Ireland, the Emerald Isle, is an untamed place of unrivaled beauty, towering mountains, rugged cliffs, and impressive terrain. With its historic stately homes, ancient castles, monastic ruins, miles of coastline, and green lush landscapes.
It is easy to see why Ireland is a natural choice for filmmakers in the movie industry, seeking unique, spectacular scenery, and breathtaking backdrops for their film productions.
Famous Movies Filmed in Ireland
While there are literally thousands of movies produced all over the world from Hollywood to London, from New Zealand to India, there are still many major productions that shoot their scenes in Ireland.
Here are some of the most popular movies filmed in the country of Ireland over the past several decades. So, What are famlous movies filmed in Ireland? They include epic blockbusters and dramas that are instantly recognizable –
- Star Wars
- Saving Private Ryan
- The Italian Job
- Harry Potter
This list is just a few, but there are many, many more. Not to mention the television productions that are also filmed all along the Irish shores. Most notably the hit series, Games of Thrones.
For this article, we will be focusing on movies only. Keep reading to find out which of your favorite films were shot using the breathtaking scenery provided only by the Emerald Isle.
8 Top Movies Filmed in Ireland
1. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
The 6th installment in the hugely popular ‘Harry Potter’ series and based on the books written by author J.K. Rowling. It was first released in 2009 and at that time the film broke all records for the biggest single day grossing film worldwide.
Maintaining its momentum, the ‘Half Blood Prince’ broke the 5-day record too. The film about the young wizard and his friends had made over 394 million dollars.
By the time it was done, profits had reached an astounding 943 million dollars making it the 8th most popular movie of all time and the 2nd highest grossing film of 2009.
The Cliffs of Moher
There is a scene in the film where Harry Potter and Dumbledore face off against evil on some rugged looking cliffs. The cliffs are in fact the Cliffs of Moher in County Clare and are one of the most visited attractions in Ireland. Stretching for a distance of 8 miles and over 700 feet high the cliffs provide a dramatic background for the movie.
After the epic battle, Dumbledore and Harry are seen standing together on a rock face. This is no longer the Cliffs of Moher but is, in fact, Lemon Rock located in County Kerry. The area is a hugely popular location for motorcycle riders and tours.
2. Star Wars: The Last Jedi
The 8th installment of the record-breaking Star Wars franchise and the 2nd installment of the Star Wars Sequel Trilogy. The film features Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, John Boyega, Daisy Ridly, Andy Serkis, and Domhnall Gleeson as well as others.
The Last Jedi was released in December 2017 and is one of the highest grossing films of all time reporting takings of $1.3 Billion worldwide and is the 2nd highest grossing film of the iconic Star Wars series.
Many of the scenes for Star Wars were filmed on Skellig Michael, a small, craggy island 8 miles off the coast of County Kerry. The island rises out of the sea and reaches towering heights of over 700 feet. It also features a unique, impressive, and dramatic coastline. There is a well-preserved remains of a 6th-century monastery on the island that was used for filming several scenes. Skellig Michael is a UNESCO world heritage site.
The Star Wars crew enjoyed their time in the Emerald Isle and there are stories of Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker) visiting local pubs to sample the Guinness and even pulling a pint or two for the other patrons.
This was the 2nd time that Skellig Michael had been visited by the Star Wars team. It had also been used as a filming location and featured in ‘The Force Awakens’ the prior installment of the series that was released in 2015.
3. Saving Private Ryan
The epic Steven Spielberg war film depicted the now famous Normandy Landings of World War II and starred Tom Hanks as Captain John H. Miller. Scenes were re-enacted of the Omaha Beach battle against German troops. With Hanks and his men searching desperately to locate private Ryan, played by Matt Damon.
The movie was released in 1998 and received critical acclaim winning Spielberg the Academy Award for Best Director and Tom Hanks a Best Actor nomination. The film received 11 Oscar nominations in total.
Steven Spielberg, the film’s director, wanted a beach that resembled the Omaha Beach as closely as possible. Finally, one was found on Ballinesker Beach. Located in the county of Wexford on the east coast of Ireland the beach was a close enough match and included features similar to the original. Miles of sandy beach and bordering sand dunes gave a good representation of the original World War II battleground.
Filming for Saving Private Ryan began in June 1997 and the crew remained to shoot the necessary scenes for a total of 2 months. Hanks, Spielberg, and the crew reenacted bloody battle scenes and depicted war time combat in striking detail.
Hanks was initially shaken by the scenes, going on record to say he knew it was just actors but did not expect the impact it had on him. Empire magazine named the films Omaha Beach landing scenes ‘the best battle scenes’ of all time.
4. King Arthur
This feature-length epic about King Arthur features Clive Owens as Arthur and Keira Knightly as Guinevere. Released in 2004 the film offers its own version of Arthurian legends, taking quite a bit of artistic license with some of the movies central characters and traditional stories. This may have contributed to the films less than warm reception.
Unfortunately, Arthur did not receive good reviews overall, and has just a 31% rating on movie review website, Rotten Tomatoes.
Even though the film was not well received some of the scenery and cinematography was impressive. Many of Arthurs scenes take place on Hadrian’s wall. A replica of which was built in Ballymore Eustace, County Kildare. A small town close to the border of County Wicklow.
A crew of over 300 craftsman and technicians recreated the wall, a fortress, and 2 villages using real stone and thatch for the roofs, attempting to make it all look as realistic as possible for the production. The wall reached over 35 feet high and 10 feet wide. Enough width was needed for the actors to walk upon. It was the largest movie set that had ever been constructed in Ireland.
The epic blockbuster which starred, and was directed and produced, by Mel Gibson. Set in the late 13th century the movie tells the story of the uprising of William Wallace and his followers against the British in Scotland.
Re-telling the events of the First War of Scottish Independence. The fight is waged against the British Army and King Edward I, known throughout history as ‘Longshanks’.
Released in 1995 Braveheart was well received by critics and moviegoers alike, and the picture has grossed in excess of $210 million worldwide. The movie was nominated for a total of 10 Academy Awards and won 5 of them, including Best Picture and Best Director.
Originally Mel Gibson was not to take part in Braveheart’s ‘mooning’ scene where the Scots bare their naked bottoms in derision and defiance of the British. However, after much peer pressure and mocking from his cast and crew, Gibson relented and participated in the movies famous scene.
Even though the entire movie is about the country of Scotland and its historic events, as well as featuring scenes taking place in England, the majority of the movie was actually filmed on location in the country of Ireland.
Trim Castle located in County Meath was used to replicate the ancient city of York, England for many of the film’s most important scenes. The castle is the largest Anglo-Norman Castle in Ireland dating back to the 1100s and taking over 30 years to build.
Bective Abbey was also used as a filming location for the film. Scenes of the princess talking to her maid take place at the site within the buildings historic walkways. The structure is a Cistercian Abbey located on the River Boyne and was founded in 1147.
The large and intense battle scenes of Braveheart were filmed on the Curragh, a 5000-acre flat tract of land in County Kildare. The area is used for horse racing events and as a racehorse training ground.
6.The Italian Job
This 1960’s classic was a comedic movie about a gold heist starring Michael Caine. Released in 1960 and voted as one of the Top 100 British Films by the British Film Institute.
Originally The Italian Job had a choice of 4 different endings but producer Michael Deely was unsatisfied with all of them and devised the ‘cliffhanger’ ending that the film leaves us with today.
The film was a comedic romp featuring a typically British style of humor and was ranked 14th most popular movie in 1969. It was unsuccessful in America, but still remains well known in the United Kingdom. It was remade in 2003 with an entirely new cast but it never gained the popularity of the original.
During the course of the movie, Michael Caines character ends up being sent to prison. The prison that was used for these scenes is, in fact, a real building, and is located in the city of Dublin, Ireland.
Kilmainham Gaol is an unoccupied jail and one of the largest in Europe. Built-in 1796 its unfortunate history includes the hanging of criminals, overcrowding and poor conditions, with women, men and children being crammed 5 to a small cell with no heat or light. Most recently the leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising were imprisoned and then executed there.
Kilmainham Gaol despite its dark history has been used for the filming of several movies with The Italian Job being the 3rd production that shot scenes at the location. Other notable movies including In The Name of The Father, The Escapist and the animated film Paddington 2 have used the interior of the jail to record scenes.
Most people do not know that before the blockbuster series of The Lord of The Rings was released starting in 2001, another filmmaker had planned to make a movie based on the J.R.R Tolkien book.
Academy Award nominee John Boorman had wanted to make the Lord of the Rings into a full feature film. Unfortunately, there was an issue with the funding of the film and he instead turned his hand to making Excalibur, a film based upon the legend of King Arthur.
It was an epic fantasy film released in 1981 and the production was filmed entirely on location in Ireland. Excalibur is regarded as a film of some importance in movie circles and is credited for launching the careers of several well-known actors including Patrick Stuart, Gabriel Byrne, and Liam Neeson.
The film also did much to boost Irish tourism with visitors arriving to see some of the recognizable filming locations that were featured in the movie.
As Excalibur was shot exclusively in and around the country of Ireland there are numerous locations that were employed for the film’s scenes. The sites were mainly located in the Counties of Tipperary, Kerry, and Wicklow.
Cahir Castle in County Tipperary was constructed in 1142 on an island in the river Suir and the building is quite well preserved to this day. It was used for a battle scene during the filming of Excalibur. The castle is a National Monument and has also been used to film television productions, most recently the Showtime series The Tudors has shot some of its scenes at Cahir Castle.
Powerscourt Estate in County Wicklow was used to film a fight scene with Lancelot. It is a 47-acre site featuring a striking country home and landscaped gardens. The house was originally a 13th-century castle and the owners began conversions in the 1700s. A fire devastated the building and it was left derelict for many years until it was finally renovated in 1996.
Powerscourt Waterfall is also part of the Powerscourt Estate and was used for Excalibur scenes. The waterfall is the highest in Ireland and flows continuously all year round.
Derrynane, County Kerry much of the rest of Excalibur was filmed at a location in and around Derrynane in County Kerry. Derrynane is located on the Iveragh Peninsula and famous for being the home of the Irish political leader Daniel O’Connell. His house is still located there and is a popular spot for visitors to Ireland.
8. Educating Rita
Another film starring Michael Caine, this time as a university professor. The movie also features Julie Walters as Rita, ‘an eager to learn but older than the usual student’. Rita is somewhat uneducated in the traditional sense but wants to better herself by understanding literature. Caine’s character is initially reluctant to help, and someone jaded. Rita helps him regain his love of literature through her limited knowledge but boundless enthusiasm.
Educating Rita was released in 1983 and was an instant success appealing to audiences far and wide. Caine and Walters both won BAFTA’s and Golden Globe awards for their performances as professor and student.
Financing for the film was difficult to get in the beginning, and there were some artistic difficulties with Colombia originally wanting to cast singer Dolly Parton in the role of Rita. Finally, Walters, who had already played the role of Rita on stage was cast for the part.
Trinity College in Dublin was used for the large majority of the film’s scenes. The college was founded in 1592 by Queen Elizabeth I, and is one of the oldest in the world. Its library is a legal depository that houses many printed works and manuscripts including ‘The Book of Kells’. Locations used at the college in Educating Rita were the rooms of the University Philosophical Society and the College Historical Society.
University College also located in Dublin was used as the site of Rita’s summer school in the production. It was founded in 1854 and was originally ‘The Catholic University of Ireland’.
Houses on Hogan Avenue and Burlington Road in the city of Dublin were used for the Caine and Walters’ homes in the movie. There was also a scene filmed in the Stags Head Pub on Dame Court, but the frontage of a different pub was used for exterior shots.
8. Far and Away
This epic romance drama adventure film starred Tom Cruise and his then-wife Nicole Kidman. Released in 1992 to mixed reviews, the critics were less than complimentary about the production. The movie was praised for the cinematography but somewhat criticized for the weak script and shallow storyline.
The story follows 2 Irish immigrants trying to make a life in America, hoping to claim free land in Oklahoma during the 1890s. Much of the movie was filmed in the USA in the state of Montana around Billings. After completing the needed scenes in America, the entire cast and crew traveled to Ireland to film the remainder of the production in Dublin.
Ardmore Studios in Bray, County Wicklow south of Dublin was used to film the interior scenes of Far and Away. Ardmore is Ireland’s only 4 walled studio and has been used in the filming of many well-known productions.
City of Dublin – the streets of Ireland capital city were used to recreate the streets of 1800’s Boston, USA. Cruise and Kidman’s characters arrival in the city of ‘Boston’ was actually filmed behind the famous Guinness brewery on Market Street in Dublin.
Kilruddery Estate – was used for scenes in Far and Away to create the wealthy landowner’s estate. Kilruddery is a working house and farm that has been home to 16 generations of the Brabazon family.
Dingle Peninsula – a 30-mile mountain covered peninsula in County Kerry that contains the 2nd largest mountain peak in Ireland. Far and Away used locations on the peninsula to shoot Cruise and Kidman’s coastal scenes.
It’s easy to see that for many film production companies, producers, and directors that Ireland is firmly on their list of viable movie locations.
Currently, there are multiple films awaiting the green light to go ahead with their production. Many others are actively being filmed in and around the country, while some have already been completed and are now in post-production.
The list of actors, directors, and celebrities that have visited the shores of Ireland to film or produce their movies is almost unlimited.
The landscape of the Emerald Isle provides amazing backgrounds, wild seascapes, and historic castles, that in the movie would translate to on-screen dramatic effects, and stunning cinematography. Given that kind of impact, it would appear that the movie industry will continue to visit Ireland and record their epic feature films for many years to come.