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.
Lisbon has a lot to offer for both national and international filmmakers. The city is known for its ornate architecture but has a lot of modern-day charm. It is also well known for its fado music and cultural vibe. So it will come as no surprise that there are so many wonderful movies set in Lisbon.
Lisbon is the capital of Portugal, but it would be more accurate to say that Lisbon is Portugal’s heart. Everything that makes the country what it is has had its root in Lisbon: from its unique cuisine to its autochthonous music styles. The city offers one of the most unique cultural experiences in Europe.
It isn’t quite like any other of the big European cities. Instead of being drab and dark, Lisbon is a city filled with colors. Its coastal weather is also very different from most European capitals. The city has so much to offer, that filmmakers have struggled to capture all of its beauty in the film. As it tends to happen in art: when more artists are working to capture a subject, the better they’ll understand it. Let these films be your guide through Lisbon and prepare you for a city like no other.
These films set in Lisbon 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: Prague, Vienna, Venice, Vermont, Hollywood, and Philadelphia.
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.
- Lisbon (1956)
- Amália (2008)
- Anthony of Padua [Antonio di Padova] (1949)
- Mysteries of Lisbon [Mistérios de Lisboa] (2010)
- April Captains [Capitães de Abril] (2000)
- Lisbon Story [O Céu de Lisboa] (1994)
- Night Train to Lisbon (2013)
- Tabu (2012)
- Alice (2005)
- Recollections of the Yellow House [ Recordações da Casa Amarela] (1989)
Starting a list of the best films in Lisbon with a movie called Lisbon may seem cliché, but this is one of the very best films to ever be made in the city. Lisbon is a noir film, meaning that it’s a detective crime drama set in the fifties and it’s a joy to see a film made with so much style.
There’s something about noir films that makes them feel ageless. And one should not forget that Lisbon was directed by Ray Millard, a distinguished actor-turned-director who you may be familiar with thanks to his parts in The Lost Weekend and Dial M For Murder.
Lisbon was advertised as a continuation of Casablanca, but not as you may imagine. After World War II was over, Morocco stopped being the meeting point where Europeans would try to escape to the United States. With the beginning of the Cold War, international politics became much more subtle, but no less restrictive.
In this climate, Lisbon became a meeting point for spies and refugees who were fleeing Communist-occupied countries, since it was the most convenient place to sail off to the New World without the Soviets noticing.
The film follows Captain Evans (played by Milland himself) who is at the helm of a fast fishing boat, but covertly helps people to escape Europe. The Lisbon police suspect that something is up, but they haven’t been able to find any evidence to pin on him.
Their chance may come when Mavros (Claude Rains), a criminal who sometimes works with Captain Evans, contracts him to rescue a kidnapped millionaire. The catch is that Mavros is hoping to have the captain either killed or imprisoned, while he takes both the millionaire’s wife and his money from him.
One thing you should know about Portuguese people is that they love their music. And they love it, even more, when it’s sung by one of the most famous stars in the country. Amália Rodrigues was what’s known as a “fadista”, meaning someone who sings fado.
This style of music has its origins in early 19th Century Portugal. While fado songs are usually quite mournful and sad, they are constantly sung all throughout the country. You can hear them in bars and restaurants playing on the radio. It wouldn’t be an understatement to say that fado is the sound of Portugal.
The thing is that Amália Rodrigues wasn’t only a fadista, she was the Queen of Fado herself. While she didn’t invent the style, it did become internationally popular thanks to her work. She sadly passed away due to cancer in 1999.
However, even more than two decades after her death, she still remains the Portuguese artist who has sold more records than any other. Her legacy is strong in Portugal and knowing her story will bring you much closer to the roots of Lisbon and to its people’s culture.
Amália follows her rags-to-riches story without sparing any detail or censoring any wrongdoing. For example, not many people knew that Amália used to date at least four men at the time, something that Portuguese society frowned upon then and still does now.
Perhaps what’s best about the film is that it features Amália’s best songs, from classic Uma Casa Portuguesa to the sad Barco Negro. She’s wonderfully played by Sandra Barata Belo, who received much praise for the great undertaking that was portraying such an important figure for her country on the big screen.
Coming all the way from Italy is this film from the forties which tells the story of Anthony of Padua, one of the most important historical figures in the history of the Catholic Church.
Directed by Pietro Francisci, who would achieve peak cinema fame with his 1958 Hercules, the film follows the life of Fernando Martins de Bulhões, a young Catholic priest from Lisbon who would go on to become an official saint of the Church.
While Anthony may have been known for his doings in Padua, the Portuguese city where he died, he was born and raised in Lisbon, spending the better part of his life there. As such, the film portrays his time in 12th Century Lisbon and his time in Padua.
He was portrayed by the great actor Aldo Fiorelli, whose on-screen charm is bound to still leave an impression on you, even though decades have passed since the movie was made.
Anthony of Padua doesn’t begin with the history of Saint Anthony himself. Instead, it focuses on a young Italian boy named Fernando who joins his mother in prayer to the saint. The father of the family disappeared during World War I and it has been years since they last saw him. But, just a day before the prayer, he returns.
This leads young Fernando to take an interest in the story of Saint Anthony. As he reads a book about the saint, several flashbacks show us Saint Anthony’s life from his childhood to some of the most important and best-known things he did while he was alive. The film is, however, also about Fernando, who relates to the struggles that Saint Anthony went through.
Mysteries of Lisbon is a period film directed by Raúl Ruiz, one of Chile’s most highly regarded filmmakers. His style is unmatched by most Hollywood directors: he was an experimental filmmaker who was always pushing the envelope, looking for a way to make poetry through film.
Perhaps that’s why people were so surprised when Mysteries of Lisbon became one of the most popular works of the year, being shown all over the world and applauded by many. The film even won nine awards, from Best Film to Best Actor and Actress, from different festivals all over the world.
Based on a book by Camilo Castelo Branco, one of the most prolific Portuguese writers and a key figure in the Romanticism movement, the film tells a sprawling plot that deals with many characters. It’s not told chronologically and the action takes place in several different countries, not only in Portugal.
What makes the plot even more complicated is the fact that all these characters have their own secrets, constantly lying about who they are and their motives. The core cast consists of Ângela de Lima (Maria João Bastos), the jealous Countess of Santa Bárbara, and a young orphaned boy known only as Joao (João Arrais).
You should be advised that Mysteries of Lisbon is a very long movie. Four and a half hours long. While it is structured as a single but very long film, many countries have decided to release it as miniseries with hour-long episodes.
If you want to see the director’s original vision, you’re free to do so, but many people who have seen the miniseries can attest to the fact that the story is just as enjoyable. The story of Mysteries of Lisbon twists and turns in such an interesting fashion that will make you want to see this whole film in one sitting.
April Captains is one of the most daring films to be made in Portugal because it deals with the events of the Carnation Revolution, which completely changed life in the country. Up until 1974, Portugal was a monarchic state which was ruled by a dictatorship known as the Estado Novo, which had taken control of the country back in 1933.
As it tends to happen with most dictatorships, they can never completely take over the people, who always find it in themselves to fight even in the dimmest of odds. In the case of Portugal, the country had been fighting an overseas war for thirteen years against the revolutionary armies of its former colonies, Angola, Guinea, and Mozambique.
This war had very little backing from the people and was seen as a waste of resources and lives. On April 25th, the Portuguese revolutionaries managed to take over Lisbon and the Portuguese monarchy was abolished.
April Captains follows these events through the eyes of several characters. While these characters weren’t key to the revolution and the taking of the government, they represent the key social groups that made it possible.
Beginning just the day before the revolution takes place, the film follows a young soldier who’s going off to do his Army duty. He kisses his girlfriend goodbye, fearful of the possibility of having to fight in the war. As he arrives at the base, he witnesses firsthand it being taken by the revolutionary forces.
At the same time, a journalist is married to one of the captains that are about to execute the coup. She’s threatened not to dispute his husband’s will and goes back to her home before the coup starts. April Captains is a great movie that anyone interested in Portugal’s history, particularly history buffs, should watch.
From the mind of the always-excellent Wim Wenders comes this documentary that will tell you a captivating story set in Lisbon. You may be familiar with Wenders’ work in Wings of Desire or Paris, Texas. If you aren’t, you should know that he’s a director who always has something to say.
With Lisbon Story, he set out to show how hard it is to capture what makes a city beautiful. No single film can achieve this. Even a list of then or more films about a city will always be leaving something behind.
After receiving a request to do just that (to make a documentary film capturing the beauty of Lisbon), Wenders decided to approach the project in a very self-aware way. As such, the film isn’t just a documentary about the city’s most beautiful things, but rather a meditation on the creative process and the need to capture real-life beauty through film.
Lisbon Story follows a fictitious film director known as Friedrich Murno (Patrick Bauchau). While he was a character in a previous film made by Wenders which was also set in Portugal (The State of Things), the film isn’t a direct continuation.
However, he isn’t the main character of the film: that is Philip Winter (Rüdiger Vogler), Friedrich’s collaborator and sound engineer who has been contacted by the director to help him capture the city through sound.
The whole film sees Philip exploring the city of Lisbon, trying to find Friedrich who seems to have gone missing. The two of them won’t meet until the end of the movie. So, for the most part, Lisbon Story is a story about the soundscapes that one can find in the city.
Night Train to Lisbon is a drama film starring the great Jeremy Irons. The long-time English thespian brings to life the character of Raimund Gregorius, a Swedish teacher who becomes friends with a woman after he saves her from committing suicide.
The film is based on a 2004 philosophical novel of the same name by Swiss author Pascal Mercier. The adaptation was made by Billie August, a renowned Danish director who rose to fame with his film Pelle the Conqueror, which won him several major awards in international cinema.
The film begins in the city of Bern, Switzerland’s federal capital. As he’s walking home from work, Raimund bumps into a woman (Lena Olin) who is standing by the train tracks and he can tell that she’s about to jump. Even though she makes it seem like she’s thankful, she quickly runs away, leaving her coat behind.
Raimund decides to follow her but loses her tracks. Searching inside her coat, he finds a train ticket to Lisbon. He decides that the best thing to do is to use the ticket and see if he can find the woman somewhere in the city.
Night Train to Lisbon sees this simple teacher taking the opportunity to go to the city just to help someone. In the city, his only lead is the author of the book that he found the ticket in. After a whole day of trying to find him, he finds out that the author died. But there’s someone who knew the author when he was alive.
This person will give him a key piece of information: the author was a doctor who never refused to save a life, even when the patient was a war criminal, like the time he saved “the Butcher of Lisbon”. This piece of the puzzle will lead him to the mysterious woman and show him a darker side of Lisbon’s history.
Over ten years have gone by since the release of Tabu, but there still hasn’t been a Portuguese film that was as daring and poetic as it was back in 2012. Miguel Gomes’ film offers a very interesting look into the different ways that one can make cinema. It shows us that there are still new ways to tell stories out there and that artists have to be courageous enough to go after them.
It’s hard to break down what makes this film so special, even talking about the plot wouldn’t be enough to convey what the experience of watching Tabu is. Considering that, if you’re interested in forward-thinking cinema or are simply a movie buff, you should definitely check this film out knowing as little as you can about it.
The plot of the film goes as follows. Tabu is told in two parts and a prologue. The first of these parts begins with a young woman named Pilar (Teresa Madruga), an activist who becomes embroiled in the life of her neighbor, Aurora (Laura Soveral), an elderly wealthy woman who is losing all her money due to gambling addiction.
The film will see this woman becoming very ill and her revealing the name of her secret lover to Pilar. It’s he himself who will tell her about their relationship. The second part of the film is the story of Aurora’s life while she was living in Portuguese Africa just before the conflict of the Colonial War started.
This story sees a young and pregnant Aurora (Ana Moreira) trying to play the part of a good wife for her wealthy husband and eventually failing. In fact, it is revealed that she killed her husband when he found out about her affair. Tabu ends on a sour note that works as the perfect full stop to this fascinating movie.
Both written and directed by Marco Martins, Alice is a captivating film that could be considered a thriller if it weren’t for the fact that it treats its premise in a very grim and unhopeful manner. Alice is one of the sourest films set in Lisbon, showing a side of the city one doesn’t usually see.
It’s not that the film is set in harsh neighborhoods or dark alleys, but rather that Martins’ filmmaking turns the beauty of the city upside down, showing the familiar through dark lenses.
As you may imagine, Alice is a dark film and not for everybody. Its plot centers around out-of-nowhere the disappearance of a young girl. However, the film doesn’t begin when the girl disappears, but rather more than half a year later, when neighbors seem to have lost all hope but the family keeps looking for her.
In order to find his daughter, Mário (Nuno Lopes) tracks surveillance footage from cameras around the city of Lisbon daily. Alice will see him struggling to keep his marriage from falling apart and to keep his job as an actor in a local theater.
Recollections of the Yellow House [ Recordações da Casa Amarela] (1989)
Recollections of the Yellow House is an intriguing film. Like Tabu it marks one of the many attempts by Portuguese filmmakers to do something different, something daring. This could only be made by João César Monteiro.
A respected director, actor, and film critic, Monteiro both directed and stars in this film. He plays almost an alter-ego: João de Deus, a man in his fifties who lives in one of the many old and cheap buildings that one can so easily find in Lisbon.
The film focuses on this poetic yet toxically obsessive man who has a very misandrist way to see the world. But he doesn’t always show this part of him: he mostly goes through life trying to get a laugh out of people by being awkward. Inside his apartment, however, he displays an obsessive lust for the landlord’s daughter, a young adult who is training to be a police officer.
Recollections of the Yellow House offer some of the most natural and at the same time beautiful shots of Lisbon you could ever find in film. However, it does so while telling the story of this problematic character who can’t seem to quell his lust for this woman, even after collecting all the things she leaves behind her in the apartment complex.