After the fall of communism and the formation of the Czech Republic in 1992, Hollywood studios rushed into the country to take advantage of not only low production costs, but also the high level of talent available throughout the local industry. As prices began to increase, studios went further east (Romania became a popular location), but new tax breaks have seen studios coming back to the country: recent productions have included Snowpiercer (starring Chris Evans and Tilda Swinton), The Last Knights (Clive Owen, Morgan Freeman), and Child 44 (Tom Hardy, Gary Oldman).
Still, most big Hollywood productions have come to Prague to save money; this has led to a deluge of (let’s say) less-artistically-minded films shot in Prague, like Doom, Alien vs. Predator, Van Helsing, or The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.
But that doesn’t mean all Hollywood films shot in the Czech Republic are terrible. I rank the top 15 below.
Rules for making this list:
1. Film must have been financed by a US studio
2. Principal photography (roughly 50% or more) must have taken place in the Czech Republic
3. Film must have been theatrically released in the USA
Honorable mentions: Ravenous (1999), which was primarily shot in Slovakia’s Tatra mountains, Snow White: A Tale of Terror (1997), which premiered on TV (Showtime) in the US; The Zookeeper (2001), an excellent English-language (but non-US) production shot in Prague; and The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1989), one of the best foreign films about Prague – which was actually shot (primarily) in France.
15. Hellboy (2004)
Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth, Pacific Rim) shot much of his Blade sequel in Prague and Barrandov Studios in 2001, and returned to the city two years later for the Ron Perlman-starring Hellboy. Among the blockbusters that flocked to Prague for budgetary reasons, they represent two of the better efforts; still, few films of this type ever used their Prague locations to full effect (the Vin Diesel vehicle xXx being a notable exception, not that it helped the overall quality of that film).
14. Running Scared (2006)
This violent thriller about an undercover cop attempting to retrieve a stolen gun (a kind of modern-day take on Kurosawa’s Stray Dog) from director Wayne Kramer (The Cooler) was very likely late actor Paul Walker’s best film. Prague filled in for New Jersey (of all places) to save on production costs, and prominent Czech actor Karel Roden appears in a key role.
13. Everything Is Illuminated (2005)
Debut director (and screenwriter) Liev Schrieber – better known as an actor – made this adaptation of Jonathan Safran Foer’s bestselling novel about an American Jew (played by Elijah Wood) who travels to the Ukraine to find the woman who saved his grandfather during the Holocaust. Despite being set (mostly) in the Ukraine, filming was primarily done in the countryside around Prague, with producers citing production costs and the quality of services as reasons for shooting here.
12. Yentl (1983)
Barbara Streisand spent over a decade trying to get this adaptation of Isaac Bashevis Singer’s story about a Jewish girl who become a boy to study Talmud made; director and Czech émigré Ivan Passer left the project over concerns that the star was too old (and famous) for the central role. Streisand eventually produced, wrote, directed, and starred in the film, which was a sizable hit stateside and earned three Oscar nominations. Yentl was primarily shot in the small town of Žatec (Northwest of Prague), which filled in for rural Poland in the early 20th Century.
11. The Trial (1993)
This adaptation of one of Franz Kafka’s most popular works is… not especially memorable, and pales in comparison to the 1961 Orson Welles version. But wait! It stars Twin Peaks’ Kyle MacLachlan in the central role, and features an outstanding supporting cast that includes Anthony Hopkins, Jason Robards, Alfred Molina, and David Thewlis. Location filming throughout Prague streets is haunting and evocative: along with Amadeus and Kafka, this is the best the city has ever looked on film.
10. Les Misérables (1998)
Before Tom Hooper’s laborious 2012 film version based on the Broadway musical, Danish director Billie August (Pelle the Conqueror) made this non-musical (and vastly superior) version of Victor Hugo’s classic story. I don’t know why it’s so under-seen: it’s one of the best film versions of this story, with a dynamite cast that includes Liam Neeson, Uma Thurman, Geoffrey Rush, and Claire Danes in the central roles. Filming took place at Barrandov Studios and throughout Prague, which filled in for 19th-century Paris.
9. Immortal Beloved (1994)
Gary Oldman stars as Beethoven in this Amadeus-like biopic from director Bernard Rose (Candyman), which mixes evocative imagery with the composer’s music. The titular “immortal beloved” was an unnamed lover that Beethoven secretly met in Prague in the summer of 1812; scholars have been debating her identity for centuries.
Along with scenes set in Vienna, filming took place on location in both Prague and Kroměříž (at the gorgeous Milotice Castle and Buchlovice Chateau), where Beethoven spent his holiday and met with his beloved.
8. The Illusionist (2006)
Edward Norton stars as the titular magician in director Neil Burger’s adaptation of Steven Millhauser’s Eisenheim the Illusionist, which was shot primarily in Prague (filling in for late 19th Century Vienna) and the Czech Republic. Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige got all the buzz when the two films were released within months of each other back in 2006, but this elegant production – with some wonderful magic work courtesy of consultants Ricky Jay, James Freedman, and Scott Penrose – is just as good. Bonus: Phillip Glass’ moody score.
Czech locations included Konopiště (as the Crown Prince’s castle), Český Krumlov (the young Eisenheim’s home), Prague Castle, and Divadlo na Vinohradech (as the theater that Eisenheim performs at). Along with Prague, Tábor was also used to fill in for period Vienna.
7. Slaughterhouse-Five (1972)
While Kurt Vonnegut’s popular sci-fi novel remains an enduring classic, this film version from George Roy Hill (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid) has been largely forgotten – unjustly, as it’s a fine production in its own right (it won a Jury Prize at the 1972 Cannes Film Festival). Hill shot much of the film at Barrandov Studios in Prague (which stood in for WWII-era Dresden) and recruited Miloš Forman’s cinematographer, Miroslav Ondříček, to lens the adaptation.
6. Casino Royale (2006)
As with most globetrotting James Bond adventures, Casino Royale was shot in a variety of locations throughout different countries, but the Czech Republic cannily filled in for a number of settings: the Václav Havel (then-Ruzyně) Airport became Miami International, Army Museum Žižkov transformed into Miami’s Body World exhibition, Strahov Monastery became the UK’s House of Commons, and Karlovy Vary and Loket memorably filled in for Montenegro during the film’s climactic scenes.
Bonus: of the modern era (Dalton-Brosnan-Craig) Bond films, Casino Royale is likely the best. The opening sequence – which introduced Daniel Craig as Bond – was shot in Karlín’s Danube House.
5. Kafka (1991)
This is the kind of experimental film director Steven Soderbergh (Ocean’s Eleven, Erin Brockovich) used to make (in fact, it was just his second feature following Sex, Lies and Videotape): not altogether successful, but wildly inventive and surprising just the same. This loose adaptation of Kafka’s The Castle stars Jeremy Irons as the writer, and was shot throughout Prague, making memorable use of landmarks including Prague Castle and Charles Bridge. In moody black & white, the city looks incredible – story be damned, this is a must for any Pragophile. For the climactic scenes, a fantastic Dr. Frankenstein-like laboratory was created at Barrandov Studios.
4. Mission: Impossible (1996)
A guilty pleasure. Brian De Palma’s 1995 blockbuster was the first big all-star Hollywood production to come to Prague, and for me, it’s still the best, with a crackerjack story and sublime suspense and action sequences. It also makes great use of Prague in its opening scenes, with a standout moment atop Charles Bridge. Other local shooting locations included Lichtenstein Palace, the National Museum, Hotel Evropa (where Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt meets a weapons dealer played by Vanessa Redgrave) and Old Town Square (where Hunt leaps into after the restaurant aquarium explodes).
As the story goes, Cruise refused to shoot another movie in Prague after experiencing corruption and bureaucracy surrounding local filming locations, but he returned for the fourth film in the series: Brad Bird’s Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, which saw the city filling in for Moscow (Prague Castle became the Kremlin!)
3. The Bridge at Remagen (1969)
This finely-produced war movie, directed by John Guillermin and featuring an excellent cast that includes George Segal, Robert Vaughn, Ben Gazzara, and E.G. Marshall, isn’t as well-known as most of the other films on this list, but features one of the most interesting behind-the-scenes stories. Largely shot (fittingly) in and around the Czech town of Most, with the Davelský starý most in Davle filling in for the titular bridge, cast and crew had to flee production when the invasion of Soviet troops interrupted filming during 1968.
During the invasion, communist forces spread rumors that actors in the film were actually real American soldiers, and that the production was a secret CIA operation. Filming was completed in Germany and Italy.
2. Operation: Daybreak (1975)
The assassination of Reinhard Heydrich (Operation Anthropoid) is immaculately re-created in this WWII procedural-like drama from director Lewis Gilbert, based on the novel Seven Men at Daybreak by Alan Burgess. Little time is wasted on character as the film re-creates the operation in painstaking detail; filming took place at the actual (or near-enough) locations in Prague 8 (Libeň) where the assassination was carried out, and at the Church of Sts. Cyril and Methodius in New Town where Jan Kubiš (played by Timothy Bottoms) and Jozef Gabčík (Anthony Andrews) took refuge and held off Nazi forces (the church interiors were exquisitely re-created in studio for the climactic shootout).
1. Amadeus (1984)
The gold standard for Hollywood productions shot in Prague, this tale of Mozart told through the eyes of rival composer Antonio Salieri won eight Oscars in 1985, including Best Picture, Director (Miloš Forman), Actor (F. Murray Abraham), and Adapted Screenplay (Peter Shaffer). The film was shot mostly in Prague, filling in for 19th-Century Vienna, and Kroměříž, which was authentically utilized ten years later in the Beethoven biopic Immortal Beloved.
Only a handful of sets for Amadeus were built in studio (at Barrandov): all the other locations were found locally in Prague. They included Kostel svatého Jiljí (St. Giles’ Church), which was used for Mozart’s wedding; Prague’s Arcibiskupský palace, which was turned into The Emperor’s Palace; the former Palace of the Grand Prior of the Knights of Malta (now the premises of the Anglo-American College), which served as interiors for many of Salieri’s scenes; and Prague’s Estates Theater – the very same location where Mozart actually conducted the world premiere of Don Giovanni in 1787. Outdoor locations can be found throughout Old Town and Malá Strana, and include Old Town Square, Hradčanské náměstí, and Maltézské náměstí.
What’s your favorite film shot in Prague?