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If you’re even slightly into Spanish cinema, you’ll have seen movies set in Madrid. It’s not only Spain’s capital city but the epicentre of radical cultural movements, the home of Spain’s premier art collection and where most Spanish movies take their first baby breaths. Like London or Paris, it’s the beating heart of its country’s body of cinema.
It’s impossible to create a list of Madrileño cinema, or films set in Madrid, without heavily referencing the work of Pedro Almodóvar. And he just so happens to be my favourite director, so expect mucho amor for Almodóvar. This list of Madrid movies is not exhaustive, but it will give you a taste of how rich Spanish cinema is. And what a beautiful and diverse city Madrid (and madrileños!) is too. So, here are some of the best movies set in Madrid!
If you read this post and think, “She’s not mentioned such and such film! How can she not include such and such film?!” I’ve written a post on the best films set in Spain which features films from all over the country. So maybe the film is on there. I’ve also written a post about the best movies set in Barcelona, too.
Top Movies set in Madrid, Spain
1. Death of a Cyclist (1955)
Director: Juan Antonio Bardem Language: Spanish Run time: 88m 100% Rotten Tomatoes
We’re off to a strong start with Death of a Cyclist if I do say so myself. Director Juan Antonio Bardem is world-famous actor Javier Bardem’s uncle, so it looks like the filmmaking talent genes run deep in this family. Death of a Cyclist is a tight 90-minute social realist film about a couple having an illicit affair. They accidentally hit a cyclist but don’t offer help or seek assistance for fear of uncovering their adulterous relationship.
Movies filmed in Madrid, or Spanish movies in general, at this time in history are always retroactively critiqued within the context of the political climate. Until 1975, Spain was under the dictatorship rule of General Franco, and films either support or subliminally undermine Franco ideology with their themes. Death of a Cyclist is the latter. It’s a fantastic Madrid movie to watch if you want to gain a deeper insight into this era. And it’s just a fantastic movie even without the context.
2. Viridiana (1961)
Director: Luis Buñuel Language: Spanish Run time: 90m 96% Rotten Tomatoes
Another great Spanish director, Luis Buñuel is often known as a surrealist but in reality, he created dozens of films that traversed genres, languages and borders. Viridiana is a movie he made towards the end of his career during his return to Europe from Mexico. The film centres on a novice nun who is about to take her vows and makes one last visit to her family before fully committing to convent life.
I love a good controversial Catholic movie, me. And Buñuel always had much more overt and daring themes in his films than other filmmakers at the time. After Viridiana won the Palme d’Or at Cannes Film Festival (the main prize), General Franco tried to ban the movie. And Pope John XXIII called it “blasphemous.” Whether it was blasphemous or not, Viridiana is one of the best movies set in Madrid to watch if you want to delve into Spain’s relationship with Catholicism. Buñuel shot lots of scenes all over Madrid and nearby Toledo.
3. Labyrinth of Passion (1982)
Director: Pedro Almodóvar Language: Spanish Run time: 100m 100% Rotten Tomatoes
*Ding ding ding* We’ve reached the first round of Pedro Almodóvar love in this list of Madrid movies. If you’re not familiar with Almodóvar then the plot might seem a bit, erm, full-on. Labyrinth of Passion turns the screwball comedy genre on its head. Sexilia is a singer and sex addict who falls in love with a gay Middle Eastern prince called Riza, who is attempting to hide from people who are after him. He poses as a punk rocker and begins his first “straight” relationship with Sexilia, who is supported by her new friend/obsessive fan and dry-cleaner Queti.
There couldn’t be a more fitting title to this film than Labyrinth of Passion because the narrative is super complex. But it’s a perfect example of the cinema made during La Movida Madrileña, a counter-cultural movement in Madrid that emerged after the death of General Franco. Just… Watch this film with an open mind, yeah? Plus, it features a small role by Antonio Banderas in his feature film debut.
4. Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (1988)
Director: Pedro Almodóvar Language: Spanish Run time: 89m 89% Rotten Tomatoes
Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown is known as Almodóvar’s global big break as it was nominated for Best Foreign Film at the Academy Awards. Many of his earlier films became local cult classics, but this film really kickstarted his international success. Again, like Labyrinth of Passion, there are a lot of eccentric characters and parallel storylines, but that’s part of the fun. And Women on the Verge was shot all over the city of Madrid so it’s an excellent movie to watch before a trip there.
Pepa Marcos is a depressed dub artist and her boyfriend has just left her. Pepa’s friend Candela spontaneously arrives at her apartment because she’s also going through a crisis. And Pepa’s ex-boyfriend’s son from a previous relationship turns up with his girlfriend by coincidence as they are apartment hunting. Hilarity ensues. Also, Antonio Banderas returns with his gravity-defying 1980s hairstyle.
5. Open Your Eyes (1997)
Director: Alejandro Amenábar Language: Spanish Run time: 107m 85% Rotten Tomatoes
If you’ve heard of a little film called Vanilla Sky (2001) starring Tom Cruise, you may not know that it’s actually an English-language remake of Open Your Eyes directed by Alejandro Amenábar. A very attractive man in his early 20s is permanently disfigured by a vengeful act orchestrated by his ex-girlfriend. Unlike most of the other films on this list, this Madrid movie isn’t a straight comedy or drama but is more of a mystery thriller with some sci-fi elements.
So if you’re usually a sci-fi fan but want to enjoy a Madrid-set film, this is the ideal watch for you. Both films, Open Your Eyes and Vanilla Sky, also star Penélope Cruz.
6. The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)
Director: Paul Greengrass Language: English Run time: 115m 92% Rotten Tomatoes
There aren’t many English movies in Madrid I can feature on this list, so you’ll have to immerse yourself in foreign cinema to enjoy most of the amazing movies set in Madrid! Which you definitely should! Fortunately, if you love great action movies and Matt Damon, The Bourne Ultimatum briefly takes a flying visit to the Spanish capital.
It’s the third film in the Jason Bourne franchise and the former CIA assassin is continuing to seek out information about his past before he was part of Operation Treadstone and became an amnesiac. There are so many great cinematic cities covered in The Bourne Ultimatum including Moscow, Turin, London, Paris, New York City and, of course, Madrid. One of his leads brings Bourne to Madrid but it turns out to be a dead end. Fantastic action movie and a great film to watch before a trip to Madrid if this genre is your cup of tea.
7. Madrid, 1987 (2011)
Director: David Trueba Language: Spanish Run time: 105m 88% Rotten Tomatoes
I ummed and ahhed about including this Madrid film because it’s not very well known and I prefer recommending easily-accessible films that are guaranteed to be on streaming services, etc. But since “Madrid” is literally in the title of Madrid, 1987, I’m sure you can forgive me for including one obscure film.
Madrid, 1987 is tightly focused on two opposing characters: Miguel is an older, bitter journalist and Ángela is a young and pretty journalist student. When she interviews him for an essay in the apartment of Miguel’s friend, the two converse about politics and art while inevitably exploring the dynamics of their relationship. It’s a bit elitist and there are elements of the narrative I think firmly belong in 1987 and not modern cinema, but if you love arthouse films this might be a good recommendation for you. You don’t see much of the city itself but Madrid, 1987 offers some cultural insights.
8. The Cold Light of Day (2012)
Director: Mabrouk El Mechri Language: English Run time: 93m 4% Rotten Tomatoes
I know, this film has literally 4% on Rotten Tomatoes. Only an utter disgrace to the industry would ever be so unanimously panned. Buuuut… It’s an English language movie set in Madrid! There are so few of those! And it stars Henry Cavill, Bruce Willis and Sigourney Weaver so maybe, just maybe, there are one or two of you out there who might enjoy it? Consider yourself warned.
The Cold Light of Day is about Henry Cavill’s Will Shaw who is visiting his family in Spain. When a sailing accident occurs and his entire family goes missing, Will discovers his father’s secret and they both work together to uncover the conspiracy and find their family. Madrid doesn’t have many globally famous landmarks like the Eiffel Tower in Paris, but it does have some gorgeous plazas. Many make appearances in The Cold Light of Day such as Puerta del Sol, Plaza Mayor and Plaza de Cibeles. Whether or not the stunning locations make up for the horrendous plot, I’ll let you decide.
9. Truman (2015)
Director: Cesc Gay Languages: Spanish, English Run time: 109m 99% Rotten Tomatoes
No, this isn’t the clever social commentary film The Truman Show (1998) starring the comedic talents of Jim Carey. This is the five-time Goya Award-winning movie Truman, named after the very good boy (read: dog) at the centre of this poignant comedy. Okay, so he’s not at the centre of the film, but he steals every scene he’s in.
Tomás pays his old friend Julián (and his dog Truman) an unexpected visit at his apartment in Madrid. Julián admits he has cancer and the two old friends spend four days together navigating this news. I’ve always loved the actor Javier Cámara as he appears in some Pedro Almodóvar films, and he’s excellent in Truman.
10. Despite Everything (2019)
Director: Gabriela Tagliavini Language: Spanish Run time: 78m 20% Rotten Tomatoes
Despite Everything doesn’t have amazing reviews, but I’m including it on my list of movies set in Madrid for a few reasons. Firstly, it has a female director and I haven’t included nearly enough of those. Secondly, it’s a Netflix original Spanish film so it’s very accessible to many people, no matter where you live. And finally, I quite like the film! It’s not phenomenal but it is a feelgood, entertaining movie.
Four very different sisters are reunited when they attend their mother’s funeral in Madrid. The Will reveals that the man they thought was their father actually isn’t, thus sparking a journey for the women to find their biological dads. Despite Everything is a glossy, lighthearted film that will absolutely get you in the mood for a Spanish city break.
11. Pain and Glory (2019)
Director: Pedro Almodóvar Language: Spanish Run time: 113m 97% Rotten Tomatoes
Finally, we’ve reached the last Madrid-set movie and Pedro Almodóvar film on the list, Pain and Glory. It’s definitely not my favourite of his films, but Antonio Banderas as the lead is utterly sensational. He stars as a famous filmmaker who is suffering from chronic illness, writer’s block and the inevitable reality of getting old. The film flashes back to his childhood with focuses on his relationship with his mother (played by Penélope Cruz) and discovering his sexuality.
Pain and Glory was nominated for heaps of awards, both Spanish and international, with Antonio Banderas receiving his first Academy Award nomination. There are some wonderful Madrid filming locations utilised that would definitely interest film fans like the glorious red and white Cine Doré. Honestly, if you watch any Spanish language film set in Madrid, make it this one. I think you’ll love it.
Other movies set in Madrid: Red Cross Girls (1958), The Delinquents (1960), Pepi, Luci, Bom (1980), Matador (1986), Going Down in Morocco (1989), Kika (1993), The Flower of my Secret (1995), Live Flesh (1997), Martín (1997), Common Wealth (2000), Dark Blue Almost Black (2006)
And those are the best movies set in Madrid that will make you want to book a trip! Have you watched any of these films or would you add any to the list? Let me know in the comments below!