Cinema and the City | 5 Films Set in Vienna

From the dark sewers of 1949 to 21st century drone shots, Vienna has shown many faces on the silver screen.

The perfect setting for a chilling murder mystery and an endearing summer love story alike, Vienna’s characteristic urban landscape has proven to be a great cinematic backdrop. From the war-torn city of the 1940s to the modern capital of today, each of these movies illustrates the city’s transformation throughout the years.

The Third Man (1949)

Shot on location right after World War II as residents were still carting rubble off the streets, this classic thriller provides a historic snapshot of the city under joint occupation by the four Allied powers. Written by prominent English author Graham Greene, directed by Carol Reed and starring Joseph Cotton and Orson Welles, the general moral disengagement and corruption, of the ravaged capital proved to be a fitting film noir setting, adding entropy and bleakness to an already cynical tale of betrayal and penicillin smuggling. A resounding success – the British Film Institute chose it as the greatest British film of the 20th century – the movie is still popular in Austria: The Burgkino still shows it three times a week, there’s a small museum with memorabilia from the film and regular “Third Man Tours,” revisit the scene locations, including the Vienna sewers.

Before Sunrise (1995)

One of the most memorable romances of the 1990s, Before Sunrise places Vienna front and center as the perfect fairytale European setting for a dreamy American boy (Ethan Hawke) to meet an elflike French girl (Julie Delpy): after meeting on a train, their light-hearted conversation progresses as they get off and walk through the Vienna summer, pondering the big questions of life before parting ways the next morning. This year marks the 25th anniversary of the movie, which was later expanded into a trilogy by director Richard Linklater: Before Sunset and Before Midnight continue the story at 9-year intervals as the reunite and go through midlife crises.

Museum Hours (2013)

“The Before Sunrise for a very different (and platonic) pair of individuals,” according to the Chicago Tribune, Museum Hours follows a museum guard and a Canadian tourist as they befriend each other in wintertime at the Kunsthistorisches Museum. A collection of quiet moments, the two middle-aged characters explore the city, meditate on the human condition and the relationship of art and life. 

Woman in Gold (2015)

Based on one of Austria’s most sensational court cases, Woman in Gold recounts the decade-long struggle of holocaust survivor Maria Altmann to reclaim ownership of Gustav Klimt’s Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I, looted by the Nazis and eventually finding its way into the belvedere’s art collection. With Altmann portrayed by Helen Mirren and supported by Ryan Reynolds as here lawyer and Daniel Brühl as an investigative journalist, the original locations added additional depth to the otherwise Hollywoodesque dramatization of the touchy subject of Austrian war restitutions.

Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation (2015)

“You want drama? Go to the opera,” action star Tom Cruise quipped as agent Ethan Hunt in the 5th installment of the popular Mission Impossible franchise. And indeed, the scene where Hunt obstructs the assassination of the Austrian Chancellor during a performance of Turandot at the Staatsoper was a highlight, cleverly synching the fight choreography to the music. Although only twenty minutes of the picture are set in Vienna, its world premiere was held at the Staatsoper.

Jusztina Barna
Jusztina Barna attended a bilingual English-Hungarian high school where her love for literature and linguistics was planted, further sprouting once she gained an English degree. In Vienna since 2016, she also studied German and Business Management and is currently preoccupied with the human side of technology and digital exclusion.

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