Sofia De Vera combines a heartfelt passion for cinema with over 15 years of critiquing for esteemed film publications, wielding academic credentials from the University of Southern California and New York University, to serve as your personal guide through the enchanting worlds of film and television.
Budapest has a lot to offer for both national and international filmmakers. The city is known for its awe-inspiring architecture, underground caves and thermal baths. It is also well known for its rich culture and delicious cuisine. So it will come as no surprise that there are so many wonderful movies set in Budapest.
Budapest is one of the most awe-striking cities ever to be built. Some places in Europe are known for their cuisine, others for their big art collections. Budapest has both of those things. It also has a charming nightlife filled with people that want to have fun. What does the city have that no other city can match?
What makes Budapest unique is the city itself. There isn’t a place that’s as beautifully built as this city. No other place holds the most wonderful Basilicas, Castles, Baths, and Operas at the same time. Only in Budapest can you see the Danube at night right by the lights of its Baroque bridges and spires.
Unlike other big cities in Europe, most of the buildings that are characteristic of Budapest were built back in the early 20th century. The beautiful architecture that makes the city what it is was made with a Baroque aesthetic but modern technology. The result is a captivating architectural look the likes of which can’t be found anywhere else.
While looking at pictures isn’t bad, you probably prefer to watch a movie. Choose any of these films to experience the magic of Budapest from your home!
These films set in Budapest have narratives that rely on their settings as much as their main protagonists, and as a result, spectators get a glimpse of this iconic city through the director’s eyes. To honor the concept of cinematic travel, we have also assembled lists of our favorite films shot in some of our all-time favorite travel destinations: Copenhagen, Florence, Rome, Berlin and Paris.
Wondering where to watch? It depends on where you live in the world and which streaming services you have. We link to the streaming service we watch on in each case - be it Netflix, Amazon Prime, Apple TV+, or elsewhere.
You can get one month free of Amazon Prime (or a 6-month trial for students) of Amazon Prime and also get immediate access to FREE Two Day shipping, Amazon Video, and Music. While you won't be charged for your free trial, you'll be upgraded to a paid membership plan automatically at the end of the trial period - though if you have already binged all these, you could just cancel before the trial ends.
Apple TV+ also has a one-week trial, and Hulu has a one-month trial (which can be bundled with Disney!). Another option might be using a VPN to access Netflix titles locked to other regions. Netflix is now available in more than 190 countries worldwide and each country has a different library and availability. US Netflix is (understandably) one of the best.
While we wish everything could just be in one place - for now, it seems these are the best streaming platforms to watch on.
Budapest has appeared in many movies throughout the years. As you’ll see in this list, lots of stories set there focus on the mysteries that took and take place in the city. Red Sparrow is one of them.
Directed by Francis Lawrence, this spy thriller isn’t based on a true story per se, but it does feature some interesting details that one doesn’t see very often in the genre. For example, the Soviet Union has a history of using both men and women for “sexpionage”, meaning that they trained them to learn how to get information out of someone using sex. The film was based on a book by Jason Matthews, an ex-CIA agent who became a crime novelist.
Dominika Egorova (played by Jennifer Lawrence) is a talented dancer working hard to support her mother. One day, she suffers an accident and is no longer able to dance. An estranged uncle reaches out to help her but ends up tricking her into seducing a gangster to give him a chance to assassinate him.
Since she witnessed the murder, she has two options: either be killed or work with her uncle as a spy. Red Sparrow will see Dominika being sent to train in a school for “Sparrows”, members of the Russian Intelligence Service who use sex in order to gain information. She excels in her training and once she’s ready, she’s sent to Budapest on the most important mission of her life.
Red Sparrow is a captivating movie that will have you gripping the edges of your seat. It has many twists and turns that will keep you guessing at what’s next.
Continuing with the trend of Russian women spies comes this long-awaited film by Marvel Studios, one of the most recent movies set in Budapest. There is much to say about the place that this film has in the MCU. And even more, could be said about what it could have been.
Many people hoped that the promised Black Widow movie would herald the change for new female-led superhero movies. Instead, it seems like neither it nor Captain Marvel managed to do that. At the end of the day, it was just another movie made to capitalize on Marvel’s properties. But it was a fun one!
The film is set between the events of two very loved Marvel films: 2016’s Captain America: Civil War and 2018’s Avengers: Infinity War. Between one movie and the other, the character of Natasha Romanoff (played by Scarlett Johansson) finds herself running away from the government until the ulterior threat of Thanos brings her back into the fray.
But it seems that during that time she was much busier than people thought. During that time, Natasha reunites with Yelena Belova, her adopted sister who she hadn’t seen in twenty years. The reunion isn’t all that happy, though: Yelena reaches out to Natasha but doesn’t trust her. Still, she needs her help.
Turns out that the institution that trained both of them to become Black Widows wasn’t as disbanded as they thought. Supposedly, Natasha had killed the man behind the Red Room, but now they have reason to believe that he’s still alive. Not only that, but they also find that there’s a gas that can mind-control any Black Widow that comes into contact with it.
With the help of her sister, Natasha will travel to Budapest to confront this man once and for all.
The last spy film in this list, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is also one of the best in the genre. It managed to exceed everyone’s expectations for what a spy thriller film should be and showed that there could be more in the genre than Mission Impossible.
The film was made by Tomas Alfredson, a filmmaker from Sweden who captivated the world in 2008 with his intimate and powerful film Let the Right One In. That film earned him many awards all over the world, mostly for Best Film and Best Director. After such a good start, it would seem like the next film he’d make was bound to disappoint. But it didn’t.
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy tells the story of a spy who is trying to uncover the identity of a Soviet mole in MI6. Set in 1973, it follows George Smiley (Gary Oldman), a member of the MI6 whose partner has just been shot in Budapest due to a tip by a mole.
The movie is an adaptation of a 1974 novel of the same name that was written by John le Carré. This British author was very well known for his best-selling spy thrillers, but not so many people know that he had worked both on the British Security Service (known as the MI5) as well as the Secret Intelligence Service (the famous MI6).
It won many awards in the international circuit of film festivals, including the BAFTA for Best British Film. It even garnered a couple of Academy Award nominations, which wasn’t very usual for a film of this style. Note that it has gone on to be considered one of the best spy thrillers ever.
From the underworld of spies and machinations, we go to the underworld of creatures from the night. This classic action-horror saga made vampires and werewolves cool before Twilight. Deeply inspired by 1999s Blade and its sequels, Underworld, by Len Wiseman, is a fun and exciting action-horror adventure that has much more to offer than you’d think.
The films are led by English actress Kate Beckinsale, who plays the part of Selene, a centuries-old vampire who is part of an elite group of vampire assassins who have sworn to kill as many werewolves as they can. This conflict between werewolves and vampires goes way back: it’s a war that has been fought in secret for generations.
Underworld begins with a major victory for the vampires. One of their most powerful vampires, Kraven (Shane Brolly), manages to kill the leader of the werewolves, Lucian (Michael Sheen). This leads to Kraven becoming part of the council that leads vampires. One day, while fighting werewolves, Selene finds out that they are looking for a human man named Michael Corvin (Scott Speedman).
Neither he nor Selene knows why they are after him. But there’s one thing she’s sure about: the man who wanted to capture Michael was Lucian, the supposedly dead werewolf leader. She’ll go after the werewolf, eventually realizing that his death was staged and that Kraven must be working with the werewolves in order to gain influence in vampiric society.
The film became part of a dark fantasy franchise, with a total of six movies and a video game. So, if you happen to fall in love with Underworld, its characters, and its world, you have plenty of films to enjoy.
Here comes another fantasy story that brings the fantastical out of Budapest’s gothic and Baroque architecture. Surprisingly enough, this one also stars Kate Beckinsale. The lead role, however, is played by Hugh Jackman, who brings his noted charisma as an action hero to this fun and exciting role. If you haven’t seen Van Helsing, you’re up for a surprise!
For those unaware, Van Helsing is a character from the epistolary novel by Bram Stocker Dracula. In the book after terrorizing Jonathan Harker in his very own abode, Dracula emigrates to England and starts haunting the towns and cities there. That’s when an old Dutch doctor hears about what happening and heads there. With his help, they are able to capture and kill Dracula. This doctor was Abraham Van Helsing.
The film doesn’t take place in the same timeline as the book. Here, Van Helsing is a monster hunter who fights to keep the world free of evil. In this alternate world, monstrous beings constantly attack the population. The Holy Order that Van Helsing is part of takes care of them, training hunters that protect the people.
Van Helsing begins with the creation of Frankenstein, which in this world was assisted by the power of Count Dracula. It’s not clear what happened, but it seems like Dracula was hoping that the doctor would be able to make a real body for him.
When he fails, Dracula kills him and flees the scene. We catch on with the titular character as he is fighting against one of the other most popular monsters of literature: Mr. Hyde, the dark side of Dr. Jekyll. The film features many more cameos by monsters from the long catalog of Universal Pictures.
After all these blockbuster and action movies set in Budapest, it’s time to move on to a couple of films that are much quainter. While they may not pack the thrills that the films before did, these films were made by people native to the city of Budapest and Hungary.
They aren’t only meant to entertain, but they also offer a powerful picture of the way people from Budapest see the world—we get to experience the things that worry them, what they like and what they consider art. It’s a key part of understanding a country and no list would be complete without these films.
White God was directed by Kornél Mundruczó, one of the top directors in Hungary right now. He has a short but prolific career that features some of the best films in recent years. And this one is considered by many to be his best. And not only because it won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival: the film became one of the most-watched in the country.
The film’s main character is Hagen, a mixed-breed dog who meets a young girl named Lili (Zsófia Psotta). The two of them come into each other’s life by chance, but they quickly become inseparable. It seems like each could offer what the other needed.
Hagen is always there for Lili, who has a very tumultuous home life after her mother leaves the family. However, Hagen isn’t a part of the family. Lili’s dad doesn’t like the dog and doesn’t want to have him in the house. In Hungary, having a mixed-breed dog means that you’ll have to pay a “mongrel” tax—and Lili’s father won’t do that.
White God takes a turn when Lili is forced to abandon Hagen. The audience stays with the dog, who goes out into the city and becomes friends with other dogs, who will help him return home. It may sound funny, but it makes for a very touching conclusion for an extraordinary movie.
Like the film before, this one was also made by Kornél Mundruczó. Unlike Hagen, however, Jupiter’s Moon tells a much more classic style of story. One that deals not with a dog, but with many people who are struggling to get by.
However, the film does also have a supernatural twist. While Hagen’s weirdness came from the fact that the titular dog was very smart and able to communicate and lead other dogs, in Jupiter’s Moon the main character obtains the power to levitate.
The film follows Aryan (Zsombor Jéger), a young man from Syria who is escaping to Hungary with his father. They plan to cross from one country to the other by boat. As they are doing so, the border guard discovers them and opens fire. Father and son are separated, and their possessions are lost. We see that Aryan is shot multiple times by the guard.
But he doesn’t die. Instead, he suddenly gains the ability to fly. Shocked, he drops down to the ground and is apprehended either way.
Jupiter’s Moon sees Aryan meeting a sleazy doctor, Gábor Stern (Merab Ninidze), who works at the hospital in the refugee camp. He offers to free Aryan if he helps him scam people with spiritual healing. At first, Aryan isn’t sure, but when he learns that his father drowned, he accepts and goes with Gábor to Budapest.
Now here comes a film that can’t be compared with anything else. And not only in terms of Hungarian films but in cinema in general. Kontroll is a peculiar tale set in an alternate interpretation of the famous Budapest Metro system.
The film follows Bulcsú (Sándor Csányi), a man who works there as a ticket inspector—meaning that he’s the one in charge of doing the “kontroll”. However, he’s no regular inspector.
Ever since he started working in the Metro, Bulcsú hasn’t left the underground: he lives his whole life there, eating food that he buys from underground vendors, washing in the public toilet, and sleeping on the train platforms when no one is around. You may ask yourself why. You’ll have to see Kontroll find out.
In the underground, all kinds of bizarre things take place. The ticket inspectors compete against each other by running through the tracks before the train hits them. They constantly have to fight against the riders who don’t want to pay and there are times when these fights become really dangerous.
When Bulcsú finds that the recent streak of suicides may actually be serial murders, Kontroll becomes a tense thriller that will have you shivering.
The feature film debut of Hungarian-American filmmaker Nimród Antal, Kontroll was a hit both with audiences and with critics. It won numerous awards around the world, being praised for its innovative spirit and captivating style. Among the many awards it got, it’s not the Gold Hugo, which is given by the Chicago International Film Festival to the best film of the festival.
For fans of historical dramas comes this film by Hungarian filmmaker László Nemes. If you aren’t familiar with Nemes, you should do yourself a favor and watch the much-acclaimed Son of Saul—which won the Grand Prix at Cannes, and Best Foreign Language Films both at the Golden Globes and Academy Awards.
Sunset is set in 1913, just a year before World War I broke out. It follows Irisz Leiter (Juli Jakab), a young orphaned woman who is going back to Budapest in order to work on her family business, the biggest hat shop in Europe. The thing is, the family business doesn’t belong to the family anymore.
The new owner, Oszkár Brill (Vlad Ivanov), is a businessman who only cares about getting every penny he can from the store. He doesn’t like Irisz, doesn’t like her at all. In fact, he fires her just as she gets to the city.
Shocked and appalled, Irisz doesn’t know what to do. Irisz hangs onto the hope of finding her long-lost brother in the city. However, her brother isn’t an easy man to find: it’s rumored that he killed her parents and tried to kill Oszkar after that.
To get to him, Irisz will have to search through the streets of Budapest, diving deep into the criminal underbelly of the city.
One of the best Hungarian films of all time, Sunshine follows a Jewish family over five generations and six decades. As the film tells the story of the family —and delves deep into the Jewish experience—, it also tells the story of Hungary.
The film begins in the 19th century, when the family were sellers of a tonic known as “Taste of Sunshine”. The members of the family fight in World War I and, when that’s over, see their home country collapse. Then they are faced with the anti-Jewish laws passed during the Nazi occupation of the country. And after that, they have to deal with the communist regime.
The movie was directed by István Szabó, a Hungarian filmmaker who has enjoyed a long and great career ever since he began working in the late fifties. If his name sounds familiar to you, it may be because he’s an Academy Award winner: he won Best Foreign Language Film in 1981 for his film Mephisto.
The family undergoes many changes as time goes on. One of these changes is that of their surname. At first, the family was known as the Sonnenschein, the German word for “sunshine”. But as the eldest son of the family starts working for a chief judge, he’s asked to change his name from a Jewish one to a Hungarian one. And so, the family becomes the Sors, the word for “fate”.
This is a process known as Magyarization or Hungarization. During the Austro-Hungarian Empire, there was a big push by the government to conform to a national identity through. This is due to the fact that the Empire was comprised of a multitude of cultures that didn’t get along with each other if they could even speak the same language.