The following is not a list of films shot in Prague, nor is it a list of Hollywood films where Prague is disguised as another European city. There is no Amadeus on this list (but we do recommend seeing it anyway!). These films are set in Prague. The Czech capital is the star of the show. Prague is a versatile character that boasts a multitude of faces, and many hidden talents. Incomers should watch these films for an education on the city’s lesser-known landmarks, complicated history, and fascinating culture.
1. Loners / Samotáři (2000)
Samotáři is a bittersweet comedy that glimpses the intertwined and complicated relationships among a group of friends as they navigate days jobs, family, and the Prague party scene – the soundtrack is a cult favorite among Czechs. It’s a film that focuses on the younger generation at the turn of the millennium, populated by absurd yet lovable characters. You’ll recognize quite a bit of the Czech capital in this one too, including popular Letná hangout Stalin Square with its stunning views over Prague and characters doing body shots at Spanish restaurant La Casa Blu.
2. Ice Mother / Bába z ledu (2017)
The most recent film on this list won Best Screenplay at the New York Tribeca Film Festival and is the Czech Republic’s official Oscar entry for next year. It was directed and written by Bohdan Sláma. Set in current-day Prague, Ice Mother sees modest widow Hana rediscover love when she meets a mysterious stranger with a passion for winter swimming.
The perfect antidote to the Hollywood rom-com with its grey backdrop of wintertime Prague and subplot devoted to modern Czech family dynamics. History and sports buffs take note: there is a polar swim in Prague’s Vltava river every December 26, a tradition that’s spanned almost 70 years.
3. Faust / Lekce Faust (1994)
This modern reimagining of the legend of Faust by the master of stop-motion animation, Jan Švankmajer seamlessly blends the director’s signature animation with live-action sequences to create a distinctly Czech take on Goethe’s tragic telling of a man who sells his soul to the devil.
It’s a fascinating adaptation set on the narrow backstreets of Old Town as well as Karlovo náměstí and a rather memorable scene in a Smíchov beer garden – Prague has never looked so grim on film. Švankmajer fans should make sure to check out his house at Černínská no.5 in Prague’s historic Nový Svět quarter, not far from Prague Castle.
4. Kolya (1996)
This critically acclaimed and Oscar-winning film is directed by the talented Jan Svěrák and stars his father Zdeněk Svěrák, one of the backbones of the Czech film industry. Kolya sees an old bachelor and cello player take in an abandoned Russian boy during toward the end of the occupation. The two develop an unlikely and heart-warming relationship despite a language barrier.
There’s a particularly famous scene in the Anděl metro station, but the film was, in fact, shot all over Prague, from Petřín Park to Vinohrady Cemetery and the Lesser Quarter, although Svěrák’s character’s romantic wood-beamed garrison at Lázeňská Street 9 was built in a studio.
5. Kafka (1991)
The work and life of Franz Kafka, author of ‘The Metamorphosis’ and The Trial and a seminal figure of 20th-century literature, has inspired numerous films. This one, directed by Steven Soderbergh and starring Jeremy Irons is an unconventional biopic that blurs the writer’s fiction with reality as an insurance agent is caught up in a murder mystery.
There’s quite a lot of Prague’s Old Town here, including an iconic shot of Jeremy Irons on Charles Bridge as well as brooding black-and-white views of Prague Castle, the New City Hall building in Mariánské Square, and Anenské náměstí near the legendary Divadlo Na zábradlí.
6. The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1988)
Based on the novel by Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being is an American film adaptation about a surgeon (Daniel Day Lewis) reduced to a window washer in 1960s Czechoslovakia and his complicated and very bohemian relationship with two different women.
It’s a film that’s very much about Prague, but wasn’t actually filmed here. As much of an essential watch, however, as the book is an essential read for its depiction of life in the Czech capital during that oppressive time.
7. Anthropoid (2016)
This British and Czech co-production is based on the WWII mission to assassinate SS General Reinhard Heydrich, aka Operation Anthropoid. Starring Cillian Murphy, Jamie Dornan, and Czech actress Anna Geislerová, Anthropoid gives an insight into a defining moment in Czech history.
Curious visitors will want to tour the crypt of the bullet-scarred Church of Saints Cyril and Methodius near Karlovo náměstí where the soldiers took their final, fatal stand, as well as other important landmarks related to the era.
8. I Served the King of England / Obsluhoval jsem anglického krále (2006)
Based on the novel by Bohumil Hrabal and directed by Czechoslovak New Wave master Jiří Menzel, the film follows the rise of a waiter at the prestigious Hotel Paris in Prague. The viewer sees Prague during the Nazi occupation to the communist takeover through the eyes of Jan Dítě (Ivan Barnev) who becomes a millionaire and eventually a hermit reflecting on his life from his chata in the forest.
The film showcases Prague’s Old World sophistication via scenes at the Art Nouveau restaurant in the landmark Municipal House, where many celebrities, including John Travolta and Roger Federer, have dined through the years. You also get a glimpse of the glamorous exterior of the Hotel Palais and some serious Prague panoramas.
9. Prefab Story / Panelstory aneb Jak se rodí sídliště (1981)
Directed by the avant-garde Věra Chytilová, Prefab Story is a satirical look at sídliště or panel house life in Prague. After all, these ubiquitous and unattractive high-rises are as much a part of the city’s history and character as its stunning Old Town.
Like other Czechoslovak New Wave films, it’s a fascinating look at the Normalization process that the country was put through under communist rule that was filmed in the Czech capital’s Háje district and is heavy on classic Škoda cars and retro fashions.
10. Katka (2010)
One of many of the ‘Women on the Brink of the New Millenium’ documentaries by Helena Třeštíková. Katka follows a woman from rehab in Němčice to heroin addiction in Prague.
Katka’s life is just a shadow of Prague’s problems with homelessness and drugs, and this film shows it in as straight-forward a way as possible. It’s the city from a different perspective.
Ryan Keating is a Prague-based writer and film blogger. Read more of his articles and reviews at moviebarf.com.