London is a magical city in many ways, steeped as it is in centuries of history. It can also be a crowded, sooty, confusing place.
The Beatles are, of course, best known for their music… but honestly, they were pretty good comedians, too. A Hard Day’s Night is legitimately funny as the Fab Four head to London for a TV performance. They’re joined by Paul’s grandfather, a cantankerous old cuss who gets the lads into all kinds of scrapes. It’s delightful to hear their Liverpool accents, too!
If you think about it, The King’s Speech is basically just a gender-swapped My Fair Lady. Colin Firth stars as King George VI on the eve of World War II. He struggles with a stutter but knows that he must step up and be the kind of inspirational leader who can guide his country through one of its most difficult crises. Equal parts rousing, funny, and heartfelt, The King’s Speech is exactly the kind of move that shines during awards season. It won Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, and Best Original Screenplay at the Oscars that year.
There’s nothing spookier than an evil child, and Damien is so terrible that his name has become synonymous with the devil. Although the couple at the center of this film (played by Gregory Peck and Lee Remick) are Americans, they’re posted in London for the majority of the film. There’s a decent amount of 1970s sightseeing to be done amid all the horror.
Read More: The Rules for Surviving a Horror Movie
Before Richard Curtis made the cloying sweet Love Actual, he wrote Four Weddings and a Funeral. This movie is one of my all-time favorites (despite Andie McDowell’s leaden line readings). Hugh Grant is utterly charming as Charles, a “serial monogamist” who can’t seem to find the right woman. Told through a series of encounters at different weddings—four of them, in fact—the film is laugh-out-loud funny and surprisingly poignant.
The relationship between Gareth (Simon Callow) and Matthew (John Hannah) is one the best representations of gay romance from the decade… well, if you ignore the “bury your gays” ending to their story. Still, it’s a cracking good film and one of the best romcoms of the 90s.
A Fish Called Wanda reunites Monty Python’s John Cleese and Michael Palin in a heist comedy about a team of dysfunctional thieves who attempt to steal millions in diamonds. Jamie Lee Curtis is an oddly cheerful femme fatale as she strings along three different men, including her “brother” Otto (don’t worry, they’re not actually related) and an uptight barrister. It’s a legitimately great movie—just don’t bother with the sorta-sequel, Fierce Creatures.
Night and the City is an incredible—albeit unflattering—portrait of London. Although 1950 was a little late for the film noir era, director Jules Dassin brings the bleak underworld of London to life. The film follows Harry Fabian, an American con man living in London, as he tries and fails to score big. Be advised that the American and British versions of the movie have different endings, though the director has said that he prefers the darker American cut.
Read More: Slip Into the Shadows With These Film Noir Classics
My Beautiful Laundrette puts the focus on a queer interracial relationship—not exactly a typical subject for Thatcher-era England. Even more unusual is the fact that they both survive until the end of the movie. Daniel Day-Lewis is a street punk in a fascist gang, and Gordon Warnecke is a young man being pressured by his Pakistani family to make something of himself. Together, the unlikely couple takes on the task of renovating a laundromat. Along the way, there’s a ton of drama and a fair amount of violence, but ultimately, My Beautiful Laundrette leans slightly closer to romance than drama.
Based on the John le Carré novel, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a tense thriller starring most of the UK’s best actors of the last decade. It takes place in the 1970s, a truly unlovely time in London, in a world of grey skies, grey buildings, and grey men. Gary Oldman stars as George Smiley, a retired spy who is tasked with ratting out a mole in the highest levels of British Intelligence. You won’t guess the ending, but it’s so much fun to try.
I’m not a huge fan of zombie movies, but I have to admit that Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later is an incredible achievement. Taking place in a deserted England during the aftermath of a zombie apocalypse, it stars Cillian Murphy as a man trying to make sense of a world gone mad. The film opens in an empty, ravaged London—a sight made even more eerie post-2020. Boyle didn’t consider this to be a zombie film, although he was heavily inspired by Night of the Living Dead. It’s safe to say that without the success of 28 Days Later, the zombie genre wouldn’t have returned to popularity.
That’s right, I’m saying that Austin Powers is a great movie. Although the franchise declined steadily in quality, the first film is a comedy classic. The late 90s were a non-stop Austin Power quote-a-rama, for better or worse. It’s a movie that wouldn’t get made today, gone the way of the dinosaur just like the 60s secret agent films it parodied.
There have been a lot of adaptations of A Christmas Carol, but the Muppets version might just be the best. The Muppets manage to balance self-aware humor with genuine emotion—not an easy feat. It helps that Michael Caine is the perfect actor to star as Ebenezer Scrooge. Although it was only a modest success at the time, this Victorian Christmas card of a movie has gone on to be a family classic.
Malcolm McDowell is chilling as Alex DeLarge in A Clockwork Orange, the leader of a gang of nihilistic youths in a dystopian, near-future London. It’s one of those movies that you should watch at least once if you’re a film buff, but it’s an intense trip. What else would you expect from Stanley Kubrick? The film was so shockingly violent that it was actually pulled from cinemas in the UK.
While the musical adaptation of George Bernard Shaw’s play, My Fair Lady, is much more well-known, I prefer the non-musical film from 1938. Wendy Hiller is superb as Eliza Doolittle, and Leslie Howard is equally charming and infuriating as Henry Higgins. No shade on Audrey Hepburn, but she was terribly miscast as the cockney flower girl who was turned into a lady by the power of grammar.
Why wasn’t Attack the Block a bigger movie? Starring John Boyega, Nick Frost, and Jodie Whittaker, this horror-action-comedy about an alien invasion takes place on a council estate in South London. That’s about as far as possible from the posh, touristy areas usually featured in Lond-based films. It’s truly a shame that it was a dud at the box office, which is likely due to a lack of promotion. Director Joe Cornish would go on to co-write Ant-Man, while Boyega would shortly land the role of Finn in The Force Awakens.
While we’re talking about Nick Frost movies, we can’t overlook Shaun of the Dead. I don’t want to oversell it by saying this is a perfect movie, but… Edgar Wright’s ability to combine genres that have no business making sense together is truly legendary. While I preferred Hot Fuzz simply because I’m squeamish about zombies, Shaun of the Dead is best summed up as “Office Space, but British and with zombies.” Just watch it.
It’d be an international crime to leave off James Bond from this list. Although the film takes place across multiple locations, a large percentage of it unfolds in London to spectacular effect. Any chance a big-budget action flick gets to blow up major landmarks, right? One of the best sequences is the tense chase through the Underground, an already claustrophobic place made nearly unbearable as Bond and the villain play cat-and-mouse.
Read More: New James Bond Author Hopes to Modernize the World’s Favorite Spy
Okay, this is cheating a little bit, but it’s not every film that’s so massive it actually leaves a permanent mark on a city. At King’s Cross station in London, you can pose for a photo op with a half-vanished luggage trolley under the sign for Platform 9 ¾. Well, you can after waiting in a very long queue of other tourists. Despite the issues that have since come to light about this franchise and its creator, it’s hard to deny the magic of seeing the Wizarding World collide with present-day London.