‘Meet me in Rio’: 7 great movies set in the carnival city

Jesse Eisenberg voices Blu in the animated film Rio

(image: 20th Century Fox)

Less than a month after the World Cup Finals in Brazil, we find ourselves drawn back to the home of Samba with this week’s new family film Rio 2.

Seeing as how the sights and sounds of the city managed to capture the world’s imagination this Summer, we decided to look back at 7 of our favourite movies set in Rio de Janeiro.

1. OSS 117: Lost in Rio (2009)

Jean Dujardin in OSS 114: Lost in Rio

(image: Gaumont)

Before they won the Best Picture Oscar together with The Artist, Jean Dujardin and director Michel Hazanavicius made two spoof movies about Agent OSS 117, a French James Bond of sorts. The second of these films took place in Rio de Janeiro. With great weather and beautiful women, it’s the perfect place for a spy to kick back and serve his country.

Lost in Rio‘s silly climatic battle takes place atop the Christ the Redeemer statue because, why not!?


2. Fast Five (2011)

Vin Diesel and Paul Walker in Fast Five

(image: Universal)

The Fast and Furious franchise finally found its feet with this heist-based caper set in the Brazilian metropolis. Of course there are scenes of the Fast gang chilling out near the beaches, but who could forget the gleefully ridiculous action scenes? The utter chaos of seeing a bank vault dragged through the streets of Rio, or the wild foot chase taking place on top of the favelas couldn’t have taken place in any other movie.


3. Elite Squad: The Enemy Within (2010)

The Rio-set crime thriller Elite Squad: The Enemy Within

(image: Zazen Produções)

Of course, there’s more to Rio than just sunshine as glamour. Thanks to epidemic levels of organised crime, the city has become home to BOPE – Rio’s notoriously tough and allegedly corrupt SWAT unit. Both this film and the original Elite Squad were enormously successful in Brazil. Both films took a frank look at BOPE’s unsavoury methods. The impact on local audiences was significant. On one level, they’re tremendous crime thrillers but on another: this is a All The President’s Men-style expose on institutional failure.

Director José Padilha rose to acclaim off the back of these movies; his latest picture was the well-received remake of Robocop.


4. Rio (2011)

Jesse Eisenberg and Anne Hathaway star in Rio

(image: 20th Century Fox)

Having made a big splash as a director on the Ice Age movies, Brazilian-born animator/director Carlos Saldanha wrote a love letter to his hometown with this animated movie about a house-broken macaw who ends up on the streets of Rio. Over 90 minutes, family audiences were treated to a whistle-stop tour of the city as Blu (voiced by Jesse Eisenberg) was whisked through the favelas, over Christ the Redeemer, onto Copacabana beach, and into the middle of the world-famous Carnival!

This is pretty much the most expensive and entertaining tourism ad ever created!


5. Notorious (1946)

Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman in Alfred Hitchcock's Notorious

(image: RKO Pictures)

Hitchcock’s classic thriller is one-part spy story and another-part tormented love story.

Set in Rio just after the end of World War II, Ingrid Bergman plays an American woman who’s coerced by the US government into infiltrating a group of exiled Nazis (of which her father is one). Whilst awaiting instructions, she begins a tempestuous romance with her handler (played by Cary Grant).

As was common in movies of the time, exactly zero percent of this film was made in Brazil. Location scenes like the one above were shot on LA sound stages using projected backgrounds.


6. City of God (2002)

(image: Buena Vista/StudioCanal)

(image: Buena Vista/StudioCanal)

Brilliant, powerful and often horrific, Fernando Mereilles’ energetic film works like a South American Goodfellas. It follows a number of characters from a favela known as Cidade de Deus as they climb (or descend) into organised crime. 

It’s an unflinching look at the desperation and poverty that lies just a few miles away from the affluent tourist hotspots.


7. Moonraker (1979)

(image: United Artists/Eon)

(image: United Artists/Eon)

‘Look after Mr Bond. See that some harm comes to him.’

While Moonraker is best remembered for its ridiculous Zero-G love scene (‘I think he’s attempting re-entry, sir’), there’s actually a lot of stuff that happens before Roger Moore heads into orbit. Following a lead he picks up in England, 007 jets over to Rio where he’s almost immediately attacked by Jaws (Richard Kiel). The ensuing fight takes place upon a cable car leading to the iconic Sugarloaf mountain.


Watch Rio 2 now

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