The temporary nature of a hotel stay provides a lot of potential for fascinating stories. It can be a metaphor for relationships beginning and ending, friendships forged and disbanded, fortunes won and lost.
In cinema, hotels are often neutral ground. They represent a place where two people can be themselves—or whoever they wish to be—without fear of reprisal from the people they’re usually around. In these temples of passing, some of the best cinematic tales have unfolded.
Which raises the question: what movies set in the ephemeral world of temporary lodging stand out? Here are our picks for the best movies set in hotels that are worth watching if you haven’t yet.
8. Up in the Air (2009)
George Clooney’s film about a traveling businessman ended up being a tour through cities and hotels across the continental US, with him living a transient lifestyle of fleeting connections with people.
That is, until he meets Alex Goran, the female counterpart to Clooney’s Ryan Bingham. She’s a woman who’s also always traveling because she values high status within her on-the-go lifestyle.
Despite the film featuring multiple locations, the wanton abandon of the traveling lifestyle represents Ryan’s fear of settling down in a single place and why he needs to escape his self-imposed confines. The hotel-to-hotel lifestyle portrays how lonely Ryan really is.
7. The Witches (1990)
Set entirely in an English beachside resort, The Witches adapts the original book by Roald Dahl that tells the story of a young boy and his grandmother who have to bring down the plans of the Grand High Witch before she can turn all the world’s children into mice.
The adventure feels expansive and fun, especially for a film that’s completely set within a small hotel. It makes the audience believe that the world within the four walls is filled with the worst dangers imaginable.
Anjelica Huston’s leading performance as the Grand High Witch is a villainous turn for the ages as she captivates the audience through fear and pure evil while hunting down the children in the hotel.
6. Pretty Woman (1990)
Because hotels are one of the few places where someone can choose to be whoever they wish to be without facing the people they know from day-to-day life, the relationships formed inside can bloom quickly.
In the case of prostitute Vivian and billionaire Edward of Pretty Woman, their stay at the Regent Beverly Wilshire may have only lasted a week, but they manage to form a close emotional bond in that time—which, as they know, must come to an end sooner rather than later.
The film supercharges the timeframe for a rom-com, providing an insight into the pair who see right through one another, even when they’re at their most guarded. For almost 30 years since Pretty Woman released, it’s been a shining example of narrative pacing.
5. Hotel Rwanda (2004)
Hotel Rwanda is the true story of Paul Rusesabagina and his heroism in keeping the genocidal army away from the refugees who fled to his hotel. It’s a most extraordinary tale of survival and humanity.
Hotel Rwanda recounts the real-life events of the attempted genocide in Rwanda and the difficulty that Paul faced in keeping his guests and the rest of the people in the hotel alive.
Few films are as horrifying as Hotel Rwanda with its violence toward an entire ethnic group becoming an inhumane massacre. All the while, Rusesabagina never deviates from what he must do for the people around him, portrayed by Don Cheadle’s intense yet empathetic performance.
4. Psycho (1960)
Arguably the most famous hotel setting in cinema history, Bates Motel is a place that never gives the audience a sensation of calm or peace as the offputting Norman Bates checks in his guests.
This motel is the kind of place you’d keep on driving past, even if your tiredness is putting you to sleep behind the wheel and you’re on the verge of empty gas. We feel that emanating through the screen as Marion Crane pulls up looking for a room.
A masterpiece of the horror genre, Psycho became a smash hit at the box office despite the reluctance of any studio to fund Alfred Hitchcock’s project. And now, over 60 years later, the film remains an example of slow-burning intensity that grips the audience.
3. The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)
Wes Anderson’s 2014 magnum opus garnered 9 Academy Award nominations and showcased the unique visual style that Anderson has long propagated in his films.
The story of The Grand Budapest Hotel is one of a young bellboy who begins working at the titular hotel and the inspiration he gains from his mentor (played by Ralph Fiennes) while an inheritance battle wages over the fate of the Grand Budapest’s late owner’s possessions.
This hotel is an expansive maze of corners and hallways, even to those who know it best. The beautifully crafted sequences that take place here are among the most memorable in recent cinematic history.
2. The Shining (1980)
The Shining is one of the rare horror films that ages like wine over the decades. It’s a masterpiece of tension-building dread that creeps up on you as the winter housekeeper of the Overlook Hotel goes insane and tries to kill his family during one harsh winter.
Stanley Kubrick’s “adaptation” of Stephen King’s original story is more of a loose interpretation than a direct page-to-screen affair. It goes to places that King never intended to go, and the result is spectacular.
Stanley Kubrick’s meticulous direction is paired with Jack Nicholson’s Jack Torrance, the housekeeper of the Overlook Hotel who’s driven mad by the evil that resides within. Nicholson uses every ounce of his inner madman to portray Torrance with perfect off-the-wall insanity.
1. Lost in Translation (2003)
Lost in Translation is, by far, the best movie set in a hotel. It truly encapsulates the lost and weary effect that hotels have on travelers.
The film follows faded film star Bob Harris (played by Bill Murray) in Tokyo as he films a lucrative whiskey commercial, while grad student Charlotte (played by Scarlett Johansson) is with her slightly neglectful husband.
As they form a connection from their initial passing interactions, both become dependent on the other during the days they spend together. It’s as if they wish the other had answers to the questions they have about the lives waiting for them back home.
Sofia Coppola’s film has become a 21st century masterpiece that has enjoyed further critical acclaim with passing years. The performances by Murray and Johansson remain perfect representations of the vapid feeling we all feel at certain points of life.