We all know Scotland's actors have long been a fixture in Hollywood.

Just last month, for instance, there were Golden Globe nominations for Tilda Swinton and Kelly Macdonald for their roles in We Need To Talk About Kevin and Boardwalk Empire, and Swinton is already being talked of as a strong contender for an Oscar.

But 2011 was also the year that traffic began to move in the opposite direction as Hollywood actors became a fixture in Scotland, too. Most visible were the highly recognisable shapes of Brad Pitt, Halle Berry and Scarlett Johansson, who all jetted in to make films here. And even Batman put in an appearance, at least metaphorically: the opening action scenes of $250 million film The Dark Knight Rises were shot over the Cairngorms during the summer, as a householder found out when a parachuting stuntman dressed in black landed on his roof by mistake.

But it was Pitt's arrival which made the most noise. He pitched up in Glasgow in August in the company of Quantum Of Solace director Marc Foster to make the £80 million zombie flick World War Z, an adaptation of Max Brooks' graphic novel. Over 2000 Scottish extras were recruited at a casting call in July and filming took place in Govan, Grangemouth and in a disused Kwik Save on Paisley Road West.

Most thrillingly, however, the production occupied George Square for a fortnight, bringing gawpers and autograph hunters to the sidelines to watch as fake road signs were erected and US-style yellow taxis driven into place as Glasgow was turned into a passable facsimile of Philadelphia. The addition of CGI skyscrapers will complete the effect when World War Z is released next December.

In September, former Bond girl Halle Berry was in Scotland to shoot parts of Cloud Atlas, an adaptation of the novel by British author David Mitchell. This time Glasgow was standing in for San Francisco in the mid-1970s and filming took place around Blythswood Square and Montrose Street. Scottish autumns being a little different from the Californian variety, Berry was photographed between shots wrapped up in a quilted jacket and holding a hot water bottle to keep her hands warm.

Finally, if you'd been travelling along the A82 in Glencoe at the start of November you may have found your way blocked by the vans and lorries of another, different film crew. Had you stopped to complain, you may also have caught site of Scarlett Johansson. She was making Under The Skin here, an adaptation by Sexy Beast director Jonathan Glazer of Michel Faber's novel of the same name. Unlike World War Z and Cloud Atlas, it's actually set here.

No shrinking violet, Johansson was also to be seen in Glasgow's West End enjoying chipotle king prawns and guacamole in Mexican restaurant Pinata, listening to live music in venue Nice N Sleazy and hanging out in Café Gandolfi in the Merchant City – while at the same time making headlines worldwide for her scantily-clad cover shoot in New York's famous Interview magazine.

Morag McKinnon was as much a bystander as everyone else when Pitt, Berry and Johansson dropped in to make films here. But as an acclaimed director who won a Scottish Bafta in November for her Glasgow-set feature Donkeys, she has more than a passing interest in seeing Scotland landing these lucrative and prestigious film contracts.

"I think it's wonderfully exciting that we have people from Hollywood filming here," she says. "The fact that they've shown it can be done will hopefully raise everybody's game and that's always good, because everybody benefits. I'm also a huge fan of Cloud Atlas so I can't wait to see what that's like when it comes to the screen."

The production company behind Donkeys was Glasgow-based Sigma Films. It is run by Gillian Berrie, also a co-producer on Under The Skin. Like McKinnon, she is in no doubt about the importance to the indigenous film industry of Hollywood's new-found love of Scottish locations.

"When World War Z was in town it was unbelievable," she says. "People were flying in from all over Europe just to see Brad Pitt in George Square. It did cause major disruption but nobody was complaining. Everyone was delighted Glasgow was in the spotlight. There was a decent spend – £2m – and it gave everyone a taste of Hollywood. I can't say there were very many disadvantages."

Belle Doyle, locations department manager at Creative Scotland, agrees with Berrie. "It was obvious that people were coming in to Glasgow to look at the filming and the set and that was a really good thing for the city," she says. Despite the disruption to city life caused by the filming, she adds, the council received only five complaints. Doyle also thinks that Berrie has underestimated the World War Z spend. With 11 separate film crews all needing food and accommodation, plus the production costs themselves, it's easy to see why. That said, she also cautions against too much optimism. It was a weak pound as much as anything else that helped attract US production companies and we shouldn't expect to see something on the scale of World War Z more than a couple of times a decade.

Mind you, if Berrie's latest and most ambitious plan comes off, we might. Sigma is currently based in the former Govan Town Hall, a building it has re-purposed and rechristened Film City. But Berrie thinks having a dedicated Scottish film studio could make all the difference when it comes to attracting more (and, perhaps, bigger) US productions. Those in turn would help drive both Scottish film and television.

"We're hoping we'll get a studio off the ground in the near future," she says. "We've identified some premises which are not too far away and which have about 72,000sqft. We're looking at various funding sources at the moment but Creative Scotland are behind it and we're also looking to the council, Scottish Enterprise, and anybody else that might help."

But could she fill it? Yes, she says. "At the moment we could fill Film City three times over on any given day so I don't think we'd have a problem.

''Across the screen industries I think there would be an awful lot of television in there as well. It would put us in a position to be able to attract much, much bigger productions into Scotland which would have an phenomenal effect. We almost feel like it has got to happen."

So what's next for Scotland? "People have been scouting and there are things that are almost concrete," says Doyle, though she won't say anything more. One director may have dipped into Creative Scotland's £45,000 "recce fund". Tim Burton looked at Mull when he was scouting for locations for his new 2012 film Dark Shadows. In the end he decided against filming there. However, Ridley Scott's new film Prometheus, originally slated to be an Alien prequel but now a stand-alone sci-fi film, has filming locations which include Fort William, Inverness and Rannoch Moor. Prometheus stars Charlize Theron, Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender and, flying the flag for Scotland, Red Road actress Kate Dickie.

And while Skyfall, the latest James Bond film to feature Daniel Craig, will now shoot its Scottish-set scenes in Wales instead of Scotland, the intended location of Duntrune Castle has had so much publicity that it has now been approached by a different film production company with another project. "Their attitude has been, 'If it's good enough for Bond, it's good enough for us,'" said owner Robin Malcolm. So as they say in Hollywood – or even in Hollywood-on-Clyde – watch this space.