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Find out which movies our readers think explain Texas

Michael Barnes
Austin American-Statesman
Some readers really prefer the John Wayne version of "The Alamo." It takes some historical liberties, but it was filmed in Texas and remains a basis for certain enduring Texas myths.
  • Readers make strong arguments for feature films and documentaries.
  • Did you know there were two big films titled “Lone Star”?
  • We’ve added an alphabetized list of key movies about Texas.

Texans adore movies about Texas and Texans. 

In my May 10 “Think, Texas” column ("Starring Texas: What you can learn about the state through its movies"), I tried to sort out what it means to be a “Texas movie,” and argued that such a film must be about our state, not just shot here. It must tell us something about who we are. 

I applied that standard to 32 movies, starting with the two versions of “The Trip to Bountiful,” one starring Geraldine Page, the other Cicely Tyson, and ending with the never-ending “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” franchise. 

I also listed 40 other Texas movies worth seeing. I left out some popular clunkers, but also missed some rare gems. 

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That’s where the readers of this column come in. Several dozen nominated their favorite movies about Texas via email. Some correspondents simply shared titles, such as “My All American,” “Outlaw Blues,” “Blanche” or “Seven Days in Utopia.”  

Others included cogent reasoning for their picks. All the titles belong on a working master list, which is included at the end of this column, alphabetized for easier use. 

The 1957 dog movie, "Old Yeller," received a lot of votes for movies that explain Texas.

Here are some reader picks, lightly edited. 

Kathleen Bergeron: I saw "Lone Star” (not the John Sayles version) in the Paramount theater in 1952, and have since watched it on Turner Classic Movies several times. It is the perfect Hollywood version of Texas, with stars like Clark Gable, Ava Gardner and Broderick Crawford.  

Yes, these stars in a Western! Have you seen Broderick Crawford as a cowboy? And among the people portrayed are Anson Jones, Sam Houston, Andrew Jackson, Ben McCulloch, Ashbel Smith, and, believe it or not, Geronimo. 

Probably the ultimate Hollywood version of Texas is the scene toward the end of the movie: It has the heroes coming to save the town, led by a guy holding a huge Lone Star flag. 

Nancy Trippet: One of the best Texas movies I have seen was “Lone Star” (the John Sayles version). It had Kris Kristofferson in it as the crooked sheriff in South Texas. It is rough when you find out that you and your love are half sister and brother: secret kept all their lives by their father. I loved that movie, kind of reminded me of the days of political corruption by (George Parr), "The Duke of Duval County." Texas politics, just gotta love it! 

Paul Sweeney: I’d like to nominate the 2018 film “Tejano” for inclusion in the pantheon of notable Texas films. Filmed on location in South Texas, it’s a realistic study of the conflicted lives of people on both sides of the Rio Grande and the corrosive state of corruption and violence that permeates life in the poorly understood, usually misrepresented world. I also thought that the film’s conscription of many locals, who have no film roles to their credit and who turn in credible performances, is a remarkable tour de force.

Bob Drewy: In my humble opinion, the greatest classic film created in Texas about Texas is “Giant.” Nothing else comes close. Although I currently reside in Michigan, I was raised in Texas. Fort Worth and Austin. The magnificent movie filmed in Marfa summarizes Texas and what it means to be a Texan. 

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Jeff Bridges won an Oscar for his performance as an aging musician in "Crazy Heart."

David Plymale: John Wayne’s “The Alamo” was made in Bracketville at the Alamo Village. It is a classic! It has to be on a list for top 25 movies (about) Texas. Several movies were made at Alamo Village afterwards, along with many music videos. So sad that Alamo Village has closed. I took my wife there a few years before it closed and we renewed our vows in the chapel. 

Soll Sussman: I'd have to watch it again to be sure, but I have wonderful memories of watching "A Perfect World," directed by Clint Eastwood and starring Kevin Costner — and being so happy that I live in Texas. 

John Wende: I would not wish to debate your favorite Texas movies list with mine, but I would add one: “Second Hand Lions.” As an old retired school teacher, I really liked the story line — sort of a Texanized version of “Grumpy Old Men.” I liked the familiar setting near the Coupland area, and I really, really liked the two main characters, especially Robert Duvall. 

Charles Brown: As a native Dallasite, I have a couple of suggestions you might consider adding to your list: 

“Mad Dogs and Englishmen” (1970) – Although most of the concert footage was from other venues, there is a pretty big segment shot in Dallas Memorial Auditorium, with some interesting street scenes of downtown Dallas as it was in 1970. Not really the scene portrayed in the Larry Hagman TV series from the later 1970s. Also, the documentary has an interview with the infamous “Butter Queen” (Barbara Cope) – a Dallas woman notorious as a rock 'n' roll groupie. She died in a house fire in Dallas in 2018.  

“State Fair” (1962) – This version has the state fair move from Iowa to Dallas. I remember a casting call done in my classroom in first grade. I did not make the cut, but a couple of my classmates at Lakewood School were extras in some of the footage done at the State Fair of Texas. Not a great movie, but anything with Ann-Margaret and Pat Boone has got to be interesting, no? 

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Filmmaker and scholar Paul Stekler highly recommends "Tower," part of which was rotoscoped.

Ronnie Volkening: I would have given “Dancer, Texas, Pop. 81” more than just the inclusion of “others to see.” A sweet, poignant movie of decision time for four boys who had made a pact to leave their small town for California when they graduated from their high school class of five students. I recognize this is a weird criterion, but I was impressed that it told a story with some depth to it, had some beautiful scenes of west Texas (Fort Stockton? Alpine?, I forget) and had only one cuss word in the entire movie, a rarity. 

Also I would have given more space to “Old Yeller,” the pride of Mason, Texas. I haven’t seen it in decades and I’m sure it’s really pure nostalgia and “schlock,” but its iconic status was confirmed in “Stripes” when all of Bill Murray’s fellow soldiers admitted they had cried at the movie’s conclusion. 

Michael E. Webber (author, educator): I created a special for PBS a few years ago called “Energy at the Movies” with KLRU that was nationally syndicated for a few years. As such, I’m familiar with some movies about Texas energy.   

The two standouts are “Giant” and “Written on the Wind.” You already had “Giant” on your list, but these two movies are interesting to see side-by-side. Both were released in 1956, both starred Rock Hudson, and both were about oil in Texas.   

“Giant” is epic for so many reasons — its cast, its coverage of Texas in transition from an agricultural to petroleum-based economy, race relations, wealth, war, political influence — but “Written on the Wind” is better than people realize because it really helped introduce the idea of the profligate out-of-control children of oil wealth.  

It also has been credited with creating the overly dramatic soap-opera style, setting up later shows like “Knots Landing,” “Dynasty,” etc.  

Robert Duvall's performance in "The Apostle" should be remembered on this list.

Paul Stekler (filmmaker and scholar): We can debate “best” till the cattle settle down for the night by the banks of the faux Red River, but all the films you write about have their merits. That said, after Texas Monthly printed a discussion of the greatest of best Texas films — back in 2013 I think — and neglected to mention any documentaries, I wrote an outraged reply. (Stekler touted the 10 greatest Texas documentaries, some of which landed on our May 10 list). 

In the years since, there have been more films of course. “Tower” and especially “Boys State,” which really ought to make your list. From my article, you’d be hard pressed to find a better film featuring Texas political history than “LBJ,” at least the first part of it covering Johnson’s career pre-Washington.  

I do love “Tower,” though I think “Be Here to Love Me” compares well — know them both well, as a consulting producer on one and an executive producer on the other. (In a postscript, Stekler reminded me of his own fine work in “Last Man Standing: Politics, Texas Style.”) 

Kevin Costner and T.J. Lowther starred in 1993's "A Perfect World," directed by Clint Eastwood.

Glenn Kelly: (letter to editor): Glaring in its omission is 2009’s “Crazy Heart.” Austin’s music scene is source material and parts were filmed in Houston. Jeff Bridges' portrayal of a worn-out Texas troubadour, Jerry Jeff Walker-type singer-songwriter won him a best actor Oscar. The film is sturdy on its own and worthy of its place among the best Texas movies.  

And good gawd almighty, Michael, how can we list great Texas films without including Robert Duvall’s opus, “The Apostle”? Starring Texas’ own Farrah Fawcett along with Billy Bob Thornton and filmed in Texas. Robert Duvall’s transformation into a high-energy preacher of the gospel and a minister to a rural Texas congregation is one of his finest performances ever and a great snapshot of small-town Texas religion. 

Michael Barnes writes about the people, places, culture and history of Austin and Texas. He can be reached at mbarnes@statesman.com.

Key movies about Texas, A to W 

We’ll keep updating this list with reader picks. 

A: “The Alamo (1960 and 2004),” “Alamo Bay,” “The Apostle” 

B: “Barracuda,” “Beauty Knows No Pain,” “Be Here to Love Me,” “Bernie,” “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas,” “Blanche,” “Blood Simple,” “The Blues Accordin’ to Lightin’ Hopkins,” “Bonnie and Clyde,” “The Border,” “Bottle Rocket,” “Boyhood,” “Boys State,” “Bull” 

C: “Charlie Wilson’s War,” “The Chase,” “Chulas Fronteras,” "Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean," “Crazy Heart,” 

D: “Dallas Buyers Club,” “Dancer, Texas Pop. 81,” “Days of Heaven,” “Dazed and Confused” 

E: “The Education of Shelby Knox,” “Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room,” “The Evening Star” 

F: “Fandango,” “Friday Night Lights” 

G: “The Getaway,” “Giant,” "The Good Old Boys"

H: “Hands on a Hard Body,” “Happy, Texas,” “Hell or High Water,” "Honeysuckle Rose," "Hope Floats,” “Hud” 

I: “Inbetween Girl” 

L: “Last Man Standing: Politics, Texas Style,” “Last Night at the Alamo,” “The Last Picture Show,” “LBJ,” “Lonesome Dove,” “Lone Star (1952 and 1996),” "Lucy Gallant"

M: “Mad Dogs and Englishmen,” “Marshall, Texas: Marshall, Texas,” “Miss Congeniality,” “Miss Juneteenth,” “My All American,” “Murderball” 

N: “Never Goin’ Back,” “1918,” “No Country for Old Men,” “North Dallas Forty” 

O: “Office Space,” “Old Yeller,” “Oswald’s Ghost,” “Outlaw Blues” 

P: “Paris, Texas,” "A Perfect World," “Places in the Heart,” “Peewee’s Big Adventure,” “Pit Stop,” “Pony Express” 

R: "Raggedy Man," “Reality Bites,” “Red River,” “Return of the Native,” “Rio Bravo,” “The River and the Wall,” “The Rookie” 

S: “Sam Savage,” “Scary Movie,” “The Searchers,” “Second Hand Lions,” “Selena,” “Seven Days in Utopia,” “Slacker,” “A Song for You: The Austin City Limits Story,” “The Southerner,” “State Fair,” “Sugarland Express” 

T: “Take the High Ground,” "Tejano," “Tender Mercies,” “Terms of Endearment,” “Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” “The Thin Blue Line,” “The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada,” “Touch of Evil,” “Tower,” “The Tree of Life,” “The Trip to Bountiful (1985 and 2014),” “True Stories” 

U: “Urban Cowboy” 

V: “Varsity Blues,” "Viva Max" 

W: “A Well Spent Life,” “The Wild Bunch,” “Without Getting Killed or Caught,” “Written on the Wind” 

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