Hollywood in Prague, Part 1 – The Exploits of Ethan Hunt
Have you ever watched a big Hollywood or international film and thought: That looks familiar, I wonder where they filmed it? Well, to Prague-dwellers, this happens quite a lot. The Czech Republic (and Prague in particular) emerged from behind the Iron Curtain as one of the most attractive places for Western productions to film, for several reasons: 1) great combination of historical and natural sites to spice up your locations, 2) some of the best film studios in the former Eastern block, 3) very experienced and talented film crews your Hollywood production can outsource to (because they’re, you know, much cheaper). This is why we decided, for the film buffs among our readers, to do an intermittent serial about the most famous international or Hollywood productions filmed in Prague/CR so that you can extend your sightseeing plans to include the spot where Jon Voight (ok, his stuntman) toppled off the Charles Bridge in Mission: Impossible or the Prague location of the British House of Commons in Casino Royale.
Films (and TV shows, for all of you Outlander fans out there!) at least partially shot in Prague generally fall into one of the following categories:
- Prague playing Prague – generally just one of many stops in a world-hopping spy thriller (Mission: Impossible, Bourne Identity, Spider-Man: Far from Home, XXX)
- Prague playing Prague and several other places because who has the budget to travel, really? (Casino Royale, Eurotrip)
- Prague playing anything vaguely historically looking, most often Vienna, Paris or Budapest (Amadeus, Outlander season 2, Hannibal Rising, La Mome, The Illusionist), sometimes London (A Knight’s Tale – though that was mostly studio-shot)
So, without further ado, let’s look at the first big Hollywood blockbuster shot in Prague: Mission: Impossible (1996). Now, you might say that Amadeus (1984) was a big-budget western production shot in Prague even before Ethan Hunt’s first exploit, why is that one not the first on your list? Well, because that was just our local Miloš Forman bringing a team over in the 80s since he knew what he was getting into, not a proper “big Hollywood goes to Prague”. But rest assured we’ll get to Amadeus later.
Back to Mission: Impossible. The film opens with a 50-minute Prague-set sequence (covering the entirety of the first act and even nibbling into the second, depending on where you draw the line) which we will now examine in detail. The party at the US embassy in Prague was, surprising no one, not shot at the actual US embassy (that would really be an impossible mission considering all their various security protocols) but at 2 different locations: the Liechtenstein Palace on the Kampa island was used for exteriors while the National Museum several kilometres away for the monumental staircase-filled interiors. This is good news for the M:I enthusiasts because it means that you can feast your eyes on the monumental Liechtenstein Palace to begin with, then stroll around all the other locations we’re about to enlighten you about and then buy a ticket to the newly refurbished National Museum to check out not only the cool-looking atrium with the staircases you saw in the movie but also their many new and surprisingly good expositions, not to mention the cupola with some amazing views of Prague.
Anyway, after you feasted your eyes on the Liechtenstein palace, you can walk around to the northern edge of the building adjacent to the river – there you’ll find the “exit” from the building used in the film and you can pretty much follow Ethan Hunt’s footsteps as he runs around the Kampa neighbourhood and witnesses his team being murdered. If you walk along the river towards the Charles Bridge, you’ll pass the gate where Sarah gets stabbed, then you can walk to the Kampa square (where Hannah’s car exploded) and up the stairs to the Charles Bridge to the spot where Jim meets his apparent demise and enjoy the views from the bridge. The phone booth Ethan uses to call Kittridge is obviously not there anymore (there are almost no phone booths left anywhere in Prague), but it would have been about 1 kilometre to the south of Kampa, at the little bridge leading to Dětský ostrov.
After the death of his team, Ethan Hunt meets Kittridge at a pretty restaurant at the Old Town Square called Akvárium (The Aquarium) – the restaurant was only a set built (and exploded) on a soundstage, so you can run across the square mimicking Tom Cruise’s panicky sprint out of the exploding restaurant, but that is as much as you can relive from that particular bit of the movie. When Ethan is returning to his safehouse right after though, it’s the house closest to the river at Platnéřská street, which you can easily incorporate into your walk from the Charles Bridge to the Old Town Square. The tunnel Ethan emerges from leads only to the river (where you can take a boat tour!), so we are not sure what he was supposed to be doing there…
You can leave the square through Celetná Street which will take you to the Powder Tower and the side entrance and balcony of the Municipal House used for the exterior shots of Max’s hideout. From there, visit the corner of Nekazanka and Prikopy – this meeting point with Max is accurately described in the movie, both street names are real even though there is no bus stop now (perhaps there was one in the nineties). The interiors of Max’s apartments were shot at the Europa Hotel at the Wenceslas Square, a short walk through Prikopy and up the long square. This means it’s right in your way if you’re aiming to hit the National Museum at the top of the square afterwards. You can find all the locations mentioned above in the map here as little purple film icons.
Of course, this is still Prague – you’ll find a number of great pubs along the way if you find yourself feeling thirsty, or just craving beer. Don’t look for international beer labels but drink local: look for pub signs featuring Pilsner Urquell (this author’s favourite!), Kozel, Staropramen, Gambrinus or Budweiser Budvar (we’ll look into Czech beers and their specifics some other time, but don’t worry – the American and Czech Budweisers share only the name, not the flavour or lack thereof).
Do you have any questions? Does anything seem to not exactly correspond to the reality? Is there a particular film or TV show you’d like us to look at? Let us know!