If you’re contemplating a life-changing move to Portugal, there’s no better way to acquaint yourself with the country’s beauty, culture, and soul than through the lens of cinema.
Portugal, with its breathtaking landscapes, historic cities, and warm hospitality, has served as a captivating backdrop for numerous cinematic tales.
In this article, we invite you to embark on a virtual journey of the top movies set in Portugal that not only showcase its picturesque scenery but also offer a window into the heart and soul of this remarkable nation.
Let these films be your passport to a deeper understanding of Portugal and a source of inspiration as you consider making it your new home.
Film Industry in Portugal
The film industry in Portugal was steadily growing and gaining recognition on the international stage. Here are some key points about the film industry in Portugal up to that point:
Emerging Talent: Portugal had seen the emergence of talented directors and filmmakers who were making a mark on the global stage. Filmmakers like Pedro Costa, Miguel Gomes, and João Salaviza gained international acclaim for their works.
Film Festivals: Portugal was home to several renowned film festivals. The Lisbon & Estoril Film Festival and the Porto/Post/Doc Documentary Film Festival were among the notable ones. These festivals provided a platform for showcasing both Portuguese and international films.
Government Support: The Portuguese government had been actively supporting the film industry through various grants, subsidies, and incentives. The Institute of Cinema and Audiovisual (ICA) was responsible for promoting and regulating the sector.
Co-Productions: Portugal had been actively participating in international co-productions, collaborating with other European countries and beyond. This not only helped in sharing resources but also in expanding the reach of Portuguese cinema.
Awards and Recognition: Portuguese films and filmmakers had received recognition at major international film festivals like Cannes, Berlinale, and Venice. “Tabu” by Miguel Gomes, for example, received critical acclaim and awards at Berlinale.
10 Amazing Movies set in Portugal
That Good night (2017)
“That Good Night” is a poignant drama film released in 2017, directed by Eric Styles and based on the stage play of the same name by N.J. Crisp. The movie is set in the picturesque landscapes of the Algarve region in Portugal, adding a beautiful backdrop to its narrative.
The film stars legendary British actor Sir John Hurt in one of his final on-screen roles before his passing in 2017. Hurt plays Ralph, a once-famous screenwriter, who is now facing the end of his life due to a terminal illness. Determined to make amends with his estranged son, Michael, played by Max Brown, Ralph retreats to his villa in Portugal. There, he contemplates his past and seeks reconciliation, both with his family and with himself.
“That Good Night” explores themes of family, mortality, and the desire for redemption. John Hurt delivers a compelling and heartfelt performance as a man grappling with his own mortality and trying to find closure in his final days.
The film’s Portuguese setting not only adds visual charm but also serves as a metaphorical backdrop to the characters’ emotional journeys. The Algarve’s stunning landscapes and picturesque villages provide a serene and contemplative environment for the characters to reflect upon their past and mend broken relationships.
Stalin's Couch (2016)
“Stalin’s Couch” is a 2016 drama film directed by Fanny Ardant, known for her work as an actress and making her directorial debut with this intriguing project. The film takes place in the beautiful and historically significant city of Lisbon, Portugal, which serves as a compelling backdrop for its narrative.
The movie stars the talented Portuguese actor and musician, João Arrais, in the lead role of Victor, a young Portuguese man who becomes entangled in a mysterious and complex relationship with an enigmatic woman, played by Fanny Ardant herself. As their connection deepens, Victor finds himself caught between love, desire, and the haunting specter of the past.
Set against the backdrop of Lisbon’s charming streets, historic architecture, and scenic waterfront, “Stalin’s Couch” weaves a tale of passion, intrigue, and the complexities of human relationships. The film’s setting adds depth and texture to the story, creating a sense of timelessness and allure that mirrors the enigmatic characters at its core.
The film’s choice of Lisbon as its setting not only showcases the city’s visual beauty but also underscores its significance as a place where history and modernity converge. “Stalin’s Couch” is a cinematic journey that invites audiences to delve into the complexities of human emotion and the power of memory against the backdrop of one of Europe’s most captivating cities.
Lisbon Story (1994)
“Lisbon Story” is a 1994 drama film directed by the renowned German director Wim Wenders. The film is set in the picturesque and culturally rich city of Lisbon, Portugal, serving as both a setting and a character in its own right.
The film stars Rüdiger Vogler as Philip Winter, a sound engineer from Germany who embarks on a journey to Lisbon at the request of his friend and filmmaker Friedrich Monroe, played by Patrick Bauchau. Monroe has been shooting a documentary in Lisbon but has mysteriously disappeared, leaving behind a series of unfinished reels of film. Philip’s mission is to find his friend and complete the documentary.
Set against the backdrop of Lisbon’s cobbled streets, historic neighborhoods, and iconic landmarks, “Lisbon Story” captures the city’s unique atmosphere and vibrant culture. As Philip Winter navigates the winding alleys and encounters a cast of intriguing characters, viewers are treated to a visual and auditory feast that showcases Lisbon’s charm and allure.
The film beautifully explores themes of communication, creativity, and the power of cinema as a medium for storytelling. As Philip works on the documentary, he becomes immersed in the sights and sounds of Lisbon, forging a deep connection with the city and its people.
Casanova Variations (2014)
“Casanova Variations” is a 2014 film directed by Michael Sturminger. This intriguing cinematic work explores the life and adventures of the iconic Italian lover, Giacomo Casanova, portrayed by the versatile John Malkovich. The film is primarily set in Venice, Italy, and also features significant scenes in Vienna, Austria.
One of the standout locations in the film is the Teatro Nacional de São Carlos, a historic opera house located in Lisbon, Portugal. While the majority of the movie unfolds in Venice and Vienna, the inclusion of Teatro Nacional de São Carlos adds a touch of grandeur and cultural richness to the narrative.
John Malkovich’s performance as Casanova is a tour de force, capturing the character’s charisma, intelligence, and complexity. The film delves into Casanova’s amorous escapades, intellectual pursuits, and interactions with notable figures of his time, including Emperor Joseph II, played by Florian Boesch, and Lorenzo Da Ponte, portrayed by Mads Mikkelsen.
“Casanova Variations” artfully weaves together elements of music, opera, and theater, offering a unique and artistic perspective on Casanova’s life. The film explores his interactions within the world of opera, emphasizing his relationships with influential composers and librettists of the era.
The Ninth Gate (1999)
“The Ninth Gate,” a supernatural thriller released in 1999, is directed by the acclaimed Polish filmmaker Roman Polanski. This enigmatic film is set against the backdrop of various European locations, including Spain, Portugal, and France, adding an air of mystique to its narrative.
The film stars Johnny Depp as Dean Corso, a skilled rare book dealer specializing in tracking down elusive and valuable books. Corso is hired by the wealthy collector Boris Balkan, portrayed by Frank Langella, to authenticate a rare and sinister book known as “The Nine Gates of the Kingdom of Shadows.”
As Corso delves deeper into his investigation, he embarks on a treacherous journey across Europe, encountering an array of enigmatic characters and dark forces. One of the notable European settings in the film is the Chalet Biester, a mansion nestled inside the picturesque Pena Park in Sintra, Portugal. This location provides a rich and haunting backdrop for key scenes in the movie, adding to its atmosphere of mystery and intrigue.
Sintra, a city known for its historical significance and stunning architecture, offers an ideal setting for the film’s eerie and immersive atmosphere. In addition to Chalet Biester, the film also features locations like the Central Palace Hotel, located in Sintra’s historical city center, which further enhances the European charm of the narrative.
Night Train To Lisbon (2013)
“Night Train to Lisbon,” a 2013 drama film directed by Bille August, takes audiences on a mesmerizing journey set against the backdrop of Lisbon, Portugal. The film stars Jeremy Irons as Raimund Gregorius, a Swiss professor whose life undergoes a profound transformation.
The movie begins in the bustling Santa Apolónia Station, one of Lisbon’s main railway terminals, where Raimund Gregorius unexpectedly encounters a captivating Portuguese book. This serendipitous discovery sets the stage for an introspective and adventurous exploration of self and the past.
As the narrative unfolds, the audience is treated to stunning visuals of Lisbon, including the famous Bica de Duarte Belo Street. This picturesque and winding street offers a quintessential Lisbon experience, with its narrow, cobbled lanes and charming architecture. It serves as a symbolic representation of the labyrinthine journey of self-discovery that Gregorius embarks upon.
The film also takes viewers to iconic historical sites in Lisbon, such as the Belém Tower, a 16th-century fortification that stands as a testament to Portugal’s maritime history and architectural grandeur. The Convent of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, a former Catholic convent, adds a sense of historical depth to the story.
“Night Train to Lisbon” is not just a physical journey through Lisbon’s captivating locations; it’s also a deep dive into the city’s culture, history, and the lives of its inhabitants. Jeremy Irons’ performance as Gregorius is a tour de force, portraying a character who evolves as he unravels the mysteries hidden within the book and encounters a cast of intriguing characters.
Tombs Of The Blind Dead (1972)
“Tombs of the Blind Dead,” a cult horror film released in 1972, was directed by Spanish filmmaker Amando de Ossorio. This atmospheric horror movie is known for its chilling premise and unique take on the living dead.
The film is primarily set in Portugal, offering a haunting and eerie backdrop to its terrifying story. “Tombs of the Blind Dead” introduces audiences to the Templar Knights, who return from the dead as blind, undead monstrosities. Their supernatural resurrection unleashes a reign of terror on the unsuspecting living.
The movie includes particularly intense and gruesome scenes set in the Igreja de Santiago de Palmela, a historic church in Palmela, Portugal. This location adds a sense of dread and foreboding to the film’s dark narrative. Additionally, the Faculty of Medicine, which is part of The University of Lisbon, provides a disturbing contrast as scenes featuring torture and violence unfold within its walls.
The film also incorporates Estoril and Sesimbra into its unsettling narrative. Estoril, a coastal town, and Sesimbra, known for its picturesque beaches and ancient castle, both contribute to the film’s sense of place and atmosphere. The juxtaposition of serene landscapes with horrific events creates a palpable tension throughout the movie.
“Tombs of the Blind Dead” is a standout in the horror genre for its unconventional approach to the undead and its use of Portuguese locations to create an unsettling ambiance.
“Tabu,” a 2012 drama film, was directed by the acclaimed Portuguese filmmaker Miguel Gomes. The film is set in two distinct time periods and locations, offering a mesmerizing journey through the past and present.
The story unfolds in contemporary Lisbon, where Aurora, an elderly woman, is on her deathbed. In her final moments, she is haunted by her memories of colonial Africa, particularly her time in Portuguese-controlled Mozambique. The film then transports viewers back to 1960s Africa, where the young Aurora, portrayed by Ana Moreira, is experiencing a passionate love affair.
The film’s Portuguese setting includes several notable locations, such as the Cemitério de Carnide, a historic cemetery located in Lisbon. This location adds a sense of depth and history to the film, as it is the resting place of important figures from Lisbon’s past.
Additionally, “Tabu” takes viewers to the Parque das Nações, a modern waterfront district in Lisbon that contrasts sharply with the colonial Africa depicted in the film’s flashbacks. This juxtaposition highlights the changing landscapes and cultural shifts over time.
One of the film’s pivotal scenes occurs in the Estoril Casino, a famous casino located in the coastal town of Estoril. The casino scenes offer a glimpse into the characters’ lives and their pursuit of happiness and adventure. The Estoril Casino’s grandeur and opulence serve as a stark contrast to the more rustic and untamed landscapes of Africa.
Love Letters Of A Portuguese Nun (1977)
“Love Letters of a Portuguese Nun” is an intriguing and controversial film directed by Jesús Franco, a Spanish filmmaker known for his exploration of erotic and unconventional themes in cinema. The film was released in 1977 and is set in Portugal, providing a lush and historical backdrop to its narrative.
The movie stars Susan Hemingway as Maria, a young woman who is sent to a convent against her will. While in the convent, she becomes infatuated with the local priest, played by William Berger. Their illicit affair unfolds against the backdrop of 17th-century Portugal.
Many of the film’s scenes are set in and around the Castle of Sintra, an enchanting and historic fortress located in the picturesque town of Sintra, Portugal. The castle’s architectural grandeur and lush surroundings add to the film’s visual richness and create a captivating atmosphere for the unfolding drama.
Additionally, the film features scenes shot at the Palace of Sintra, a stunning and well-preserved royal palace known for its exquisite architecture and historic significance. These locations contribute to the film’s historical and romantic ambiance.
The Palácio dos Condes de Castro Guimarães, an elegant and historic palace, also serves as a backdrop for the film. This location adds to the film’s visual allure and captures the essence of Portugal’s rich cultural heritage.
Shooting at the Jerónimos Monastery, a UNESCO World Heritage site renowned for its stunning architecture, further enhances the film’s historical authenticity and visual splendor.
James Bond - On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)
“On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” is the sixth installment in the James Bond film series, released in 1969. Directed by Peter R. Hunt, it marked a significant departure from the previous Bond films as it introduced George Lazenby as James Bond, replacing Sean Connery in the iconic role.
The film’s plot takes Bond to various picturesque locations, including the Swiss Alps and the Portuguese coast, providing a stunning backdrop for its espionage and action sequences.
A notable portion of the film is set in Estoril, a coastal resort town near Lisbon, Portugal. Estoril is famous for its beautiful beaches and luxurious hotels. One of the key locations in the movie is the Palácio Estoril Hotel, which serves as a glamorous setting for several scenes. The hotel’s opulence and grandeur match the sophisticated and elegant style typically associated with James Bond.
In the film, Bond visits the Palácio Estoril Hotel while on a mission to track down the villainous Ernst Stavro Blofeld, played by Telly Savalas. Estoril, with its charming streets and stunning seaside views, adds a touch of class and intrigue to the movie’s plot.
While “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” is often remembered for George Lazenby’s portrayal of Bond and its unique storyline, the film’s choice of locations, including Estoril and the Palácio Estoril Hotel, contributes to its visual appeal and adds to the overall Bond experience. It showcases the beauty of Portugal’s coastal landscape and its role as a backdrop for international espionage.
Thinking about moving to Portugal?
If you’re contemplating a move to Portugal, your first step should involve obtaining a residency visa. Portugal offers various pathways to secure a residency visa, each tailored to your specific profile and circumstances:
Portugal D7 Visa
Portugal D7 Visa, which is perfect for retirees or those with passive income. This visa requires proof of regular income or savings, and the ability to support yourself without working in Portugal. It’s a great option for those looking to enjoy the country’s relaxed lifestyle and stunning natural beauty.
Portugal Digital Nomad Visa
Digital Nomad Visa Portugal, for remote workers and freelancers allow them to live and work in the country for up to a year, enjoying all the benefits of the Portuguese lifestyle while earning an income from their remote job or business.
Portugal D2 Visa
D2 Visa Portugal in case you are an entrepreneur looking to start or develop a business in Portugal, which allows you to obtain a residence permit for up to two years.
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Frequently asked questions about Amazing movies set in Portugal
What makes Portugal an attractive location for filmmakers?
Portugal’s diverse landscapes, historic architecture, and vibrant culture make it an appealing backdrop for filmmakers. From picturesque coastal scenes to charming old towns, Portugal offers a wide range of visually captivating settings.
Which European country has biggest film industry?
The films with the highest export volume by their country of production were predominantly from the following nations: the United Kingdom (44%), France (18%), Spain (6%), Germany (6%), Belgium (5%), and Russia (5%).
What are the best places for expats to live in Portugal?
Some of the best places for expats to live in Portugal include Lisbon, Porto, Cascais, Sintra, Algarve, Madeira, and the Azores.
Is Portugal expensive?
Portugal is generally considered to be an affordable destination compared to many other Western European countries. However, the cost of living can vary depending on the city or region. In major cities like Lisbon and Porto, the cost of living, particularly in terms of housing, can be higher than in smaller towns or rural areas.
Can I buy a house in Portugal as a foreigner?
Yes, as a foreigner, you can buy a house in Portugal. Portugal has welcoming property laws that allow non-residents and foreign nationals to purchase real estate, including houses, apartments, and land.