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Hollywood on the Danube

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It’s fair to say that in the thirty or so years since the fall of the socialist regime in Hungary, Budapest has become a far more tourist friendly and international city. Most seasoned world travelers have made it to Budapest, and tourism is only continuing to grow. But if you haven’t had a chance to come to Budapest in person, it is likely you are familiar with it to some degree from the silver screen. Budapest has hosted so many large-budget (read: Hollywood) films that a recent article in film trade periodical Variety dubbed it ‘Hollywood on the Danube’.

The Hungarian film industry is currently the largest on continental Europe due to its highly trained and affordable crews, and the healthy tax rebate offered by the Hungarian Film Fund. But it is the dynamic cityscapes and locations, which are at once unique and familiar, that make Budapest more than just a budget-friendly location. Budapest is highly attractive to foreign productions due to its chameleonlike ability to act as a stand-in for other cities. Over the years, Budapest has doubled for locations such as Munich, Moscow, Paris, New York, Buenos Aires, Oslo, and even nearby Prague. ‘Dynamic’ is the key word here. It’s a city that has a Cold War feeling (as in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, filmed at locations in Budapest, most notably the Párizsi Udvar), but can also invoke the Habsburg period (as in 1999’s Sunshine). When the sun sets, the sometimes Gothic, always moody city-scape makes for an ideal backdrop to horror flicks (as in Underworld).

To compliment the diverse locations, which include ornate bridges, palaces, bullet-pocked facades, and grand train stations, Budapest also has a few state-of-the-art movie studios, namely Origo Studios and Korda Studios. Just because you don’t see any downtown Budapest streets in 2015’s The Martian, doesn’t mean it was not filmed in Hungary. Big-budget films like 47 Ronin and Hercules also utilized local expertise while filming on Hungarian sound stages.

With so many films shot here, inevitably film stars have also come to Budapest, creating minor stirs wherever they go, be it Jennifer Lawrance almost coming to fisticuffs over a selfie in the ‘Party District’, or Tom Hanks going Polski Fiat spotting. Many have gone public with their love for the city, like Matt Damon who toyed with the idea of living here, and Kate McKinnon, who bravely rapped a Hungarian hip-hop song in front of millions on the Tonight Show. In recent years we have also hosted such American film stars as Scarlet Johannson, The Rock, Jason Momoa, Danny Divito, John Cusack, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, and Eddie Murphy. Not to mention Dakota Fanning, who found her way into the Tasting Table a few times last summer to enjoy some Hungarian wine.

YouTube video

This film boom also bodes well for the local Hungarian film-making scene, which has seen more than its fair share of successes in recent years. Son of Saul, written and directed by Hungarian László Nemes, brought home an Academy Award for Best Foreign Film, and Ildikó Enyedi’s On Body and Soul was nominated for that prize only two years later.  Numerous Hungarian directors have had brushes with Hollywood, most notably Nimród Antal, who’s sequel to Predator, Predators, was a global hit.

So it seems that the moniker ‘Hollywood on the Danube’ is not an exaggeration, with stars and locations abounding. Of course nobody has gone on record complaining about the cuisine and wine they find while filming in Hungary, which is something we know always gets strong reviews.

Though it’s not a movie filmed in Budapest, we were surprised when we happened to see the scene in Captain America: Civil War when Vision is cooking a chicken paprikás recipe. As we zoomed in on the recipe, we noticed it was a print-out from the online edition of Saveur from the same article which Taste Hungary co-founder Carolyn wrote for the print edition in 2013. So maybe tune into one of these movies to see Budapest (or a version of it) virtually, and make a big pot of chicken paprikás to enjoy with it!

This is from Wikipedia’s running list of films shot in Budapest:

  • Love and Death (1975)
  • Etoile (1988)
  • Music Box (1989)
  • Howling V: The Rebirth (1989)
  • The Cremaster Cycle (Episode 5) (1997)
  • Gloomy Sunday (1999)
  •  Au Pair (1999)
  • In the Beginning (2000)
  • An American Rhapsody (2001)
  • Last Run (2001)
  •  Dinotopia (2002)
  • Perlasca – Un eroe Italiano (2002)
  • I Spy (2002)
  • Underworld (2003),
  • 8mm 2 (2005)
  • Munich (2005)
  • Hellboy 2: The Golden Army (2008)
  • Transporter 3 (2008)
  • The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas (2008)
  • Iris (2009)
  • Budapest (2009 TV series)
  • Pillars of the Earth (2010)
  • Juan (2010)
  • La Rafle (2010)
  • The Debt (2010)
  • Carlos (Carlos the Jackal) (2010)[5]
  • The Rite (2011)
  • The Borgias (2011)
  • Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (2011)
  • Season of the Witch (2011)
  • Bel Ami (2011)
  • Silent Witness (2011)
  • Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (2011)
  • In the Land of Blood and Honey (2011)
  • A Good Day to Die Hard (2012)
  • Dracula (2013)
  • World War Z (2013)
  • 47 Ronin (2013)
  • Doctor Stranger (2014)
  • Hercules (2014)
  • Underdog (2014)
  • Spy (2015)
  • The Martian (2015)
  • Inferno (2016)
  • Maigret (2016)
  • Blade Runner 2049 (2017)
  • Atomic Blond (2017)
  • Red Sparrow (2017)
  • Man to Man (2017)
  • Homeland, season 7
  • Terminal (2018)
  • The Spy Who Dumped Me (2018)
  • Colette (2018)
  • The Alienist (2018)
  • Robin Hood (2018)
  • Gemini Man (2019)
  • Terminator: Dark Fate (2019)
  • Midsommar (2019)
  • Dune (2020)

Examples where Budapest is disguised as someplace else:

  • as Paris: Escape to Victory (1981)
  • as Moscow: Red Heat (1988)
  • as Paris: Cyrano de Bergerac (1990)
  • as Paris: M. Butterfly (1993)
  • Mortal Kombat (1995)
  • as Buenos Aires: Evita (1996)
  • Il Fantasma dell’Opera (directed by Dario Argento, 1998)
  • as Rome: Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam (Straight from the Heart, 1999)
  • as East Berlin: Spy Game (2001)
  • as Berlin: Max (2002)
  • as London: Being Julia (2004)
  • as Rome, Paris, and London, among others: Munich (2005)
  • Eragon (2006)
  • as Berlin: The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas (2008)
  • as Vienna: The Nutcracker in 3D (2010)
  • as East Berlin: The Debt (2010)
  • as Paris: Bel Ami (2011)
  • The Eagle (2011)
  • as Monte Carlo: Monte Carlo (2011)
  • The Raven (2012)
  • as Moscow: A Good Day to Die Hard (2013)
  • World War Z (2013)
  • as Warsaw: The Art of the Steal (2013)
  • as Beijing: “The Martian” (2015)
  • as Paris and Rome: “Spy” (2015)