Bollywood Movies

From Bond to Bollywood: scene-stealing Switzerland on the big screen

April 29, 20247 Mins Read


In a galaxy not very far away: the mountains of Grindelwald were used as a backdrop for the planet Alderaan in Star Wars: Episode III

A week after a steamboat on Lake Lucerne was recognised as a “treasure of European film culture”, we take a scenic cinematic tour of films in which Switzerland’s natural beauty and landmarks have played an unforgettable role.

On Wednesday the Film Commission Lucerne & Central Switzerland announced that the 118-year-old Belle Époque paddle steamer Schiller would be the first location in Switzerland to be recognised as a Treasure of European Film CultureExternal link by the European Film Academy.


Scenes from La Chimera, a comedy-drama about stolen archaeological artefacts, were shot onboard in 2022. The Schiller also hosted Catherine Deneuve, who in 1991 played a French plantation owner in Indochine and received an Oscar nomination for her performance. The recognition puts the Schiller in the same league as the giant Ferris wheel in Vienna’s Prater (The Third Man) and the Trevi fountain in Rome (La Dolce Vita).

Switzerland’s photogenic lakes and mountains have been attracting directors and cinematographers for pretty much the history of cinema. The 1936 British crime caper Dusty ErmineExternal link (aka Hideout in the Alps) involved extensive location shooting in the mountains, including an impressive and frankly dangerous-looking ski chase.

But it was half-Swiss James Bond who truly put Switzerland on the global cinematic map, with memorable scenes including George Lazenby pushing a baddie into a Schilthorn snow-blower in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969) and the record-setting bungee jump off the Verzasca Dam in Ticino at the start of GoldenEye (1995).

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The Alpine chase sequence in Goldfinger (1964), in which Bond pursued Auric Goldfinger over the snaking Furka Pass, arguably pioneered Bondmania. “In a then-unprecedented publicity move journalists and photographers were invited to the Swiss Alps for the seven-day shoot, where they mingled with cast and crew members,” as this article notesExternal link. “The strategy appeared to work: Goldfinger became, at the time, one of the box office’s highest-ever grossing movies.”

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The iconic Hotel Belvédère, which made a brief appearance at the beginning of that clip, is possibly one of the most recognisable hotels in the world – but it’s been closed since 2010 and recently featured in a series of “Swiss lost places”. It also appeared on the coverExternal link of Accidentally Wes Anderson, a collection of real-life buildings that seem to have been designed by the distinctive American filmmaker.

Book cover

The Hotel Belvédère

Accidentally Wes Anderson

The Swiss landscape is even out of this world: in 2005 the mountains of Grindelwald were used as backdrops for the planet Alderaan in Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith.

Grindelwald was also the scene of a lot of the action in The Eiger Sanction, a 1975 thriller directed by and starring Clint Eastwood. Despite the death of a cameraman on the north face of the Eiger, production went ahead, with other scenes being filmed in Zurich around the Old Town and cathedral.

The north face of the Eiger also starred in Nordwand, a German film from 2008 based on the famous 1936 rivalry to climb the most dangerous rock face in the Alps. Much of Touching the Void (2003), an award-winning reconstruction of a near-fatal climbing accident in the Peruvian Andes, was actually shot on the Jungfrau because the Bernese Alps offer easier access to extreme landscapes.

One of the most breathtaking – and surely dangerous – sequences filmed in Switzerland is the wingsuit jump from the 2015 remake of Point Break. This involved five stuntmen – all professional wingsuiters – leaping off the Hinterrugg Mountain in Walenstadt and flying in formation through narrow mountain passes at over 230km/h.

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Calming things down a bit, lush alpine meadows, white peaks, shiny railways and picturesque chalets make Switzerland the ideal setting for Bollywood stars singing their tuneful declarations of love.

Released in 1964, Sangam was the first Indian film shot in Switzerland, but it was the 1967 film Evening in Paris that first used the Alps as backdrop for singing, dancing and romancing. However, it would be a few more decades before Switzerland burst into the Indian consciousness, following the release of the Bollywood film Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge in 1995, which featured superstar Shah Rukh Khan as a love-struck Romeo trying to win over his sweetheart amid gorgeous Swiss scenery. Many other films subsequently incorporated Switzerland as a backdrop, cementing the Alpine nation’s place as a must-visit on any European tour aimed at Indian travellers.

In 2015, to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, SWI created an interactive map featuring prominent Bollywood filming locations in Switzerland.

Whereas a key moment for fans of Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge took place at Zweisimmen train station, South Korean film fans have recently been heading en masse to a wooden pier in the picturesque Bernese village of Iseltwald. This is where one of the main characters of the 2019 Netflix series Crash Landing on You plays the piano as a girl he falls in love with arrives on a ferry from Interlaken. While locals were initially bemused, the influx of pilgrims has sparked a backlash

“Tour groups leave the village within five minutes after taking photos at the pier,” one woman who works in the small supermarket and souvenir shop complained to SWI “Tourists who come by bus bring their own food and drink so don’t eat in the restaurants. So the village earns almost no extra income from these tourists. All that’s left is the rubbish that’s been thrown away. This is just ‘rubbish tourism’.”

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A film that has attracted fewer pilgrims is Phantom Thread, a romantic drama from 2017 starring Daniel Day-Lewis. Set mostly in Britain, Day-Lewis’s character and his wife enjoy a honeymoon at the stunning Grandhotel Giessbach overlooking Lake Brienz. Several scenes from the 2001 Second World War miniseries Band of Brothers were also filmed here and in the village of Brienz (standing in for scenes set in Germany and Austria).

Scene from Phantom Thread

Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis) and Alma Elson (Vicky Krieps) have a honeymoon breakfast at the Grandhotel Giessbach overlooking Lake Brienz

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Switzerland also played a cameo in Night Train from Lisbon, a 2013 drama based on a 2004 novel, in which a Swiss professor of philosophy (Jeremy Irons) notices a young woman in a red coat about to jump off a bridge in Bern. He pulls her down, and it changes his life.

But Switzerland isn’t just a backdrop for high-brow literary fare: it was also the scene of Angels & Demons, the commercially successful but critically mauled sequel to Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, in which a CERN scientist (who get murdered) creates anti-matter (which gets stolen) and Tom Hanks helps the pope bridge the gap between religion and science (or something). In response to its portrayal and the work performed by its scientists, CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research outside Geneva, set up a websiteExternal link to explain what it does and what antimatter is.

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Ending on a highlight (literally), one of the most popular music videos of all time, filmed entirely on location in the Swiss ski resort of Saas-Fee. With 890 million views on YouTube, it’s “Last Christmas” by Wham!

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