The Best Scottish Films
For a country of only 5 million people, Scotland has a great film back catalogue, from historical epics, crime dramas, dark comedies, to simple tales of life in Scotland. Scotland's stunning landscapes make for some amazing cinematography and even after nearly 40 years, films like "Local Hero" still drive tourism to this day.
Let's go through some of the best Scottish films in order of date and maybe they will whet your appetite for a visit to some of the filming locations featured on this extensive list. Also included is the age rating for each film.
My recommended Scottish Film list:
Robert the Bruce (2019 / 15)
This film is a spiritual successor to 1995's Braveheart, lead actor Angus Macfadyen resumes his role as Robert the Bruce, a 14th century Scottish King.
The budget for this film was obviously much lower without the enormous battle scenes normally associated with historical films, but there are some great actors and storytelling here and worth a watch to learn more about Scottish history even if it is a little less grandiose than usual.
Avengers: Endgame (2019 / PG)
Although not a wholly produced and Scottish based film, significant scenes for Avengers: Endgame was filmed here. St Abbs was chosen as the location for the fictional "New Asgard", home of Thor in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Outlaw King (2018 / 18)
This is a great standalone movie about Robert the Bruce, from the death of William Wallace to Bruce becoming King of Scotland. Chris Pine actually does a great job of the accent and is a convincing Bruce... some liberties are taken with historical inaccuracies... and I think the real Bruce would have been a lot more bloodthirsty and unforgiving than portrayed here (even though he stabs someone in cold blood!)... but overall it's a fun watch and includes great Scottish locations within the videography.
Mary Queen of Scots (2018 / 15)
A beautifully shot film about Mary Queen of Scots, Queen of Scotland from 1542. Saoirse Ronan accurately portrays Mary and Margot Robbie, Queen Elizabeth, the main antagonist in the film.
The film does suffer from its own historical inaccuracies (I don't think Mary ever donned a suit of armour and fought in battle!) but it's a good insight into her life and untimely demise.
Wild Rose (2018 / 15)
A Glaswegian woman sentenced to prison for drug dealing, struggles with life upon her release, juggling a job and two children from a failed relationship. She finds escape from her situation through singing and tries to make her way to Nashville to become a country star.
Scotland does have problems with poverty in the cities and this film illustrates well how hard life and be for many on the breadline. If you're looking for a heartwarming uplifting tale give it a try. Great performances from Jessie Buckley and Julie Walters.
Edie (2017 / 12A)
An inspirational wee tale of an old woman determined to climb Suilven, one of Scotland's most iconic mountains. A great relationship forms between her (Sheila Hancock as Edie) and her trainer and guide, Jonny (Kevin Guthrie). No special effects bonanza to be had here, just a nice story with good acting, worth a look.
The Legend of Barney Thomson (2015 / 15)
An awesome black comedy with Robert Carlyle and Emma Thompson set in Glasgow. A barber living a life of mediocrity finds himself at the centre of the world of a serial killer... the plot is quite fantastical and unbelievable, but it's a fun story and keeps you interested... and you can never go wrong with at Robert Carlyle film.
Sunshine on Leith (2013 / PG)
A musical set in Scotland with songs by The Proclaimers? Count me in! The story centres around two soldiers returning from war in Afghanistan, trying to reintegrate into society. It's a bit cheesy and predictable but lighthearted and fun too, some easy watching (and listening) if you are in a whimsical mood.
Under the Skin (2013 / 15)
An utterly bizarre film starring Scarlett Johannson as some kind of alien in human form, seducing men in Glasgow and killing them (I think). So does this alien use some kind of high tech spaceship or superhuman powers to slay her victims? Nope! She drives about in a white transit van picking up her unsuspecting victims (no lie!). I think there are even parts with real people, unaware they were being filmed, but their real reactions have been included in the film.
It's a really artsy/weird film, but also quite compelling and fascinating in a way, and pushes sci-fi in a much needed new direction... recommended but go into it expecting a different kind of experience.
Filth (2013 / 18)
In another movie by the writer Irvine Welsh, we follow the troubled life of Bruce, played by James Mcavoy. Bruce is a corrupt and drug-addicted Edinburgh police detective, and we follow the disintegration of his life as he tries to win a promotion, sabotaging his contemporaries at every turn, all while trying to solve a murder and reconnect with his ex-wife.
Although very disturbing, it is a fun movie to watch, seeing the machinations of a crazy mind and the lengths he will go to, to achieve his goals. His bullying of his "best friend" Bladesey (Eddie Marsan) is particularly hard viewing. Recommended but contains a lot of adult themes, violence, gore and profanity.
The Angel’s Share (2012 / 15)
From director Ken Loach, The Angels Share follows Robbie, a new father determined to change his life after avoiding a jail sentence. Themes include important issues such as alcoholism, poverty, drug abuse, and gang culture in Glasgow.
A good watch with some lesser-known Scottish actors, worth a look.
Brave (2012 / PG)
Finally, a huge animated Disney film based in Scotland. Merida the protagonist is the latest in a long line of Disney princesses and has long red hair and a thick accent to go with it. Kelly Macdonald and Billy Connolly drive the film with their fantastic voice acting, along with Emma Thompson, Kevin McKidd and the great Robbie Coltrane.
It's kind of annoying that Merida is the butt of jokes for her Scottish accent in some other Disney films (Wreck-it Ralph 2), but it's nice Scotland gets some representation in the animated leagues of Disney.
Scottish singer Julie Fowlis performs the singing parts of the film, she is awesome and well worth checking out on Youtube and Spotify.
Skyfall (2012 / 12A)
Not really a Scottish film, but has many scenes filmed in Scotland, so hey why not list it here. James Bond is in fact Scottish and returns to his ancestral home to make a last stand against the bad guys.
There is an iconic scene with Bond and Judi Dench's "M" at Glencoe that many fans try to replicate on social media. A good Bond film that showcases some great locations in the Scottish Highlands.
Neds (2010 / 18)
It's been a few years since I've seen this film, but I remember finding it disturbing but also compelling to see what happens to the main character in the end. A "NED" in Scotland is a nickname for "non-educated delinquent", not a nice term that has been applied to a certain group of individuals in towns and cities over Scotland.
The story follows Conor McCarron in the 1970s as a brilliant student at school, but street gangs and an abusive home life lead him down the wrong path into becoming a thug with horrible repercussions. Hard watching but all too familiar to those living in the poorer areas of Scotland at that time, and even today.
Stone of Destiny (2008 / PG)
A fun wee movie set in the 1950s following a group of students who want to steal the "Stone of Destiny" or "Stone of Scone" traditionally used in the coronation of Scottish royalty. Based on a true story we follow 4 friends' plot to steal the stone from Westminster Abbey and regain the stone for Scotland. Also, Charlie Cox of Daredevil fame is in this!? Easily the best of the Netflix Marvel Cinematic Universe TV shows.
The Descent (2005 / 18)
A nice wee horror flick set in Scotland, a woman goes caving and discovers bloodthirsty humanoid creatures... not a film for the claustrophobic, but a thrilling movie with scary nosferatu like creatures in an underground setting. Thankfully Scotland does not have a cannibalistic underground subspecies (unless you count the midges), so it's still safe to visit!
Morvern Callar (2002 / 15)
A study into the effects of loss and grief, the story follows Morven Callar as a woman dealing with the death of her boyfriend who leaves her money and a valuable novel to publish in her own name. A different kind of film that prompted feelings in me in a similar way to Ratcatcher below by the same director Lynne Ramsay.
Sweet Sixteen (2002 / 18)
A young Martin Compston of "Line of Duty" fame, stars in this Glasgow life story about a young man trying to make a better life for himself and his mother. Crazy money-making schemes lead him into all kinds of trouble in this dark but compelling drama.
Ratcatcher (1999 / 15)
Another story set in 1970s Glasgow, I caught this on TV a few years ago and ended up watching the entire film. It really drew me in and I learned a lot about Glasgow at this time and the squalid conditions many people lived in.
This film is set during a binman strike, so large piles of garbage lie next to council flats and rats are a plague on the city. We see life in Glasgow at this time from the viewpoint of James, his horrific living conditions and home life with his alcoholic father played by the fantastic Tommy Flanagan (later famous for Sons of Anarchy).
Super bleak, but amazing cinematography, characterisation and story, definitely worth a look. You know a film is good when you are still thinking about it days later, and this film had that effect on me. Directed by Lynne Ramsay, it's one of the best films to come out of Scotland, I'm not sure how I missed it in 1999.
My Name is Joe (1998 / 15)
Another superb Ken Loach movie, again about life in a Glasgow neighbourhood. An unemployed alcoholic (Peter Mullan) tries to get his life back on track sparking a romance with a health worker. A slightly depressing study into love, poverty and addiction, but a good story and masterly crafted.
Loch Ness (1996 / PG)
If you intend to visit Loch Ness upon your visit to Scotland, "Loch Ness" might be a nice primer to the monster legend. Ted Danson adds star power to this nice family film and plays a scientist sent to prove or disprove the monster's existence with "the latest technology".
A simple, sweet film with some lovely shots of Loch Ness and the surrounding area.
Trainspotting (1996 / 18)
Maybe the most iconic film on this list that became a cultural phenomenon in the mid-90s, boosted on the wave of the Britpop music scene and slick directing style of Danny Boyle.
Ewan McGregor was launched into superstardom with his portrayal of Renton, a heroin addict trying to find a way out of drugs and poverty in Edinburgh. Although there are comedic elements to the movie, gritty drama is at its heart with some truly gut-wrenching scenes.
Based on Irvine Welsh's novel, Trainspotting also launched many other Scottish actor's careers including Robert Carlyle, Kevin McKidd, Euan Bremner, Kelly Macdonald and Johnny Lee Miller.
A sequel was released in 2017, picking up some of the plot threads from the 90s film. It's a good film but doesn't quite reach the heights of its predecessor.
Braveheart (1995 / 15)
Easily the most maligned film on this list and probably the most well-known film set in Scotland, you either love it or loathe it. Only loosely based on William Wallace and Scottish history we have blue-faced warriors and other historical inaccuracies... but unfortunately, some facts are true such as the brutal "hung, drawn and quartering" scene at the end of the movie.
The music and cinematography are lovely though, and many great Scottish actors feature such as Brian Cox and James Cosmo. Mel Gibson stars and directs.
The battle scenes do get the Scottish blood pumping and the fight for independence still remains in many Scot's hearts today, 700 years later.
Rob Roy (1995 / 15)
Long before mega-stardom in "Star Wars" and "Taken", Liam Neeson starred in Rob Roy, a film about the historical figure from the 1700s in Scotland. Essentially the Scottish Robin Hood, the film takes us through the life of Robert Roy MacGregor who is outlawed after being falsely charged with robbery. Rob Roy is heavily romanticised in this film, even though in reality he was probably a cold-blooded killer... he is considered a hero in Scotland and features greatly in the Trossachs National Park marketing campaigns. His grave is maintained and visited by Scots and tourists.
It's a nice film showcasing the best of the Scottish landscapes, and Tim Roth is a wonderful baddie as the dastardly Archibald Cunningham.
Shallow Grave (1994 / 18)
Another dark comedy crime film set in Edinburgh following three friends who find a suitcase full of money in their new flatmate's room... unfortunately he is also dead! I won't spoil what happens next but if you like dark comedies give it a whirl you might enjoy it. Also stars pre mega fame actors Christopher Eccleston and Ewan Mcgregor.
Highlander (1986 / 15)
Ooft I was blown away when I saw this film... immortal beings, sword fighting, awesome Queen soundtrack... in Scotland!? It was such a joy having a big blockbuster be set in your own country and be able to identify local areas in it you could actually visit, such as Eilean Donan castle and other hotspots along the west coast.
It's not to everyone's tastes being an odd mishmash of history and sci-fi with a rocking soundtrack, and the flamboyant character played by Sean Connery is a bit odd and out of place, but I loved it, switch your brain off and just enjoy. Let's not speak about the sequels though.
I also enjoyed the spin-off Highlander TV show starring Adrian Paul, which was often shown at 2 AM on Grampian TV.
Restless Natives (1985 / PG)
A fun comedic adventure following two friends who rob tourists in the Scottish Highlands. Becoming modern-day robin hoods they give money to the poor while being chased by law enforcement. It's a silly premise but a fun film and worth a look.
Comfort and Joy (1984 / PG)
This Scottish comedy film is about a turf war between two Italian families in Glasgow selling ice cream from ice cream trucks. Based on the real ice cream truck violence between drug gangs in Glasgow, this film doesn't follow that and is light-hearted and fun. An odd idea for a film but it's good for a few laughs.
Local Hero (1983 / PG)
Pretty much the quintessential Scottish movie and really put Scotland on the map for America and the wider world. The film showcases Scotland with beautifully shot scenes at Camusdarach Beach (Morar) and Pennan on the northeast Aberdeenshire Coast.
The story revolves around "Mac" an oil executive sent by a wealthy American oil company to investigate offshore oil deposits in Scotland. He gets won over by Scotland and it's people, even taking in the Northern Lights in one scene.
It's a charming film with standout performances from Peter Riegert and Burt Lancaster (who steals the show despite having a small role). The soundtrack is also composed by Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits, this alone makes the movie worth a watch. Bill Forsyth directs.
Pennan still receives many visitors to this day, who make the pilgrimage to the red telephone box used in the film, and Scottish tourism, in general, has been significantly boosted by this film alone.
Gregory’s Girl (1980 / PG)
An early 80s classic in Scotland, this film was always one of the "rainy day" films rolled out on the ancient CRT TV at my secondary school via clunky old VHS tape. It's a fun quirky coming of age film, with the central character (Gregory played by John Gordon Sinclair) failing at football on the school team, a girl joining the team shows him up - romance and hilarity ensue.
It's a charming film and gives an accurate depiction of Scotland at that time, with the fashions and school life.
That Sinking Feeling (1979)
A black comedy about a group of Glasgow lads looking to steal some stainless steel sinks and make some quick money! A silly plot but some great jokes and late 70s shots of Glasgow.
Just Another Saturday (1975 / 12)
A drama about the Orange Order and their marches through Glasgow. John McNeil was is initially eager to take part in leading the parade, but begins to see another side to the Orange Order and grows more and more disillusioned.
The Wicker Man (1973 / 18)
This is the original version of the film, not the newer Nicholas Cage version, following a policeman looking to find a missing girl on a remote Scottish island. Pagan rituals and a creepy performance by Christopher Lee make this an all-time horror classic.
Wee Geordie (1955)
A nice wee story about Geordie, a Scottish boy who through bodybuilding and self-improvement gains a spot on the UK Olympic team at the hammer throw in the 1956 Olympic Games in Australia. A charming wee story from a simpler time.
Brigadoon (1954 / U)
During a hunting trip in Scotland, two Americans discover the magical village of Brigadoon that only appears for one day every 100 years. Although set in Scotland, this was, unfortunately, all shot in an elaborate studio, their loss!
Whisky Galore (1949)
This old comedy film is set on a fictitious Scottish island on the west coast. The cunning islanders plan to steal 50,000 cases of Whisky left on a stranded ship.
This is a delightful film and must have been a great morale booster in the years following world war 2. It's actually based on a true story of the S/S Politician sinking off the coast of Eriskay in the Outer Hebrides which contained 250,000 bottles of whisky, bound for Jamaica.
A modern remake was released in 2016 but it isn't as good as the original.
The 39 Steps (1935)
The oldest movie on this list was directed by the great Alfred Hitchcock. The espionage plot involves Robert, a man who takes in a spy on the run, but when she is killed he fears he will be accused of murder. Robert heads to Scotland to save himself and top-secret information from getting into the wrong hands.
What are the UK film classifications?
Scotland as part of the UK shares the same film classification certificate system:
- Universal / U - Suitable for all viewers including young children.
- Parental Guidance / PG - Suitable for most viewers but may have a few unsuitable or frightening moments. Children of 8 or older is a good guide.
- 12A - This is for children aged 12 or over, but must be in the presence of an adult to watch the material.
- 12 - Must be 12 years or older, may watch without an adult.
- 15 - Suitable for 15 years or older, will contain more mature themes.
- 18 - Only suitable for adults and will contain the worst violence/profanity/portrayals of drug use.
- R18 - Restricted items such as extreme pornography.
I hope this extensive list of Scottish movies has been useful and given you some new ideas for some to check out. I think there's something for everyone on this list. Have I missed any out?
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Hi, please leave a comment below, or why not start a discussion on the forum?
13th of July 2022 @ 19:20:33
Yes brilliant! Have seen most of them but always on the lookout for others - and I'm not even Scottish! (though in the past have also been based in Moray) Many thanks for the list.