Updated April 2019
Are you planning to visit Scotland and looking for some inspiration? How about watching some of the best Scottish movies? This list of films will have your booking your trip before you can say "Take me to the mountains". Whether it's a movie set in Scotland, a Scottish historical romance or movies about those Scottish Highlanders this list has something for everyone. The film industry here in Scotland is booming and with news of new film studios in the pipeline I'm excited to watch this list grow. Rumour has it the new studio will be in Leith, Edinburgh, in a giant warehouse which was used to film scenes in the new Avengers movie. This is fantastic news and should mean even more amazing Scottish movies! Since I first wrote this list in 2017 there has been a massive amount of new films coming out, I'm so happy film producers and location scouts are beginning to notice how absolutely stunning the landscape is here. Take a gander at the films below, I've included a few TV series's as well, as these should not be missed.
Shakespeare’s tale of murder, guilt, witches and tyranny hardly shows off the most beautiful side of Scotland but it’s a well known story and definitely one of watch. I particularly like the 2015 version with Michael Fassbender playing a rather dishy Macbeth. Receiving a prophecy from three witches that one day he will become the King of Scotland, he is consumed by ambition, kills the king and spirals into madness. Filming took place across the UK and the Isle of Skye appears regularly.
The Wicker Man
A thriller about a policeman’s visit to an isolated island in search of a missing girl, only to find that Catholicism has been replaced with Pagan rituals which leaves him horrified. Filmed mostly in Scotland it’s a bizarre, weird but strangely good film. The climax of the film, the burning of the Wicker Man, took place at Burrow Head in Dumfries and Galloway. Dumfries and Galloway was actually used for a lot of the filming, as well as the beautiful village of Plockton in the Highlands.
No list would be complete without a little Disney and this story of a brave and courageous little flame haired girl roaming the hills and glens of Scotland, accompanied by a fantanstic film score will melt your heart. Set in 10th century Scotland young Merida is an archer, which is strictly against ancient customs. Although Brave is an animation the production team visited Scotland, including Dunnotter Castle, Edinburgh Castle, Loch Ness, the Calanais Standing Stones and Dun Carloway which no doubt inspired Brave's beautiful animated landscapes. The film won a BAFTA, an Oscar and a Golden Globe.
This black comedy directed by Danny Boyle shows viewers the dark and dingy side of Edinburgh, through the eyes of a heroin addict and his friends. It’s gross, heartbreaking and hilarious at the same time and was filmed in the city itself. The same Scottish actress who voices Merida in Brave also stars in Trainspotting, along with Ewan McGregor, Jonny Lee Miller and Robert Carlyle. Most of the filming was done in Edinburgh and Glasgow, the opening scene where Spud and Renton get chased by a security guard was filmed on Princes Street. The soundtrack is fantastic and is regularly within the top 10 of best movie soundtrack lists.
If you'd prefer to read books about Scotland here is a fantastic list by Wayfaring views, read here
Ok whilst not actually in Scotland but the magical fantasy world of Hogwarts, a lot of the filming was done here. You can spot Glencoe which makes a stunning backdrop in several of the films, The Hogwarts Express crossed Glenfinnan Viaduct, Loch Eilt was used for the exterior shots of Hogwarts and the actors camped at Loch Etive.
This comedy is based on a true story of a shipwreck off the coast of a Scottish Island. The island has run dry of it’s favourite spirit and when the islanders find out the ship is carrying 50,000 cases of whisky they decide to keep it, although the customs and excise team do not agree! The original film was released in 1949 and has just been remade (2016).
Although the story is pretty inaccurate this film was a huge hit when released, being nominated for 10 academy awards. Mel Gibson plays William Wallace who led the Scottish in the first war of Scottish independence. Expect hairy Scots in tartan kilts, fights and heaps of patriotic roaring. The guys love it.
A heart warming tale of how easy it is to fall in love with Scotland’s villages. A hot shot oil executive from the states arrives with plans to knock down a village and replace it with a refinery only to fall in love with the place.
The Da Vinci Code
Directed by Ron Howard and starring Tom Hanks this controversial film was released in 2006. It’s based on the book of the same name written by Dan Brown. The main characters investigate the murder of The Louvre curator and whilst doing so come across a mysterious set of clues to follow, leading them to London then to Rosslyn Chapel. The Chapel has had a huge increase in visitors since the book was released and Tom Hanks stated
“Rosslyn Chapel was all one could have imagined or hoped for”
Sunshine on Leith
In my opinion one of the best Scottish movies of all time, this cheery musical is based in Edinburgh. Released in 2013 it’s an adaption of a stage musical of the same name which is a jukebox of songs from The Proclaimers. This is a proper feel good film and I'll eat my left foot if you aren’t singing along as the cast dance and sing on the Mound to 500 miles.
Set in a secondary school in Cumbernauld this romantic coming-of-age drama follows awkward schoolboy Gregory as he falls for the girl who joins his football team. It's an oldie (1981) but is hilarious and cute and has always been a firm favourite by many in Scotland. With a tiny budget and a cast who mostly came from the Glasgow Youth Theatre this is no big, flash production but that's what makes it so good.
Mary, Queen of Scots
One of the most recent movies filmed in Scotland, Mary, Queen of Scots was released in 2018. Saoirse Ronan plays Mary, Queen of Scots with Margot Robbie playing Elizabeth I and the film focuses on the 1569 conflict between Scotland and England. Although there are a few historical inaccuracies, such as Mary and Elizabeth having never met in person, the film is gripping with fantastic music, amazing costumes and a lot of the movie was filmed in Scotland. North Berwick beach, Blackness Castle, Glencoe and the Cairngorms were all used as filming locations.
On a side note, Reign on Netflix also follows the conflict between Mary, Queen on Scots and Elizabeth I. It's not at all accurate and is a rather glamorous version of events but it's a nice watch for what it is.
What we did on our holiday
A comedy starring David Tennent and Billy Connolly, this film was released in 2014. Billy Connolly plays terminally ill Gordie, the family arrive int he highlands to throw a lavish party and things take a turn. Filming took place in Glasgow and the Highlands and the beach used was in Gairloch, one of my favourite beaches in Scotland (Read more about the beach here). As I write this, it is being shown on Netflix in the UK.
Another new film, released in 2018, is Outlaw King. This film caused quite a stir, mainly because we had Chris Pine walking our streets. Chris played King Robert the Bruce, the ‘Outlaw King’ who, with immense bravery and courage, defeated a much better equipped English army. The film begins in 1304 and take solace over a period of three years, when Robert the Brice decided to rebel against the English King, Edward I. If you are looking for films like Braveheart this one fits the bill, although it’s a lot bloodier and darker. Filming took place all over Scotland including Linlithgow Palace and Loch, the Ilse of Skye, Dunfermline Abbey, Glasgow Cathedral, Glencoe and Loch Lomond. At the time of writing this film is available of Netflix in the U.K.
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie
A young Maggie Smith plays a free spirited school teacher in this film which was released way back in 1969.The film is based in 1930's Edinburgh in a high school. It was filmed primarily at Edinburgh Academy but used lots of locations across the city including the Vennel, Greyfriars Churchyard and the Grassmarket. It's an old film but a classic.
Burk and Hare
This 2010 film follows the gruesome and infamous tale of William Burke and William Hare. This story is told often during ghost tours on dark Edinburgh nights, the story of two men who killed 16 people in order to sell their bodies to Robert Knox, a doctor, to use in his anatomy classes. They were both hung after being caught and the skeleton of William Burke is now displayed at the Anatomical Museum at the Edinburgh Medical School! I find this film does not really capture what would have been a dark and bloody time, but it roughly tells the tale so worth a watch.
Outlander - TV series
One of two huge Scottish TV programmes at the moment is Outlander. Originally a series of novels by American author Diana Gabaldon the series follows lead characters Jamie and Claire through time and continents. Jamie is a rugged Highlander and Clansman about to fight in the battle of Culloden and Claire, a nurse who helped injured soldiers during World War II. How did they meet? Well, you’ll have to watch the TV series to find out. Now showing season 4, Starz in the US and Amazon Prime in the U.K. is where it is being shown. The books are also well worth a read, especially to find out what happens next as there are still several seasons to be filmed
There you have it, the best Scottish movies of all time, in my opinion. Have I missed any? Which are your favourites? Let me know in the comments below.