Where are the best and worst cities in the UK to make films?

Like this, but rubbish and British. Image: Getty.

What’s the best way to rank cities? If you ask a square, they’ll probably start by talking about population or GDP or land area.

Wrong. The best way, clearly, is to look at how good the films made there are. So let’s take a look at the quality of the average film shot in or near (within 10 miles of) a given UK city, as determined by the filming locations and reviews stored in IMDB, the Internet Movie Database*.

Because CityMetric has a reputation to maintain, let’s start with a map of UK cities by film quality:

Which UK cities are home to the worst films?

5) Armagh

Films made within 10 miles: 3

Average IMDB rating: 5.47/10

Armagh in Northern Ireland was previously known for its two cathedrals, its observatory and its Georgian architecture, according to what someone has written on Wikipedia. But now it will be known for being the 5th worst place to make movies in!

Worst film: Shrooms (IMDB rating: 4.7/10)

Shot down the road in Gosford Forest Park, Shrooms is the story of some American college students who take the illegal hallucinogenic drug of mushrooms: with hilarious, but murderous, consequences!

IMDB reviewers say: “yet another fear-mongering propagandist defecation”.

4) Southampton

Films shot within 10 miles: 33

Average IMDB rating: 5.17/10

“In Southampton, no one knows anything,” wrote William Goldman. Wait, no, sorry, he was talking about Hollywood.

Worst film: Battlefield Death Tales (IMDB rating: 2.3/10)

Also known as Nazi Zombie Death Tales, this anthology of World War II horror stories was partly made in Southampton, although sadly it doesn’t say which part: hopefully the one about Nazi Zombies.

IMDB reviewers say: “Watch it if you have seen every other movie in the world and have nothing else to watch.”

3) Aberdeen

Films made within 10 miles: 3

Average IMDB rating: 4.83/10

Ah, Aberdeen, “the silver city with the golden sands”, as an optimistic 1950s tourist campaign had it. Although not as optimistic as Aberdeen’s silver screen ambitions, as it turns out.

Worst film: Attack of the Herbals (IMDB rating: 3.6/10)

Scottish villagers try to save a local business from a supermarket takeover by selling herbal tea. Which turns out to be Nazi zombie juice, or something. Well, at least it’s original.

IMDB reviewers say: “It's...perfectly fine if you are on the phone while writing poetry”.

2) St Asaph

Films made within 10 miles: 4

Average IMDB rating: 4.83/10

Congratulations to St Asaph: you guys may only have been a city since 2012, but you’re already home to some of the shittest films in the UK, including:

Worst film: Saint Dracula 3D (IMDB rating: 3/10)

Dracula falls in love with a nun. Sorry, Dracula, for the first time in 3D, falls in love with a nun. “The Catastrophic Lover” boasts the incoherent trailer.

Even the limp claim to be the first 3D Dracula movie isn’t true, as it was beaten by Dario Argento’s Dracula 3D. The Wikipedia page includes a section titled “Oscar eligibility”, in which it is explained that as Saint Dracula 3D was, technically speaking, a film, it was definitely eligible to be Oscar-nominated.

IMDB reviewers say: “Even the trailer is awful”

1) Lichfield

Films made within 10 miles: 2

Average IMDB rating: 4.8/10

"Toto, I've a feeling we're not in Lichfield anymore,” Dorothy would have said, if she was from Lichfield.

Worst film: Nativity 3: Dude, Where's My Donkey?! (IMDB rating: 3.6/10)

Martin Clunes receives some sort of brain injury that causes him to lose a donkey, enter a flashmob competition, and propose to Catherine Tate. If I ever have a kid I am not letting it find out about films because for Christ’s sake.

IMDB reviewers say: “if this is a "British" film then I don't want to be British anymore”.


Which UK cities make the best films?

So where should you shoot your film to guarantee cinematic gold? Here are the top 5 UK film cities.

5) Newry

Films made within 10 miles: 8

Average IMDB rating: 6.86/10

Best film: Philomena (IMDB rating: 7.6/10)

4) Durham

Films made within 10 miles: 11

Average IMDB rating: 6.9/10

Best film: Billy Elliot (IMDB rating: 7.7/10)

3) Derby

Films made within 10 miles: 11

Average IMDB rating: 6.9/10

Best film: Goodbye, Mr. Chips (IMDB rating: 7.8/10)

2) Lincoln

Films made within 10 miles: 5

Average IMDB rating: 7.2/10

Best film: Full Metal Jacket (IMDB rating: 8.3/10)

1) Lancaster

Films made within 10 miles: 4

Average IMDB rating: 7.25/10

Best film: Brief Encounter (IMDB rating: 8.1/10)

There’s only one city in the UK that doesn’t appear as a location in a single feature film eligible for inclusion in the dataset: Dundee. The closest it gets is Shooting Clerks, a crowdfunded film from a niche production company who for some reason appear to almost entirely specialise in producing biopics of the be-jorted film director Kevin Smith, and something called The Tartan Horror Story, neither of which have yet merited enough IMDB ratings to be counted. So, location scouts looking for untapped potential: it’s Dundee time.

Actually, is Paul Hogan busy these days? Because I’ve just had an idea.

* Excluding documentaries, short films, live concert films, and anything that’s received less than a hundred ratings. If Sex Lives of the Potato Men can get 2,092, I’m not convinced anything with less than a hundred votes has actually been seen by anyone who isn’t the director’s mum.

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How can cities become more bike friendly? The Netherlands offers useful lessons

(Aurore Belot/AFP via Getty Images)

It might seem like cycling is in the DNA of the Netherlands, a country where even the prime minister takes his bicycle to work. But the Dutch haven’t always lived as one with their bikes. In the Amsterdam of the early 1970s, cars were considered the wave of the future. They can be seen filling up squares and streets in historical photographs, and killed an average of over two Amsterdammers per week, including many children.

It is nothing more than an “accident of history” that the Netherlands embraced cycling, says Marco te Brömmelstoet, the director of the Urban Cycling Institute in Amsterdam and a man better known as the city’s cycling professor. Today’s bike rider’s paradise was created after parents and activists took to the streets to protest “child murder” by car. A Saudi oil embargo, rising gas prices, concerns about pollution and anger about the destruction of entire neighbourhoods to build motorways did the rest. 


Amsterdam, 1958. Not a cyclist's paradise. (Keystone/Getty Images)

What’s important about this history is that it can be replicated in other cities, too. Of course, the Netherlands has certain advantages – it’s flat as a pancake, for example. But in the eyes of traffic reformers, the rise of e-bikes (and even cargo bikes) means there’s no excuse for prioritising cars everywhere. 

So how can cities, flat or not, follow Amsterdam’s path to creating places where cycling is a pleasant, safe and common way to get around? The Dutch have some tips. 

Separate bikes from car traffic

Any city could start painting dedicated bike lanes on the streets. But in the Netherlands, those white marks indicating space for cyclists are considered just a minor first step. 

“A line on the road is not enough. Motorists will ignore it,” says Frans Jan van Rossem, a civil servant specialising in cycling policy in Utrecht. If other cities want their residents to choose bikes instead of cars when dodging pandemic-era public transport, protecting them from fast-moving car traffic must be the priority, Van Rossem says. 

The Dutch research institute CROW developed a widely praised design manual for bicycle infrastructure, full of tips for creating these protected lanes: A row of vertical white posts or a curb can serve as a physical separator, for example. Still, cyclists tend to feel safest in a "solitary" path, separated from the road by grass, trees, or an elevated concrete island. 

“The main bottleneck, the main reason why people don’t cycle, is that they don’t feel safe,” Van Rossem notes. “To start, construct separate paths.”

Turn those bike paths into a network

Many cities may have some bike lanes on some streets, but leave cyclists to roll the dice everywhere else. Will conditions still be safe when they turn left or right? Often they have to continue their way without any protected facilities for cyclists. 

“In many cases, cities take fast action, without thinking it through very well,” says Lucas Harms. He leads the Dutch Cycling Embassy, a partnership between the Dutch government and several companies, which promotes Dutch bike knowhow globally. “Don’t build small pieces of bike lane from nothing to nowhere. Think about a network of cycling infrastructure.” 

Utrecht aims to have cyclists within 200 to 300 metres of a connected path anywhere in the city, Van Rossem says. Avoid constructing those paths in sketchy industrial areas, he warns. “A connection through an unattractive area may be fast, but won’t be used a lot.”

Embrace the ‘fietsstraat’, a street where bikes come first


On some streets, drivers have to give up their privileges. (Rick Nederstigt/AFP via Getty Images)

A peculiar Dutch invention called "fietsstraat" (cycling street) holds strong potential for the rest of the world, Kevin Krizek says. He’s a transportation professor from Colorado who spent three years at Radboud University in Nijmegen. 

On cycling streets, cars are “guests”, restricted by a speed limit of 30 kilometres per hour. Drivers are not allowed to pass, so cyclists comfortably dominate the road. In the Netherlands the fietsstraat is usually paved with red asphalt, to resemble a bike path and notify drivers of their secondary status. But creating a cycling street can be easy. “All you need to do is put signs at intersections,” Krizek says. The effect is revolutionary in his view. Drivers have to give up their privileges, and cyclists can take the lead. 

Some Dutch traffic experts worry the cycling street won’t work if a city doesn’t also have a robust cycling culture. In the Netherlands, drivers are aware of the perils of urban cycling because they too use bicycles. Moreover, Dutch cities use sophisticated “circulation plans” to direct cars away from city centres and residential areas, onto a few main routes. 

Without “calming” traffic this way, the cycling street could be a step too far, Harms says. “In a city like New York, where all roads are equally accessible and full, it’s better to separate bicycles and cars,” he says.

Redesign intersections for cyclists' safety

If cyclists have to cross intersections “at the mercy of the Gods”, you’re not there yet, says Harms. When he travels abroad, he often finds clumsily designed crossings. As soon as cars turn, cyclists may fear for their lives. 

Harms recommends placing physical barriers between cars and bikes in places where they must cross. The Dutch build elevated islands to direct traffic into separate sections. The golden rule: cars wait behind bicycles. That way, drivers can see cyclists clearly at all times. Barriers also force Dutch cyclists to turn left in the safest way possible. They cross the street first and wait for their turn again before making their way left.

“You can create that with simple temporary measures,” Harms says. Planters work fine, for example. “They must be forgiving, though. When someone makes a mistake, you don’t want them to get seriously injured by a flower box’s sharp edge.”

Professor Krizek points out how the Dutch integrated cycling routes into roundabouts. Some are small; some are big and glorious, like the Hovenring between Eindhoven and Veldhoven, where cyclists take a futuristic-looking roundabout lifted above the highway. Most of those traffic circles move high volumes of cars and cyclists through intersections efficiently and safely. For a simpler solution, the Dutch manual suggests guiding cyclists to quieter streets – crossing a block up or down may be safer. “Nobody knows how to do intersections better than the Dutch,” says Krizek. 

Ban cars, or at least discourage them


A man rides down from a three-level bicycle parking garage near Amsterdam's main train station. (Timothy Clary/AFP via Getty Images)

The quickest, most affordable way to make a city more bikeable is to ban cars, says Ria Hilhorst, cycling policy advisor for the City of Amsterdam. It will make streets remarkably safe – and will most likely enrage a significant amount of people. 

Amsterdam doesn’t outlaw cars, but it does deliberately make their owners feel unwelcome in the historic city’s cramped streets. Paid parking is hugely effective, for example. Many car owners decide to avoid paying and use bicycles or public transportation for trips into the city. Utrecht, meanwhile, boasts the world’s largest bicycle parking garage, which provides a dizzying 12,500 parking spots.

To further discourage drivers from entering the city’s heart, Amsterdam will soon remove more than 10,000 car-parking spaces. Strategically placed barriers already make it impossible to cross Amsterdam efficiently by car. “In Amsterdam, it is faster to cross the city on a bike than by car,” Harms says. “That is the result of very conscious policy decisions.”

Communicate the benefits clearly

Shopkeepers always fear they will lose clients when their businesses won’t be directly accessible by car, but that’s a myth, says Harms. “A lot of research concludes that better access for pedestrians and cyclists, making a street more attractive, is an economic boost.”

Try replacing one parking space with a small park, he recommends, and residents will see how it improves their community. Home values will eventually rise in calmer, bike-friendlier neighbourhoods without through traffic, Van Rossem says. Fewer cars mean more room for green spaces, for example.

“I often miss the notion that cycling and walking can contribute a lot to the city. One of the greatest threats to public health is lack of exercise. A more walkable and bikeable city can be part of the solution,” says Ria Hilhorst. “But in many countries, cycling is seen as something for losers. I made it, so I have a car and I’m going to use it, is the idea. 

“Changing this requires political courage. Keep your back straight, and present a vision. What do you gain? Tranquility, fewer emissions, health benefits, traffic safety, less space occupied by vehicles.” 

Again, she points to Amsterdam’s history. “It is possible; we were a car city too.”

Karlijn van Houwelingen is a journalist based in New York City.