Budapest on screen

Hungary has become a hub for film making thanks to tax incentives and low production costs. CNN Travel goes behind the scenes at the "Hollywood of Europe."

Posted: Jun 25, 2018 5:32 PM
Updated: Jun 25, 2018 5:34 PM

Budapest's starring role in various film productions has become more and more frequent, adding a touch of Eastern European sparkle to the silver screen.

The stunning Hungarian capital has provided a backdrop for many big budget flicks, including "Blade Runner 2049," "Red Sparrow," "Inferno," Spy," "Evita," "Atomic Blonde," "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy," and there's even more to come.

Hollywood stars including Angelina Jolie, Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford and Jennifer Lawrence have all made this destination home while shooting in the area.

New releases "Colette," "The Spy Who Dumped Me," The Terror" and "Robin Hood," have brought even more big names to Budapest in recent months.

Thanks to investments made by the Hungarian National Film Fund, the country's movie industry has become one of the most influential movements in Europe's film business.

During its classic period, which lasted throughout the 1950s and '60s, the country's film industry was more synonymous with its Communist-era past.

This all changed in the early 2010s, when Hungarian-born producer Andy Vajna, the man behind "Terminator," and "Rambo," helped Hungary break into the modern movie business when he took over as the country's film commissioner.

"We created an attractive tax incentive scheme for the productions," Vajna tells CNN Travel, referring to the 25% tax rebate films produced in Hungary are eligible for.

"Hungary and Budapest offer great locations and a well-equipped infrastructure for film productions. For instance, Hungary has the largest water tank in continental Europe, which was used in "Blade Runner 2049."

"We don't just put focus on developing and financing Hungarian movies, the Hungarian National Film Fund also started an education and trainee program to strengthen the Hungarian film industry."

This means that, not only are big budget films being shot throughout Hungary and Budapest, the country is also building its very own flourishing film industry -- evident in the Oscar and Golden Globe-winning production "Son of Saul," as well as Golden Bear winner "On Body and Soul."

Here are 10 stunning Budapest movie locations you may already recognize from the big (or small) screen.

1. Gellért Hotel and Baths

Located on the banks of the Danube River, the Gellért Hotel and Baths play an important role in local and international film productions.

First opened in 1918, the stunning building is an imposing example of the Art Nouveau-style architecture constructed in Hungary during that period.

Elizabeth Taylor stayed at the hotel with Richard Burton while he filmed the movie "Bluebeard" in 1972, and it was here that the actor presented her with the priceless, heart-shaped Taj Mahal diamond, worth an estimated $8.8 million.

Madonna made an appearance at the Gellért while filming the 1996 movie "Evita," which centered on the life of Argentine political leader Eva Perón, and comedy "I Spy," starring Eddie Murphy and Owen Wilson, was also shot in and around the building.

2. Four Seasons Hotel Gresham Palace

The 179-room Four Seasons Hotel Gresham Palace is a popular accommodation choice for celebrities and movie moguls while filming in Budapest.

Completed in 1906, the Art Nouveau-style building cuts an imposing figure overlooking the Danube River at the foot of the famous Chain Bridge.

Now one of the more luxury hotel destinations in Budapest, the site has been used in many film productions, including the action comedy "Spy," starring Melissa McCarthy and Jude Law.

The famous moped scene where McCarthy gives chase to a would-be assassin were shot on the front drive, while you can spot the interiors and fireplaces throughout the film.

Movie buffs can soak up the atmosphere here while sipping on a cocktail in the bar and lobby lounge, complete with its famous ornate chandelier.

3. Bálna building

Positioned on the edge of the Danube river, the Bálna building is one of Budapest's more modern architectural delights.

Designed by Dutch architect Kas Oosterhuis, the streamlined structure has been nicknamed "The Whale" by locals for its striking resemblance to the marine mammal.

Housing a mall full of boutique shops, bars and restaurants, the building is also used as a conference center, as well as a location site for many film and television productions.

It starred as the headquarters of NASA in Ridley Scott's science fiction film "The Martian," and also crops up in CBS television series "Ransom," which is filmed on location in the city by Korda Productions.

The film studio has also been behind the success of many major blockbusters shot in and around Budapest, including "Mars 2," "Robin Hood" and "Blade Runner 2049."

4. Andrássy Avenue and Oktogon

Constructed in 1887 to connect the city center to the City Park, Andrássy Avenue provides the perfect backdrop for big budget movies.

Recognized as a World Heritage site, the tree-lined street is definitely the place to be seen while in Budapest.

Filled with high-end fashion brands and cute cafes, one could easily while hours away lapping up the pure luxury of the Champs-Élysées style boulevard.

Its film credits include "Evita," where crowd scenes were filmed along the famous avenue and at the Oktogon intersection, while 2012 movie "Bel Ami" starring Robert Pattinson, transformed the Budapest street into 19th Century Paris.

The best way to experience this stunning avenue is to take a walk from Heroes' Square down to the Hungarian State Opera House and Basilica. Most of the key movie sites mentioned in this article can be spotted along the way.

5. St. Stephen's Basilica

This magnificent neo-classical-style building began its journey in 1851 and was finally completed in 1905, under the design of several different architects.

Alongside Parliament, it's one of the biggest tourist attractions in Budapest.

The interior features intricate ceiling paintings and can hold over 8,500 visitors, making it the largest church in Hungary.

The streets located around the Basilica were featured in the Tom Hanks 2016 blockbuster "Inferno" and scenes from NBC drama "Royal Pains" were also shot here.

"Evita" was only partially shot in Buenos Aires due to safety concerns, and various scenes were filmed in front of St Stephen's Basilica and throughout Budapest.

Tourists are able to visit this site by walking up to the famous dome on top, which also appears in many film and television productions.

6. Gozsdu-udvar

The famous Gozsdu-udvar in the seventh district of Budapest is a tourist favorite thanks to its daytime flea market and swanky bars and restaurants.

The courtyard dates back to 1900 and provides an inviting location for any film crew.

Featured in Arnold Schwarzenegger's 1988 film "Red Heat," the courtyard was used to depict the mean streets of Moscow.

Tony Scott's "Spy Game," starring Robert Redford and Brad Pitt, was also filmed in the Gozsdu-udvars along with numerous television commercials and photo shoots.

One of the best places to experience the true ambiance of this bazaar is the famous Spiler bar and restaurant, popular with both locals and tourists.

7. Hungarian State Opera House

The Hungarian State Opera House is among the more stunning buildings on Andrássy Avenue, providing Hungarians with the finest opera and ballet productions.

Sir. Elton John's "Billy Elliott -- The Musical" and "The Marriage of Figaro" have both premiered here and the venue has also played host to big budget productions.

Director Francis Lawrence shot the opening scenes of "Red Sparrow," starring Jennifer Lawrence here, while Woody Allen's 1975 film "Love and Death" used the building as a stand in for the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg.

Scenes for Steven Spielberg's 2005 movie "Munich" were also shot in the streets surrounding the main Opera House building and 1998 classic "The Phantom of the Opera" used the Hungarian State Opera House as a prime location.

8. Hungarian Parliament Building and the Danube River

The Hungarian Parliament building is currently the main tourist attraction in Budapest, pulling in more than 600,000 visitors a year.

It's the second-largest parliament building in Europe and arguably the most beautiful.

Situated on the banks of the Danube River, Parliament has been used in scores of film and television productions.

"Transporter 3," which starred Jason Statham, gave cinemagoers a glimpse at Parliament and St Stephen's Basilica, while the opening sequence of "Atomic Blonde" with Charlize Theron was shot along the banks of the river. A replica Berlin Wall was also constructed and used in various locations throughout the city to create a realistic looking replica of the German capital.

Visitors can see the landmark in all its glory by taking a Danube River cruise, which stops close to the Parliament building.

9. Heroes' Square

Constructed in 1896, Heroes' Square provides a beautiful backdrop for any film production.

One of the main tourist sites visited by vacationers in Budapest, this stunning location features the tomb of the unknown soldier, the Seven Chieftains of the Magyars and statues of other important Hungarian leaders.

The 2013 blockbuster "A Good Day to Die Hard" was filmed in and around Budapest, with the city doubling up as Moscow, and Heroes' Square was used quite extensively in the movie.

Tourists can now take their picture in front of the big Budapest sign situated just in front of the famous monument.

10. Liberty Square

Liberty Square provides a unique filming location for filmmakers, housing the American Embassy, a park, cafes and a venue for concerts and film productions.

Scenes for "Blade Runner 2049" were filmed here and throughout the nearby streets.

Korda Productions helped shoot the interiors of the vintage Las Vegas casino, which were shot in the old Budapest Stock Exchange building in the square, that features in the film.

The public square was also used in "Spy" and "Atomic Blonde," and continues to be a popular draw for both locals and tourists.

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