23 Films to Watch Before You Visit Scotland

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Movies Set in Scotland - Glenfinnan Viaduct

I wasn’t sure whether to title this post “films that will inspire you to visit Scotland”, “the best films set in Scotland”, or “films you should watch before you visit Scotland”… because it’s a bit of a mixture of all three! Some of the films on this list are historical films that help to explain Scotland’s past (not always accurately I must admit…), others are comedies or thrillers that feature Scotland as their backdrop. There’s also a couple of more modern takes on Scotland, and even some animated films too.

The thing is, all of these films will give you an insight into Scotland in some way, whether it’s the scenery, history, culture, or even just a film that is so widely known and watched here that people make reference to it without even thinking about it.

I hope they inspire you to visit Scotland, to explore further afield than the obvious spots, or just help you understand what everyone’s talking about over here!

Some of these films about Scotland are available on Netflix, depending on where you’re watching, but most are also available on Amazon to rent or buy. 

So let’s get started!

Braveheart (1995)

Firstly, Braveheart is NOT an accurate representation of this period in Scottish history, so don’t make the mistake of thinking so! However, it is arguably the most famous film set in Scotland and I couldn’t really leave it off the list. Although notably, many of the battle scenes were actually filmed in Ireland. And the lead part is played by an Australian actor. And the use of tartan isn’t accurate whatsoever.

But anyway! The story follows the life of William Wallace and Robert the Bruce as they lead the Scots into the First War of Scottish Independence, and it is a pretty epic film regardless. While it’s not entirely accurate the sentiment is there and it’s definitely responsible for inspiring people to visit Scotland. – Rent/Buy

Whisky Galore (1949 and 2016 TV version)

This comedic film is based on a true historical event, the foundering of the SS Politician off the Isle of Eriskay in the Outer Hebrides. Locals raided the cargo under the rules of salvage, mostly for some of the 264,000 bottles of whisky onboard. Slàinte! (That’s cheers in Scottish Gaelic). 

Unfortunately, the authorities didn’t see it in the same way as the locals and an operation began to try and recover the whisky. However, most of the estimated 24,000 bottles of whisky taken were never seen again! Compton Mackenzie wrote a book released in 1947 that was based on the story, and then the original 1949 movie was shot mostly in the Outer Hebrides. In 2016 a remake premiered at the Edinburgh Film Festival so now you get to watch both! – Rent/Buy.

Sunshine on Leith (2013)

A musical film set in Edinburgh that showcases some of the best of the city, especially Leith where I used to live and which is full of hidden gems! Even if you’re not a fan of musicals this film is a great watch before visiting. It follows two servicemen who have returned from overseas duty and are integrating back into normal life. Much of the music is by Scottish band The Proclaimers too. – Rent/Buy

Movies Set in Scotland - Sunshine on Leith

Outlaw King (2018)

Chris Pine plays Robert the Bruce, in this high-budget Netflix film “Outlaw King”. He was a Scotsman who rebelled against the King of England, Edward I, as many believed he had the true right to the throne. It was filmed all over Scotland and depicts the time from 1304-1307 when he fought against the English army. Mixed reviews, but worth a watch! – Watch on Netflix

The Angel’s Share (2012)

A comedy-drama in which a young father in Glasgow narrowly avoids going to jail, and then after visiting a whisky distillery is inspired to try to make a new life for himself. I won’t give the rest away! The name comes from the portion of whisky that evaporates from whisky barrels as the spirit is aged. If you keep bottles for a long time it disappears from them too! It was filmed in Glasgow and Edinburgh so you’ll see some of Scotland’s cities, and learn a bit more about whisky too. – Rent/Buy

Trainspotting (1996) and sequel T2 Trainspotting (2017)

A dark comedy based on the novel by Irvine Welsh. Not for the faint of heart as it follows heroin addicts in a deprived area of Edinburgh, but it is an Academy-Award nominated film and an excellent performance by Ewan McGregor.

The sequel also gives an insight into Edinburgh today. In New Zealand we have the cult classic Once Were Warriors, which is also an uncomfortable watch, but I still recommend these sorts of films to people as they form part of the fabric of society and are so well-known, especially by locals of course. – Rent/Buy

Loch Ness (1996)

A family-friendly film in which an American Zoologist seeks to disprove the myth of Nessie, the Loch Ness Monster. Instead, he ends up trying to prove it does exist! It was shot on location at Loch Ness as well as on the West Coast of Scotland. The story of Nessie is one of the most famous to come out of Scotland, so it’s nice to see a movie about it. – Rent/Buy

Movies set in Scotland - Loch Ness

Stone of Destiny (2008)

Based on the true story from the 1950s of a group of students who are Scottish Nationalists go on a mission to retrieve the Stone of Destiny from Westminster Abbey back to Scotland. The stone was used to crown Scottish Kings until 1296 when it was stolen by Edward I. Still hard to believe this is actually true! – Rent/Buy

Rob Roy (1995)

Liam Neeson stars as Scottish Clan Chief Rob Roy. Funny how they never seem to get a Scottish actor! It was filmed entirely in Scotland and follows Rob Roy as he fights to save his family in the Scottish Highlands. Perfect for those wanting to learn a bit more about clan life and see epic scenes of Scotland. – Rent/Buy

Local Hero (1983)

A lighthearted comedy featuring the beautiful coastline around Pennan and Aberdeenshire, and also the Ben Nevis Distillery in Fort William. It’s a fictional story about an American oil company representative who is sent to buy a village for the purposes of destroying it and using the land for the oil company. I love how it features some more “off the beaten track” destinations that are now part of the North East 250. – Rent/Buy

Highlander (1986)

A fictional fantasy film following the “Highlander”, an immortal warrior who lives through several centuries in the Scottish Highlands before settling in New York City. And all to a soundtrack provided by Queen! It was filmed in Scotland (look out for Eilean Donan Castle) as well as New York City and gives an insight into Scottish history, plus has become somewhat of a cult classic thanks to the tagline “There can only be one...”. – Rent/Buy

Films Set in Scotland - Eilean Donan Castle

The 39 Steps (1935)

A thriller directed by Alfred Hitchcock, in which a man is caught up in an international spy ring after a woman is murdered in front of him while clutching a map of the Scottish Highlands. He travels there afterwards in a bid to escape the police and try to stop vital information leaving the country. The film was made in a studio but does include real shots of the Forth Bridge and Glencoe. – Rent/Buy

Brave (2012)

This award-winning film is one for the younger audience but enjoyed just as much by an older age group too! It’s a Pixar animated film about a Scottish princess who wants to defy custom and decide her own fate rather than be betrothed. I love the music and the scenes of Scotland! – Rent/Buy

The Illusionist (2010)

A French-British animated film about an Illusionist who moves from France to Scotland and seeks to find his place in a dying entertainment industry in 1959. He is followed by Alice, a young girl who believes he truly has magical powers. With wonderfully drawn scenes of Scotland, it’s a lovely introduction to the country for the whole family. – Rent/Buy

One Day (2011)

Every year two friends celebrate the anniversary of the day they met when they were students at the University of Edinburgh. The city features heavily in parts of the film, including iconic landmarks like Arthur’s Seat, Calton Hill, and Victoria Street. It doesn’t have particularly great reviews in some places and is classed as a romantic drama rather than a romantic comedy, but it is a great one if you want to see how romantic Edinburgh can be! – Rent/Buy

Films Set in Scotland - Calton Hill

I Know Where I’m Going! (1945)

Another film based in the Scottish islands, this time on the Isle of Mull. It’s about a woman from Manchester who’s travelling to a fictional island in order to get married but gets stuck on the Isle of Mull on the way. It has rave reviews on many sites and a 100% ranking on Rotten Tomatoes. An oldie but a goodie! – Rent/Buy

Filth (2013)

Another dark Irvine Welsh film set on the streets of Edinburgh, this time starring James McAvoy as a drug-taking policeman with a borderline personality disorder. Admittedly it might not exactly inspire you to visit Scotland but it is a great showcase of Scottish talent and maybe a change of pace from the rest of the list! – Rent/Buy

Edie (2017)

After her husband dies, 83-year-old Edie’s daughter wants to put her into a retirement home. In a bid to assert control over her life she takes a hiking trip to the Scottish Highlands that she has always wanted to do. It was filmed on Suilven mountain just west of Sutherland and is a lovely inspirational movie to watch. – Rent/Buy

Macbeth (2015)

Michael Fassbender plays Macbeth in this TV adaption of Shakespeare’s famous play. It was filmed mainly in England but there are scenes in Scotland too. If you’re not familiar with the story, Macbeth receives a prophecy that he will become the King of Scotland one day and then in a bid to speed up the prophecy he kills King Duncan but afterwards falls into a spiral into madness. – Rent/Buy

The Edge of the World (1937)

Loosely based on the evacuation of St Kilda, a remote archipelago off the west coast of Scotland. It was actually shot on Foula, one of the Shetland Islands, where the crew had to live for several months in order to film. Quite a feat back then! The movie is a testament to the remoteness of the Scottish islands. – Rent/Buy

Films set in Scotland - Shetland Islands

The Wicker Man (1973)

Featuring Dumfries & Galloway as well as other parts of Scotland, this strange British classic is all sorts of mysterious and creepy. A police sergeant goes to investigate the disappearance of a girl on an island but is met by people practising a strange form of Celtic Paganism. I included it here because it’s a bit of a cult classic, if not to everyone’s taste! It was also remade in 2006 but I’ve stuck to the original here. – Rent/Buy 

Mary, Queen of Scots (2018)

North Berwick, the Cairngorms, and Glencoe feature is this film, along with plenty of other beautiful Scottish locations. The story focuses on the relationship between Scotland and England, and Mary, Queen of Scots and Queen Elizabeth I. While it isn’t entirely accurate, given the two never actually met in real life, it does give insight into the life of one of Scotland’s most famous women. – Rent/Buy

Films that feature Scotland

All of the above films are specifically set in Scotland and about it, but there are plenty of films where Scotland is a backdrop while not actually being the focus of the film: 

  • Avengers Infinity War – Watch out for a fight scene on Cockburn Street, where I used to work!
  • Avengers End Game – The town of St Abbs stands in as the home of Thor.
  • Skyfall – James Bond returns to his home in Scotland, which just so happens to be in Glencoe.
  • Harry Potter – Of course, there are the iconic shots of the Hogwarts Express crossing the Glenfinnan Viaduct, but scenes were also filmed in Glencoe, Loch Eilt, Loch Etive. Although they weren’t filmed in Edinburgh, it is where J K Rowling wrote some of the books and there are lots of Harry Potter locations in the city!
  • The Da Vinci Code – Starring the mysterious Rosslyn Chapel, located just south of Edinburgh.
  • Monty Python and the Holy Grail – Uses Doune Castle, one of my favourites, as a backdrop.
  • Outlander TV Series – Not a film of course but widely acknowledged as the inspiration for many visitors coming to Scotland.
  • Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga – Set in Iceland and Edinburgh, the film follows the hapless duo Fire Saga, as they attempt to win the Eurovision song contest. It features lots of the beautiful parts of Edinburgh city, and some of the Iceland scenes were even filmed here too!

I hope you found a few new things to watch amongst these Scottish films! Watching films and reading books is one of my favourite ways to learn more about a place before visiting. 

How many have you seen?

Sonja x 

2 thoughts on “23 Films to Watch Before You Visit Scotland

  1. Andrew T says:

    Hi Sonja

    A good list, thanks for compiling.
    In order to be truly great, I would add Chariots of Fire, Hallam Foe, Dear Frankie, Made of Honor and Gregory’s Girl.
    But then, everyone’s list will differ. That’s the magic of the silver screen!
    Best wishes
    Andrew

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