Locations From the Big Screen
by Lucas Aresin
Budapest is a beautiful city, and filmmakers from around the Globe have frequently used it as a backdrop for their motion pictures. Sometimes, Budapest has played itself, and some other times it has played other cities. From Moscow to Berlin to even Buenos Aires (yes, the two cities have more in common than you might think), Budapest has been many places in different times – a testament to the diversity and uniqueness of its architecture and history.
A Good Day To Die Hard
Bruce Willis' fifth iteration of the iconic franchise is set in part in Moscow, with Budapest doubling for the Russian capital. One of the locations used in the filming was Heroes' Square. Visiting this historical sight is not just worth it to feel like walking in the footsteps of big actors, no. Heroes' Square takes your breath away on its own. You're approaching the square from below as you emerge from the underground tram. A smooth, perfect plaza stretches out in front of you; no benches, no cars, just a large, open surface. At the other end, in front of a line of lush, green trees stand the heroes. Two quarter-circles of pillars and statues enframe the column – a large pillar with a statue of the Archangel Gabriel on top, who holds in his hands the Hungarian Holy Crown. Behind it, the city park with its picture perfect lake. No sightseeing tour through Budapest should miss out on this square and its park. It's perfect for mingling, relaxing, taking pictures that'll make your friends go 'wow'.
Jason Statham plays the 'Transporter' in Transporter 3, and Budapest makes a guest appearance. To be precise, the film shows the Parliament and the Saint Stephen's Basilica.
Budapest's Parliament, which is incidentally also Europe's second biggest Parliament, sits next to the Danube like a castle. Neo-gothic spires and domes make for a great skyline, and the curious visitor can take tours through the building, which houses the Hungarian Holy Crown. The park in front invites us to stay a while and enjoy the peace. You might expect that the area is also home to some good restaurants, for example the Budapest Bisztró or the Iguana Bar & Grill. Saint Stephen's Basilica is just as impressive when it comes to decorating the skyline of Budapest. Its two towers right and left of the dome lend themselves for great photography, and if you want more, just go up to the top and visit the balcony that encircles the dome. That should give you a great view. Right next to the Basilica you find the Café Kör (Sas Street). If you're up for some well-prepared, traditional Hungarian delights after climbing up the long, spiral staircase of the Basilica, this is your place to go!
Evita, starring Madonna as Eva Perón was originally planned to be shot entirely in Buenos Aires itself, but problems surrounding scandals and the public's dismay forced the crew to move to Budapest to finish production. You might be confused as to why Budapest could stand in for a Latin American city, but you'd be surprised at how similar the two cities can look. The funeral scene and the tango scene, for example, were shot at the Museum of Ethnography. If you want to follow in Madonna's footsteps and dance on the smooth, patterned floor, next to the intricately carved staircases, the gold-footed pillars, and the elaborately crafted balustrades, give the Museum a shot (no pun intended). Located opposite the Parliament building, it is home to a collection of Hungarian everyday life objects from before the second World War. This includes clothing, pottery, furniture, and more. If you were always curious to know how more about life in Hungary a century ago, check this museum out on your travels.
You'll probably guess it by the title of the movie, but this film is set in Munich. Nonetheless, Budapest did play a role. Stephen Spielberg's thriller uses some streets surrounding the Hungarian State Opera, and this architectural magnum opus deserves your attention beyond the film itself. If you have a ticket for the opera, fantastic – just be on your way and enjoy! For those who don't, well, you can still visit and be impressed. The interior of the building is partly plated with gold, and there are tours through the building (also in English). After an afternoon of taking in all the skillfully crafted frescos, you might want to relax a little. Worry not, because the streets surrounding the Opera are full of restaurants, bars, and cafés.
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
A lot of this instant classic was shot in Budapest, pretending to be Moscow, and one of the most important scenes in this exciting movie adaptation of John le Carré's espionage thriller was shot in the Párisi udvar arcade. This place is known to some as one of the secrets of Budapest, yet it's no less spectacular than some of the other, more famous sights. From the outside, it looks just like another building from the beginning of the 20th century – big, embellished, but not outstanding. Then, however, you enter through the dark hallway that is the entrance to this arcade, and you find yourself in an enclosed boulevard under glass domes. What was once a famous place for shops and cafés is now a fascinating, abandoned hallway. There's an eerie beauty to this place, as it muffles the noise of the streets outside and makes you aware of your own voice and footsteps. Lost sunbeams peek through the glass and illuminate the area, and everyone visiting Budapest should come by the Párisi udvar arcade at least once. With its empty store windows and elevator doors, it almost feels like a movie set now.
Arnold Schwarzenegger was the star of the American action movie 'Red Heat' from 1988, where Budapest plays Moscow. During the film, we visit Rudas Bath and the Buda Castle.
Rudas Bath is a Turkish bath used during the Turkish conquest which dates back to the 16th century. Today, it's a beautiful swimming facility with a 20-meter-long basin, as well as several thermal baths, steam chambers, and an outdoor jacuzzi (which is especially great in the winter). You'll be red from the heat.
Buda Castle is a skyline-defining masterpiece by itself. In the 13th century, it served as the living quarters for the Hungarian kings. Today, it's a tourist attraction that is visited all year around, and it comes with a few especially awesome parts: There's an escalator carrying you up the hill if you don't feel like climbing the beautiful staircases, and the castle holds the Hungarian National Gallery, the National Library, and Budapest's History Museum.
Matt Damon is trapped on Mars, but Budapest plays a role in the movie as well, and in particular, the Whale. The Whale, which is a shopping mall and architectural achievement, serves as none other than NASA's next generation headquarter. Production designer Arthur Max described it as an ingenious, world-class architectural achievement with its geodesist (the shortest distance between two points on a curved surface) shape and motorized shutters that can be used to let in light at any angle. The Whale is already worth it if you only visit for the view. Built right on the Danube's shore, it's great for just strolling through it. Those who choose to remain for a bit longer, get a chance to enjoy some fantastic drinks and food in one of the bistros and bars. If you can enjoy an Irish coffee or a Hungarian homemade lemonade, this is the place to be on a sunny afternoon.
An American Rhapsody
'An American Rhapsody' is about a young Scarlett Johansson, who travels from then-communist Hungary to America to live with her family. The movie opens with a view of the Chain Bridge, which crosses the Danube and was finished 1849. From there, you have a great view over the river and the skylines on either side and the Royal Palace on the Buda side. The movie then moves on to Keleti Railway station. This station, opened in 1884, is now one of the most important train stations in Budapest since many international arrivals will leave their trains there. On the renovated façade, statues George Stephenson (who is responsible for the first steam locomotive), and James Watt (mastermind behind the steam engine) stand guard.
Spy Game is a spy movie with Robert Redford and Brad Pitt, set in Berlin. Berlin itself, however, is played by Budapest. During the film, we see the Liberty Bridge connecting the Pest side with the citadel hill, the Danube banks, and also Nyugati Railway station. Liberty Bridge is the shortest one in town and easily the most popular one. In summer many like to sit in the middle of it while sipping on some wine and enjoying the Budapest skyline. Nyugati Railway station (the name translates to 'Western Terminal'), is an impressive architectural feat. It opened in 1877 and was designed by the Gustave Eiffel company, which later also built the famous Eiffel tower.
In the Land of Blood and Honey
Angelina Jolie's film about the 90s Bosnian war features Budapest several times. Bogi, our guide even saw her near Margaret bridge! Two prominent examples used in the movie are the Kiscelli Museum and the Church of St. Elisabeth.
The Kiscelli Museum covers the history of Budapest and its citizens from the 18th to the 21st century. It grants a fascinating insight into the ever-changing way of life of the Hungarian capital. Exhibitions feature fashion, tradition, press and newspapers, schools, and a comparison of different skylines over the years. The Church of St. Elisabeth was erected by the Roman Catholic Church at the end of the 19th century. It was based on an old legend, according to which Elisabeth secretly carried bread for the hungry and poor, which then miraculously turned into flowers when her father wanted to stop her. That's why the square where the Church stands is called Rózsák (Roses) Square.
With Budapest being this popular as a film location for Hollywood, it's no wonder some famous music videos were shot here, too!
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