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Six Best Films Set In Istanbul

Picture of Feride Yalav-Heckeroth
Updated: 24 January 2017
With its iconic cityscape, historically significant structures, and the famous Bosphorus, Istanbul has been used as a striking backdrop for many films. From the sleek productions of the 1960s to the more modern documentaries showcasing the city from a truly local angle, we chose some of the best films that were set in Istanbul.

From Russia with Love (1963)

The second instalment of the James Bond film series is probably one of the most famous movies set in Istanbul. The Istanbul scenes begin with the handsome Sean Connery arriving at the Atatürk Airport. The film continues with a love scene in a lavish hotel with Tatiana, who works at the Soviet Consulate, and a then stroll through the Grand Bazaar. Of course, the film’s most famous scene takes place in the mysterious Basilica Cistern, which is, in the film’s fantasy world, located right under the Russian Consulate and is the perfect place for some spying to sabotage the plans of an evil Empire.

Mustang (2015)

Often compared to Sofia Coppola’s The Virgin Suicides, Mustang’s plot revolves around the story of orphaned sisters who must face the oppressive effects of being women in Turkey. Even though the story takes place in a small Black Sea village, Istanbul keeps appearing as the ultimate escape from the abuse that the sisters face at the hands of their uncle. In the last section of the film, two sisters manage to escape and wake up as the bus drives across the Bosphorus Bridge illuminated by the sunrise and exuding hope.

Crossing the Bridge: The Sound of Istanbul (2005)

This fantastic documentary by German-Turkish director Fatih Akın really takes on Istanbul from a very local level by exploring its music scene from the street bands all the way to the iconic artists. The documentary follows German musician Alexander Hacke as he travels around the city to capture its multitudinous sounds. From a breathtaking Kurdish song sung in a historic hamam by Aynur Doğan, to famous rapper Ceza spitting out his best rhymes or Orhan Gencebay (the king of arabesque) performing unplugged in his home, Crossing the Bridge is an intimate look at Istanbul as a source of endless inspiration and creativity.

Journey into Fear (1943)

In this excellent classic, American ballistic expert Howard Graham is targeted by Nazi agents in Istanbul and must find safe passage home. In one of the film’s strangest scenes, Graham is dragged into a smoke-filled nightclub where he meets a dancer and a magician, one of whom is later murdered by a Nazi spy (we won’t say whom). Before we forget, the film also stars Orson Welles as a Turkish secret police chief.

Mercury Productions | © RKO Pictures
Mercury Productions / | © RKO Pictures

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011)

This film adaptation of John le Carré’s 1974 novel turned Istanbul’s Karaköy neighbourhood into a stage where Soviet and British spies battle it out during the Cold War of the 1970s. The film’s retro representation of Istanbul is uncanny and stretches from the famous Istiklal Street to Taksim’s smoky nightclubs, mysterious hotel rooms, and the stuffy interior of the import-export authority. As George Smiley, played by Gary Oldman, struggles to find the secret Soviet informant within MI5, things do end up becoming a bit violent.

L’Immortelle (1963)

As expected of French new wave, L’Immortelle is an often confusing yet absolutely beautiful representation of Istanbul that is as mysterious as its beautiful film protagonists. At the centre of the plot, there’s a conspiracy ring that kidnaps women and uses them as prostitutes, a car crash, a man and a mysterious woman, and a lot of parties at gorgeous Ottoman era waterfront mansions where beautiful people stare at each other, French new wave style.

| © Dino de Laurentiis Cinematografica
Dino de Laurentiis Cinematografica | © Dino de Laurentiis Cinematografica