There has been much debate over a comprehensive list of the best films set in Texas and, with over 400 such films, it’s easy to see why. Read our guide below as we profile 10 of the greatest movies set in the Lone Star state.
Bottle Rocket (1996), written by Texas natives Wes Anderson and Owen Wilson, is Wes Anderson’s first feature film and is shot entirely in Fort Worth, Dallas and Hillsboro, Texas. The film follows three quirky Texan friends’ (Anthony, Bob and Dignan) eccentric robbery plan and execution. After his release from a mental hospital, Anthony (Luke Wilson) convinces Bob and Dignan (Owen Wilson) to commit the crime with him and flee the scene. Once finished, the three friends find further unanticipated adventures and unexpected love.
Joel and Ethan Coen’s first feature movie, Blood Simple (1984), is a film centered around Texas images, ideas and people and showcases impressive cinematography. The film follows a private detective hired to murder a wealthy Texan’s (Marty) cheating wife, Abby, and her lover. Ray, Abby’s lover, happens to be an employee at Marty’s bar. However, the detective Marty hires – Visser – possesses many secrets of his own. Dark and ironically humourous, Blood Simple showcases Visser’s own personal needs in his mission and proves Texas to be a superb location for such a gothic thriller.
Giant (1956) is considered one of the most truly ‘Texan’ films, depicting discrimination against Mexicans in the state, oil, ranching, independent souls and all the ensuing relationships. The film follows the life of Texan rancher Bick Benedict (Rock Hudson) and his Maryland-native wife, Leslie. When Leslie (Elizabeth Taylor) moves to Texas to be with her new husband, she discovers an isolated mansion on an extensive expanse of West Texas land – Bick’s ‘Reata.’ Giant, based on a novel by Edna Ferber, showcases the rise and fall of both the ranching and the oil industries and displays a growing rivalry between the Benedict family and their ranch-hand, Jett (James Dean).
The Last Picture Show
The Last Picture Show is a 1971 film based on a novel by Texas writer Larry McMurtry. The film follows a group of high schoolers in 1950s West Texas as they experience life in a dying border town. Between football, girls, friends and movies, Sonny and Duane near their high school graduation in their small hometown of Anarene as they witness it slowly dying. Sam the Lion, a retired cowboy, becomes mentor to the growing teenagers as they mature in a town abandoned by those seeking life in larger, more booming cities. With amazing performances and an authentic look into a small Texas town in the 1950s, The Last Picture Show is a Texas classic.
Friday Night Lights
Markedly a Texas story, Friday Night Lights (2004) displays the story of ‘The Permian High Panthers,’ a courageous high school football team in a financially dying Texas small town. The film is based on a novel set in Odessa, Texas, by author H.G. Bissinger. As the town struggles economically and racially, Friday nights and the Permian High Panthers unite the community. The drama follows the players’ lives and the injury of the leading tailback, Boobie. Despair ensues after Boobie’s calamity, but the team’s coach, Gary Gaines, rallies the team and the community for triumph. With religious zeal, the townspeople rally behind the hope of success for their team as nearly everything else in the town seems to erode all other optimism.
No Country for Old Men
Based on the novel by renowned author Cormac McCarthy, No Country for Old Men (2007) follows the story of a Vietnam veteran hunter near the Rio Grande as he comes upon two million dollars and heroin in the aftermath of a drug deal. Set in El Paso in the 1980s, No Country for Old Men trails the consequences of Llewelyn Moss’ discovery and Sheriff Bell’s attempts to quell the criminality and violence in his south Texas town. The Coen brothers beautifully portray the atmosphere of West Texas in this crime-drama, modern western.
Nominated for an Academy Award, The Apostle (1997), written, directed and starred by Robert Duvall, portrays the life of a deeply unsettled southern preacher, Sonny Dewey. When Sonny learns that his wife, Jessie, is having an affair with another preacher, Sonny unravels and, after a sequence of events, is forced to flee from his home and his congregation. With a genuinely authentic portrayal of certain facets of southern/Texas life and culture, The Apostle showcases both the vigor and the flaws of both southern culture and humanity. Robert Duvall’s representation of a religious man on an odyssey for conviction proves both compelling and electrifying.
The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada
The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada is a 2005 neo-western Mexican-American film that showcases beautiful, authentic images of Texas’ landscapes. The film follows the story of Pete Perkins, a ranch hand who wishes to realize an agreement made to his lately departed best friend by burying him in his Mexican hometown. Many problems arise for Pete. His friend, an illegal Mexican immigrant occupied in Texas as a cowboy, has already been buried – twice. To fulfill the promise, Pete must abduct a Border Patrolman in attempt to retrieve his friend’s already-buried body and travel the hazardous journey to Mexico.
American Sniper (2014), based on a true story, follows the story of Texan Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper) and his experiences in Iraq. Chris’ amazing accuracy and ability in action saves lives and moulds him into a legend. However, when he returns home to his wife and children, Chris finds it difficult to conform to traditional American life. In the meantime, Chris’ reputation as a ‘legend’ continues to grow, even in his enemies’ eyes, creating an additional source of danger for Chris back in Texas. Chris discovers that the danger does not cease even as he steps away from the battlefield.
Slacker (1991) is a uniquely Austin, Texas, story following a plethora of students, musicians and general oddities. One of the most important American independent movies of the 1990s, Slacker portrays ‘Generation X’ nonconformists, outsiders and eccentrics in the unusual city of Austin. Without a concrete plot, the film creates short glances into the lives of 20-year-olds who do not conform to establishment standards and creates a portrayal of the culture inherent in a ‘Generation X’ American college town. Slacker proves a decisive relic of the era and space it conveys.
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