live out the rest of his days frying himself under the Mediterannean sun like a greasy sausage, barking orders at his poor, local staff? No? Usually, I’d agree with you. But Ray Winston’s retired bank robber Gal is far from the worst person in the British black comedy film Sexy Beast. Not even close.
Gal’s retirement in the Almerían fishing village of Agua Amarga is cut short when violent crime boss Don Logan is dead set on recruiting him for a bank robbery due to his knowledge of cracking safes. Most of Sexy Beast is in London, but the scenes in Almería are pretty idyllic with all the palm trees, coastal views and, you know, sunlight. Don’t get much of that in London.
8. Sex And Lucia (2001) dir. Julio Medem
Languages: Spanish, English Run time: 128m 71% Rotten Tomatoes
Another film based on one of Spain’s Balearic Islands, Sex and Lucía is set in the rugged terrain and remote white villages of Formentera, the smallest of the islands. The film is told like a dream, flitting back and forth in the lives and loves of Lucía and Lorenzo who is an author struggling to write his next book.
It’s quite a melodramatic romantic movie, which isn’t uncommon in Spanish cinema. English audiences may find the narrative too over-the-top and unrelatable but the film’s commitment to the story and the emotion is what makes Sex and Lucía such a compelling watch. Plus, the filming locations are just gorgeous. You’ll come away wanting to jet off to a faraway island and rent bicycles to ride out to the most remote lighthouses and swim in tepid turquoise waters.
9. Morvern Callar (2002) dir. Lynne Ramsay
Language: English Run time: 97m 84% Rotten Tomatoes
Finally, a female director on my list of films set in Spain! Lynne Ramsay is one of the best British directors working at the moment and the gripping Morvern Callar was her second feature film. The titular young woman is living in Oban, Scotland and awakes to find her boyfriend has killed himself. She spontaneously decides to capitalise on his demise by running off to Spain with his unpublished novel to sell it as her own. Spanish scenes were shot in Almería, with Aparthotel Turquesa in El Ejido being one of the filming locations.
It’s such a bloody original take on the “girl escapes her humdrum existence” story we’ve seen time and time again in films. There’s so much going on in a mere 90-minute film. Morvern Callar is the perfect choice if you want to watch a film with scenes in Spain but aren’t into the whole wanderlust-inspiring, romcom, lightweight film fare. I totally hear you, sometimes I’d rather watch a film like this too! And it still has those escapist, “when life gives you lemons” fantasies we all dream about with an intriguing twist. Brilliant film.
10. Talk to Her (2002) dir. Pedro Almodóvar
Language: Spanish Run time: 112m 92% Rotten Tomatoes
Are you ready for back to back Almodóvar recommendations? I’m not sure you are, but we’re starting with Talk to Her. It’s the first Almodóvar film I ever saw and it’s so overflowing with Spanish culture, appreciation for different art forms and crazy weird characters that I just fell in love with the film and the worlds Almodóvar creates.
In Talk to Her, two male-female relationships become unexpectantly intertwined. The first follows Marco, a Journalist and Lydia, a Matador who becomes injured and falls into a coma. The second is hospital carer Benigno who becomes obsessed with his dancer patient Alicia, who is also in a vegetative state.
Talk to Her features flashbacks throughout and concentrates on different characters in different moments of their lives. So there are lots of awesome filming locations all over Spain. Mainly, the film is set in Madrid. But the bullfighting scenes take place in Aranjuez, the wedding scene is in Córdoba and the beach scene is set in Cabo de Gata in Almería. You could travel throughout Spain literally just by watching Talk to Her! And I think you should, it’s a really special movie. Almodóvar even won Best Screenplay at the Academy Awards for this film.
11. Bad Education (2004) dir. Pedro Almodóvar
Languages: Spanish, Latin Run time: 105m 88% Rotten Tomatoes
It’s 2004, almost 30 years since the death of General Franco. I think it’s about time Spanish cinema started to produce films reflecting back on this tumultuous era, don’t you? Not to be confused with a British TV series starring Jack Whitehall, this Bad Education is another one of Almodóvar’s greatest films.
It’s a bit meta but I’ll do my best to explain the synopsis. A film director is contacted by an old school friend and first love with a short story and potential inspiration for his next film. Bad Education flits between present-day reality, a visualised retelling of this short story set in 1977, and the film that the director ends up shooting. Almodóvar manages to cram in all of his usual themes and many more: sexual abuse by Catholic priests, transgender issues, critiquing Franco’s influence on the Spanish school system, murder, drug abuse, it’s all happening here! And while that sounds like a lot, Almodóvar is a genius at what he does. Over the top is just enough for Almodóvar and this film’s style is just beautiful and colourful as always. I love his films so much.
Bad Education is filmed and set all over Spain including Valencia, Madrid, Barcelona and Galicia, so there’s a variety of filming locations. The movie also stars the gorgeous Mexican actor Gael García Bernal who I love in Amores Perros (2000), Y Tu Mamá También (2001) and The Motorcycle Diaries (2004).
12. The Sea Inside (2004) dir. Alejandro Amenábar
Languages: Spanish, Galician, Catalan Run time: 125m 84% Rotten Tomatoes
The Sea Inside is a visually stunning film with beautiful Spanish locations and was good enough to win the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language film. But it’s probably not one of the most wanderlust-inspiring films set in Spain to make you want to visit, though it’s somewhat inspiring in its own way. Why? Because Javier Bardem plays Ramón Sampedro, a quadriplegic who fought for nearly 30 years for the right to end his life.
Based on a true story, The Sea Inside is an incredibly sweet film that spends a lot of time unravelling the relationships in Ramón’s life, especially his family and lawyer. Much of the film takes place in a beautiful seaside house in A Coruña as well as Barcelona and Madrid.
13. Goya’s Ghosts (2006) dir. Miloš Forman
Language: English, Spanish Run time: 114m 30% Rotten Tomatoes
Next up is another biopic about a notable Spaniard and this time its famous artist Francisco Goya. I know you’re probably looking at the rotten tomatoes score and thinking, “why is she recommending such a sh*t film?” And you’d have a point. But Goya is Spain’s second most famous artist after Picasso (maybe? I’m just guessing) and it’s in English, which I’m assuming most of you reading this post are too, so that’s why. And as much as we may want to pretend we’re cultured and don’t mind watching subtitles, most of us are lazy.
Though I don’t love that the plot is almost entirely fictional, despite being based on real people. Basically, Goya (played by Stellan Skarsgård) is facing a scandal because his muse, a young woman played by Natalie Portman, has been branded a heretic/free thinker by a Monk. Quite the scandal in the late 1700s, but could seem quite dull by today’s standards.
Goya’s Ghosts does have one saving grace though, the awesome filming locations around Spain. Some notable locations include lots of grand palaces and buildings like Monasterio de Veruela in Aragón, the Royal Palace of Aranjuez and Palacio Real de El Pardo in the province of Madrid and many locations in Madrid, Castile and León and Castile-La Mancha.
14. Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) dir. Guillermo Del Toro
Language: Spanish Run time: 119m 95% Rotten Tomatoes
One of the biggest, most successful non-English language films of all time, Pan’s Labyrinth won a multitude of international awards and received rave reviews upon its release. Set in the summer of 1944 near the beginning of General Franco’s dictatorship, the film follows a young girl named Ofelia who escapes the troubles of her reality by disappearing into a fantastical, mythological one. The fantasy world is a set in a ravaged, overgrown labyrinth and she meets several creatures and challenges whilst working her way through it.
If you’ve not already seen Pan’s Labyrinth, you definitely should. It’s a phenomenal film regardless of where it’s set. It was, however, shot entirely in Spain, particularly in the Scots Pine Forest in the Sierra de Guadarrama mountain range. A few other notable locations include El Espinar in Castile and León and The Ruins of Belchite near Zaragoza which is a town known for being almost completely devastated during the Spanish Civil War.
15. Volver (2006) dir. Pedro Almodóvar
Language: Spanish Run time: 121m 91% Rotten Tomatoes
I almost included Volver in my top films set in Madrid post, but since the La Mancha region of Spain is so pivotal to this film’s plot it seemed more fitting to put it here. Volver stars Penélope Cruz but really it’s an ensemble cast of six fabulous actresses. Two sisters from Alcanfor de las Infantas in La Mancha now live in Madrid and are emotionally, and literally, haunted by their past and the deaths of their parents.
If you watch any Almodóvar film on this list, make it this one. And I almost hate myself for saying that because really want you to watch all six, but this is the most accessible and features some great scenery. It’s also just a great movie about the resilience of women and Penélope Cruz is phenomenal.
16. Broken Embraces (2009) dir. Pedro Almodóvar
Languages: Spanish, English Run time: 128m 81% Rotten Tomatoes
Volver and Broken Embraces would be such an awesome Almodóvar double bill! Though superficially they may seem similar (both feature Penélope Cruz, both filmed in the late noughties, both set in Madrid), there are lots of differences. Broken Embraces is a stylised thriller about a blind writer who is forced to confront his past when present-day events bring back painful memories. So, most of the film is told in flashback. If you watch enough Almodóvar films, you’ll realise he bloody loves self-reflection.
Broken Embraces mostly takes place in Madrid, but a crucial part of the narrative is set on the Canary Island of Lanzarote. And if you’re British, Lanzarote may invoke images of high rise holiday apartment blocks and bars selling Full English Breakfasts and Carlsberg. But this is a Spanish point of view of Lanzarote and focuses more on the rough volcanic terrain, black sand beaches and basically any part of the island where the tourists aren’t. Some scenes were also filmed in Arucas, Gran Canaria but as a stand-in for Lanzarote.
17. The Way (2010) dir. Emilio Estevez
Language: English Run time: 115m 83% Rotten Tomatoes
This is one of the absolute best films set in Spain to spark feelings of wanderlust. I’ve watched The Way so many times! It stars Martin Sheen as a widower and father who receives a devastating call from a French Policeman that his world traveller son died whilst walking the Camino de Santiago AKA The Way of St James, a pilgrimage route from the Pyrenees in France to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. He decides to walk The Way with his son’s ashes and inevitably becomes changed by the experience.
Walking the Camino de Santiago is a bucket list experience for me. I would love to walk the Camino and drink all the wine, eat plate after plate of pintxos and meet tonnes of interesting people. The Way shot on the actual Camino Frances, which is the most popular pilgrimage route. So there are tonnes of beautiful locations in Northern Spain not often seen in movies like Burgos Cathedral, Muxia, Pamplona and of course the city of Santiago de Compostela.
18. Living is Easy with Eyes Closed (2013) dir. David Trueba
Language: Spanish Run time: 105m 94% Rotten Tomatoes
Everyone loves a good road trip movie. There are so many American ones, but how about a Spanish road trip film set in the 1960s like Living is Easy with Eyes Closed?! Antonio is an English teacher living in Albacete and is a huge fan of The Beatles. When he learns John Lennon is in Almería shooting How I Won the War (1967), he decides to take a road trip to meet him, picking up some hitchhikers along the way.
There are so many awesome reasons to watch Living is Easy with Eyes Closed. Firstly, I love a good pop culture reference and this film has many Beatles-related ones, including the title. The 1960s setting and look of the film has a really warm, nostalgic vibe and it has a heart-warming storyline. Plus, road trips, my friend! Adventure is out there, we just need to get behind the wheel and hit the road!
19. Fast & Furious 6 (2013) dir. Justin Lin
Language: English Run time: 130m 70% Rotten Tomatoes
There are a lot of eclectic and artsy films set in Spain on this list. And sometimes you just want to watch an easy-to-follow Hollywood action movie, am I right? Well, I have a good recommendation for you then: Fast & Furious 6. It’s pretty incredible how this franchise turned itself around and the sixth instalment is definitely worth your time.
The two leads Dom (Vin Diesel) and Brian (Paul Walker) are living the life of luxury after their heist in Brazil. The only thing they don’t have is the ability to return to the USA. So when the Diplomatic Security Service ask for Dom and Brian’s help capturing a bad guy who supposedly murdered Dom’s ex-girlfriend, they agree to take on the mission on the condition they’re allowed back in the states.
20. Marshland (2014) dir. Alberto Rodríguez
Language: Spanish Run time: 105m 92% Rotten Tomatoes
Marshland was programmed at the Glasgow Film Festival in 2015 so I had the good fortune of seeing it on the big screen. It’s the Spanish equivalent of two NYPD detectives sent to investigate a horrific crime in some hick town where there aren’t two cops to rub together for miles. Pedro and Juan are cops who head down from Madrid to the Guadalquivir Marshes in the province of Seville to investigate a serial killer.
It’s a thriller so not exactly ‘travel inspiring’ but everyone and their mum loves a good detective drama these days. So if you’re travelling to Spain and want to watch a film you’re guaranteed to be hooked on immediately, Marshland is perfect. Also, the marshes are an incredibly cinematic setting!
21. Spanish Affair (2014) dir. Emilio Martínez-Lázaro
Language: Spanish Run time: 98m N/A Rotten Tomatoes
This is a slightly lesser-known Spanish film but it’s so funny and heartwarming (plus features gorgeous Spanish locations in Andalucía and Basque Country!) I had to include it. Spanish Affair is about an Andalucían man who has never left home. That is until he becomes infatuated with a Basque girl and would do anything to win over her affections.
Spanish Affair is a great film to watch if you are visiting any of the Northern cities in Spain as San Sebastián and the nearby beach towns of Zumaya and Zarautz are utilised for the film. And of course, Seville is a filming location too. I love how these two areas of Spain juxtapose against each other in the film – just goes to show you how diverse the country is!
22. Julieta (2016) dir. Pedro Almodóvar
Language: Spanish Run time: 96m 84% Rotten Tomatoes
Though Julieta came and went without much fanfare in 2016, I made sure I got my arse to a cinema in order to watch it ASAP. And I’ve watched Julieta several times since then because I adore this film. I think Almodóvar is at his best when the main character is a mother. They’re always so flawed and multifaceted and they’re always, always their own person first and a kickass mother second. Plus, Julieta hops from coast to coast with a stop off in Madrid on the way!
Julieta follows our titular character in two time periods using two different actresses to play Julieta. The story of young Julieta is told via a flashback as she falls in love and becomes a mother, and older Julieta is living in Madrid after becoming estranged from her daughter. As a young mother, Julieta lives in a fishing community in A Coruña, Galicia. And she also visits her family living at the opposite end of the country, the region of Seville in Andalucía. Wonderful film!
23. The Man Who Killed Don Quixote (2018) dir. Terry Gilliam
Language: English Run time: 132m 63% Rotten Tomatoes
Stuck in development hell for 150 years (oh, was is only 30 years? Felt like longer…), director Terry Gilliam successfully filmed his loose adaptation to the Spanish classic novel Don Quixote a couple of years ago. Was it worth it? Probably not. But it’s still a fun watch, the actors are superb and Don Quixote is such a quintessential part of Spanish literature.
Man-of-the-moment Adam Driver plays Toby, a commercial director shooting in Spain who realises he isn’t far away from where he set his student film, The Man Who Killed Don Quixote. So, he decides to take a walk down memory lane. He is reunited with his lead actor Javier, played by Jonathan Price, who believes he actually is Don Quixote. Toby begins to lose his grip on reality when he gets sucked into Javier’s fantastical quest.
Since Don Quixote is known as ‘The Man in La Mancha’ it’s refreshing to know that parts of the film shot in the Castile-La Mancha region of Spain as well as Madrid, Navarra, Zaragoza and even Fuerteventura on the Canary Islands. Almonacid Castle in Toledo is probably the most notable location from The Man Who Killed Don Quixote.
Other films set in Spain: The Hunt (1966), Butterfly’s Tongue (1989), The Skin I Live In (2011)
And those are some of the best films set in Spain that will make you want to book a trip there! Have you watched any of these films set in Spain or would you add any to the list? Let me know in the comments below!