Budapest is known across the globe for its picturesque castles, hearty goulashes and luxurious thermal baths. What people may not realize, however, is that the Hungarian capital city is quickly becoming a hub for filmmaking and one that has attracted some of Hollywood’s biggest names.
If you’re an avid tabloid follower, you might already know that A-listers such as Jennifer Lawrence, Ryan Gosling and Matt Damon have been spotted in Budapest in recent years. And while the city has many tourist attractions, it wasn’t tourism that brought these stars to Budapest.
Red Sparrow (2018), Blade Runner 2049 (2017) and The Martian (2015) are just some of the biggest and most recent blockbusters filmed and produced in Budapest. This is no coincidence—the city’s history, architecture and film production resources have created a fertile environment for filmmaking.
Budapest’s unique history, which has seen it under Ottoman, Austro-Hungarian, German and Soviet rule, has resulted in a city with a distinctive and versatile architectural landscape. So versatile, in fact, that Budapest has become something of a chameleon location for filmmaking and has stood in for cities like Paris, Moscow and Helsinki, among other places.
Some of the city’s most impressive architectural structures, including the Hungarian Parliament Building, Museum of Fine Arts and Liberty Bridge, were commissioned in 1896, the year that marked Hungary’s millennial anniversary. Coinciding with La Belle Époque, this period in Budapest’s history brought with it a surge in grand Romantic and Art Nouveau buildings.
These edifices have provided the backdrop of many films over the years and their presence in recent Hollywood hits is unmistakeable. Paul Feig’s comedy Spy (2015), starring Melissa McCarthy, used the city not only as itself but as Rome and Paris.
In the upcoming spy thriller Red Sparrow and in the Bruce Willis flick A Good Day to Die Hard (2013), Budapest’s streets and buildings stand in for Russia’s capital city, Moscow. A paparazzi photo dating back to last January shows an in-character Jennifer Lawrence purposefully walking across Budapest’s Heroes’ Square, which could (and I’m speculating here) be standing in for Moscow’s VDNKh pavilion.
But it’s not just Budapest’s period architecture that has inspired filmmakers to flock to the city. In Ridley Scott’s The Martian, one of Budapest’s newest riverside attractions, the Whale Shopping Center (known locally as Bálna), was used as the set for the NASA facility where Jeff Daniels and company plan Matt Damon’s rescue.
Blade Runner 2049, the Denis Villeneuve-directed sequel to the 1982 sci-fi classic, even found a way to appropriate Budapest’s neo-classical former Stock Exchange Palace as a dystopian Los Angeles casino. (The original Blade Runner is itself a veritable feast for any architecture lover.)
Hungary also boasts a number of well-established and state-of-the-art film production studios which have drawn in Hollywood filmmakers. Chief among them is Korda Studios, an expansive facility located in the village of Etyek, 26 kilometres (16 miles) outside of Budapest.
The studio, which houses one of the largest sound stages in the world—it spans 6,000 square metres (64,583 square feet)—set the stage for The Martian’s stunning extraterrestrial landscapes and provided most of the settings for Blade Runner 2049.
Finally, there is one other major factor that has attracted Hollywood filmmakers to Budapest: cost. Not only are production and employment costs lower in Hungary, but there are significant tax breaks for movies made there.
Through something called the ‘The Motion Picture Act and Corporate Tax Act’, foreign film productions spending at least 80 percent of their budget within Hungary are eligible to receive 25 percent of the film production costs back from the Hungarian government. It’s an incentive program that is proving fruitful for all.
Of course, all these resources for film are not in place to cater solely to Hollywood productions. Films such as Son of Saul (2015), which won an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, and On Body and Soul (2017), which is nominated for the same category at this year’s Academy Awards, are indicative of Hungary’s flourishing local film industry.