The Best Films Set in Turkey

Istanbul | © Halul Comertel/Wikimedia Commons
Istanbul | © Halul Comertel/Wikimedia Commons

Extraordinarily talented Turkish directors such as Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Fatih Akın, or Reha Erdem have successfully put Turkey on the cinematic map in terms of international recognition. Many of the best films made in Turkey are from these master directors but also from lesser known (but equally talented) directors, along with a few foreign names who have ventured around the country, making the most of its beauty. We’ve rounded up some of the best.

Once Upon a Time in Anatolia

A Nuri Bilge Ceylan film that really conveys his profound talent for imagery (it’s no surprise that the director is also a photographer), Once Upon a Time in Anatolia explores the almost ominous beauty of the Turkish landscape. The plot revolves around a group of men who are out to find a dead body in the Anatolian landscape.

The Edge of Heaven

One of Fatih Akın’s most poignant films that often painfully explores the depths of human love, The Edge of Heaven is a true masterpiece that is split between Germany and Turkey. You’ll often see the streets of Istanbul as they are without any pretenses, as well as moments of beautiful clarity that you might have not expected.

Winter Sleep

Set in the almost mystic landscape of Cappadocia, Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Winter Sleep is a Palm d’Or winner and one of his most visually entrancing films. The plot focuses on the story of a former actor who now runs a hotel and deals with the broken relationship between him and his wife, as well as his sister, who is still getting over her recent divorce.

Times and Winds

An absolutely stunning look at the lesser-known Turkish village life, Reha Erdem’s Times and Winds will let you travel to parts of the country you didn’t know existed and delve into lives that are completely cut off from our concept of modernity.

Crossing the Bridge

One of Fatih Akın’s lesser known works, Crossing the Bridge is a documentary that explores the music scene of Istanbul offering a very sincere glimpse into the city as well as Turkey’s centuries old musical tradition. From cool rappers to masters of classic Turkish music, the documentary doesn’t leave anything out.

Head On

Speaking of Fatih Akın, Head On is his most well-known film that takes a very honest look at Turkish life and the constraints of love in a society that is struggling between modernity and its traditional roots. Focusing on the torrid relationship of its protagonists Cahit and Sibel, the film also shows Istanbul as it truly exists.

Loser’s Club

Based on a true story, this film is a favorite among Istanbul locals who can relate to the plot of two very controversial (inappropriate) radio hosts in 1990s Istanbul. Needless to say the radio show is called Kaybedenler Kulübü (Loser’s Club) where daily struggles are discussed in full detail every night.


This fabulous film from 1963 was directed by Alain Robbe-Grillet and is a true journey back in time to an Istanbul that many remember fondly. With scenic rides on the Bosphorus and long strolls through the lively streets, a man meets a beautiful woman and must face a dramatic conspiracy.

A Touch of Spice

A film for all the gourmets out there, Tassos Boulmetis’ A Touch of Spice revolves around the story of a young Greek boy in Istanbul whose grandfather teaches him the secret of food and life (just add some spice). A tale of love and good food unfolds as the protagonist grows into an adult and returns to Istanbul after having lived in Athens for 35 years.

The Water Diviner

One of the most well known international films set in Turkey as of late, The Water Diviner was directed by Russell Crowe who also stars in the main role. The plot is about the emotional story of an Australian man who travels to Turkey in order to find his three missing sons after the Battle of Gallipoli.

The Two Faces of January

Starring Viggo Mortensen and Kirsten Dunst, this film takes places in both Greece and Turkey in the 1960s. The thriller revolves around a seemingly happily married couple who meet a stranger in Athens, but things go awry when a private detective is killed and everyone must flee for their lives.

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