Eleven Films Set in Greece


This past week while traveling in Greece, I learned about the Cruise of the Kings, which occurred in the summer of 1954. Queen Frederica and King Pavlos of Greece organized a tour of the Greek Islands for European royal families. Royalty from Belgium, Austria, Denmark, Italy, Bulgaria, France, Hanover, Hesse, Savoy, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Spain, Luxembourg, and more were aboard. The Queen later admitted that one goal was to encourage romance among the young people of the families. However, the press coverage had an even more lasting effect by introducing the Greek islands as tourist destinations. (Why hasn’t a film been made about this extraordinary cruise on a royal yacht?) 

Seventy years later, here we are! 

Films and television series, such as White Lotus and Game of Thrones, inspire so much travel now. We wanted to highlight some of the most famous movies set in Greece, filmed in Greece, or celebrating Greek culture.

I prepared this post before my trip and learned a lot while curating this roster. For example, my Big Fat Greek Wedding is neither set in Greece nor filmed there. (Who knew, right?!) Another mentioned below used CGI, computer-generated imagery, to recreate ancient Greece. Some filmed decades ago capture areas of Greece as they were then, which is pretty neat.

So, if you’ve got a heart full of Greek wanderlust, get yourself armed with a bowl of popcorn because I’m excited to share a cinematic journey through Greece’s splendor. Join me as we rediscover the magic of Greece from the comfort of your own home. And let me know which is your favorite.

Without further adieu, we present eleven films to inspire your next trip to Greece in chronological order.

1 || Boy on a Dolphin (1957)

Boy on a Dolphin is a 1957 adventure film directed by Jean Negulesco and starring Sophia Loren, Alan Ladd, and Clifton Webb. The story follows Phaedra, a young woman living on the Greek island of Hydra, who discovers an underwater statue of a boy riding a dolphin while diving for sponges. Phaedra hopes to sell the figure to raise money for herself and her boyfriend. Still, she soon finds herself caught up in a web of intrigue involving an American archaeologist and a wealthy art collector. Finally, the film reaches a happy conclusion, with virtue rewarded, the statue celebrated by the people of Hydra and the right lovers together.

The film is notable for its stunning location shooting in Greece, which showcases the Aegean Sea’s natural beauty and Hydra’s picturesque architecture. It was also one of Sophia Loren’s first English-language roles, which helped establish her as a rising star in Hollywood.

Boy on a Dolphin received mixed reviews upon its release. Some critics praised the film’s exotic setting and romantic storyline, while others criticized it for its simplistic plot and uneven pacing. Nevertheless, it remains a beloved classic for fans of old-fashioned adventure films and showcases Sophia Loren’s undeniable screen presence.

They filmed on location in Greece, primarily on the islands of Hydra and Póros.

2 || Never on Sunday (1960)

Never on Sunday is a 1960 Greek romantic comedy-drama film directed by Jules Dassin. He also co-wrote and starred in the movie alongside his wife, Greek actress Melina Mercouri. The story follows Homer, an American intellectual and classicist who travels to Greece in search of his friend’s missing sister, only to become enamored with a free-spirited Greek prostitute named Ilya, played by Mercouri.

The film explores themes of cultural clashes and personal liberation as Homer attempts to reform Ilya’s behavior and persuade her to give up her profession. At the same time, Ilya challenges his conceptions of morality and happiness. The film’s iconic score, composed by Manos Hatzidakis, won an Academy Award for Best Original Song for Never on Sunday.

Never on Sunday was a major commercial and critical success upon its release. It became one of the highest-grossing foreign-language films of its time and earned Melina Mercouri an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress. In addition, the film helped to popularize Greek cinema worldwide and established Melina Mercouri as a cultural icon and political activist, as she later served as Greece’s Minister of Culture. The film features several iconic Greek landmarks, such as the Parthenon and the Acropolis, and numerous shots of the city’s vibrant street life and bustling waterfront.

Filmed primarily on location in Greece, specifically in Piraeus and the nearby island of Hydra.

3 || Zorba the Greek (1964)

Zorba the Greek is a 1964 drama film directed by Michael Cacoyannis, based on the novel of the same name by Nikos Kazantzakis. The film stars Anthony Quinn as Alexis Zorba, a charismatic and free-spirited Greek peasant who befriends an uptight British writer named Basil, played by Alan Bates.

The story follows Basil as he travels to Crete to take over a lignite mine he has inherited from his father and hires Zorba as a foreman. Through their friendship, Basil learns to embrace life and find joy in the present moment, as Zorba teaches him to dance, sing, appreciate life’s simple pleasures, and eliminate his writer’s block. The film also touches on love, loss, and the clash between tradition and modernity.

Zorba the Greek was a critical and commercial success, winning three Academy Awards, including Best Supporting Actress for Lila Kedrova, who played Madame Hortense, a French courtesan who becomes involved with Zorba. The film is also remembered for its iconic score by Mikis Theodorakis, which features the popular instrumental piece “Sirtaki” and its portrayal of Greek culture and customs. The character of Zorba has become a cultural archetype, representing the archetypal free-spirited Greek man, and the film has remained a classic of world cinema.

Filmed in Crete, Greece.

4 || Shirley Valentine (1989)

Shirley Valentine is a 1989 British romantic comedy-drama film directed by Lewis Gilbert and starring Pauline Collins in the title role. Based on the one-woman play of the same name by Willy Russell, it’s like another favorite of mine set in Italy – Enchanted April.

The story follows Shirley Valentine, a bored and unfulfilled housewife in her 40s who feels trapped in a loveless marriage and yearns for adventure. When her best friend wins a trip to Greece and invites her along, Shirley seizes the opportunity to escape her mundane life and embark on a journey of self-discovery.

In Greece, Shirley rediscovers her sense of independence and finds romance with a local taverna owner named Costas, played by Tom Conti. The film explores female empowerment, self-fulfillment, and the search for meaning and purpose in life.

Shirley Valentine was a critical and commercial success, earning Pauline Collins an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress and establishing her as a leading actress in British cinema. Critics praised the film for its witty and poignant script and its sensitive portrayal of a middle-aged woman’s journey of self-discovery.

Filmed in multiple locations, including Mykonos.

5 || Captain Corelli’s Mandolin (2001)

Captain Corelli’s Mandolin is a 2001 romantic war drama film directed by John Madden, based on the novel of the same name by Louis de Bernières. The film stars Nicolas Cage as Captain Antonio Corelli, an Italian officer stationed on the Greek island of Cephallonia during World War II, and Penélope Cruz as Pelagia, a local woman who falls in love with him. Cage’s Italian accent is, admittedly, not great.

The film explores themes of love and war as the brutal realities of the German occupation of the island test the unlikely romance between Corelli and Pelagia. The film also touches on issues of identity, nationalism, and the legacy of war.

Captain Corelli’s Mandolin received mixed reviews upon its release. Some critics praised the film’s performances and lush cinematography, while others criticized it for its dramatic plot and historical inaccuracies. Despite the mixed critical reception, the film was a commercial success and has since become a cult classic among fans of romantic dramas. It also helped to popularize the novel upon which it is based and brought attention to the historical events of the German occupation of Greece during World War II.

Filmed primarily on location in Greece, specifically on the islands of Kefalonia and Corfu, as well as in the Greek capital, Athens.

6 || My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002)

My Big Fat Greek Wedding is a 2002 romantic comedy film directed by Joel Zwick and written by and starring Nia Vardalos. The film tells the story of Toula Portokalos, a Greek-American woman who falls in love with a non-Greek man named Ian Miller, played by John Corbett, and must navigate the cultural clashes between her traditional Greek family and Ian’s WASP family.

The film explores cultural identity, family values, and the universal experience of falling in love. It features an ensemble cast of colorful characters, including Michael Constantine’s overbearing father, Gus, and Toula’s large, boisterous Greek family, who provide much of the film’s humor and heart.

My Big Fat Greek Wedding was a surprise hit at the box office, grossing over $368 million worldwide and becoming the highest-grossing romantic comedy of all time at the time of its release. It also received critical acclaim and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. The film has since become a cultural phenomenon, spawning a successful sequel, a stage musical, and a television series. Widely regarded as a classic of the romantic comedy genre, this film is a beloved representation of Greek culture in popular culture.

This film was not filmed in Greece, but we had to mention it! It was primarily filmed on location in Toronto, Canada, with some additional filming done in Chicago, Illinois.

7 || Alexander (2004)

Alexander is a 2004 historical drama film directed by Oliver Stone and starring Colin Farrell in the title role. The film follows the life of Alexander the Great, the legendary Greek warrior and conqueror who created one of the largest empires in history. As with Stone’s films, controversy ensued because of historical inaccuracies. In addition, Jolie was 29 and played Olympia, Alexander’s mother, while Farrell was 28, which also caused controversy. We include here to be thorough, but it’s pretty awful.

The film explores Alexander’s relationships with his mother, his father, King Philip II of Macedon, played by Val Kilmer, and his friend and companion, Hephaistion, played by Jared Leto. It also depicts his military campaigns across Asia, including his conquests of Persia, India, and Egypt, and his struggles and conflicts with his advisors and generals.

Alexander was a controversial and polarizing film, receiving mixed reviews from critics and audiences alike. While some praised its epic scale, stunning visuals, and ambitious storytelling, others criticized its historical inaccuracies, dramatic tone, and uneven pacing. As a result, the film was a box office disappointment, grossing only $167 million worldwide against a budget of $155 million. Also, it’s infamous for having four different versions – the initial theatrical cut plus three home video versions – “Director’s Cut” in 2005, the “Final Cut” in 2007, and the “Ultimate Cut” in 2014. 

Despite its mixed reception, Alexander remains a notable entry in the historical epic genre and a bold attempt to portray the life of one of history’s most iconic figures on the big screen. 

Filmed on location in several countries, including Morocco, Thailand, the United Kingdom, and Malta, while some of the historical landmarks, such as the Temple of Olympian Zeus and the Parthenon, were recreated using computer-generated imagery (CGI) and other special effects.

8 || Mamma Mia! (2008)

Mamma Mia! is a 2008 musical romantic comedy film directed by Phyllida Lloyd and based on the famous stage musical of the same name, featuring the music of the Swedish pop group ABBA. The film stars Meryl Streep, Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth, Stellan Skarsgård, Amanda Seyfried, and Christine Baranski.

The film tells the story of Sophie (Seyfried), a young woman who is about to get married and wants her father to walk her down the aisle. The problem is she doesn’t know who her father is, as her mother, Donna (Streep), had affairs with three different men around the time of Sophie’s conception. So Sophie invites all three potential fathers to her wedding, and chaos ensues as Donna tries to keep them from discovering the truth.

The film features numerous ABBA songs, including Dancing QueenTake a Chance on Me, and the titular Mamma Mia. The music is woven seamlessly into the plot, creating a joyful and nostalgic celebration of love, family, and friendship.

Mamma Mia! was a commercial and critical success, grossing over $615 million worldwide against a budget of $52 million and receiving positive reviews for its energetic performances, catchy music, and colorful visuals. In 2018, a sequel, “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again,” continued the story of Sophie and her family while exploring Donna’s past.

Filmed in multiple locations, including Skópelos, Greece.

9 || Before Midnight (2013)

Before Midnight is a 2013 romantic drama film directed by Richard Linklater and starring Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy. It is the third film in the “Before” trilogy, following Before Sunrise (1995) and Before Sunset (2004), and continues the story of Jesse and Celine, two lovers who met on a train in Vienna nearly 20 years earlier.

The film takes place in Greece, where Jesse and Celine are now a couple with twin daughters. It explores their relationship as they navigate the challenges of middle age, including parenting, career choices, and the struggles of maintaining a long-term relationship. Over one day, the couple confronts their fears, desires, and regrets as they question whether their love can survive the pressures of real life.

Before Midnight was widely acclaimed by critics and audiences, praised for its insightful script, authentic performances, and naturalistic direction. The film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay, and Hawke and Delpy were praised for their nuanced and affecting performances. The “Before” trilogy has been recognized as a landmark achievement in modern cinema, offering a unique and powerful exploration of love, life, and the passage of time.

Filmed on location in Greece, specifically in the Peloponnese region, located in the southern part of the country, and includes the Temple of Poseidon at Cape Sounion and the Kastro fortress in Methoni. Additionally, many of the film’s scenes were shot in the charming coastal towns of Kardamyli and Pylos.

10 || The Two Faces of January (2014)

If you loved The Talented Mr. Ripley, you’d love this film based on a novel by the same writer. The Two Faces of January is a 2014 psychological thriller film directed by Hossein Amini and based on Patricia Highsmith’s book of the same name. The film stars Viggo Mortensen, Kirsten Dunst, and Oscar Isaac.

The story is set in Greece in the 1960s and follows a wealthy American couple, Chester (Mortensen) and Colette (Dunst), on vacation in Athens. They meet a charismatic tour guide named Rydal (Isaac), who becomes entangled in their lives when they accidentally kill a private detective following them. Rydal helps them cover up the crime, but tensions rise as the trio becomes increasingly distrustful of each other.

The film was praised for its elegant direction, striking visuals, and strong performances from its lead actors. It was also noted for its faithful adaptation of Highsmith’s novel, which explored themes such as guilt, identity, and morality.

Overall, The Two Faces of January is a gripping thriller that draws audiences in with its atmospheric setting, complex characters, and morally ambiguous plot. It received positive reviews from critics, who commended its stylish execution and intelligent screenplay. This film was nominated for three awards. 

Filmed in multiple locations, including Athens, Crete, and Istanbul, Turkey.

11 || The Trip to Greece (2020)

The Trip to Greece is a cinematic journey that transcends mere travelogue, blending breathtaking landscapes, culinary delights, and witty banter into a delightful odyssey. Directed by Michael Winterbottom and starring Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, the film follows their gastronomic expedition across Greece, tracing the steps of Odysseus while indulging in gourmet cuisine and engaging in their trademark impersonation battles.

Set against the stunning backdrop of the Greek Isles, the duo embarks on a culinary road trip, visiting iconic locations such as Athens, Hydra, Delphi, and more. Each destination offers not only a feast for the senses but also a deep dive into Greece’s rich history and culture.

Critics have praised The Trip to Greece for its captivating blend of humor, stunning cinematography, and poignant reflections on life and friendship. Coogan and Brydon’s dynamic chemistry and razor-sharp wit provide endless entertainment, while Winterbottom’s direction seamlessly weaves together breathtaking vistas with intimate conversations.

I love this film for its escapism. It offers a vicarious journey through Greece’s picturesque landscapes and delectable cuisine. Moreover, its exploration of friendship and mortality adds a layer of depth that resonates with viewers on a personal level.

The Trip to Greece is a cinematic feast for the senses, serving up a delectable blend of comedy, culture, and camaraderie. Whether you’re a fan of travel documentaries or culinary adventures or simply in need of a delightful escape, this film promises to satisfy your wanderlust and leave you craving more.

But why stop and just watch these beautiful settings in these fun films? Let’s make it a reality! We specialize in crafting bespoke trips to Greece tailored to your specific interests and preferences. Whether you want to explore the film locations from your favorite Greek movies or soak up the stunning scenery and culture, we’ve got you covered. I’ve just been to Greece and have great suggestions.

So what are you waiting for? Contact us today to start planning your next Greek adventure. As the Greeks say, “Kaló taxídi” – have a good journey!

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